Tag Archives: Science and technology

Australian government invests in science and technology

Science and technology has been given a much-needed boost in the Federal Budget handed down today.

The peak body for Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics – Science & Technology Australia (STA) – has welcomed the support at a time where Australian science and technology is at a crossroads.

Significant funding boosts for crucial scientific research infrastructure has been complemented by major new investments in medical research, and technology infrastructure.

STA CEO Kylie Walker said the 2018 Budget indicates the Government has moved towards positioning Australia as a leader in global science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research and innovation.

 “The new commitment to $1.9 billion ($1 billion over the forward estimates) in research infrastructure following the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap is very welcome,” Ms Walker said.

“And major commitments to technology infrastructure, medical research ($1.3 billion), the Great Barrier Reef, and space science ($50 million) further strengthen the positive investment for the future of Australia’s STEM sector,” Ms Walker said.

“A return to keeping pace with CPI is very welcome for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO. We’re also pleased to see specific measures to support greater participation by girls and women in STEM, and ongoing investment in inspiring all Australians to engage with science.

“A refocus of funding for the Research and Development Tax Incentive is another important step in supporting Australia’s innovation future.”

Ms Walker said the investment in science and technology would bolster the capacity for Australian science to support a healthy population, environment, and economy.

“The return on investment for science and technology is solid, and internationally it has been proven to be an effective means of securing and shoring up the economy,” she said.

STEM highlights in the 2018/19 Budget include:
  • $1.9 billion for a national research infrastructure investment plan over 12 years ($1 billion committed for first 4 years);
  • $1.3 billion for medical research through MRFF including $500m for genomics, $240m for frontier medical research, $125m for mental health;
  • $536 million (about $150 million for research) for the Great Barrier Reef
Other measures:
  • Return to indexation for the Australian Research Council and other research agencies like the CSIRO
  • $70 million for the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre
  • $50 million for the Australian Space Agency
  • $29.9 million for Artificial Intelligence capabilities
  • $260 million for satellite positioning infrastructure and imaging
  • $4.5 million over four years for Women in STEM initiatives
  • Ms Walker said it wasn’t all good news though, with STEM graduate rates threatened by continued capping of commonwealth support for undergraduate places at Australian universities.

“Universities will need to find ways to meet growing demand, while dealing with stagnant funding in the years to come. As STEM degrees are some of the most expensive to run, we don’t expect universities will have the capacity to increase the number of STEM skilled graduates,” Ms Walker said.

“Australia will need many more people equipped with STEM skills in our workforce to compete internationally. This short-term saving will be a loss for future generations.”
First published by Science & Technology Australia
science and technology

Speak up for STEM and give facts a chance

As science and technology researchers, practitioners and enthusiasts, we feel very strongly that our community should think analytically and use scientific information to inform their decisions, as individuals and as a nation.

We hope our leaders in politics, business and in the media incorporate the lessons and findings of science and technology into their decision-making about health, energy, transport, land and marine use – and recognise the benefits of investing in great scientific breakthroughs and technological inventions.

But how do we ensure critical thinking is applied in decision-making? How do we incorporate and apply scientific findings and analysis in the formulation of policy, and encourage strong, strategic investment in research?

The only way is to become vocal and proactive advocates for STEM.

Scientists and technologists must see ourselves as not only experts in our field, but also as educators and ambassadors for our sector. Scientists are explicitly taught that our profession is based on logic; that it’s our job to present evidence and leave somebody else to apply it.

For people who’ve made a career of objectivity, stepping out of that mindset and into the murky world of politics and policy can be a challenge, but it’s a necessary one.

The planet is heading towards crises that can be solved by science – food and water security, climate change, health challenges, extreme weather events. It’s arguably never been more important for scientists and technologists to step outside our comfort zone and build relationships with the media, investors, and political leaders. We need to tell the stories of science and technology to solve the species-shaking challenges of our time.

A plethora of opportunities exist for STEM researchers and practitioners to improve and use their skills in communication, influence, marketing, business, and advocacy. As the peak body representing scientists and technologists, Science & Technology Australia hosts a variety of events to equip STEM professionals with the skills they need, while connecting them with the movers and shakers in those worlds.

Science meets Parliament is one of these valuable opportunities, and has been bringing people of STEM together with federal parliamentarians for 18 years. Others include Science meets Business and Science meets Policymakers.

We can provide the forum, but it’s up to STEM professionals to seize the opportunity by forging relationships with our nation’s leaders in politics, business and the media. We must ensure the voice of science is heard and heeded – not just on the day of an event, but every day.

Currently STEM enjoys rare bilateral political support; a National Innovation and Science Agenda; and a new Industry, Innovation and Science Minister, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, who has indicated his intention to continue to roll it out.

As we encounter our fourth science minister in three years, however, we cannot rest on our laurels and allow science and technology to slide down the list of priorities. Bigger challenges are also mounting, with the profession of science correspondent virtually dead in Australia and the international political culture favouring opinion and rhetoric over established fact and credibility.

Scientists and technologists must resist their natural tendency to humility, and proactively sort the nuggets of truth from the pan of silty half-truth. We must actively work to influence public debate by pushing evidence-based arguments into the media, and into the political discourse.

When our society starts assuming that we should make substantial and long-term investment in research; when the methods and findings of science and technology are routinely incorporated into shaping policy and making important decisions for the nation – we’ll consider our job to be well done.

Kylie Walker

CEO, Science & Technology Australia

Read next: Dr Maggie Evans-Galea, Executive Director of ATSE’s Industry Mentoring Network in STEM, paints a picture of Australia’s science and innovation future – one that requires a major cultural shift.

Spread the word: Help Australia become a collaborative nation! Share this piece on science and technology using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Digital Disruption Thought Leadership Series here.

Innovating Australia

Australia faces a challenging period in shifting towards an ‘innovation economy’, with a drive towards greater participation in science and technology; an increased focus on commercialisation success; and partnering research with industry. But how will we get there?

In this unique series, leaders from government, industry and academia share their vision for Australia’s innovation future, including Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, Telstra’s CTO Vish Nandlall, CEO of AusBiotech Anna Lavelle, entrepreneur, surgeon and inventor Fiona Woods, Chief Defence Scientist Alex Zelinksy, and the Vice Chancellors from QUT, Peter Coaldrake, and Western Sydney Uni Barney Glover, and many more.

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australia’s Innovation Future, here. Commentaries will be published throughout the week.

The path forward

There is no doubt that Australian R&D often punches far above its weight for the size of the nation’s population. But for too long Australian invention has stalled at the crucial points in moving research from lab to marketplace. From a nation of thinkers, there has been too little product. Buoyed by the rich resources in the landscape, we have rested on our laurels, riding the sheep’s back or relying on our mineral wealth.

There are notable exceptions. Most Australians, for example, are familiar with the success of the cochlear implant, invented by Professor Graeme Clark and pioneered with a team of surgeons at Melbourne’s Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. This clever little device is now distributed in over 120 countries and has helped over 320,000 hearing-impaired patients. In the inaugural 2016 Top 25 Science Meets Business R&D spin-off list, this and other less familiar success stories – including companies just starting to make their mark – were noted and celebrated.

In December 2015, the Turnbull government pushed an agenda on innovation – the so-called #ideas boom. The innovation agenda clearly indicates that Australia must move from a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy. It highlights the poor track record of research commercialisation, and low rates of collaboration between industry and research organisations. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development rates Australia as last or second last on the level of collaboration against other developed nations. So how much further forward does the ideas boom push us, and what more can be done?

The December 2015 agenda throws $1.1 billion towards steps to address stagnation in research commercialisation and business growth in STEM. This includes $200 million industry incentive to work with the CSIRO and Australian universities, and a 20% non-refundable tax offset for early stage investors. There’s also money for Australian businesses looking to relocate overseas, bonuses for universities collaborating and resources allocated towards raising awareness of the importance of STEM in education.

While the money sounds great, transitioning towards a knowledge economy is more than just a fiscal move – it requires a fundamental shift in the notion of what it is to be Australian. The pathway towards this mental reimagining is far from clear, and will involve people in business, education, research and communication industries to change their thinking, develop ideas and set in motion a totally different model of achievement.

In this thought leadership series, those stepping up to deliver on this challenge describe their vision of science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine – in the way we do the research and in how we benefit from these fields – to describe their first step towards this brave new world. – Heather Catchpole

Read the Thought Leadership Series: Australian Innovation Future, here.

Contributors

Dr Alan Finkel AO, Chief Scientist of Australia

Dr Anna Lavelle, CEO and Executive Director of AusBiotech

Professor Peter Coaldrake AO, Vice-Chancellor of QUT

Dr Krystal Evans, CEO of the BioMelbourne Network

Professor Peter Klinken, Chief Scientist of Western Australia

Professor Barney Glover, Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University and Dr Andy Marks, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Strategy and Policy) of Western Sydney University

Dr Cathy Foley, Chief of CSIRO’s Division of Materials Science and Engineering

Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist and Head of the Defence Science and Technology Group

Vish Nandlall, Chief Technology Officer of Telstra

Professor Fiona M Wood, FRACS AM, Director of the Burns Service of Western Australia and the Burn Injury Research Unit at the University of Western Australia

Everyday this week

John Pollaers, Chairman of the Australian Advanced Manufacturing Council

Robert Hillard, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting

Kim McKay AO, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Museum

Philip Livingston, Founder and Managing Director of Redback Technologies