AI action plan locked in but changes still possible

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

Funding for Australia’s Artificial Intelligence Action Plan was spared from a Labor spending audit that netted the new government $22 billion in savings in Tuesday’s budget. The $113 million allocated to AI remains unchanged but details of the plan may be after roll out delays under the previous government.

The new government and Industry and Science minister Ed Husic campaigned on a more strategic approach to technology and warned delays in supporting it was worsening an exodus of talent in Australia.

This view hasn’t changed but it is understood the $113 million AI Action is one of several existing programs being worked through after the completion of the spending audit.

The AI Action Plan was originally part of the former Coalition government’s 2021 budget. It allocated $54 million to establish a National AI Centre and four Digital Capability Centres. Nearly $25 million went to an AI graduates program for national scholarships and $45.7 million was set side for regional and government challenge grants and co-investment.

This funding was allocated over four years from 2021-22, including $22 million in the first year. But the roll out was slow, with only the CSIRO-led national centre and graduates components ever getting off the ground and only a third of the first year funding actually spent.

The $44 million Digital Capability Centres grant program and another $12 million grants program for the regions launched earlier this year but recipients have never been announced. Another $33.7 million AI national challenges grant program was never launched.

This was despite the Industry department targeting recipient announcements before July.

A change in government and Labor’s decision to examine all Coalition spending commitments “line by line” appears to have put the brakes on this for the time being at least.

The spending audit saved the new government $22 billion in Tuesday’s budget, including around $700 million from manufacturing and entrepreneur programs administered by the Industry department.

But the AI Action plan remained in the budget with the same four-year funding the Coalition had allocated it in March, including $40.5 million this year.

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