After pouring $1 billion into decades of quantum research, the federal government is about to unveil a national plan for the critical technology.
Ahead of its release, the person behind the strategy, Australia’s chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley, is urging the sector to be “audacious” but not to expect a flood of government money.
Dr Foley told stakeholders at the Quantum Australia conference in Sydney on Tuesday to take risks, think long term, and persevere in the tough translation stage of Australia’s multi-decade quantum “odyssey”.
“This is part of the odyssey where we should feel optimised and energised,” Australia’s chief scientist told the 700 person event, which included academia, startups and governments.
“We have excellent foundations built on decades of patient fundamental research funded by government. We have a lively research community — here you are — and an energetic set of startups and multinationals working on some really novel ideas and applications. We had momentum and we’ve cut through among decision makers.
“So we want to capitalise on that and ensure Australia remains a world leader in quantum expertise and clever innovations.”
Dr Foley’s address to the conference came ahead of the expected unveiling of the National Quantum Strategy that has been developed over the last 15 months. The strategy comes as other nations release their own plans – around 26 in all – and as investment pours into the sector.
US $35billion has been tipped in around the world to date at an increasing pace. Australia accounts for around $1 billion of this, almost all from government, and industry and research groups are calling for more to support the national quantum tilt.
Dr Foley said Australia’s funding does not necessarily have to match the massive investments governments are making overseas because of Australia’s relatively small size, an existing strong base in quantum, and a track record of using quantum funding efficiently.
“I think we’ve just got to be careful when you do those comparisons because when you dig in [to the data], you actually find that we’re not going to be top of the pops but we’re also not going to be bottom of the rung.”
The Albanese government and Industry minister Ed Husic have been advocating for quantum technologies and plan to support it through part of the $1 billion critical technologies sub-fund in its $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
A rare review of the university research funder, the Australian Research Council, alongside a broader Universities Accord also opens a chance for new funding approaches for fundamental quantum research in Australia.
Tech Council Australia chief executive Kate Pounder, who appeared on a panel at the conference, said funding remains the key issue as Australia looks to build out a of companies and quantum ecosystems.
“Because we are producing that pipeline of companies [and] we’ve got great research here. But it’s getting from that stage of research and development through to commercialisation. That will be the challenge,” she said.
The federal Industry department’s head of technology Anthony Murfett said the government is confident the country will capitalise on the opportunity of quantum and is focused on connecting with the wider community to demonstrate the benefits of the technologies.
“The one thing I think that we that we need to do is connect with the community; connect with teachers, connect with children, [and] explain how they will be end using quantum technologies in the future so they can see who they can be.”
CSIRO chief scientist Professor Bronwyn Fox added “trusted international partnerships” will be critical to help Australia find its place in global quantum supply chains, while physical spaces will be needed to show industry partners the potential, as is being used in Germany.
“One of the opportunities for us is to be a key player in quantum supply chains. And in order to do that, we need to know where the markets are heading. We need that market intelligence and the best way to find out is through collaboration,” Dr Fox said.
InnovationAus.com is a media partner of the Sydney Quantum Academy.
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