Budget’s nod to ISA 2030 plan

James Riley
Editorial Director

Treasurer Scott Morrison’s budget speech did not directly mention the Innovation and Science Australia 2030 Strategic Plan, but the Budget papers do partially address its 30 recommendations, funding big chunks of what the report given to the federal government in January.

The budget revealed, for example, plans to reform the R&D Tax Incentive (R&DTI), which will ultimately result in a forecasted estimate savings of $2.4 billion over the next four years. However, it is unclear if this money is stripped from the system or redistributed.

While it could be argued that the savings from the R&D tax incentive have been place elsewhere through direct funding for science and technology infrastructure, through measures that include new money for satellite imagery, improved GPS, the upgrading the Bureau of Meteorology’s technology platform, a national space agency, and research in artificial intelligence – nothing is spelt out.

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In doing so, this would satisfy one of the ISA’s recommendation that Australia needs to rebalance more funds away from indirect support through tax incentives toward direct measures in relation to R&D.

The budget ignored the ISA’s recommendation to increase funds for Export Market Development Grants. Instead, the government said would put $20 million towards a new Asian Innovation Strategy.

It said this strategy would help Australian businesses and researchers to form overseas partnerships, and extend the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund for an additional four years.

“The Government will support Australian businesses to capture opportunities around the world, particularly in the fast-growing Asian markets. Increasing funding for local export hubs will help Australian small and medium enterprises gain access to international markets,” the Budget papers said.

One of the major wins for Innovation and Science Australia was a commitment to establish a national mission to help make Australia the “healthiest nation”. This was evident in the government’s $1.3 billion National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which includes a ten-year $500 million commitment to the Genomics Health Futures Mission and $30 million to enhance the data sharing and release capabilities of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

A further $707.3 million in funding from the $7.1 billion Medical Research Future Fund will be used to support the Frontier Health and Medical Research program, as well as expand clinical trials, scientific collaboration, and development of new medical technologies that can be sold overseas.

The 2030 Plan also called for the government to address challenges faced by the Great Barrier Reef, and for that government set aside $443.8 million to enter into a partnership with not-for-profit organisation Great Barrier Reef Foundation to deliver programs to improve water quality, monitor the health of Reef, and assist with scientific research into coral restoration.

The government also accepted the 2030 Plan recommendation to prioritise investment in artificial intelligence and machine learning a $29.9 million Digital Economy Strategy.

It will invest the fund to develop a technology roadmap, a standards framework, and a national AI ethics framework to help identify in AI and machine learning for Australia and support the responsible development of these technologies.

Protocols are to be developed around data sharing to maintain a healthy level of competition under the Consumer Data Right regime. It has allocated $45 million over four years to develop the Consumer Data Right.

This will give consumers more control of their personal data, and to move data across suppliers, in turn giving consumers better deals through innovative products and services.

In efforts to achieve gender diversity in STEM, as the 2030 Plan suggested, the government is providing $4.5 million over four years from 2018–19 to encourage more women into education and careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

The government has also partially endorsed recommendations by the 2030 Plan to improve student participation in STEM subjects, and improve transparency and accountability across the education system by acknowledging the references that were made in recent Gonski report, Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools.

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