Industry and Science minister Ed Husic has declined to comment on reports of a ‘secret’ process designed to accelerate Australia’s acquisition of a quantum computer, saying instead that he would “speak fully” if an investment decision eventuated, reiterating the government’s commitment to the local quantum sector.
Last week, multiple industry sources told InnovationAus.com that the government had invited a select list of local and foreign quantum computing companies through an expression of interest (EoI) in August, kept under wraps through unusually strict non-disclosure agreements.
The purpose was to gather information about their products and technology as a part of an accelerated plan to acquire a full-stack error-corrected quantum computer. Some sources with knowledge of the process say the wording of the EoI seemed to favour technology pursued by US-based PsiQuantum.
When asked to comment on the secrecy surrounding the process on Wednesday, Mr Husic told InnovationAus.com that “lots of people will say a lot of things”. He added that “I don’t know how productive I would end up being” if every day was spent responding to what is being said “about what we may or may not do as a government”.
“When we make definite positive decisions that utilise taxpayer dollars in the nation’s interest… we will speak fully about that and answer questions. But people can speculate as much as they like,” Mr Husic said.
“If you can appreciate, I can’t answer and respond to every speculation before the minister.”
With local quantum businesses privately expressing concerns that an investment in a company without Australian operations would make it more difficult for the local industry to attract investment, Mr Husic sought to reassure the government’s support for the local industry.
He also repeated that he’ll “fight for quantum researchers and businesses in this country, and speak up on their behalf because we do need to invest in it”.
Mr Husic pointed to several government initiatives, including the $1 billion sub-fund in the National Reconstruction Fund that will support critical technologies, the $392 million Industry Growth Program, and the National Quantum Strategy, as evidence of this. But funding is yet to begin flowing through these programs.
Mr Husic also said the government would soon announce its quantum challenges, which are a part of a nearly $55 million quantum industry package in the 2023-24 federal budget.
“A lot of quantum firms should take heart that they’ve got now an Australian government that’s so willingly championing their work, that has put together the nation’s first quantum strategy, that is backing that up with significant capital,” Mr Husic said.
InnovationAus.com understands that off the back of the quantum EoI process, a funding and acquisition proposal has been prepared for Cabinet. Should the government proceed with the investment, it is expected to be in the range of $100 million and $200 million.
It is unclear if the government intends to buy a quantum computer outright, as reported by Information Age, or make an equity investment.
In 2017, the federal government bought a $25 million share of Silicon Quantum Computing – founded by 2023 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science winner Professor Michelle Simmons.
It retained its near one-third ownership of the company with another $15 million investment made in the company in another funding round that was completed in July.
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