Govt backs quantum and AI industries with $101m

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The Albanese government has unveiled industry support programs for artificial intelligence and quantum technologies, allocating $101 million over five years in a new critical technologies package that includes a national challenge program and an Australian Centre for Quantum Growth.

The AI funding – nearly $76 million over the forward estimates – represents an effective cut of around $30 million from prior allocations, with several Morrison government AI programs cancelled after failing to get money out the door, and a year of limbo under the new government.

The $30 million cut will help fund a new Centre for Quantum Growth and a set of challenge programs, keeping total investment in the critical technology relatively steady.

Industry and Science minister Ed Husic with Professor Michelle Simmons

Tuesday’s Budget included a $101 million investment in the responsible development of Australia’s quantum and artificial intelligence industries after both had been advocating for more government support.

“…We want Australia to be at the forefront of technological developments that will shape the world in the years ahead,” Industry and Science minister Ed Husic said.

“This funding will work in tandem with Australia’s first National Quantum Strategy, which the government announced last week, and the government’s $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.”

The new funding package is fully offset by redirecting funding from within the Industry, Science and Resources portfolio, including the Coalition’s 2021 AI Action Plan which struggled to get funding out the door and was effectively paused under the Albanese government.

The new measure in Tuesday’s Budget includes a Critical Technologies Challenge program offering funding to projects that use technology to solve national challenges.

The first challenge round will focus on quantum and comes on the heels of a National Quantum Strategy that last month set an ambitious goal for Australia to develop the world’s first error corrected quantum computer.

Funding for the new challenge program won’t flow until 2024/25 when an initial allocation of $10.5 million is made. It jumps to $18 million in 2025/26 and back down to $7.4 million in the next year.

The new Australian Centre for Quantum Growth will also be established to support the local sector with a focus on commercialisation. It will be set up with $4 million in 2023/34, with around $5 million allocated to it annually thereafter.

The Quantum Centre is understood to include funding, education and advocacy objectives as part of a push to catalyse growth in the emerging sector by connecting researchers with industry.

The new AI funding announced on Tuesday will go to extending the CSIRO-run National AI Centre, which was set up under the former government’s AI Action Plan and has focused on industry uptake and responsible development.

The AI funding also includes support for SMEs to adopt AI to “improve business processes and increase trade competitiveness”.

Just over $20 million has been allocated to “Artificial Intelligence Initiatives” next financial year, which covers both components. It rises to $23.3 million in 2024/25, before dropping to $19.5 million and $12.4 million in subsequent years.

The Albanese government AI initiatives mark the end of the Coalition’s AI Action Plan, although several components appear similar.

The Coalition plan launched the National AI Centre and had flagged similar challenge and industry support programs, but it was slow to deploy the funding.

The Albanese government effectively paused the Action Plan last year but kept its funding allocation in the October Budget. The limbo has frustrated parts of the tech sector.

The original Action Plan included ‘Digital Centres’ to support industry adoption, AI Solutions challenge program and regional grants components have been scrapped entirely to fund the new government’s AI tilt.

An additional $14.8 million over 4 years has been allocated to establish the Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre. The new centre will develop advanced technology and skills as part of the Government’s Australian Made Battery Plan.

More 2023 Budget coverage:

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Budget lays out $2bn for government tech overhaul

Budget 2023: $2bn for green hydrogen production credits

Defence commits $151m to AUKUS pillar two

My Health Record gets $429m for technology upgrade

Full Monty ambition for critical minerals supply chains

STEM programs get a tickle rather than an upgrade

myGov gets Budget certainty, new money flows to Digital ID

APS in-house consultancy locked in with $11m

eSafety resources quadruple as national cyber office funded

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