Govt told to up research investment by $2bn a year

Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The federal government must increase its investment in research and development by around $2 billion annually to return Australia to average levels for advanced economies, according to the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE).

In a pre-budget submission, the group calls for the Albanese government to make the $2 billion jump as part of a new commitment to almost doubling Australia’s share of GDP invested in research and development from 1.68 per cent to 3 per cent.

The $2 billion increase would stimulate even more from the private sector, according to ATSE, and set a course to 3 per cent of GDP by 2035.

Since roughly matching the OECD average in 2008, Australia has fallen to record low levels well below the the latest average and far off global leaders like Israel and Korea, which invest around 5 per cent of GDP.

Labor’s election policy platform included a commitment to push overall Australian R&D investment “closer to three per cent of GDP” but official figures released last year show Commonwealth investment and overall levels are still declining.

“Australia’s economic complexity (93rd in the world) continues to fall and productivity growth remains at historic lows – this requires urgent attention,” the ATSE submission said.

“Research and development are the essential foundation of these efforts.”

ATSE said its estimates are that an annual increase of $1.97 billion to $2.07 billion in government investment will stimulate up to $2.43 billion to $2.56 billion from industry, and see Australia hit the 3 per cent target by 2035.

“Immediate action is needed to halt this decline and ensure Australia does not become an R&D laggard,” the submission said.

ATSE has the increased government funding as one of its top priorities for the May budget, calling for the money to come with a whole-of-government research funding strategy.

“A comprehensive research funding plan is needed to set the right direction for the sector, ensure funding needs are met regardless of the source, and ensure the Australian economy has a strong future
going forward,” ATSE said.

“This plan needs to consider funding from businesses, higher education, and governments. Commercialisation and application of research is impossible without sustained investment in fundamental inquiry, collaboration (both domestic and international), and an engaged, equipped and qualified scientific and technical workforce.”

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