Labor pledges $1.2 billion defence innovation agency


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

A $1.2 billion independent strategic research agency will be established under a Labor government to drive defence innovation and boost collaboration between Defence and SMEs and universities.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and Shadow Defence Minister Brendan O’Connor unveiled a plan to launch the Australian Strategic Research Agency (ASRA) with $1.2 billion in funding over the next 10 years if Labor wins the upcoming election.

The research and development agency will be housed within Defence and will fund research in breakthrough technologies focusing on national security, and boost Australia’s involvement in the technology sharing and R&D aspects of the AUKUS agreement with the UK and US.

Anthony Albanese
Labor leader Anthony Albanese.

The plan will see the existing Defence Innovation Hub transitioned into the independent agency and given a new focus on the AUKUS agreement’s technological priorities, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing and cyber.

ASRA will be based on the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which has been involved with the commercialisation of the internet, the computer mouse and GPS.

The agency will also leverage private investment and aim to improve Australia’s sovereign research capabilities, particularly around transforming prototypes into working technology, the Opposition Leader said.

“After almost a decade of neglect under the current Liberal government, there has been a lack of strategic defence and national security-focused sovereign research, funding and projects. This is leaving Australia vulnerable to strategic technological surprises,” Mr Albanese and Mr O’Connor said in the statement.

“ASRA would ensure cutting-edge research from public sources, such as universities and industry, and classified research from industry and other government agencies are supported and coordinated.”

The UK government also recently established an Advanced Research and Invention Agency.

Australia’s defence innovation performance has been scrutinised recently after it was revealed that few projects have successfully been exported or bought by Defence, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into them.

The Defence Innovation Hub has been the main vehicle for this since it was established in 2016. The hub received $800 million over the next decade in 2020, and invests in technologies aiming to enhance Defence’s capability.

The Coalition has been sitting on a review of Australia’s defence innovation system for several months, including into the Defence Innovation Hub, which was completed last year.

It was recently revealed that less than 5 per cent of projects funded by the Defence Innovation Hub have gone on to export success, while just 7 per cent have been close to acquisition by Australian Defence forces over the last six years.

In the time since it was launched, the Hub has signed 233 contracts worth a total of $441 million, but only 10 have been used by Defence or have been close to being so, while just three have been linked to overseas exports.

Earlier this month the Defence Innovation Hub announced it had entered into nine new contracts with local companies worth a total of $19 million. These included for projects centred on advanced radar and cameras and cheap “swarming” drones.

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