The federal government has detailed its $2 billion, 12-year national research infrastructure investment plan, marking the “next step of the innovation and science agenda”.
The plan is a part of the government’s response to chief scientist Alan Finkel’s 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap, which outlined nine key areas of funding priority.
Last week’s federal budget provided $1.9 billion over 12 years for the implementation of this scheme, and Education Minister Simon Birmingham and Innovation Minister Michaelia Cash revealed on Tuesday more details of this plan.
The plan, prepared jointly by the Education and Industry portfolios, would “provide Australian researchers with access to critical infrastructure such as new generation cryo-electron microscopy and pre-clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging” and would “support research to improve the health and well-being of Australians”.
Included in the plan was $991 million to 2020 for digital data and e-research platforms, $106.6 million for advanced fabrication and manufacturing and $309 million for earth and environmental systems.
Addressing the media on Tuesday morning, Senator Cash said the research infrastructure would be used by 40,000 researchers every year, and the investment plan will create more jobs.
“When we were elected to government we said we’d be a government that put in place the right policies to make sure businesses can prosper and grow. We are a job creating government and the $1.9 billion that we are investing in Australian national research infrastructure will ensure that our businesses in Australia remain competitive,” Senator Cash said.
“This is all about ensuring our business have access to cutting-edge technology so they can trial new ideas and improve products and processes and ultimately grow their business,” she said.
Senator Birmingham said the investment roadmap marks the “next step in the government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda”, which was launched in late 2015.
Andrew Holmes, the president of the Australian Academy of Science, welcomed the new investment but is “concerned” about a lack of detail.
“The Academy notes that many of the priorities of new infrastructure outlined in the Research Infrastructure Roadmap will be addressed through funding scoping studies, and will be incorporated in future iterations of the Investment Plan along with five-yearly reviews of the Research Infrastructure Roadmap,” Mr Holmes said.
“The Academy looks forward to receiving further detail and certainty,” Mr Holmes said.
“Upgrading, expanding and connecting many of Australia’s research facilities remains critical to allow the research community to continue seeking solutions to some of our most pressing challenges in industry, agriculture, health and environment.”
The government has agreed to the reports nine key recommendations and research areas, and would include consolidating all animal and plant specimens under one roof, and upgrading sequencing and mass spectrometry equipment for medical research, agribusiness and conservation.
It marks an expansion of the existing National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, and the plan would be reviewed every two years to “keep investments relevant and in line with research priorities”.
“The Australian government is committed to ensuring that Australia stays at the forefront of advanced sciences, research and innovation in what is an increasingly competitive global environment.
“A modern and world-class NRI system will drive advances in technology and knowledge that boost productivity, create jobs and deliver economic growth,” the government said in its response.
“This significant investment will ensure Australia’s researchers and businesses have the cutting-edge equipment and infrastructure to keep Australia on the forefront of research across health, environment, manufacturing and emerging technologies, such as quantum computing and nano-technology.”
The near-$2 billion would be split, with $1.5 billion going towards equipment and capabilities to “ensure researchers have access to the most advanced infrastructure”, and $400 million for supporting “critical operating funding for facilities and scoping of potential new cutting-edge capabilities”.
“A strong NRI system is necessary to deliver the research excellence that drives innovation across the economy and creates jobs. NRI facilities are also melting pots for collaboration – they bring together researchers from across broad disciplines, catalysing relationships and supporting cross-disciplinary research,” the government said.
“High-quality and accessible NRI is a prerequisite for attracting international innovators and companies, driving Australia’s reputation for scientific and research excellence. It attracts, develops and exports a highly skilled workforce, including the next generation of researchers.”
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