New defence research agency missing from Budget

Brandon How

The federal government remains committed to the defence science research agency promised ahead of the election, despite no mention of it in last week’s budget.

In April, Labor announced it would establish the Advanced Strategic Research Agency (ASRA) and pledged $1.2 billion in funding to the agency over 10 years.

ASRA is intended to fund research in breakthrough technologies that enhance national security, leverage private investment in defence research priorities, and increase Australia’s involvement in technology sharing and research and development through the AUKUS agreement.

It will be modelled on the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which is famous for its involvement in the commercialisation of the internet, computer mouse, and GPS.

Defence Minister Richard Marles and Defence Industry Minister Pat Conroy. Image: Twitter

A spokesperson for Defence Industry minister Pat Conroy told that the federal government would deliver its commitment to establish ASRA and that the government has “started examining options for ASRA”.

“This will be undertaken in a methodical and deliberate way to ensure that ASRA, when launched, is set up for success. Budget implications for ASRA will be determined once the examination of options has been completed,” the spokesperson said.

“The Government has no plans to cut funding for defence innovation. We are committed to driving innovation to support the men and women of the Australian Defence Force and the technologies needed for Australia’s security.”

In a speech delivered in September, Minister Conroy said the federal government is planning to invest around $3 billion in defence innovation over the next decade.

Since 2016, the Defence Innovation Hub has led investments in the Australian defence industry and innovation sector. It is expected to be subsumed into ASRA and will have its priorities aligned with AUKUS, which includes artificial intelligence, quantum computing, cyber, and hypersonics.

ASRA is also expected to coordinate and fund research across universities, industry, and other government agencies such as CSIRO. Australian universities and industry will also be a part of the relationships formed with DARPA and the United Kingdom’s Advanced Research and Invention Agency, established in 2021.

Details on how ASRA will relate to the Defence Science and Technology Group have yet to be revealed.

Research and development expenditure at government agencies has been in decline over the last decade. In 2012-13, it made up 0.24 per cent of GDP whereas in 2020-21 it made up only 0.17 per cent of GDP, representing a $622 million decline. Overall, this type of expenditure has been sliding since the 1980s peak of more than 0.40 per cent of GDP.

ASRA is one of several election commitments that have seen funding commitments pushed out until next financial year, as program design is finalised and the government tries to balance its spending with growing inflation.

For instance, the bulk of funding for the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund is expected to arrive from 2023-24, although the departments of Industry and Finance have received $45 million for startup costs this year.

Similarly, the Buy Australia Plan is being funded through existing resources at the Department of Industry and the Department of Finance this financial year.

To fulfil other election commitments, existing Department of Defence resources totalling $37.3 million over three years will support construction of the North Queensland Simulation Park in Townsville and the development of renewable fuel manufacturing.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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