Science welcomes ‘future focused’ budget

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Joseph Brookes

Peak organisations representing Australian scientists and engineers have welcomed the “future focused” budget,  but say the government has missed another opportunity for a clean energy revolution.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg handed down his third budget on Tuesday night, revealing a new limited patent box program that will slash the tax rate for Australian medical and biotech innovations, with clean tech to potentially be added later.

The government has also committed to a review of the administrative framework of the broader research and development tax incentive (RDTI) by the end of this year and pledged $42.4 million over seven years to support a women in STEM scholarship initiative.

The Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) says the budget represents a missed opportunity for Australia to become a global clean energy powerhouse.

Science and Technology Australia (STA), which represents more than 88,000 scientists and technologists in Australia, welcomed the budget.

“This future-focused Budget charts a path to develop the workforce Australia will need to seize opportunities in next-generation technologies,” Science & Technology Australia President Associate Professor Jeremy Brownlie said.

STA had lobbied for a $2.4 billion commercialisation fund to driver better early stage collaboration and innovation but still welcomed the patent box initiative, which will see the tax breaks go to companies already generating revenue in medical and biotechnology sectors.

Professor Brownlie welcomed the commitment to consult on extending the tax breaks to clean energy.

But clean energy should have been included from the start, according to the Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE).

ATSE had called for more support for climate change mitigation and said the budget represented another “missed opportunity” for Australia to become a global clean energy powerhouse.

“Most of the investment to address climate change is targeted at adaptation strategies, which are clearly necessary,” ATSE chief executive Kylie Walker said.

“But we would have liked to have seen at least an equal amount invested in accelerating and leading Australia’s transition to a low emissions economy.”

Ms Walker said ATSE was also disappointed by the lack of support for electric vehicle infrastructure, which will be crucial in reaching net zero emissions.

But it welcomed the patent box scheme and urged it be widened to clean energy as soon as possible.

Both ATSE and STA welcomed the women in STEM scholarship program. The government set aside $42.4 million to co-fund scholarships for more than 230 women to pursue STEM PhD qualifications.

“Increasing investment in STEM education and research translation will strengthen Australia’s capacity to rebuild after COVID and to respond to the serious challenges posed by climate change,” Ms Walker said.

STA chief executive officer Misha Schubert said the scholarships would for more women to study science and technology and would be supported by the government’s planned childcare subsidy.

“As longtime champions of women in STEM, STA welcomes this boost through industry placement scholarships to get more women and girls into STEM,” she said.

“The $1.7 billion over five years to expand childcare subsidies will be welcome help for working parents everywhere, including in STEM.”

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