Translation nation: Australia’s first quantum strategy launches

James Riley
Editorial Director

After decades of investment in the fundamental research underpinning the burgeoning quantum technology sector, the federal government has unveiled Australia’s first National Quantum Strategy to accelerate the translation of research to commercial and social return.

To be launched by Industry and Science minister Ed Husic in Canberra on Wednesday, the strategy sets out plans of action across five key themes over seven years.

The strategy aims to maintain the relative strength of Australian research leadership while building structures to enable research translation and a pipeline commercialisation success.

At its core, the long-awaited strategy aims to build new industries based on emerging quantum technology, and to connect research translation opportunities to the $1 billion Critical Technologies Fund, the targeted sub-set of Mr Husic’s signature National Reconstruction Fund.

As a nation, Australia made its first investments in quantum research in the late 1950s, Mr Husic said. And then 30 years ago, Australian universities were among the first in the world to offer post-graduate qualifications in quantum physics.

Today, graduates of those programs are leading projects around the world in both industry and academia. The strategy aims to maintain that research strength and to structures to support translation and commercialisation efforts.

Citing modelling by the CSIRO, Mr Husic said the commercialisation of quantum technologies could create an Australian industry worth $2.2 billion that directly employs 8,700 people by 2030, growing to $6 billion and 19,400 by 2045.

“The National Quantum Strategy recognises the importance of commercialisation opportunities, robust infrastructure, a skilled workforce, clear standards and – most importantly – community trust in the long-term success of quantum in Australia,” Mr Husic said.

“It has been drafted against a backdrop of accelerating geopolitical interest in quantum technologies with the US, China, the UK and the European Union all scaling up investment in the past two years.”

The five central themes of the strategy are:

  • Creating thriving research and development, investment in and use of quantum technologies
  • Securing access to essential quantum infrastructure and materials
  • Building a skilled and growing quantum workforce
  • Ensuring standards and frameworks support national interests
  • Building a trusted, ethical and inclusive quantum ecosystem

Initial actions include the introduction of national ‘missions’ that fast-track the use of quantum technologies and build quantum use-cases in quantum sensing, communications and computing.

The government says it will also seek out and support initiatives involving consortiums of universities, quantum companies and industry in translating research into commercial outcomes – with the aim to build a pipeline of quantum companies that can be connected with the Critical Technology Fund.

The strategy calls for a national audit of quantum-related infrastructure that enables research, and to identify capability gaps and areas that require further specific investment. The audit would cover an investigation of all parts of the quantum ecosystem, from universities to CRCs.

On growing the quantum workforce, the strategy commits the government to promoting Australia as a top destination for people studying or undertaking research in quantum industries, and to similarly promote Australia as a high-value location for companies establishing their own quantum capabilities.

The strategy sets out — and has already delivered on — a “National Quantum Collaboration Initiative” and quantum PhD scholarship program as a foundation for a nationwide model for academic collaboration. It will also release a quantum workforce report that models the needs of the quantum and adjacent sectors, including in education.

The author of the strategy, chief scientist Dr Cathy Foley, said Australia is well positioned to take advantage of the “amazing research” that is coming out of the nation’s laboratories and to build a thriving deep-tech industry.

“Australia is in a great place to make the most of the explosion of interest and investment in quantum tech internationally,” Dr Foley said.

“We’ve had many years of patient fundamental research in quantum. We have world-class expertise and start-ups working on a number of applications. We now have the opportunity to build that into a new industry – and I encourage sectors across the Australian economy to explore what it means for them.

“This strategy is an exciting moment. It shows that we understand the transformative potential of quantum and we’re united in our ambition to accelerate this next revolution in digital capabilities.”

Dr Foley, who in 2020 as CSIRO chief scientist directed the creation of the science agency’s ‘quantum roadmap’ of opportunities in the sector, said that success would “require a concerted system-wide focus” to ensure the development of a skilled workforce, access to infrastructure and a regulatory that encourages the sector.

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