Vic govt’s ‘surprising’ $29m bet on foreign quantum


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The Victorian government’s $29 million investment in a foreign quantum company has surprised the local sector and was made without consulting the federal agencies in charge of the national quantum plan.

Announced on Friday as a way of securing Australia’s “quantum sovereignty”, the investment will see US company ColdQuanta expand to Australia for the first time with a new technology centre at Swinburne University.

InnovationAus.com can reveal federal agencies charged with developing the Australian quantum sector, including the first national strategy, were not consulted on the deal and only made aware of it this week.

Quantum
Image: Microsoft

The decision also surprised Professor Michael Biercuk, the founder and chief executive of Sydney-based quantum startup Q-CTRL.

“The Australian quantum industry has been working with state and federal governments for years now attempting to build and accelerate a coordinated strategy for investment in an area of domestic technical leadership,” he said.

“It was surprising that the largest allocation of government funding to a quantum industry body since the 2017 [National Innovation and Science Agenda] has been awarded – uncompetitively to the best of our knowledge – to a foreign organisation, without even inviting domestic industry into discussions.”

The investment comes from Breakthrough Victoria, the company set up to manage the state government’s $2 billion innovation fund.

The Office of Australia’s Chief Scientist, which is currently developing a national quantum strategy, was not consulted about the ColdQuanta investment at all, while the federal Industry department responsible for growing the quantum sector was told just days before the public announcement.

Both agencies have stressed the importance of a strategic approach to emerging technology, not least of all for a greater sovereign capability, with the local sector predicted to be worth $6 billion and 19,000 direct jobs by 2045.

Breakthrough Victoria’s backing will help fund a quantum computing and technology centre called the ColdQuanta – Swinburne Quantum Technology Centre, located at the Melbourne university.

The centre will develop joint projects to create new commercial products, software and services, and facilitate staff collaborations with the ColdQuanta’s research centres in the US and UK.

In announcing the investment on Friday, Breakthrough Victoria’s inaugural chief executive Grant Dooley said it would grow local talent so “we can more effectively compete on the quantum world stage” and “secure our quantum sovereignty”.

“One of the major challenges facing the quantum technology sector is the lack of a qualified workforce,” he wrote in an InnovationAus.com oped announcing the investment.

“New programs will be developed to educate and train the next generation of workers to advance quantum information science, which includes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and related fields.”

Breakthrough has previously backed Australian companies like Seer Medical and Kite Magnetics, helping them to increase production and expand to overseas markets, but its latest investment will establish a presence for a US firm in Australia.

ColdQuanta, offers a variety of quantum technologies, including sensing, clocks and positioning systems, and is a direct competitor to several Australian companies, including Q-CTRL.

But there’s also a bigger issue of maximising the broader potential of the emerging technology for the nation, Professor Biercuk said.

“International cooperation, especially with AUKUS allies, is extremely important within the quantum technology sector.  We hope that moving forward Australian state and commonwealth government organisations act on their public ambitions to enable and empower the local industry,” he said.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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