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Issue #1686      May 27, 2015

7 ways the budget will affect public sector science

While there was no repeat of last year’s widespread cuts to CSIRO and other publicly funded research agencies, the budget delivered some contradictory messages for science.

Organic photovoltaic solar cells are low cost and environmentally friendly to produce. CSIRO’s thin, flexible solar cells could offer an affordable solution to meeting the needs of increasing energy demands around the world.

1. Not much love for CSIRO

No additional funding cuts for CSIRO but not much in the plus column either.

  • No new expense measures.
  • An average staffing level of 4,971 representing an increase of a single position from last year’s figures.
  • Appropriation funding for CSIRO over the forward estimates totalling $3.08 billion – including three years of small budget cuts before a promised $48.8 million increase in 2018-19.
  • No money for CSIRO properties, infrastructure or National Facilities.

2. More science job cuts

The budget papers forecast average staffing levels to fall in:

  • Department of Industry and Science – cut by 269 positions
  • Bureau of Meteorology – 102
  • Department of Environment – 35
  • Clean Energy Finance Corporation – 24
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare – 13
  • National Water Commission – 12
  • National Health and Medical Research Council – 10
  • Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority – 5
  • Australian Institute of Criminology – 3
  • Climate Change Authority – 2
  • Australian Renewable Energy Agency – 2

3. CRC program takes another hit

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) program – of which CSIRO is the single largest participant – will suffer a funding cut for a second year in row.

  • CRC funding will be cut by $26.8 million from 2015-16 over four years.
  • The overall program remains under review so there is uncertainty whether the remaining $732.4 million will survive over the forward estimates.
  • In last year’s budget the Government cut funding to the CRC program by $80 million.

4. Research grants raided to save NCRIS

The National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) has been thrown a temporary lifeline.

  • The government has announced the continuation of NCRIS funding to the tune of $150 million in 2016-17.
  • However the continuation of NCRIS funding has come at the cost of the Sustainable Research Excellence (SRE) program which will lose $262.5 million over the estimates.
  • According to the Australian Financial Review – who described the funding shift as a “pea and thimble trick” – the cut to the SRE “will have a major impact on university research because this program tops up the research money which universities receive in competitive grants from the Australian Research Council and the National Health and Medical Research Council.”

5. Some funding for ANSTO and the Australian Synchrotron

Two major capital measures were announced for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) plus an expense measure to maintain funding to the Australian Synchrotron.

  • Interim radioactive waste storage – $22.3 million over three years for ANSTO to rationalise radioactive waste stores and increase interim waste storage capacity at its Lucas Heights site.
  • Repatriation of radioactive waste – $26.8 million to enable the return of intermediate level radioactive waste from the United Kingdom in accordance with an intergovernmental agreement.
  • Synchrotron – $20.5 million to ANSTO to contribute to the operating costs of the Australian Synchrotron, representing the maintenance of existing operations in funding partnerships with the Victorian government and the New Zealand Synchrotron Group Ltd.

6. Money for Northern Australia

There’s a veritable shedload of money being thrown north as the government starts to pick winners ahead of the release of the Northern Australia White Paper. While there are no specific measures targeting CSIRO, there may be opportunities for new projects and research with private and public sector partners.

  • Northern cattle supply chains – an extra $101.3 million over four years to improve cattle supply chains in the north, “drawing on the CSIRO’s state of the art logistics modelling.”
  • Tropical health research – $15.3 million for NHMRC to invest into research into exotic disease threats to Northern Australia and the region, build collaboration and capacity in the health and medical research workforce. An extra $8.5 million over four years to establish an Australian Tropical Medicine Commercialisation grants program to commercialise therapeutics and diagnostics in tropical medicine.

7. What about the rest?

It’s a mix of the good, the bad and the ugly.

  • $27.3 million cut from the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program.
  • $31.7 million cut from Industry grant programs including Commercialisation Australia, Enterprise Connect and Industry Innovation Precincts.
  • Plans to abolish the CSIRO Environment Strategic Advisory Committee, with the function relocated to a flagship advisory committee.
  • CSIRO Marine National Facility Steering Committee to become a subcommittee under the CSIRO Board.
  • $4 million to establish Bjorn Lomborg’s Australian Consensus centre. Venue TBA.
  • $9.4 million for the Antarctic to maintain station operations and science projects.
  • $6.1 million to extend the Climate Change Authority until December 31, 2016.
  • $100.0 million for the Reef Trust to support the delivery of priority projects in the Great Barrier Reef.
  • $234.7 million to enhance the core capacity of the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  • $22.7 million cut from the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program through a reduction in funding for water buybacks.
  • Introducing a $100 million expenditure cap on the Research and Development tax incentive.

CSIRO Staff Campaigns

Next article – Taking Issue – Plan reveals Australia’s colonial status

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