Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged the government's ongoing support for a substantial CSIRO innovation program, after media reports late last week suggested that hundreds of millions of dollars would be cut from the initiative's budget.
The CSIRO's national Research Flagship program will stay afloat, according to Gillard: "[Recently], the Prime Minister in Melbourne was talking about the importance of innovation to productivity and this nation's future growth. The CSIRO flagship program is in the national interest," said Gillard. "That program has the government's support, full stop. There's no need to put any more in that sentence. It's got our support."
The Research Flagship program was established in 2003 to foster partnerships between the CSIRO and research institutions, business partners and other international organisations, with funding directed towards a limited number of "flagship" projects.
"Flagship funding is intended to go into getting really high profile results for certain projects, which can put funding pressures on other projects that may experience cutbacks as a result, so there are other vested interests in this," said Richard Harris, research VP at analyst firm Gartner.
"There's a strong political dimension to all this when specific areas are targeted to have their funding maintained or cut, and at a time like this when there are budget stringencies, the potential to fight to keep what you've got is always on the cards," he said.
Gillard suggested that the prospect of cutting funds to the Flagship program was just part of usual pre-budget conjecture.
"I know that we are going to have budget speculation every day between now and the budget ... speculation will come and go but the CSIRO flagship program is an important program in the national interest," said Gillard.