Budget 2018: Tech and science gets AU$2.4 billion

The Australian Science and Technology Growth Program will push artificial intelligence, supercomputers, eSafety, women in STEM, intellectual property, space, and research and development.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Australian government's 2018-19 Budget has earmarked a massive AU$2.4 billion for technology and science over the next 12 years in a bid to support "a stronger and smarter economy".

"The government will invest more than AU$2.4 billion in Australia's public technology infrastructure," Treasurer Scott Morrison said in his Budget speech on Tuesday night.

"This includes supercomputers, world-class satellite imagery, more accurate GPS across Australia, upgrading the Bureau of Meteorology's technology platform, a national space agency, and leading research in artificial intelligence."

The government will invest AU$29.9 million over four years in AI and machine learning, which it said would support business innovation across digital health, digital agriculture, cybersecurity, energy, and mining.

"A Technology Roadmap, a Standards Framework. and a national AI Ethics Framework will help identify opportunities in AI and machine learning for Australia and support the responsible development of these technologies," the Budget papers explained.

"This measure will also support Cooperative Research Centre projects, PhD scholarships, and school-related learning to increase knowledge and develop the skills needed for AI and machine learning."

Under the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan: Building Australia's Artificial Intelligence capability to support business, the Department of Education and Training will get AU$300,000 in 2018-19, AU$400,000 in 2019-20, AU$400,000 in 2020-21, and AU$400,000 in 2021-22; the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's (CSIRO) will get AU$1.3 million in 2018-19, AU$400,000 in 2019-20, AU$400,000 in 2020-21, and AU$200,000 in 2021-22; and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science will get AU$5.1 million in 2018-19, AU$9.9 million in 2019-20, AU$7.3 million in 2020-21, and AU$3.7 million in 2021-22.

The announcement follows CSIRO's Data61 in September establishing a research institute alongside the Australian National University (ANU) to examine problems surrounding the use of AI.

Also under the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan, the government said it would be doubling its investment in Australia's supercomputing infrastructure, including the AU$70 million in 2017-18 for the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to replace and upgrade the computer and data capabilities at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth, including funding to replace the Magnus and Galaxy supercomputers and their supporting infrastructure.

Magnus was the most powerful public research supercomputer in the southern hemisphere as of September 2016, while Galaxy supports the $1 billion Square Kilometre Array (SKA), Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and the Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) operational requirements.

Total funding for the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre and the National Computational Infrastructure facility at the Australian National University will reach AU$140 million.

"The Pawsey Supercomputing Centre helps advance medical research, nanotechnology, mining, construction and urban planning with high-speed calculations. It supports research to maximise combustion in supersonic engines and model the physics of extreme waves to capture energy," the Budget papers said.

In all, the government said it would invest an additional AU$393.3 million over five years from 2017-18 -- or AU$1.9 billion over 12 years -- to support its national science and research infrastructure facilities, pointing to its success in quantum computing research.

"These facilities are the foundation of our innovation system. They allow our researchers and firms to deliver better goods and services and better outcomes for consumers," the papers said.

"Australia's research infrastructure facilities support research across a broad range of sectors such as health and marine science. For example, access to research facilities assisted in the development of cervical cancer vaccines and breakthroughs in quantum computing."

The Australian government will then also provide AU$2.9 million in 2018-19 for the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to manage safety standards and associated compliance for recreational and commercial drone technologies in Australia, after earlier this year offering AU$60 million in grants to encourage drone usage in smart farming.

From a legal perspective, the government is also keen to help Australians protect their intellectual property and to track innovation via its Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan.

For this, the government will provide AU$1 million over two years from 2018-19 -- from existing resourced in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science -- to review its domestic and international measures of innovation and develop new metrics to "ensure that innovation is accurately measured in Australia".

IP Australia will then use existing resources to the tune of AU$600,000 in 2018-19 to develop a business case for modernising IP Australia's patents management system including access via digital channels to its services.

As part of a program to get more women involved in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers and education, the government has also set aside AU$4.5 million over four years under the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan.

The funding being allocated to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science -- AU$1.8 million in 2018-19, AU$1.1 million in 2019-20, AU$800,000 in 2020-21, and AU$800,000 in 2021-22 -- will go towards formulating a Women in Science Strategy; developing and distributing STEM Choices resources kits to school-age girls; and "a decadal plan for women in science, to provide a roadmap for sustained increases in women's STEM participation".

The funding will also provide for a Women in Science Ambassador.

"A Women in Science Ambassador will encourage girls' participation in STEM subjects, while the 10-year Plan for Women in Science will set out a long-term strategy for increasing female involvement in STEM education and careers," the government explained.

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner has also received AU$14.2 million in funding over four years, with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to get AU$3.5 million in 2018-19, AU$3.6 million in 2019-20, AU$3.4 million in 2020-21, and AU$3.2 million in 2021-22, as well as providing AU$500,000 in related capital in 2018-19.

"This funding includes AU$11.7 million for new functions undertaken by the eSafety Office following the expansion of its role from promoting online safety for children to promoting online safety for all Australians," the Budget papers said.

"These new functions include administering a new civil penalty regime to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and providing guidance and support to Australians of all ages who experience online abuse.

"This funding also includes AU$2.5 million to fund the continuation of the eSafety Office's Certified Providers program and eSafety Women program.

The AU$247 million being committed to the National School Chaplaincy Program, meanwhile, will require school chaplains to "upgrade their skills by undertaking cyberbullying training provided by the eSafety Commissioner".

The Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan was unveiled after the government launched a consultation paper in September to get the ball rolling on how to build a nation ready to respond to and thrive within a digital economy.

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