Coalition redirects research funding, scraps NBN initiatives

In a bid to 'repair the Budget', the federal government has redirected funding from research projects in what it calls 'good news for Australia'.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

Earlier this year, Minister for Education Christopher Pyne announced funding across 1,177 projects, including 913 Discovery projects and 63 Linkage projects under the Australia Research Council (ARC).

At the time, he said that "if Australia is to continue to produce ground-breaking research outcomes, 'eureka' moments, and Nobel Laureates, then a strong investment in research is needed".

"The Coalition government is committed to enabling our researchers to investigate, explore, and discover and to deliver outcomes that benefit the nation."

However, as part of the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) papers, cutbacks will be made to both programs as funds are redirected to other research priorities. Around AU$61 million in funding will be cut from the Discovery program, while AU$42 million will be cut from the Linkage program.

While the specific projects that will be cut have not been publicised, both programs contain technology-related projects.

An example of a Linkage program, which could possibly be cut, includes an AU$300,000 research project at the University of Newcastle into quantum key distribution, allowing for completely secure communications and cryptography key exchanges regardless of distance. From the Discovery program is a AU$330,000 project from the University of Queensland that looks at solving the "thermal runaway" problem in lithium-ion batteries, which has been responsible for fires and makes their transportation and safe handling problematic.

The funding will instead be steered toward research into dementia and Type 1 juvenile diabetes.

In making the change in funding announcement today, Pyne said that it is "good news for research and good news for Australia".

"Investing and supporting medical research is one of the best long-term investments in health that a government can make," he said in a statement.

The government has also cut AU$10 million in funding to the ARC's Centres of Excellence program. The MYEFO papers note that these cuts were identified by the former Labor government, and that the money will be redirected to "help repair the Budget and fund policy priorities".

Another remnant of funding from the Labor government that will not make it through includes the digital business kits initiative, and the digital productivity program.

Labor formerly promised free training for businesses on how to leverage the National Broadband Network (NBN). It budgeted AU$5 million across 10 industry sectors, and had begun rolling them out. A saving of AU$0.5 million will be found by the Coalition government by choosing not to go ahead with the remaining kits.

Similarly, Labor was in the process of setting up a number of "Digital Hubs" in the first NBN-enabled communities, as well as creating initiatives to engage local government and communities with the NBN. The remainder of these will now be scrapped, providing the government with an AU$0.1 million saving.

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