CSIRO and Data61 to cash in on AU$500m science boost

The federal government has announced a AU$500 million investment in Australia's scientific sector in a bid to drive innovation and push research outcomes to global commercial markets.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

According to the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Christopher Pyne, innovation and science are two sides of the same coin and will go hand-in-hand to drive jobs, growth, and investment in Australia.

On Monday, the federal government announced a AU$500 million investment in Australia's science sector under its AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) will establish an innovation fund to invest in the development of early stage technology opportunities from the public research sector in a bid to increase the rate of commercial opportunities.

The government will provide the CSIRO-governed fund with AU$70 million over 10 years, which will be supported by a AU$200 million private sector fund.

"Having a fund focused and administered close to the sources of invention and research is ideal for generating the innovation Australia needs," CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall said. "This commitment will enable us to get some of our great science to market much more rapidly."

The CSIRO will also receive AU$20 million to expand its accelerator program.

Speaking at the CSIRO Discovery Centre in Canberra on Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that the CSIRO has been a leader in the innovation space, but under the guidance of David Thodey, the former-CEO of Telstra, it will undergo a culture change and thus bring with it a greater engagement with businesses.

"Australia is falling behind when it comes to commercialising good ideas and collaborating with industry," Turnbull said.

"Australia consistently ranks last or second last among OECD countries for business, research, and collaboration; increasing collaboration between businesses, universities, and the research sector is absolutely critical for our businesses to remain competitive.

"To commercialise an idea, a great invention, a great innovation, we need a great piece of research and grow into new sources of revenue, new jobs, new opportunities, and new industries."

Data61, the result of a merger between the digital productivity arm of the CSIRO with National ICT Australia (NICTA), will see AU$75 million to harness the "data revolution".

According to the federal government, Data61 will use data analytics to connect disparate government datasets and publicly release them on open data platforms; improve industry cybersecurity and develop new architectures; build a Data Research Network to link businesses with data researchers; and deliver data analytics training to improve data literacy in Australian businesses.

The Centre for Quantum Computation and Communications Technology which is headquarted at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) will receive AU$26 million over five years to support the developments it has made, and advancements it will make, in quantum computing.

Last month, a team of engineers from UNSW unlocked the key to enabling quantum computer coding in silicon.

According to the university, a quantum version of computer code can be written and manipulated using two quantum bits in a silicon microchip. UNSW said that in achieving this breakthrough, the team has removed lingering doubts that such operations can be made reliably enough to allow powerful quantum computers to become a reality.

The university's latest breakthrough follows on from an announcement made in October, when a team of engineers built a quantum logic gate in silicon, which made calculations between two quantum bits (qubits) of information possible.

The team said the advancement was a landmark result not only for Australia, but for the world, as until now it had not been possible to make two quantum bits "talk" to each other and create a logic gate using silicon.

The government expects the new funding to go toward the development of a silicon quantum integrated circuit, which will form the basis for developing a practical quantum computing system.

"This agenda will put science at the centre of the everyday; it will make science part of the national conversation in a way it never has been before," Assistant Minister for Science, Karen Andrews said.

"By providing this funding certainty for these facilities, the government is allowing scientists and industry to engage in long-term planning without fear of recurring funding cliffs."

Andrews said such investment will encourage the younger generation of Australians to partake in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education, thus helping to prepare for the jobs of the future.

Also forming part of the Innovation Agenda, the government pledged over AU$110 million for STEM and digital technology skills. AU$51 million will go towards helping students in Australia embrace the digital age and prepare for the jobs of the future; AU$48 million to inspire STEM literacy; and AU$13 million to encourage women to take up roles in the STEM sectors.

Over 10 years, the federal government will also invest AU$2.3 billion in research with AU$1.5 billion billed toward the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS); AU$250 million for the Australian Synchrotron; and AU$294 million for Australia's commitment to the Square Kilometre Array which will be the largest and most capable radio telescope ever constructed.

With 35,000 researchers on its books, the NCRIS currently works with the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science on improving the weather and climate model for Australia.

Additionally, a new AU$250 million independent body that will invest in biomedical discoveries and assist in their commercialisation will be established under the government's Innovation Agenda. The entire funding amount will come from cuts made to the Medical Research Future Fund.

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