NSW government dedicates AU$28m to assist with bushfire technology research

As part of the 2021-22 NSW Budget, the state government said funding will be put towards research and commercialisation of new technologies to tackle future bushfires.

A total of AU$28 million over four years will be directed into research and development of new technologies and industries to help New South Wales tackle future bushfires.

NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said the funding would be evenly split into AU$7 million chunks under the NSW Bushfire Response R&D Mission. The New South Wales government made the announcement ahead of its 2021-22 Budget, which is set to be handed down next week.

"The 2019-20 bushfires claimed lives, destroyed thousands of homes, and cost NSW billions, this investment will go towards reducing the impact of bushfires and responding in the most effective way possible," he said.

"This focus on new technology to enhance planning, preparation, and response will save jobs when a disaster strikes and boost jobs in new industries."

Under the mission, the funding will be used to establish a bushfire technology network for researchers, investors, and industry, as well as work with local small businesses to develop and commercialise bushfire technologies through an early-stage Bushfire Technology Fund and ensure the new technologies are tested by NSW's frontline bushfire services.

The mission responds to the recommendations that were put forward by the NSW bushfire inquiry, which called for the need to equip firefighters with more advanced technology, such as drones, remote sensors, data science, and artificial intelligence, to help them better understand, model, and predict bushfire behaviour, and respond more quickly.

Alongside introducing new technologies, the report recommended establishing a spatial technology acceleration program. It believes the program can help "maximise the information available from the various remote sensing technologies currently in use and to plan for inclusion of new remote sensing systems that can sense precisely and rapidly through heavy smoke, cloud, fog, and dust".

A total of 76 recommendations were made in the bushfire inquiry final report that was handed down last August, and the state government accepted them all.

"The mission will develop the use of real-time data from space, air and ground-based assets, ensure fire ground decisions made are based on information and computer-aided tools, and enable the use of equipment including robots to aid responders," NSW chief scientist and engineer Hugh Durrant-Whyte said.

"Technologies from NSW companies which prove themselves will attract interest from global markets."

The extra funding builds on the AU$192 million that NSW government allocated last October to arm firefighters with new equipment and upgrades to the existing aerial fleet, emergency infrastructure, and Fires Near Me app.

Announced also on Thursday was a further AU$8 million towards establishing an Emerging Industry Infrastructure, which the state government touted would help "target new industries where NSW potentially has a comparative advantage and where co-investment in joint infrastructure will both build on existing industry and attract global companies and investment into NSW".

Potential investment areas, according to the state government, include the development of sovereign semiconductor production capabilities and synthetic biology.

The state government further added that a combined AU$64 million in the 2021-22 Budget will be used over four years to help farmers and regional communities under what it is calling the Future Ready Regions strategy.

Of the total AU$64 million, AU$48 million will be used to increase the adoption of agtech production methods to improve efficiency and profitability and AU$4 million will be used to upgrade the drought information system to provide farmers with access to weather and climate data.

Other parts of the funding will go towards supporting farmers and other landholders with diversifying their income through carbon farming and biodiversity offset programs, agritourism and other agricultural programs.

"These are the lessons we cannot afford to forget and will be enshrined in the Future Ready Regions strategy to make sure our communities are ready when the next drought hits," Deputy Premier John Barilaro said.

"The initiatives in this brand new strategy, like increasing on-farm agtech and vastly improving weather and climate data, will build more resilient regional communities, increase investment in water security and enable farmers to make more informed business decisions."

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