​WA Budget commits AU$20m to innovation but mining remains top priority

Western Australia has stumped up AU$20 million over five years to facilitate innovation and added an extra AU$30 million this year to its continued technology rollout in Perth's Children's Hospital.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The Western Australian government has handed down its 2016-2017 Budget, allocating AU$20 million to promote innovation and strengthen, broaden, and build the state's economy.

Distributed over four years, it is expected the AU$5 million annual chunks will be spent by government departments working with relevant industries to support the researchers, innovators, and startup businesses on the country's west coast.

"This is a Budget that provides a firm footing for the future," the Budget papers say.

The WA Budget also leaves the state with a net debt of AU$20.6 billion, off the back of an expected AU$3.9 billion deficit for 2016-17. Revenue for the state is projected for 2016-17 to come in at AU$25.6 billion.

Reminiscent of previous budgets, Perth's Children's Hospital has been given AU$30.8 million this year to continue its technology fit-out. The state's greater medical sector has also been given a technological boost, with research a focus this year.

With the tagline "Better Health, Better Care, Better Value", the government said it is committed to clinical innovation and supports the development of ground-breaking research and collaboration through establishing and maintaining strong partnerships.

"Clinical innovation and research has led to the ongoing development of new treatment therapies, including a radical new procedure to regrow patients' own skulls using human stem cells and 3-D printing technology, and establishment of a phenome research centre leading to improvement in patient diagnosis, prognosis, and the selection of treatments," the Budget paper says.

Elsewhere in the Budget, Lotterywest has been given AU$2.2 million to upgrade its ageing technology with modern gaming systems and database consolidation, and the WA Chemistry Centre has been given AU$6.4 million for the delivery of services, which includes its contribution to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in schools

WA Police are receiving an upgrade to its regional radio network, with the AU$8.8 million allocation listed as an information technology upgrade. The state-owned electricity corporation, Synergy, has a total of AU$18.2 million to spend on various IT projects.

Office of the Government Chief Information Office has been given AU$4.6 million to establish a platform for the delivery of better government services through the efficient development of "IT strategies, policies, and solutions".

Department of Commerce has been given AU$19 million for information and technology-related expenditures, such as an upgrade for its Building Commission Division, which includes AU$2.1 million in 2016-17 for works to address regulatory reform in the industry, and to allow for cross-department collaboration.

Other departments such as Planning, Housing, Attorney-General, and Corrective Services will also be overhauling their legacy systems, given approximately AU$2 million each to kick-start the upgrades this year.

Whilst the WA government said it is focused on jobs, mimicking Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's "Jobs and Growth" 2016-17 Federal Budget, the state is expecting these jobs to come from the mining and construction sector, with Treasurer Mike Nahan saying he expects iron ore exports to increase by 50 million dry tonne come 2020.

"The mining sector, in which we have a comparative advantage, will continue to drive growth through a substantial expansion in exports," Nahan said Thursday. "Exports are already the key driver of economic growth, with merchandise exports lifting by 8.6 percent in 2014-15."

Wary of the mining boom coming to an end, Turnbull called for the country to change the direction for its future workforce in December, stumping up AU$1.1 billion for the ideas boom.

When handing down his National Innovation and Science Agenda, the prime minister said that unlike the mining boom, the ideas boom is one that can continue forever and is limited only by our imagination.

His billion-dollar National Innovation and Science Agenda promise will be used to incentivise innovation and entrepreneurship, reward risk taking, and promote STEM in schools.

Western Australia Opposition Leader Mark McGowan pledged AU$14.5 million in March for a new industries fund to support startups, where they could access the funds for business skills, marketing support, investment strategy, and advocacy work in the technology and computer gaming sectors.

Spread over five years, AU$10 million is slated for city-based projects, and the remainder for rural locations.

McGowan said the new program would be Labor's way of diversifying the state's economy as the mining sector slowed down, with the focus shifting to those in specialist fields such as digital media, app development, computer animation, and computer game development.

"I want to ensure that our best and brightest remain in our state, go on and use their creative abilities to create great businesses, great companies, and great opportunities for West Australians," he said. "This is a major part of our state's future."

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