Science in the budget: NZ vs Aussie

As has been widely reported over the last couple of days, the Government’s Budget for 2010 – 11 will include $321 million in new funding science and R&D initiatives over the next four years, with $96 million consisting of re-prioritised funding.

budget_dreamstime_114638This was pre-announced yesterday and made this year’s budget particularly more sciency than most years in recent history.What did scientists make of it? Mixed views really, some of which has been reflected in Sciblogger Grant Jacobs’ post.

Here are a couple of comments we rounded up at the Science Media Centre:

Associate Professor Jon Hickford, President of the New Zealand institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Research:

“The Prime Minister’s announcement is quite unprecedented and particularly pleasing given the current economic situation in NZ. The investment not only addresses many of the ongoing failings with the RS&T system, but also signals very clearly Government’s belief that investment in RS&T is a key to creating future economic wealth. It is most pleasing to see the major investment in leveraging more R&D in businesses that are already successful and this should be of great benefit to all those businesses that export goods and services that are specifically allied to New Zealand’s primary sector.

“It is also very pleasing to see recognition of the need to create a better career structure in science, such that young talent stays in New Zealand and adds to the economic well-being of the country. While some comments have emerged that this is about Government “trying to pick winners”, it needs to be remembered that this has been the case for the last 20-odd years of highly competitive funding regimes. Governments’ certainly try to pick winners in many other countries and supporting R&D in industry is certainly not unprecedented internationally. It also needs to be remembered that this Government moved early in the piece to invest a lot more in the Marsden fund, a fund which is focussed exclusively on “blue-skies” research. While there is also some consternation about the reallocation of existing funding, the proposed shift in funding priority seems to be based on the premise that RS&T needs to find solutions and not just identify problems.”

Dr Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago:

“This announcement from the government is heartening news for science. The government is giving a vote of confidence to the science sector indicating that it believes that research is important for our economy, society and education and needs to be funded even in poor economic times. Even more important is the funding for the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships which fills a gap in the New Zealand funding system and will be important in attracting talented scientists back to New Zealand. These fellowships will enable early career researchers to properly establish their careers increasing their chances of being successful and useful New Zealand scientists.”

Last year we had relatively modest improvements for science, while the Australian budget had major funding boosts for science, including an increase in the R&D tax credit and funding for alternative energy efforts. So how did Australian science fare in this year’s budget announced yesterday? As Life Scientist points out, not very well, though a lot of funding committed lasy year is working through the system. Australia’s budget this year was more like ours was last year – all about fiscal constraint.

Here’s what Australian scientists had to say about it (a round-up courtesy of the Australian Science Media Centre):

Professor Linda Kristjanson is Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Development at Curtin University

’The 2010-11 budget contained no major news for higher education and research, and instead affirmed the Government’s commitment to initiatives currently underway – Education Investment Fund, Super Science, Excellence in Research Australia and related funding schemes. The commitment to space science and astronomy is welcomed and will continue to progress our preparation and competitiveness for the Square Kilometre Array project. Investment in the CRC program is also encouraging. Commitments to environmental innovations in the area of green energy and the focus on primary health care are needed and universities such as Curtin, who are working directly in these areas will be able to engage with industry to ensure evidence based innovations are implemented’

Professor Suzanne Cory is President of the Australian Academy of Science

’A Parliamentary Inquiry into Australia’s International Research Collaboration will report later this year, and we hope the Government will respond with renewed funding for this crucial area, guided by whole of Government strategy. Currently, valuable programmes with long term international partners are in jeopardy, as forward planning cannot be undertaken.’

’We need a bold vision for the future of research in science, maths and engineering in Australia. This vision is essential for our country’s future. We welcome the Government’s decision to ensure that Hospitals will now receive essential research funding from the Commonwealth. However, it is a pity that there has been no rationalisation of funding to cover real research costs for Universities, CSIRO, Medical Research Institutes and Hospitals.’

Professor Bob Williamson is the Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science.

’In last year’s budget, there was a long overdue increase of about 25% in Australia’s research funding, particularly to the Universities, but this focussed on new buildings and large pieces of equipment. The Academy notes that we still need to attract and retain the best people in science to occupy the labs, run the experiments, and keep Australia at the forefront of world research. Some major initiatives, such as the ‘Australia Fellowships’ in medical research, come to an end this year’

Professor Garry Jennings is Director of the Baker IDI Heart & Diabetes Institute

’The broad emphasis on health is welcome and although it does not achieve health system reform some of the foundations are there.

“The deafening silence on health research funding in the budget raises the question of where and how innovation will occur. The new and better funded health system faces the future challenges of an aging community living with chronic disease, emerging global diseases and new technology. More money for the here and now is welcome but needs future proofing with research linked to clinical care across the health system and a workforce that is savvy to new developments. ’

Professor Mike Daube is President of the Public Health Association of Australian (PHAA) and Deputy Chair of the Preventative Health Taskforce

’For the first time, we have a comprehensive approach to reducing our massive toll of preventable ill health and death, with substantial commitments in the Budget to funding for prevention’.

’The Government’s response to the Prevention Taskforce Report demonstrates a strong commitment to action on tobacco, obesity and alcohol problems, with a special focus on binge drinking.’

’Today’s announcements confirm that the Australian Government will lead the world in tobacco control, through a the 25% tax increase combined with public education, plain packaging and a range of other measures and a special focus on disadvantaged groups who continue to smoke at high levels. This will help to prevent literally hundreds of thousands of deaths.

“The allocation of $50m for action on alcohol, including funds to offer alternatives for sports sponsored by alcohol is also an important development, allied to strong public education programs on both alcohol and obesity. We also welcome the allocation of $54m to a National Health Survey as well as the substantial funding promised through COAG.’

’Of course there are other measures we would like to see accepted — such as alcohol tax reform, and legislated controls on alcohol and junk food promotion, but this is a very encouraging start, and we note that the Government has not closed the door on some of the tough measures proposed in the Taskforce Report.’

’Even in difficult economic times, this gives us a strong basis on which to build. We will continue to press for further action, including an increase in the percentage of health expenditure for prevention from the current 2%, but today’s announcements clearly mark the start of a new era in prevention.’

Michael Moore is CEO of the Public Health Association of Australian

’We are pleased to see the emphasis on prevention continue, through action ranging from the new Australian National Preventive Health Agency, a new National Health Survey, delivery of the COAG funding, support for community programs, support for primary care (including through the new Medicare Locals) and a significantly increased commitment to participation in sport’.

’The Budget’s primary healthcare package also contains a number of further measures that are designed to reduce the levels of preventable illness and disease in the Australian community.

“It will also be important to ensure that these are complemented by further measures to reduce the health inequities in our society, investment in areas such as mental health and oral health, and action beyond the health portfolio’.

Professor Roger Jones is a Professorial Research Fellow at the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies at Victoria University

On Climate Change

’Under climate change most of the measures have already been announced. With the CPRS delayed, expenditure is also delayed and the concentration will be on the rollout of energy efficiency programs. Much of the climate change budget is defensive, with inspections for the insulation and solar hot water programs and a redesign of the green loans scheme. Adaptation is to be rolled out to a whole of government scale. There are new measures for overseas funding for adaptation in vulnerable countries, including to the Least Developed Countries Fund under the UNFCCC. The focus is on small island states in the Pacific and Caribbean. Already funded, a further focus will be on developing international policy links prior to 2012, continuing the negotiations from Copenhagen, and continuing to inform policy development in Australia.

On the Environment

’$81.3 million is to saved over four years by reducing duplication, mostly through reductions in funding to the National Heritage Trust with lesser reductions in Landcare. This funding is to be redirected. This is a cut of about 5%. Funding will be provided to streamlining environmental information particularly in the Bureau of Meteorology. Significant funds are being removed from the National Rainwater and Greywater Initiative and National Urban Water and Desalination Plan, due to stated ’lower than expected demand’. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority received a small boost for their implementation plan.

Science and research

“There was very little in terms of new programs that had not already been announced. A large policy program in ANU is being funded but had been announced previously.”

“Overall, this is a very safe budget. One disappointment is that significant funding being made available for training for sustainable growth is restricted to sustainable economic growth. The Green Jobs program is very small. I would prefer to see more environmental measures being rolled into the workforce and skills generally than having a small, green ghetto.’

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