Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research, Senator Evans. Science is central to our economy and prosperity, and government investment in research is central to maintaining and growing Australia's scientific capacity. There is growing concern amongst our universities and research organisations about the security of science funding. Minister, can you guarantee that science funding will be protected in this financial year? In particular, can you rule out any attempt to defer or freeze ARC, NHMRC or other science grants in an attempt to keep the budget in surplus?
I thank the senator for the question. I am sure she is aware, and I suppose it is why the question has been asked, that there are a lot of scientists in the building as part of the program by STA to connect scientists with parliament. It has been a very successful program over many years and I think all parliamentarians appreciate the opportunity to engage with scientists. I know there were a number of parliamentarians at the dinner last night, including Senator Milne, me and Ms Sophie Mirabella, the opposition spokesperson, along with a range of other MPs whom I will not try to list because I did not see them all. There was a big crowd.
Those scientists have raised with me and other members some of the media speculation regarding science funding and some of the concerns in the sector that have been driven by some of that speculation. This government continues to fund science and research at record levels both at universities and more broadly. The investment has been very focused on increasing the capacity of Australian science, which is world class. That investment continues, but the government has indicated that some of the grant rounds will be examined prior to their proceeding across government. There is no particularly strong impact on science and research at this stage because the rounds were not due to progress. We are reviewing all expenditure as part of good budgetary management, but no decision has been taken that would impact on what is a record investment in science and research. All those matters will be considered by the government as it manages its budgetary situation.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, why have you delayed your approval of funding for the industrial transformation research hubs, despite the recommendation of the proposals by the Australian Research Council?
Those recommendations regarding the guidelines for applications for the Industrial Transformation Research Program are with the government. It is the case that the first draft of the guidelines presented to me was rejected by me. I did not think they had enough focus and I have asked for them to be redone and reissued so as to make sure that that program delivers on its objectives and that we get value for money out of the program. I did not want to see it frittered away and I wanted to make sure that it has appropriate focus. I have also been working with Minister Combet to make sure that it fits with the industry initiatives that the government is supporting. As I say, an announcement about that will be made in due course. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, why has the government frozen funding for programs such as Commercialisation Australia and cooperative research centres, which are crucial to linking scientific research with industry and business?
In respect of cooperative research centres, which is the program that is my responsibility and in my portfolio, that is just not true, Senator. Just because it says so in the paper does not make it true. The funds have not been frozen and the application round is continuing. But, as I said, there is a general review within government of spending and grant rounds.
In terms of the Commercialisation Australia program, apart from the general proposition that I just explained to you regarding the review of all the grant programs, I am not sure that anything in particular has happened. I will take that question on notice because I am not responsible for that program. It falls within Minister Combet's purview and I will take it on notice and report back to the Senate if there is anything particular occurring in relation to that program.