Federal Budget 2017 Expert Reactions From Top Science Organisations

  Last updated August 2, 2017 at 4:51 pm

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Experts from science organisations around Australia comment on how the 2017-18 Federal Budget will impact research, health and science. 


Professor Les Field is Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science


“Science has largely flown under the radar in a restrained Budget, with no big spending measures and no major cuts apart from the university funding changes announced last week.


It is pleasing to see an astronomy partnership with the European Southern Observatory that will ensure Australia’s access to world-leading optical astronomy facilities, as well as new funding and administrative improvements in health and medical research, including the first investments from the Medical Research Future Fund. It’s also positive that the tried and tested CRC program will benefit from the Government’s advanced manufacturing industry focus.


It was disappointing that the Budget didn’t include any of the recommendations of the review of the R&D Tax Incentives.


There are small decreases in indexation of funding across the forward estimates equating to savings of several million dollars per annum in agencies such as ANSTO, CSIRO and funding programs such as the ARC and NHMRC. These will certainly be absorbed, but will add to the challenge of doing important science and innovation in areas of critical national importance.


The science sector will now look ahead to the 2030 Strategy for Science and Innovation, to be finalised by the end of the year, and the Government’s response to the Research Infrastructure Roadmap which will determine priorities for new capital investment.”


Kylie Walker is CEO of Science and Technology Australia


“This is largely a business-as-usual Budget for science and technology – it appears the Government has focused more significant investment in upgrades to national road, rail and other transport infrastructure and in keeping Australia’s manufacturing industry alive.


The Government has adopted a wait-and-see attitude to capital expenditure on major research infrastructure: we expect to see the final National Research Infrastructure Roadmap soon and hope investments will be made against it in coming years.


Science & Technology Australia welcomes new commitments of $26.1 million to enable Australia to enter a strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory, and the new Advanced Manufacturing Fund announced earlier this week – including a boost to the Cooperative Research Centres program.


There’s also a previously-announced $60 million for a new proton beam facility in South Australia, and a small but welcome boost to Geoscience Australia’s Digital Earth project to unlock and apply satellite data.


It’s pleasing that the Medical Research Futures Fund (MRFF) will begin disbursements as promised, with $65.9 million in year one for preventative health research and translation, advanced health translation centres, clinical trials and breakthrough research investments, and we also welcome an allocation of $115 million in mental health research and services.


However, Science & Technology Australia is disappointed that after recent cuts and a two-year salary freeze, CSIRO will suffer a decrease. Though small, this represents a continued erosion of their budget in real terms.


We’re also disappointed that the Australian Research Council (ARC) funding won’t keep pace with inflation, and that the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) is slipping slightly.”


Professor Tony Cunningham is President of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)


“The medical research sector has been eagerly anticipating the announcement of the first disbursements from the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and it is great to see preventive health being supported, along with a focus on improving the health of vulnerable groups such as Indigenous people, and improving access to clinical trials and other medical breakthroughs in regional Australia.


We look forward to further detail on how this will be distributed, along with announcements to come about other projects to be supported.


Ensuring the MRFF builds to $20 billion by 2020-21, at which point it will double Federal Government investment in medical research and bring Australia back into line with the OECD average for such investment, remains key to our sector. Tonight’s Budget indicated this growth was on track, which is immensely reassuring.


The MRFF is the sort of far-sighted public policy we so often cry out for in Australia, and there is no better investment than medical innovation to create the jobs of our future.”


Associate Professor Matt McDonald is a Reader in International Relations at the University of Queensland


“The Government’s decision to reduce Australia’s aid program spending by over $300 million should be one of the most controversial components of the 2017-18 budget. Aid is currently at an historic low in terms of the percentage of Australia’s Gross National Income, at a fraction over 0.2%.


This is well below the UN’s recommended 0.7%, and in Australia’s case (even before this budget) it is tracking downwards.


While the Foreign Minister has consistently emphasised the importance of aid in serving Australia’s international obligations and in particular its national interests, she has overseen an aid budget that has been gutted consistently under the Coalition Government.


At the same time, the Australian Federal Police have received an increase in funding, particularly targeting counter-terrorism and terrorism response capacity, of close to the same amount. And the commitment to 2% defence spending remains.


That a conservative government has prioritised security over aid funding is no surprise. Perhaps the more disappointing component of this announcement is that if the response to the historically controversial 2014-15 budget is anything to go by, Australians will respond with ambivalence to this abdication of Australia’s international responsibilities.


Dr Michael Gannon is president of the Australian Medical Association


“Minister Hunt said from day one in the job that he would listen and learn from the people who work in the health system every day about what is best for patients, and he has delivered tonight..


The AMA would have preferred to see the Medicare freeze lifted across the board from 1 July 2017, but we acknowledge that the three-stage process will provide GPs and other specialists with certainty and security about their practices, and will help address rising out-of-pocket costs for patients.


Lifting the Medicare rebate freeze is overdue, but we welcome it.


We also welcome the Government’s allocation of $350 million to help prevent suicide among war veterans; the expansion of the Supporting Leave for Living Organ Donors Program, which allows donors to claim back out-of-pocket expenses and receive up to nine weeks paid leave while recovering; measures to increase the vaccination rate; and the ban on gambling ads during live sporting broadcasts before 8.30pm.


We acknowledge extra funding for the Rheumatic Fever Strategy, in response to calls in the 2016 AMA Indigenous Health Report Card.


We now need to shift our attention to gaining positive outcomes for public hospitals, prevention, Indigenous health, mental health, aged care, rural health, private health insurance, palliative care, and the medical workforce.”


Michael Moore is CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia


“Expenditure on prevention is likely to remain close to 1.5% of the health budget while the major issues of tobacco, obesity and alcohol remain with minimal increases in funding compared to the investment to remove the freeze on the Medicare rebate.


Australia is lagging considerably compared to places like Canada and New Zealand where over 5% of the health budget is committed to prevention.


The freeze on rebates combined with rising consultation fees has made it more difficult for Australians to visit their doctors and therefore prevented them from receiving the basic level of healthcare which should be their entitlement. A strong public health system means the affordable and efficient provision of healthcare services, which starts with general consultations being accessible and within the means of the Australian public


Obesity is currently the second highest contributor to the burden of disease in Australia which costs billions to the public and private sectors annually, and it’s time we seek a proactive solution.


A levy on sugary drinks has proven benefits which we’ve seen in other nations like Mexico which have adopted this approach, therefore it is an essential preliminary step toward controlling the obesity epidemic.”


A/Professor Martina Linnenluecke if from the UQ Business School at The University of Queensland


“The 2017 Federal budget aims to make Australia better not great.


Plans for Snowy 2.0 include a commitment from the Federal Government to buy out state ownership of the iconic Hydro-electricity scheme. Whilst this and the energy security measures announced do aid with energy provision into the future, there is a missed opportunity to make Australia a leading nation in clean technology in the face of pressing environmental changes.


There is compelling evidence for an upcoming technological breakthrough in clean technology that will drive wealth and growth for the decades to come. Australia continues to delay commitment to a clean tech future and thus risks falling behind other countries with more expansionist policies.”


Expert comments gathered by the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC).

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About the Author

Kelly Wong
Online producer at Australia's Science Channel. I have a background in immunology, food blogging, volunteering, and social media. I'm passionate about creating communities on social media and getting them excited about science. I enjoy good food and I am on an eternal mission to find the best ice cream. Find me on Twitter @kellyyyllek

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Science and technology is as much a part of our cultural fabric as art, music, theatre and literature. They play a significant role in our daily lives, yet, in a world dependent on science, we often take them for granted. Australia’s Science Channel believes every citizen has a right, and a responsibility, to be informed, and our mission is to create programs to bring that about.


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