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Thursday, 3 March 2011
Page: 2306


Mr SYMON (10:34 AM) —I speak in support of the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2010. The purpose of this bill before the House is to index funding for the Australian Research Council over the next four financial years. It results in additional spending of just over $824 million over those years by adding an additional out year to the forward estimates and by updating the indexation rates. The ARC is a statutory authority within the Australian government’s Innovation, Industry, Science and Research portfolio. Its mission is to deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and benefit the Australian community as a whole. We all know that research is critical to Australia’s future prosperity. It drives our economic productivity, delivers new solutions to environmental challenges, attracts global investment and improves our social wellbeing. The ARC builds Australia’s research capabilities by advising the government on research matters and managing the National Competitive Grants Program and has responsibility for the Excellence in Research for Australia Initiative.

In the last parliament, I was privileged to be a member of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Industry, Science and Innovation. That committee undertook a report into the sector as part of its work in the 42nd Parliament. The report was titled Building Australia’s research capacity. It followed an inquiry into that area examining key issues to deal with or happening in Australia’s research fields. I believe the work that was done by the standing committee has fed into government policy and new initiatives. It is a good thing for any member of the House involved with a committee to see the work that has been done over a number of months turned into reality, coming through the legislation in this place. The inquiry into research training and research workforce issues examined the needs of researchers at different stages of their careers. The final report identified the clear need for the government to do more to support researchers’ career development. I am pleased to note that many of the recommendations we made at the time have come into being, although there are many more that are still waiting their turn.

The ARC has a series of fellowships to support researchers at different stages of their careers, including the Australian Laureate Fellowships, Future Fellowships and Super Science Fellowships. The ARC fellowships help support researchers. As an example of the research supported by the ARC fellowships, I would like to talk about a research project at the University of Melbourne. Associate Professor William Shieh, from the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering, was granted a Future Fellowship to investigate ultrahigh-speed optical transport for sustaining the growth of the internet. This research aims to study novel transport technologies to construct optical backbone networks supporting internet traffic, and the project will help keep Australia at the leading edge of the exciting terabit technologies that are coming up as well as create commercial opportunities within Australia. This Future Fellowship is one example of how we in government have acted to support the careers of Australia’s researchers.

Encouraging and supporting research has been a theme of this government since we were elected. Innovative research feeds into the wider economy, delivers highly skilled jobs and supports our local industries. As well as overseeing the fellowship programs, the ARC manages the National Competitive Grants Program, which includes schemes to encourage individual and collaborative research, research infrastructure, equipment and facilities. The National Competitive Grants Program directly funds research programs from around Australia.

The ARC manages linkage projects which encourage and develop long-term strategic research alliances between higher education organisations and other organisations, including with industry, in order to apply advanced knowledge to problems that have been identified. The ARC supports centres of excellence, special research centres, co-funded centres and special research initiatives. ARC centres of excellence are hubs of expertise through which high-quality researchers maintain and develop Australia’s international standing in research areas of national priority.

As an example of a funded centre of excellence, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Ultrahigh Bandwidth Devices for Optical Systems is based at the University of Sydney. This centre will receive $23.8 million over seven years to conduct its cutting-edge research. Another example is the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, based at the University of New South Wales, which will receive $24.5 million over seven years to continue research. These are just two of the 13 ARC centres of excellence funded by the government.

In addition to the ARC centres of excellence, the ARC funds special research centres. These are funded by the ARC on the basis of research excellence and their potential to contribute to the economic, social and cultural development of Australia. Subject to satisfactory performance, the special research centres have been funded for nine years. Currently there are 15 special research centres covering areas as diverse as particulate fluids processing, the subatomic structure of matter and tectonics.

The ARC Special Research Initiatives scheme identifies new or emerging areas of research and provides funding for them. In 2009 the Australian Research Council funded a new collaborative research initiative to develop a functional bionic eye. In government, Labor committed $50 million over four years to fund this research. In 2011 the Australian Research Council will fund a new collaborative research initiative under the Special Research Initiatives scheme to support stem cell science. The Australian government has committed funding of to $21 million for a period of up to seven years. The Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science will fund one or more proposals to deliver a program of activity supporting stem cell research.

This is just a snapshot of the initiatives of the ARC and how these initiatives support Australia’s research output. The ARC’s strategic plan for 2010-11 to 2012-13 was released in October last year and provides insight into the direction of the ARC and, therefore, where Australia’s research efforts are heading. Over the period of this strategic plan the ARC will further improve its fellowship schemes by providing more opportunities for female and early career researchers. The ARC will award two additional research fellowships specifically for women to its funding schemes. The two additional fellowships will be awarded each year under the competitive ARC Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme. This scheme aims to attract and retain outstanding researchers and world-class research leaders. The additional fellowships will bring the total to be awarded each year to 17.

The ARC will also deliver the new Linkage Research Training Awards scheme during the period 2010-11 to 2012-13. As part of the government’s Clean 21 initiative, the Linkage Research Training Awards scheme will not only create opportunities for our early career researchers but also target a range of industry sectors, with priority given to green industries and new strategies to enable the greening of existing industries. This research will help develop the new and clean industries of the 21st century that Australia needs and put us at the forefront of global efforts.

Also during the period 2010-11 to 2012-13 the ARC will identify and promote Australia’s research strengths following the first full Excellence in Research for Australia evaluation. For the first time, the government and all Australians will be able to identify the disciplines within Australian universities that are internationally competitive, as well as the emerging areas where there are opportunities for development and further investment. This will help Australia map out its research specialities and help focus its resources. The ARC continues its responsibility for the National Competitive Grants Program, which is a significant component of Australia’s investment in research and development.

This bill will expand the total funding of the ARC and by 2012-13 the funding for the ARC’s various programs will reach $817 million. The dispersal of this spending reveals the extent of the programs and innovation supported by the ARC. Discovery projects will receive nearly $312 million in 2012-13 and this funding will support individual and team research projects in Australia. As part of this funding, the ARC will introduce the new Discovery Early Career Researcher Award in 2012. This scheme will provide more focused support for researchers and create more opportunities for early career researchers in teaching and research positions and in research-only positions. It is anticipated that up to 200 three-year awards of up to $125,000 per annum will be awarded under this scheme.

The ARC will also invest substantial funds to support the careers of researchers through its fellowship programs. The Federation and Australian Laureate fellowships will receive $44½ million, $157-odd million will go to Future Fellowships and the Super Science Fellowship will receive just under $7 million. The Future Fellowships scheme offers four-year fellowships of up to $143,000 a year to 1,000 outstanding Australian and international researchers in the middle of their careers. The Super Science Fellowship scheme will offer three-year fellowships of up to $72½ thousand a year plus 28 per cent of on-costs to 100 outstanding Australian and international early career researchers.

Funding for Linkage Projects will reach $145.9 million in 2012-13. Linkage Projects is the main ARC funding scheme to advance research collaborations with end users. This funding includes: $30 million for infrastructure, equipment and facilities; $94½ million for research centres; and $24½ million for special research initiatives.

The ARC plays a central role in building Australia’s research capacity. This increase in funding for ARC activities will fund new initiatives and continue to build on Australia’s research capacity. I commend this bill to the House.