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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 76

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (18:53): I rise today to speak on the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2011. Although this is a routine change to the Australian Research Council Act 2001 which occurs annually, the bill continues to update and contribute to the important work that the ARC provides for innovation and research in Australia. This amendment, which the coalition supports, adds indexation to current financial year funding figures and extends the forward estimate period to the year commencing 1 July 2014. Specifically, this bill will add indexation at approximately 3.4 per cent, which will cost $89 million and fund the extra financial year at a cost of $795 million.

The Australian Research Council was established in 2001 under the Howard government as recognition of the need to have a centralised body to coordinate linkages between government, industry, the community and researchers. As the ARC itself states, its mission is to 'deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and benefit the community'. The ARC runs many very successful initiatives, including the National Competitive Grants Program, which provides support and financial assistance as well as other incentives to form national aid linkages with researchers around the world. In particular, it is a comprehensive program that recognises the different stages at which various researchers may be in their career. Similarly, the ARC supports research and training through the National Research Priorities scheme and Discovery Projects on top of other laureate and future fellowships and Indigenous-specific programs.

As we know, the advancements that can occur from research projects can be quite unpredictable and result from the inherent risk involved with scientific research. This will continue to be the case in the future and, as such, it is certainly one area where the government can make a significant contribution to projects that might have otherwise never found private funding. But it is also an area where government can make gains. As I have noted previously, it is estimated, for example, that for every dollar invested into medical research up to six dollars is returned on top of the initial investment.

Stakeholders were understandably concerned last year when the Gillard government proposed to cut funding to the tune of $400 million as a direct result of their inability to design a responsible budget. I reiterate to the House today my concern at the thought of decreasing funding to what is an integral program for the future of Australia's research, innovation and industry. I do note that over the forward estimates the additional year included in the bill from 2014 is costed at approximately $795 million, which will in fact be a reduction of 4 per cent from the previous financial year. Although the coalition does support the passage of the bill, I and the coalition will always be looking at how we can adequately fund the ARC so that it is able to effectively and efficiently deliver on its mission.

Given the strong support from members on both sides of the House today and their pride in what their local universities are achieving, we are all obviously in furious agreement about the need for guaranteed long-term funding. However, as the member for Indi remarked earlier, this Labor government is notoriously poor at providing linkages between research and industry. This particular aspect is perhaps the most important as it is the area where researchers and organisations are able to make financial and commercial returns from their work, returns that they are then able to reinvest and use to facilitate future research.

Appropriate planning and support for the Australian Research Council is especially important to the people of Ryan, as it is home to the University of Queensland. The University of Queensland is one of the premier research universities in Australia as a member of the Group of Eight. Indeed, it is one of the premier research organisations in the world, as judged by many international ranking publications. Since its inception, the Australian Research Council and the University of Queensland community have had a very strong relationship. Throughout that time, UQ has successfully been approved for many hundreds of projects through the various funding arms of the ARC. What distinguishes the University of Queensland as a leading research university is its depth and diversity across many faculties, from architecture to engineering, quantum physics, biomedical and molecular research as well as marine biology and research on sustainable living and environmental management strategies.

Earlier today, Professor Max Lu, the Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, updated me on many exciting ongoing research projects occurring at the University of Queensland. In 2011, the university placed first in the measure of ARC Discovery and Linkage projects outcomes, a wonderful achievement. Moreover, the University of Queensland placed second in the nation for both the Future Fellowships and Discovery Early Career Researcher Award, with 21 out of a possible 203 fellowships and 34 out of 277 discovery awards, each valued at $375,000. This highlights the strength of the many research teams at the University of Queensland. Certainly, the prospects for early career and midcareer researchers are extremely promising.

The University of Queensland has a particular focus on attracting and retaining international quality researchers, which adds further diversity to the pool of ideas that already exists in Australia and also contributes to the development of local scientists. Without these awards, the University of Queensland would simply not be able to attract the right researchers and the right ideas. Professor Lu himself has also received important funding from the ARC—including the very prestigious ARC Federation Fellowships twice, in 2003 and 2008—which has supported his world-class research into nanotechnology, materials chemistry and engineering. We are very fortunate to have Professor Lu at the university, and only with funding and support for research from organisations like the ARC are we able to attract and retain researchers of his ilk.

I also congratulate the University of Queensland on being awarded funding for two ARC Centres of Excellence, to add to its research in both quantum technology and environmental management solutions. Professor Gerard Milburn is training the next generation of world-class researchers in engineered quantum systems, and his team will be conducting research in conjunction with partners all over the world—in Austria, in Canada, in Germany, in Singapore, in Sweden, in the United Kingdom and in the United States of America. We can all expect to see new devices and technologies which will drive Australia's, and the world's, productivity and economic growth in the future as a direct result of this cooperative research.

As the member for Ryan I will continue to work with the University of Queensland community and all important stakeholders to ensure that the federal government continues to support, always, the crucial scientific industry in this country.