Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Climate Change, Environment and the Arts
12/10/2012
Australia's biodiversity in a changing climate

CAMPBELL, Mrs Katharine, Acting Head of Division, Science and Infrastructure, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education

COOKE, Dr Alexander, Manager, Science Policy, Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education

[11:34]

CHAIRMAN: I now welcome representatives of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath I should advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the House.

We have not received a written submission to this inquiry from you, so I would invite you to make a verbal submission to the committee which will then be followed up by some questions.

Mrs Campbell : Thank you. We are here this morning, really, at your request and at your disposal. I do not have an opening statement but we are very happy to answer questions you may have regarding the governance of research coordination and priority setting, and also the programs that the department administers that support research in biodiversity and climate.

CHAIR: Okay. You were here for part of the evidence from the Australian Research Council just a moment ago, and you would have heard some of the issues that we were exploring in research. What role does the department have in the allocation of research funds?

Mrs Campbell : There are a couple of answers to that. I might perhaps begin by describing the current coordination arrangements that are in place to manage the government's research investments.

Last year, a review of Australia's publicly funded research was undertaken by the department, and that review has been published. One of the key findings of the review was that while, generally speaking, there are no significant areas of overlap or duplication across our research funding, it would benefit from greater coordination and oversight of how research funding is dispersed across the Commonwealth. That led to the establishment of the Australian Research Committee earlier this year. ARCom, as it is called, is chaired by Australia's Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb. It comprises representatives from all Commonwealth government departments as well as research agencies, the university sector and a range of other experts, including the ARC, the NHMRC and the various bodies that have roles in advising on aspects of research funding and so on.

The terms of reference that were provided for ARCom by the government were with this view of having better coordination of research funding across the Commonwealth. The focus this year of ARCom has been the development of a national research investment plan. The plan is currently in draft form and before government for consideration, and it looks at the location and capability of Australian research; where we undertake world-class research; areas of demand for research by industry, government and other end users; and future priorities for strategic research investment. And it considers research workforce, research infrastructure and research funding collaboration in general. That is a piece of work that is approaching its completion this year and which will be considered shortly by government. I am very happy to answer questions, if I can, about that.

The department also administers a number of funding programs which directly support research investment. Key amongst those are funding programs for research infrastructure funding, as well as the Cooperative Research Centres program funding, which I think would be of interest to this committee.

CHAIR: Thank you. A couple of things arise from that: you said that the Australian Research Committee distributes the funding—

Mrs Campbell : It does not distribute the funding. Each department maintains its own autonomy in managing programs, but ARCom's role is really to take a whole-of-system view, to look at whether—

CHAIR: So would ARCom, in turn then, determine how much each department gets?

Mrs Campbell : No, but it is looking at issues of scale and balance of research investment across the system and it will provide advice to government about that. So its job is not to manage research funding per se or to direct how funding should be delivered but to provide advice to government around priorities around scale and balance and the overall health of the research system, if I can put it in that way.

Ms HALL: Do you make a recommendation?

Mrs Campbell : The plan will contain a set of recommendations going forward.

CHAIR: I am just trying to get my head around what ARCom does. If it provides advice—

Ms MARINO: It cannot direct.

CHAIR: No, I accept that it cannot direct, but it is providing advice on where money should be spent—would that be fair to say?

Mrs Campbell : I suppose, to take a step back, there has not been, previously, in the Commonwealth, a body that looks at the diversity of research funding across all portfolios and considers whether or not the scale and the balance of research investments is appropriate to the country's needs. So its role is really to take that—

Ms HALL: Holistic.

Mrs Campbell : whole-of-system view and provide advice across the system to government.

CHAIR: So it does not, at any time, take a direct interest in a specific area of research? I will give you an example. The committee heard from the Atlas of Living Australia in June this year, and they and in fact the museums that we heard from all said, 'If we had more money we would do more work.' Does either the department or ARCom say, 'We think that the work this organisation is doing is important and it needs to continue and therefore we would, if nothing else, recommend to the government that funds should be set aside to do that'? Would that be the kind of role it has?

Mrs Campbell : Not to that level of specificity, I suspect. ARCom's role has been to look at: what are the demands on the research system? What are Australia's challenges in terms of dealing with climate and with matters of productivity and national wellbeing? Do we have the research capability needed to deliver research that will help to address those issues? And are there systemic gaps or vulnerabilities? So, at that level, ARCom will advise government on its view if there are issues that need to be addressed, if there are shortcomings perhaps in the system, and so on. Do you want to add to that, Alex?

Dr Cooke : Not at this stage.

CHAIR: I might hand over to my colleagues as I just have a quick look at this. Dr Washer, do you have any questions?

Dr WASHER: Katharine, you said you had a look at the public funding overall. How does that compare to OECD countries in terms of gross domestic product? How does Australia stack up?

Mrs Campbell : Australia's total gross expenditure on R&D as a proportion of GDP is around 2.2 per cent. That is around the middle of the OECD average. We can certainly provide statistics to you if you are interested in that. Some countries—notably, countries such as South Korea, Japan and Finland—have higher levels of GERD, but a number have lower. So we are about the average OECD investment.

Dr WASHER: I will read my question, because it is written down here: how does the department monitor the findings of Australian and international scientific research, and how does the department ensure that the research findings are translated into government action?

Mrs Campbell : I am not sure that the department has a particular role to monitor the research outcomes. Its interest is more, I think, to ensure that the research investments are directed appropriately to meeting agreed priority areas through programs.

Dr Cooke : It is a pertinent question. One of the findings of the review of publicly funded research was that there needed to be further work in looking at the outcomes and impacts of research that was funded by the Australian government.

Ms MARINO: Success or failure of it and whether that has been quantified?

Dr Cooke : Yes, that is being addressed at the moment through addressing one of the recommendations which was to do a feasibility study into the evaluation of the impact of research. Some work is being done through the Group of Eight Universities and the Australian Technology Network of Universities to look at whether it is feasible to do that and the way in which it could be done. Some of the recommendations are being prepared at the moment. That is certainly something that is of relevance to the department. It is something that we have not done at a systematic level yet, but we are definitely looking at it.

CHAIR: On that issue, does the Australian audit office do an audit of the funds that are allocated for research?

Mrs Campbell : The ANAO periodically look at particular programs. I am not aware that they have done a whole-of-system look at funding for research. A few years ago the Productivity Commission undertook a study into research and impact.

CHAIR: How long ago was that?

Mrs Campbell : I think 2007.

Dr Cooke : Yes.

CHAIR: Relatively recently.

Mrs Campbell : The ANAO has periodically reviewed particular programs.

Ms HALL: You are really at the cutting edge of the types of research that will be undertaken. What priority does the department place on climate change and biodiversity?

Mrs Campbell : I mentioned earlier that the department administers a number of programs.

Ms HALL: I was just checking which ones you do research.

Mrs Campbell : Some of the ones that are particularly relevant to the interests of this committee include the Cooperative Research Centres program. That program has been operating for some 20 years. There are currently 37 active CRCs, six of which are directly involved in research and development that contributes to biodiversity and climate change. The department also has an ongoing role to fund and administer funding for research infrastructure—for example, the Atlas of Living Australia, IMOS which I think you have heard from and a range of other significant national collaborative research infrastructure projects.

Ms HALL: Any international?

Mrs Campbell : The department also has a role in managing Australia's international science engagements and managing bilateral funding programs, specifically at the moment with India and China in science collaborations.

Ms HALL: This committee visited China looking at its climate change initiatives about 12 months ago, so that is very interesting.

Mrs Campbell : We administer a program called the Australia-China Science and Research Fund. It is a $9 million program over three or four years which is matched by the Chinese government. I could find information on collaborative projects in this particular field for you and submit it. I do not have it before me right now.

Ms HALL: That would be very useful. Another program that we have heard about is the Atlas of Living Australia. Could you let us know whether or not this longitudinal study will continue?

Mrs Campbell : The Atlas of Living Australia has received funding from the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy program and the Super Science Initiative. The NCRIS program, National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy program, ended in the middle of last year—it was a fixed-term program—and the Super Science Initiative ends in eight months, in June 2013.

Ms HALL: What are the plans after that?

Mrs Campbell : A successor program to those programs has not yet been announced by government. With that in mind and to ensure that there is some certainty for all of the infrastructure projects that have been funded—and there are some 32, a number of which go to the monitoring and research of interest to this committee—Minister Evans has agreed to a fund called the collaborative research infrastructure scheme which will provide $60 million over 18 months to the end of 2014. This will be for existing projects previously funded through NCRIS and Super Science to make application to receive funding to ensure ongoing critical operations.

Ms HALL: How many longitudinal studies is the department involved in at the moment?

Mrs Campbell : I do not know. The department's role has been to fund the research infrastructure. Perhaps we could table a copy of the 2011 Strategic Roadmap for Australian Research Infrastructure which was prepared last year and provides important advice about the priority areas and capabilities that are needed across the research system to provide the infrastructure and to support research. That roadmap provides an excellent context in terms of where the future priorities are and the sorts of facilities and capabilities that are needed through research infrastructure funding. I can tell you that there are about 10 projects that have been funded through NCRIS and Super Science and also the Education Investment Fund. These projects support research in this area, in biodiversity and climate. They include IMOS, the Integrated Marine Observing System; the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies at the University of Tasmania; the Atlas of Living Australia; the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network; the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment; the Daintree Rainforest Observatory; and infrastructure that is managed through the Australian Institute of Marine Science. They are all significant investments that support observing and the collection of data and information to help monitor what is happening in our climate and in our environment.

Ms HALL: Do you think there is enough continuity in research?

Mrs Campbell : There is no doubt that the research sector is very concerned that the research infrastructure funding has been funded on a terminating-program basis. There has been a call from many in the sector for ongoing programs to provide that sort of funding certainty.

Ms MARINO: I want to touch on an issue that we have heard a lot about in this biodiversity-type inquiry that we have been doing, and that is feral pests and weeds and diseases. I do not know whether that fits under an area that you have any input in, but I would be very interested in your comments about the quantum of public research funds that you are aware of that exist in this area, and whether the CRCs are focusing on this as part of their research. If you have any information, I would be pleased to hear it.

Mrs Campbell : There is one current CRC, the Invasive Animals CRC, that was funded for the first time in July 2012. It is a five-year funding program of some $19.7 million through to June 2017. It will focus specifically on the technologies and strategies needed to reduce the impact of invasive animals. That CRC actually commenced in July 2005, so this is its second funding tranche. There was the predecessor called the CRC for Biological Control of Pest Animals funded back in 1992 so it must have been one of the first CRCs funded. So over 20 years there has been a continuing investment in supporting a CRC around invasive animals and pests.

Dr WASHER: Could you clarify that. Is that terrestrial and marine invasive animals?

Dr Cooke : It includes carp.

Ms MARINO: But not species other than carp?

Dr Cooke : No. Based on the current form, which is the invasive animals version of it, so we could not comment on that.

Mrs Campbell : It is largely terrestrial animals.

Ms MARINO: I see CSIRO sits underneath your umbrella. When we consider that matters such as myrtle rust and dieback specifically—we have had a lot of evidence about the extent of both of those—can you give me some indication of the amount or where we have public funds invested in those areas?

Mrs Campbell : I cannot give you specific information about CSIRO's investment. I know too that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has programs and appropriations for programs that may well go to these sorts of areas. It does not reside in a single portfolio.

Ms MARINO: It would be useful for this committee, given we have heard so much evidence about this, if we had some idea of what is being directed across portfolios towards these issues because they are a key issue in biodiversity but we need to get a grasp on the collective effort in funding that is going on.

Mrs Campbell : We will do our best to coordinate that advice for you. There are a number of departments that do have some activity and responsibility.

Ms MARINO: Bringing it together from our perspective would be useful. At a state level there are various programs as well. We heard also from the WA Museum that most of the biodiversity is unrecorded and understanding that is quite critical, as you would probably gather better than anyone. We also heard they believe there should be federal funding directed towards taxonomy. I wonder if you have some information about whether there are currently federal funds being directed into that area at all?

Mrs Campbell : I am not sure about that. Projects such as the Atlas of Living Australia make an enormous contribution to this work.

Ms MARINO: There is a wealth of information already sitting in the repositories. That is what we heard on more than one occasion.

Mrs Campbell : The Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, which is funded by the Education Investment Fund, looks at the response to complex landscapes and adaptation to environmental change and so on. Research will look at the smallest soil microbes and insects, to the grasslands, to the animals and so on that inhabit them and collect data of sorts. I do not know if there is a specific repository. We would have to take that on notice and come back to you.

Ms MARINO: We are looking at a collective repository for all of the information.

Mrs Campbell : We can provide you, on notice, some additional information around the research infrastructure investments which go to data and e-research and how that is to support the collection.

Ms MARINO: Thank you so much.

CHAIR: Can I go back to a question asked by Dr Washer earlier about the total amount of research funding that the government allocates. Your figure was 2.2 per cent, which you believe is about average of OECD countries. Does that figure include additional funding that might come from the private sector in this country, or is that strictly government?

Mrs Campbell : Total Australian spending on research and development is currently around $27 billion per annum. The Commonwealth share of that is at around $9 billion, so it is about one-third. Two-thirds would come from business and other entities—state governments, private philanthropy et cetera. So the 2.2 per cent is the third; it is from the total of $27 billion of GDP.

CHAIR: Could you break that down even further for us in comparison to other countries? Would it be about the same in those other countries, in that one-third comes from government and two-thirds comes from the private sector?

Ms MARINO: And state government combined.

CHAIR: Whatever. I would be curious to see how we compare with other countries with our research.

Mrs Campbell : We could have a look at what the OECD has to say on that. I am not sure the extent to which we would have access to that level of comparative data. OECD generally look at GERD rather than government proportion of investment, to my recollection.

Dr Cooke : We can have a look at that.

Mrs Campbell : We can have a look and come back if we find something that would help you there.

CHAIR: Again, I am trying to get back to how we try and prioritise. I accept that there is advice given to the government and there is a holistic view provided. Organisations like CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and others who regularly provide briefings to members of this parliament appear to me to be doing some excellent work across the board in whatever they are doing. It also appears to me that they would all benefit from additional funding to do more research in their current areas. How would they go about getting additional funds? Some of their work, by the way, is directly related to the work of this committee. How would they go about trying to secure additional funds to pursue projects that would be of interest to the nation and certainly of interest to this committee?

Mrs Campbell : It is a difficult question in one sense. The department that we work within has responsibility for funding part of the research system but not the whole research system, so individual portfolios, of course—including agriculture, climate change and environment—all have appropriations for programs that are directed to certain priorities. So there is no single source of where funding might come from and where research might be supported. The matters of appropriations, obviously, are decisions made by governments and their priorities, ultimately. Departments can only advise. I suppose part of the role of ARCom in setting that up is really to look at the system as a whole and to give advice to government on the extent of its investments and whether there might be gaps or emerging priorities that perhaps need to be supported.

 

CHAIR: I assume that within the department, albeit that they tend to overlap, there are allocations made to each sector: industry, innovation, science, research. Or is there a global amount?

Mrs Campbell : No, the portfolio budget statements divide those into different outcome areas and there are specific appropriations for the tertiary education science research and industry parts of the portfolio. Within the structure of the portfolio budget statement there are different outcomes and different deliverables and appropriations.

CHAIR: Are any of the funds allocated to what would be referred to as a private institution?

Mrs Campbell : Yes, through program delivery so not directly through the appropriations. Private institutions are, in many cases, eligible recipients of program dollars that are administered by the department.

Ms HALL: If we did not have the type of funding system that we have at the moment, where it is allocated for set periods of time, do you have a suggestion for another form of funding that would work well and that would have the proper checks and balances included?

Mrs Campbell : There are examples of programs that are ongoing that have a level of certainty and that roll over with appropriate reviews, accountability requirements and evaluation. I suppose some form of more certain infrastructure investment funding that is not funded in a terminating way could be an option.

Proceedings suspended from 12:07 to 12:59