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Tuesday, 10 May 2011
Page: 2140

Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) (16:56): The Australian Research Council 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 community. In seeking to achieve its mission, the ARC provides advice to the government on research matters and manages the National Competitive Grants Program, a significant component of Australia's investment in research and development. Through the National Competitive Grants Program, the ARC supports the highest quality fundamental and applied research and research training through competitive selection processes across all disciplines, with the exception of clinical medicine and dentistry.

This is an appropriation bill to support the ongoing operations of the ARC. It will fund the high-quality research we need to address the great challenges of our time, to improve the quality of people's lives, to support the development of new industries and to remain competitive in the global knowledge economy. Bills to amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to receive administered funding occur each year. This is to apply indexation to existing approp­riation amounts, create an additional forward estimate and may also contain new funding for new initiatives. The current bill updates the special appropriation funding cap amounts administered by the Australian Research Council to include indexation adjustments to three existing financial year appropriation amounts and adds a forward estimate year in the Australian Research Council Act 2001. The bill adjusts the Australian Research Council's funding cap for the financial years beginning on 1 July 2010, 2011 and 2012 in line with indexation and sets the funding cap for the financial year beginning on 1 July 2013. Indexation adjustments and adding an additional forward estimate are part of the standard budget process and are administrative in nature. The proposed amendments change only the administered special appropriation; they do not alter the substance of the act or increase departmental funds.

The ARC is the major source of funding for the innovative, investigator driven research that has underpinned inventions ranging from the bionic ear to the Jameson flotation cell which saves the coal industry hundreds of millions of dollars each year. ARC centres of excellence provide key science and policy advice on the management of coral reefs, are developing automated control systems for the mining industry and agricultural sector and are taking some big challenges in medicine such as applying nanobionics to regenerate spinal cord injuries. ARC funding has enabled regional centres such as the Cairns campus of James Cook University to attract Australian and international leaders in tropical rainforest ecology to build world-class teams of researchers and postgraduate students. Ongoing funding for the Australian Research Council is essential to the vitality of the Australian higher education system. Excellent researchers across all areas of the university system must be able to compete for funding if we are to keep world-class academics in Australia working in our universities and teaching the next generation. Since 2007 the Australian Research Council has delivered on our 2007 election commitment of 1,000 Future Fellowships. The Australian government will provide, over five years, up to $844 million and will award up to 1,000 of these midcareer research fellowships. The inaugural 200 future fellows were announced in September 2009 and a second round of 200 was announced in October 2010. Sixty of the fellowships announced last October identified environment and climate change as a target research area.

In July 2010 we announced the establishment of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Change to address uncertainties in regional climate science. This world-class research centre, hosted by the University of New South Wales, will receive $21.4 million over seven years. The centre's research programs will investigate the effects of tropical convection on Australia's climate; risks; mechanisms and attribution of changes in Australian climate extremes; the role of land surface forcing and feedbacks for regional climate; drivers of spatial and temporal climate variability in extratropical Australia; and mechanisms and attribution of past and future ocean circulation change.

In January 2008 we announced the establishment of the ARC Advisory Council and a range of other measures to enhance the independence of the ARC. In January 2011 six new members were appointed to the council, increasing its overall size from seven members to 10, to enhance its range of expertise and experience and ensure it is well placed to provide strategic and policy advice.

In February 2008 we announced that the ARC would deliver the Excellence in Research for Australia framework. This is a world-leading research evaluation frame­work reflecting the Australian government's commitment to a transparent, streamlined evaluation of the quality of research undertaken in Australia's universities. The Australian government has provided $35.8 million over four years. Since 2008 the ARC has undertaken three years of comprehensive and widespread consultation with the higher education research sector on the develop­ment of ERA. The first full round of evaluations for ERA took place in 2010. The ARC delivered the ERA 2010 national report on 31 January 2011. This landmark report highlights both Australia's research strengths and areas with potential for further development. It will allow the Australian government to plan the future of research investment in Australia. It provides assurance to government, industry and the Australian public of the quality of research conducted in Australian higher education institutions and the value of government investment in the research sector. For ERA 2010 the ARC received data in relation to some 330,000 unique research outputs and over 55,000 researchers.

The ERA initiative is a key element of the government's agenda for the reform of Australia's higher education system, articulated in Transforming Australia's Higher Education System (2009), and its innovation agenda, expressed in Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century (2009). ERA gives Australia, for the first time, the capacity to rigorously measure our achievements against our peers around the world. It draws together rich information about discipline-specific research activity at each individual institution, as well as information about the contribution to the national landscape of each discipline in each institution.

In March 2008 the government announced the opening of all ARC grant schemes to international competition and in July 2008 the government announced the opening of the ARC schemes to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. The ARC continues to work closely with Indigenous researchers on a range of new initiatives for those Indigenous researchers.

In September 2008 the ARC introduced the Australian Laureate Fellowships Scheme to build strong teams around our very best research leaders. The Australian government will provide, over five years, up to $239 million and will award up to 75 fellowships. The inaugural 15 laureate fellows were announced in June 2009. In November 2010 the Prime Minister announced two additional laureate fellowships—the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; and the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship in Science and Technology—for female researchers and research leaders of international repute. The new ARC scheme 'Researchers in Industry Training Awards', part of the government's Clean 21 initiative, will focus on increasing industry engagement in research and development projects through funding research student stipends in industry sectors vital to Australia's future. Up to 200 awards will be available—100 each in 2012 and 2014—an investment of $23.4 million over six years. The targeted industry sectors include built environment, clean energy, future manufacturing, industries supporting innovative regions and the marine and maritime industry.

The new Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme will provide more focused support for researchers and create more opportunities for early-career researchers in both teaching and research positions and research-only positions. It is expected that up to 200 three-year awards will be available each year, commencing in 2012.

The ARC has also introduced Research Opportunity and Performance Evidence to enable assessors to take into account any career interruptions, including those for childbirth and caring responsibilities—very welcome news. In November 2010 the Australian government approved $21 million in funding for the ARC Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science and announced the successful proposal of Stem Cells Australia, who will conduct world-class research and create a public awareness unit to provide public education and encourage public debate into the ethical, legal and public policy issues associated with stem cell science.

In July 2010, 13 new centres of excellence were announced, with total Australian government support of $255.9 million over seven years. This was in addition to the Australian government's announcement in February 2009 of an additional $82.25 million to extend the funding of the 11 existing centres of excellence.

Through this important legislation, the ARC will continue to advance our efforts to build a fairer and more prosperous Australia through innovation and education. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.