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Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Page: 3358


Mr TEHAN (WannonMinister for Education) (10:16): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I am introducing the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2019, which amends the Australian Research Council Act 2001 to ensure that Australia's research community can continue to be supported by the funding schemes of the Australian Research Council or ARC.

The ARC's purpose is to grow knowledge and innovation for the benefit of the Australian community by financially underpinning research of the highest quality, and by assessing the quality, engagement and impact of that research. The ARC also provides important advice on research matters and has a respected voice in the Australian research landscape.

ARC funding is awarded on the basis of a competitive peer review process, and it administers the largest single competitive grants process in Australia that is available to researchers across all disciplines from STEM to HASS—the National Competitive Grants Program or NCGP.

The NCGP comprises two programs—Discovery and Linkage—under which are a number of funding schemes that provide funding for basic and applied research, research fellowships, research training, research collaboration and infrastructure.

Researchers in universities around the country carry out research every day on different matters affecting the everyday lives of us all, not only in Australia but also right around the world. Cutting edge research is changing our world dramatically, but the incremental progress of long-term research programs is also vital for many industries, where commercial success comes from being just a cut above the rest.

ARC centres of excellence, funded through the NCGP, contain many examples of this. A group of physicists at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology based at the University of New South Wales has just this July announced that they have successfully built a super-fast version of the central building block of a quantum computer. They have constructed and demonstrated the first two-qubit gate between atom qubits in silicon—a major milestone on the team's quest to build an atom-scale quantum computer, all the result of a vision first outlined by scientists 20 years ago. This ARC funded centre is led by the 2018 Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons, a great Australian who is also the recipient of an ARC Laureate Fellowship. The success of this outstanding feat of research into quantum computing might never have happened in Australia without the continuous funding support that Professor Simmons and her team have had for many years through the ARC.

Many ARC grants are awarded to research teams on the condition that they have integrated their research with Australian industry—the researchers must have at least one industry partner on board, and many of the researchers on these grants are actually located in an industry setting. The ARC's Industrial Transformation Research Program is tailored to this kind of commercial integration, and there are training centres and research hubs all around Australia, working with hundreds of small businesses and large companies, to give them a commercial advantage and train the next generation of research leaders.

One such hub which was recently announced, in August by Senator the Hon. Jonathon Duniam, is the ARC Research Hub for Sustainable Onshore Lobster Aquaculture, leading the global charge in establishing the world's first sustainable onshore lobster aquaculture industry. The government, through the ARC, is investing $5 million into this research hub based in Hobart, with Tasmanian manufacturer PFG Group and Tasmanian spiny lobster hatchery operator Ornatas providing significant additional support. The research team at the hub, led by Associate Professor Gregory Smith, are building on momentum gained through previous ARC funding to position Australia at the forefront of onshore lobster aquaculture, with opportunity for technology transfer to other aquaculture sectors.

Many Australian research careers have been set in motion through the award of an ARC grant, and there are fellowships which are targeted towards early career researchers, as well as those at other career stages, and the ARC's Discovery Indigenous scheme provides funding for research led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers.

Research projects led by ARC funded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers are contributing economic, commercial, environmental, social and cultural benefits both to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and to the Australian community as a whole.

Just to give one example: a research project led by ex-state and Women's National Basketball League player, and a 2019 Western Australian Local Hero, Professor Cheryl Kickett-Tucker at Curtin University received over $1 million through the ARC's Discovery Indigenous scheme. Professor Kickett-Tucker's work involves the development, implementation and evaluation of Cultural Learnings, a program designed to secure the transfer of knowledge from Aboriginal elders and carers to children within school environments. The research is aiming to strengthen Aboriginal children's cultural knowledge and self-esteem, to create a positive shift in children's school outcomes, such as attendance, behaviour, attitudes, effort and achievement.

The amendments through this bill are required because the Australian Research Council Act is the legislative basis that supports the financial operations of these grants programs. This bill will amend the Australian Research Council Act to update the existing funding caps and insert new funding caps through until 30 June 2023 to allow continued funding of quality research in Australia.

The routine update to the ARC's funding caps that is enabled through this bill provides for anticipated inflationary growth so that the government can continue to support thousands of research projects like those I've mentioned, research which has applicability and an impact on communities, families and individuals.

The government have made a significant investment in science, research and innovation—in 2018-19 alone, we have committed $9.6 billion across all portfolios.

Funding the ARC is part of this investment, and over the next four years, with the passage of this bill, the ARC will deliver over $3 billion in funding for research projects, ranging in size from the tens of thousands of dollars to the tens of millions.

Australia's future economic prosperity relies on our capacity to harness the knowledge and innovation of our universities and our researchers, and that is why we bring this bill to the parliament.

By ensuring the ARC can play its role in supporting and expanding Australia's research strengths, we are ensuring the support of many thousands of direct and indirect jobs that our research and scientific capabilities sustain.

I commend this bill.

Debate adjourned.