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Backing Australia's Ability: Biotechnology Centre of Excellence: an ongoing investment in excellence.

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In recent months, the Commonwealth has announced funding allocations in excess of $200 million for the creation of four new, world-class research centres - further evidence of the Howard Government’s commitment to expanding national capability in the key technology drivers of future economic growth.

Centre for Plant Functional Genomics

First, on 10 May 2002, the Commonwealth Government announced the establishment of a new Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the Waite Campus of the University of Adelaide.

Researchers at this Centre will set out to understand and to map the way in which crop genes respond to environmental stresses. Genes control the expression of important traits in plants - such as disease resistance, salt and drought resistance. Identifying these genes, together with the functions they perform, is likely to lead to genetic improvement of grain quality and crop yields.

Elucidating the function of different genes in wheat barley and other crops is clearly of enormous potential importance for the $8 billion Australian grain industry. Participation in the Centre will involve scientists not only from the University of Adelaide, but also from the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and the Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment.

The Commonwealth has committed $20 million to this project - $10 million through the Australian Research Council and $10 million through the Grains Research and Development Corporation. The State Government of South Australia has committed additional funding of $12 million, while contributing universities have earmarked $3.6 million.

Tasmanian Bioinformatics Centre of Excellence

Second, on 20 May 2002, the Commonwealth Government announced the establishment of a Tasmanian Bioinformatics Centre of Excellence.

Bioinformatics combines the tools of computer science, mathematics, statistics and information technology to solve problems in biology and medicine. Researchers at the Bioinformatics Centre of Excellence will seek to understand the patterns that lie hidden beneath biological data - enabling them to predict, for example, some of the factors contributing to diseases and to design improved methods for diagnosis and treatment.

Recent research from Front Line Strategic Consulting suggests that bioinformatics will grow to a $1.7 billion global industry by 2006. Tasmania's excellent genealogical and health records,

together with its relatively recent European settlement and island geography make it a perfect environment for advanced developments in bioinformatics.

The Intelligent Island Program allocated up to $20 million for the establishment of the Centre. The funding is part of $40 million dollars provided by the Commonwealth Government from proceeds from the second tranche of the partial sale of Telstra for a program designed to accelerate the growth of the information and communications technology (ICT) sector in Tasmania.

The Information and Communications Technology Centre of Excellence

Third, on 22 May 2002, the Commonwealth announced that National ICT Australia (NICTA) is the preferred applicant to establish and operate an Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Centre of Excellence.

The ICT Centre of Excellence is a cornerstone of the Government’s Innovation Action Plan, Backing Australia’s Ability. A consortium of universities, private firms and state governments developed the NICTA proposal. The core members of the consortium are the Australian National University, the University of NSW, the University of Sydney, the NSW Government, the ACT Government, Redfern Photonics, Allen & Buckeridge and Bovis Lend Lease.

The Centre, which will establish major research and training nodes in Sydney and Canberra, will be an open and independent national institution that actively engages other research groups in Australia and overseas. The Centre of Excellence will have 660 students and staff within five years.

The Commonwealth’s $129.5 million contribution to this centre will enable the establishment of a world-class, world-scale ICT research institute that will raise the standard of ICT research and post-graduate training in Australia. The Centre will transform Australia’s ICT sector and strengthen the competitiveness of our traditionally strong sectors such as financial services, primary industries, resources, education, entertainment and health.

Biotechnology Centre of Excellence

Now, on 30 May 2002, the Commonwealth Government has announced a fourth initiative, a Biotechnology Centre of Excellence.

The Centre aims to capture the benefits from the platform technology of stem cells in order to produce new medical therapies and to provide a vehicle for Australia to compete successfully in the rapidly growing area of tissue regeneration and cell therapies. It will pursue a broad scope of research involving both adult and embryonic stem cells, targeting treatments for diabetes, vascular, bone and nerve damage, kidney disease and diseases of the blood and skin.

The core scientific Centre participants will be Monash University (Vic); University of Melbourne (Vic); Peter MacCallum Cancer Institute (Vic); Institute of Molecular Bioscience, University of Queensland (Qld); University of Adelaide (SA); The National Centre for Advanced Cell Engineering - a Major National Research Facility commencing operations in the second half of 2002; John Curtin School of Medical Research (ACT); The University of New South Wales (NSW); Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute (NSW); and Murdoch Institute (Vic). The Centre will also have key commercial partners that include ES Cell International Pte. Ltd, BresaGen and others under present negotiation.

Fulfilling a promise made in its January 2001, statement on innovation Backing Australia’s Ability, and as part of its aim to develop a globally competitive biotechnology sector in Australia, the Commonwealth has awarded $46.5 million over five years to fund the Biotechnology Centre of Excellence.

Media Contacts: Sasha Grebe, Senator Alston’s Office, 0409 445 246 Kirsty Boazman, Mr Macfarlane’s Office, 0412 171 444 Melissa Harbison, Senator Troeth’s Office, 0408 917 639 Ross Hampton, Dr Nelson’s Office, 0419 484 095