Research roadmap ‘needs long-term dollars’

Research roadmap ‘needs long-term dollars’

12th May, 2017

The Australian

By John Ross

Science groups have applauded the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap released today by the federal government. But they say the real test will be the government’s response.

The Australian Academy of Science said it was now looking forward to the release of the government’s research infrastructure investment plan. “(The) funding in this plan must be long-term, strategic and insulated from annual budgetary fluctuations, consistent with the long-term nature and nation-building capacity of research infrastructure investment,” said Les Field, the academy’s secretary for science policy.

“Most big infrastructure has a lifetime over decades, not months or years.”

The document, penned by a group chaired by chief scientist Alan Finkel, has stuck with the nine focus areas for investment outlined in a draft roadmap in December.

They are: digital data and e-research platforms; platforms for humanities arts and social sciences; advanced fabrication and manufacturing; advanced physics and astronomy; earth and environmental systems; biosecurity; complex biology; therapeutic development; and “characterisation” — techniques for understanding the properties of materials.

The roadmap has also retained eight other recommendations, albeit with slight wording changes. Education Minister Simon Birmingham would consider the recommendations over the coming months.

“Key to our consideration will be the development of a research infrastructure investment plan to develop a broad understanding of the range and scale of the infrastructure required for the future, so that Australia continues to deliver cutting edge research outcomes,” he said.

Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos said the investment plan would adopt the roadmap’s priorities. He said Innovation and Science Australia and the Commonwealth Science Council would assist in its development.

The roadmap’s release follows an underwhelming provision for science in Tuesday’s budget, with the main bright spots — $26 million to support a partnership with the European Southern Observatory, and the first significant allocations from the Medical Research Future Fund — dampened by decreases in funding indexation which will affect science agencies and funding councils.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes said the roadmap’s release marked an “exciting day”.

“We are particularly pleased to see the future needs of health and medical research infrastructure feature within the plan, including areas such as biosecurity, complex biology, therapeutic development and high performance computing,” said the association’s president, Tony Cunningham.

Science and Technology Australia said Dr Finkel’s group had produced “robust” recommendations and stressed that the government must respond as quickly as possible.

“With bold and decisive leadership and strong strategic investment in research infrastructure, Australia has the opportunity to consolidate its position as a world-class driver of scientific and technological discovery and invention,” said CEO Kylie Walker.

University of South Australia deputy vice-chancellor Tanya Monro highlighted the roadmap’s focuses on fabrication and materials science. She said Australia’s position at the “leading edge” of these fields had applications from personalised medical diagnostics to renewable energy.

“What’s particularly heartening is the possibility this presents for focusing on infrastructure of the scale and nature required to foster industry-university collaboration.”