Thoughts on a Budget

Personally there is plenty in the budget I’m outraged about, but from the perspective of this blog there’s no doubt science dodged a bullet here. And I do mean dodged – it didn’t miss by luck. Congratulations to everyone involved with the Discoveries Need Dollars campaign on avoiding what could have been an utter disaster.

It’s also good to see a strategic review of medical health and research funding announced. I have faith in the case for funding, and the more people exposed to it through a review the better. If the review recommends ways to cut the bureaucracy involved in getting grants, all the better.

The cuts to Cooperative Research Centres and Collaborative Research Networks are a worry though. They’re an order of magnitude smaller than what was mooted to hit medical research, so that’s a start. Moreover, while the CRCs have been a major success story for Australian science my first thought is that I’d rather see them cut than either the ARC or NHMRC if the chop could not be avoided entirely. For one thing, some of the CRCs are a lot less worthy than others – that’s true of all science funding of course, but I think the proportion of CRCs we could do without is higher. Moreover, in some cases there is at least a possibility the corporations who are the main beneficiaries will stump up more dough. That said, some CRCs have done wonderful work on very little government money, so a cut to the sector is likely to do some serious damage. I’m not aware of detail being available of where the axe will fall, would be interested if anyone knows. I’m not really familiar with the CRNs. It sounds like a good idea, but I don’t know how well the money has been spent.

Solar power has taken a hammering. This is at the development, rather than research, stage. Nevertheless, the two are intimately linked. Experience on how things work in practice feeds back into research. Moreover, when companies see their work will get subsidised to go into the field they are more likely to invest in the earlier, more speculative stages. This isn’t the main damage of the constant process of putting solar support off into the never never, but it is an additional problem.

On the brighter side, check out this fantastic work from Hungry Beast. It’s going to air tomorrow, and it’s exactly what scientists, particularly those in areas under attack, need to be doing.

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About Stephen Luntz

I am a science journalist, specialising in Australian and New Zealand research across all fields of science. My book, Forensics, Fossils and Fruitbats: A Field Guide to Australian Scientists is out now through CSIRO Publishing. I am also a professional returning officer for non-government organisations. I'm very politically active, but generally try to restrict this blog to scientific matters.
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