Australian Budget announces increased focus on smart economy and medical sector

With the Budget 2018-19, announced on 8 May 2018, the Australian Government aims to maximise the benefits of a tech focused economy with increased spending in science, medical research, technology, and skills.

It plans to invest A$2.4 billion over the next 12 years to boost Australia’s public technology infrastructure. With the intention to build a smarter economy and equip Australians with the necessary future-ready skills, it will benefit the growing research, science, and technology sectors. This disbursement will include additional funding for the Australia’s National Research Infrastructure (NRI), and the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan that will deliver cutting edge digital infrastructure to boost the economy.

To enable improved access to digital economies the National Broadband Network is estimated to reach 75% rollout by end of 2018 and achieve completion by 2020.

A further A$1.9 billion has also been set aside to improve the NRI over 12 years from 2017-18 with the aim of providing researchers and businesses the right tools to develop and commercialise first-to-market products and services. This brings total expenditure in national research infrastructure through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy to $4.1 billion over 12 years.

Establishing future-ready infrastructure

The infrastructure investment is expected to support the creation of new businesses to generate more jobs in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field. The Australian Government also expects that this will have a trickle-down effect on traditional industries — allowing them to improve efficiencies, increase their access to global markets, and make them more competitive.

To further aid STEM industries, a reformed Research and Development Tax Incentive (R&DTI) has also been announced. Targeted at larger companies, this incentive aims to better focus the program to encourage higher spending in R&D. In response to the 2016 review of the policy, the government will now target the R&DTI through a new R&D premium for companies with turnover of $20 million or more. A cap of A$4 million will also be imposed on cash refunds. These changes, which will come into effect on 1 July 2018, are estimated to have a gain to the budget of A$2.0 billion over the next four years.

Investment in supercomputing will continue with a A$140 million earmarked for the upgrading of two supercomputers at the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth and the National Computational Infrastructure facility at the Australian National University. This will advance medical research, nanotechnology, mining, construction and urban planning with high-speed calculations. It will also aid Australia’s nascent space program and energy department by supporting supports research to maximise combustion in supersonic engines and model the physics of extreme waves to capture energy.

A renewed focus on medical research

Medical research has been given a boost with A$1.3 billion under the 21st Century Medical Industry Growth Plan for the progress of medical technology, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals while improving health outcomes for all Australians through investments in medical innovation.

A$707 million from the A$20 billion Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) will go to support the Frontier Health and Medical Research program. A$93 million will be used for Biomedtech programs and Industry Researcher Collaborations to increase biomedical research and strengthen links between Australian researchers and industry. Data sharing capabilities will also be upgraded with a further A$30 million to improve data access for Australian research networks.

The MRFF will give $240 million to the Frontier Health and Medical Research Program to support new ideas and discoveries, and A$125 million for research into chronic conditions with a focus on diabetes and heart disease. A$2.4 billion has also been set aside for investment in new medicine.

The Fund will also include A$500 million, spread over 10 years, for the Genomics Health Futures Mission. The program is predicted to have the potential to revolutionise health care by enabling more accurate diagnosis and treatment. In coming years, the genomics program will create personalised medicines by tailoring drugs to patients, improve the prevention and control of disease by enabling specific screening, and increase awareness of the susceptibility of individuals to disease. Plans have already been drawn for the A$20 million first project — Mackenzie’s Mission — a pre-conception screening trial for rare and debilitating birth disorders including Spinal Muscular Atrophy, Fragile X and Cystic Fibrosis.

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