The peak body for science and technology has again warned of research and development cuts, while welcoming a projected return to surplus announced by the government today.
The sector is calling for intelligent investment to build a prosperous future for years to come, not just a favourable Budget outcome in 2019.
The Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) released today forecast a decrease to the 2018/19 Budget deficit from $14.5 billion to $5.2 billion and an increase to the government’s surplus in 2019/20 from $2.1 billion to $4.1 billion.
Over the forward estimates, the forecasted surplus has doubled to $30.4 billion.
President of Science & Technology Australia (STA), Professor Emma Johnston AO, said that it was time that we focus on solving issues with science by making scientific research a headline for the upcoming 2019/20 Federal Budget.
“The biggest challenges we will face as a society will be solved by science, but only if we make long term, strategic investment in research – we’ve seen this with the Gardasil vaccine, advanced ultrasound, wireless technologies, improved environmental monitoring and prediction, and so much more,” Professor Johnston said.
“Reports that research and development funding are at the lowest levels in 40 years are unacceptable, and if we don’t correct this frighting decline, we could see this surplus evaporate.”
“We are extremely disappointed to see additional cuts to the Research Block Grants scheme, above the expected $134.4 million, which have ballooned to a cut of $328.5 million over the next four years.”
“This will mean less funding for universities to conduct research and will reduce their ability to adequately support their scientists and technologists.”
“Taking money out of research will help the bottom line today, but will have hidden costs for many years to come – future generations may look back and thoroughly regret these decisions.”
Professor Johnston said that it was important to keep cost of living low and to ensure that taxes were fair for all Australians, however funding for science and technology should not be cut to achieve this.
“We cannot be in a position where governments are so focused on lowering taxes that our research and development grinds to a halt,” she said.
“We are glad to see responsible fiscal management from any government, but spending growth is down to the lowest level in 50 years, which in part has been achieved through the cuts to higher education, research and development announced today.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that net debt would fall from 18.2% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018/19 to 1.5% of GDP by 2028/2029.
“If we invest wisely in science and technology, not only can it play a part in this debt reduction, it can help us reach it faster,” she said.
Investing just a fraction of this surplus in a Translational Research Future Fund for example, would mean big returns for the Australian economy for years to come said Professor Johnston, particularly if research was funded to enhance the Australian industries that led to the uplift in projections we saw today.
“Investment in the National Health and Medical Research Council returns $3.20 for every $1 it invests in its work,” she said.
“In Europe science provides a 250% return on investment, in the USA every dollar spent on science and technology returns $2.21 on average, and in the UK they receive 20-50 pence in return every year, in perpetuity, for every pound invested in science and innovation.”
Professor Johnston said there were around $9 billion of unannounced decisions for this financial year, which she hoped would see better outcomes for the research and development sector.
“Let’s use these strengths to bolster our economy, instead of letting the research and development sector slide further into decay.”
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