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Research and development investment drooping

As the nation gathers to celebrate Australia’s best and brightest scientists for the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, Science & Technology Australia (STA) would like to remind the government that it takes more than accolades for great science – it takes strong investment.

STA was concerned to see that with the release of the Science, Research and Innovation tables, overall investment in research & development is continuing to fall. While recent measures by the government have stabilised funding for the nation’s major research grants and institutions, investment through the Research & Development Tax Incentive, and from business in general, continues to fall.

STA President Professor Emma Johnston AO said when the rest of the world was increasing their spending in research and development, such as a 12.3% increase in China’s investment in R&D in 2017, Australia was falling behind.

“We are particularly concerned to see the numbers around business investment and support for private sector research,” Professor Johnston said. “Business is investing less.”

Over the forward estimates, translational medical research is well supported through the MRFF, which would likely lead to a revolution in Australia’s ability to develop medical treatments, devices and pharmaceuticals.

“However, this isn’t backed up by strong support for the basic research that underpins this work, as we see investment in discovery medical research through the NHMRC falling in real terms,” Professor Johnston said.

“With investment in medical research giving a return of $3.90 for every $1 spent according to the latest report into the economic benefit of medical research it is ludicrous to then see this investment falling.”

“We shouldn’t be putting all our eggs in one basket.”

If left uncorrected, the damage to Australian research could take decades to reverse.

“We need visionary support for the rest of the STEM sector, otherwise we risk losing our competitive edge and will fail to become the innovation nation to which we aspire.”

STA has advocated for a translational research fund to enable the application and commercialisation of discovery research supported through the ARC.

“32% of the total research and development budget in 2016-17 was dedicated to the R&D Tax Incentive, but clearly this incentive alone is not enough to improve Australia’s soft business research investment.“

“An ARC linked translation fund would be a wise and meaningful way to reassign the $2 billion savings made from recent changes to the R&D Tax Incentive, and to encourage more businesses to invest in research,” Professor Johnston said.

“The government speaks very highly of the STEM sector and understands the value of research and its potential to change the world for the better – it’s vital that this is backed up with the public investment and policy levers necessary to make this a reality.”

“Australia continues to fall behind in the OECD nations when it comes to investment in research & development and who knows what award-winning science could be lost in the future without strong investment.”

Source: STA

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