The ARDR provides you with
an overview of what is happening in the Australian innovation system
across policy, science, technology and industry.
Below is just a selection of our recent major stories while a
list of all our stories can be found under 'Content'.
A broader selection of stories across areas can be found on our main
story page, or you can choose to read stories specific to an
area of your interest under 'Sections'.
Gerd Winter analysis of the 2017-18 Australian Budget
The budget has surprised many commentators in being far less
austere than its recent predecessors while the fundamentals of
Australia's economy have actually not significantly changed.
There is optimism that global economic conditions are picking up,
and in its wake this may boost Australia's performance.
According to IMF forecasts, global growth will increase to around
3.5% in 2018 and 3.75% by 2019, reversing a trend decline over
This outcome relies on China and the US performing as expected,
which is far from certain.
In Australia, for all the talk of the Australian economy
transitioning towards non-mining sectors, mining and agriculture
continue to be the base of our prosperity - and both are
notoriously volatile sectors...read
the analysis, including a comprehensive summary of budget items
relevant to R&D.
Gerd Winter analysis of the 2016-17 Australian budget
The Australian Government has centred its elections strategy
around Australia transitioning to a knowledge-driven economy.
The most innovative countries have a long-term strategy towards
exploring new markets for their products, including through
Yet, against global trend, the budget will further reduce
Australia's already low level of foreign aid.
May 2016 - Remember the Super Science Initiative?
Now those were the days. Announced in 2009, endowed with $1.1
billion, and a myriad of initiatives across the innovation system
it was to heave us well and truly into the ranks of the world's
Fast forward a few years (and a few governments) and we have
another $1.1 billion talking point that is to kick us into the
league of knowledge-driven economies, the National
Innovation and Science Agenda.
Spread over four years, its initiatives are to trigger a boom of
ideas which, in contrast to the apparent huff and puff of the
past, are supposed to make it all the way to world markets...read
the analysis, which includes a comprehensive summary of budget
summary relevant to R&D.
ARDR analysis of the Australian Academy of Science's Decadal
Plan for Chemistry
The Australian Academy of Sciences has released a ten-year plan
for the future of Australia's chemistry. It describes a sector
that has been neglected by Australia's political class and is now
struggling. However, with the right measures in place it could
provide what we so urgently need - a boost to our manufacturing
sector and value-add to our primary products, such as natural ores
and mineral deposits.
February 2016 - Few will have taken notice of the ten-year plan for
Australia's chemistry sector, which the Australian Academy of
Sciences launched on 18 February.
This is a pity, not only because of the importance of chemistry
to our society.
The plan, which was prepared by the National Committee for
Chemistry (NCC), makes salient points about the state of
innovation in Australia, and its economy, such as that Australia
should be reducing its exports of raw mineral products, as it has
led to a decline in innovation...read
ARDR editorial on the Tentative Findings of South Australia's
Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission
The South Australian Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission has
released a 'Tentative Findings' report. It projects great
commercial benefits that could be reaped from storing high-level
nuclear waste other countries generate in nuclear power reactors.
The carrot is dangling, but will the state take the bite?
February 2016 - Following the release of the Tentative Findings
by the SA Royal Commission into the Nuclear Fuel Cycle
the Australian Science Media Centre
academic experts to comment. Unsurprisingly, their responses were
right along well established battlelines and professional interests.
The worry is this: if experts with a supposedly deep
understanding of this vexed issue cannot agree on accepting even
the basic findings let alone the commission's conclusions, how can
this be expected from the broader community - and in proxy its
political leaders? But precisely this will be required if this
Royal Commission can avoid being just a waste of money...read
You can access a comprehensive summary of the RC report here
ARDR editorial on CSIRO's cutting back on climate science
The decision by CSIRO's leadership to scrap its world-class
climate science not only will hurt its staff and its reputation.
Most likely it will also result in more pain than gain for the
nation, writes ARDR editor Dr Gerd Winter
January 2016 - December 2015 was the month of science and innovation
in Australia, with a flurry of reports that culminated in the
release of the government's innovation statement.
The rhetoric was all about change and getting it now right. So,
what have we learned? Well, not a great deal, it seems, if the
foreshadowed cuts of staff at CSIRO are anything to go by.
It's not the fact that the organisation's head, who has just
settled in the job, decided to give the CSIRO ship a new direction
- that is why he was chosen: young, dynamic, with entrepreneurial
credentials under his belt, and possibly a touch radical.
But if some had wished for an Alexander the Great of Australian
research who could shake up things a bit and get rid of the
cobwebs, they may now wish there was proper oversight from an
independent board with teeth. As it stands, he is about to rip out
major planks from the ships haul in the illusion of providing
perspective for the organisation's future...read full editorial
ARDR editorial on Australia's new innovation strategy
The release of the Australian Government's National
Innovation & Science Agenda succeeded in bringing
Australia's innovation performance to the attention of the broader
ARDR editor Gerd Winter provides a broader context.
December 2015 - The release of the Australian Government's National
Innovation & Science Agenda
(NISA) is not the first
major attempt to make the Australian innovation system more
competitive, and it is unlikely to be the last.
Just a year ago, the Industry Innovation and
Competitiveness Agenda (IICA), and before that the Powering
Ideas innovation agenda from the previous Labor
Government, had a very similar overall message:
Australia's innovation system needs to become more efficient for
the economy to remain competitive...read full editorial
As permanent staff to temporary research staff ratios decline in
our universities, researchers also have less prospect to receive a
grant from the NHMRC.
November 2015 - The writing of an NHMRC
application is no small feat and the agency's assessment process is
a major operation. However, in most instances this work is wasted,
and this inefficiency in the system has become worse over recent
To demonstrate this: In its 2015 funding round, which includes a
major announcement in early November, the agency funded only 516
of the 3758 applications received under its major funding scheme,
the NHMRC Project Grants. The resulting success
rate of 13.7% in essence means that 86.3% of grant applications,
often involving weeks if not months of work, were a futile
effort...read full story
For Australia the eighth edition of the Global Innovation Index
has a new message that remains the old: lots of effort, little to
show for it.
At first glance, Australia's innovation system is improving:
While the Global Innovation Index 2015, released in
September, ranked Australia's overall 17th against 141 analysed
nations, the same as in 2014, there was a significant jump in the
ranking of its innovation system efficiency, from 81st place in
2014 to 72nd place in 2015.
The problem is, though, that such direct comparisons of
innovative capacity make only sense when the economic context is
And when this is considered the gloss loses some of its shine
rather quickly... read full story
...and never mind the leaders.
As Australia's mining fortunes wane, the gap between the R&D
intensity of Australia and competitor countries is again widening.
4 September - According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics,
Australia's gross expenditure on R&D (GERD) increased by 6% in
the two years to 2013-14. But its R&D intensity, measured as
GERD relative to gross domestic product (GDP), decreased to 2.12%.
Meanwhile, leading OECD countries intensify their spending on
R&D, with the average GERD to GDP ratio across the OECD
climbing to 3.36% in 2013.
Behind Australia's downward trend is a steady decline in the
R&D performance of its businesses, which since 2008-09 have
wound back investments in R&D as a proportion of GDP...read the full story
A blue economy is the vision of a new decadal national marine
12 August - Two years ago the Australian Government
Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group
led by Professor
published a position paper Marine
Nation 2025: Marine Science to Support Australia's Blue Economy
Its major recommendation was to develop a ten year plan for
improving our marine science capabilities and to develop the 'blue
economy' potential of our marine estate.
A National Marine Science Advisory Committee,
chaired by Professor Gunn, was formed and with input from 500
scientists and stakeholders the group of experts developed the now
released marine science strategy for the period 2015-2025...read the full story
The Government has released its Agricultural Competitiveness
4 July 2015 - A number of factors can be attributed to Australia's
ongoing success in agriculture, including past policy reforms that
made decision-making in the sector more reponsive to market forces.
But, as pointed out in a 2014
ABARES research paper, these have largely run their course.
"Instead, future opportunities for government to promote
agricultural productivity growth may come from reducing
regulatory burdens, improving the efficiency of the rural
research, development and extension system, and building human
capital through improving labour availability and skills."
Many of these issues find attention in the now released
Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper...read the full story
The White Paper on developing northern Australia has been
18 June 2015 - In June last year, the Australian
Government's Green Paper on Developing Northern
laid out a case to renew the effort towards
developing northern Australia (covered in our previous story Northern
The release of the White Paper, which has the aspiring title Our
North, Our Future, is the next step towards making good on
a core election promise.
The diverse package of initiatives outlined in the policy paper
are to trigger the accelerated economic expansion of a region that
spans three million square kilometres north of the Tropic of
Capricorn across Western Australia, the Northern Territory and
Queensland...read full story
In June, Environment Minister Greg Hunt
gave an example
of how to make a pig look like a fashion model. "Certainty and
growth for renewable energy" it said in the heading of a media
statement in which he announced that the Australian
's changes to the renewable energy target (RET)
had passed the Senate.
Given that for more than a year the Australian renewables
industry had to operate in an environment where nothing was
certain and growth all but stalled, the outcome can indeed be
interpreted as a period of calm after a war. The pig is not dead,
but it surely is not looking Miss World either...read full story
In June, the New South Wales' and South Australian budgets were
brought down under very different economic circumstances...read
Earlier in the year, the need to save money restricted spending
on innovation relevant initiatives in the Victorian, Tasmanian and
Western Australian budgets ...read full story
May 2015 - The review of the Cooperative Research Centre
by David Miles
was commissioned by the Australian Government
2014, has found the program is valuable and effective, although
there is room for improvement.
The government has accepted all of its 18 recommendations, which
means the program will continue despite the renewed funding cuts
detailed in the 2015-16 budget (another $26 million over the next
The government has already put in place a new CRC
Advisory Group, as was recommended by Mr Miles, and it
will strengthen the commercial focus of the program...read full story
14 May 2015 - The Australian Government
from the research community for its decision to keep the National
Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy
going for another two years, with $300 million allocated in the May
budget. However, the funding is only meant to bridge the time until
the government's review of research infrastructure is finalised, and
a long term funding strategy is developed.
In 2015-16, NCRIS will provide $136.9 million for 27 facilities
supporting a wide range of nationally significant research
outcomes. These include new cancer testing methods, advances in
quantum computing, a better understanding of the oceans, weather
and climate, as well as improved crop productivity and more
detailed environmental monitoring...read full story
The $5.5 billion Growing Jobs and Small Business
initiative may indeed be the most exciting bit in this year's 'dull'
2015-16 federal budget.
The pharmaceutical industries will also be happy about $1.3
billion towards the listing of new medicines and vaccines on the
Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. Large savings affecting the scheme
- up to $5 billion over four years were predicted by some in the
media - did not eventuate.
There was a small boost for the environment, with an additional
$174 million provided for the Government's 'Green Army'
initiative. Previously announced were an additional $100 million
for the Reef Trust, which was established last
year to oversee investments into projects that benefit the Great
Barrier Reef (see 'Our
beef with the reef').
And the Government gave medical researchers also something to
look forward to with the first distributions from the Medical
Research Future Fund - $10 million in 2015-16. However,
this would require the legislation to be passed, which at present
seems highly unlikely. Still, the MRF could potentially deliver
around $400 million over four years in addition to NHMRC
research funding...read full story
April 2015 - The release of the Australian Government
Energy White Paper
drew mixed responses. Thus
various political and academic quarters criticised a failure to
properly address climate change, with some commentators pointing out
that climate change was scarcely mentioned in the document.
Compared to the previous
2012 Energy White Paper, which had a stronger emphasis on
renewable energy development, the focus has indeed shifted towards
consumer needs. Thus, the overarching vision for the Australian
energy sector is now to provide competitively priced and reliable
energy to households, businesses and international markets...read full story
In March, the Australian Government
third major installment of the 2014 NHMRC
and medical research grants. It included $98.3 million for 11
program grants, the agency's largest grants supporting long term
broad, multi-disciplinary and collaborative research in some of the
most complex areas of health and medical research.
The chance of winning NHMRC support has traditionally been low,
but it is now getting even tougher for Australian health and
medical researchers. The overall success rate for application
based grants dropped from 22% in 2013 to 18% in 2014. Accordingly,
the success rate for NHMRC Project Grants, which account for the
bulk of the agency's funding, also significantly dropped, from
16.9% in 2013 down to 15.0% in 2014...read full story
Our beef with the reef
In March, the Australian
jointly released a 35 year plan for the
long-term sustainability of the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) World
Heritage Area (see also our previous story "Reefing
As part of the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan
(Reef Plan), the governments announced new funding commitments
targeting the reef's health, including an additional
$100 million from the Australian Government for the Reef
Established in 2014 with $40 million, the Reef Trust will
consolidate investments in projects that aim to improve the reef's
health. Its funding priorities will be directed by an independent
scientific panel chaired by Australia's chief scientist Professor
Ian Chubb. ..read full story