• Treasurer Jim Chalmers and finance minister, Katy Gallagher fielding the post budget questions. (Source: Instagram)
    Treasurer Jim Chalmers and finance minister, Katy Gallagher fielding the post budget questions. (Source: Instagram)
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The 2024 Budget had little in the way of new or extended grant programs, but a long overdue review of Australia's R&D ecosystem is welcomed. Increased funds to increase the number of women and people from diverse backgrounds into STEM related fields was also acknowledged as a positive step. 

RSM Australia national leader – Manufacturing Services, Jessica Olivier, said grants – both new and extended programs – should have been a significant part of new measures to bolster manufacturing, but there was little specifically targeted at this sector.

Chalmers announced an “independent and strategic” examination of the R&D Tax Incentive program, which Olivier said was a good idea and overdue as the Finkel-Ferris-Fraser review of the program was more than eight years ago.

The Australian Academy of Science president, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, agreed, saying the review was long overdue and that the academy had been requesting a whole-of-sector analysis since 2018.

This was a “cross-portfolio, cross-sectoral and once-in-a-generation opportunity” to create the necessary conditions for science and research to maximise its contribution to national prosperity. 

“A stronger, more resilient nation cannot be built with a stagnant and siloed R&D system based on decades-old settings way past their use-by date.

“It is a necessary precursor to the creation of a strategic roadmap that can direct R&D in Australia and reverse the 14-year decline in investment that has left Australia well below the OECD average, uncompetitive and ill-equipped to meet our national ambitions.

“Investment in Australia’s science and research system is currently spread over 227 programs and 15 federal portfolios, with multiple ministers and departments having key responsibilities.

“A strategic examination of Australia’s R&D system is the first step to align national effort across the whole of government, industry, universities, and philanthropy to create an environment where investment is effective, strategic and scaled,” Jagadish said.

CEO of The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE), Kylie Walker, was also pleased to see the country’s “languishing investment” in science and innovation under review, but stressed investment in the sector “can’t be kicked further down the road”.

Walker highlighted just how far Australia lags the US, Japan, and Germany, who all spend more than three per cent of their GDP on the R&D that powers their economies. “Australia’s investment in R&D will make or break the Future Made in Australia investments announced tonight,” Walker said.

She said while the priority areas outlined in the budget were central to the country’s net zero goals, “it is critical for the government to recognise that developing these industries requires innovations that will only come from a strong and well-funded science and technology sector”. 

Education and Training

$38.2 million was allocated to scale up the Women in STEM programs and science engagement programs that are trying to encourage more women and people from diverse backgrounds in STEM education and careers.

$55.6 million was also announced to launch the Building Women’s Careers program to create structural and cultural change in male-dominated workplaces.

Olivier was pleasing to see the announcement of $500 million for the tertiary sector to increase skills in manufacturing and clean energy, as well as the announcement of various initiatives to lift private investment and workforce skills and boost local supply chains.

$27.7 million was earmarked to break down barriers between higher and vocational education.

AiGroup CEO, Innes Willox, said the budget made “important investments” in the skilling of the workforce.

“The continuation of incentives for both employers and apprentices in priority trades is particularly welcome.  While only funded for a limited period, industry is anticipating the ongoing support that is required will be delivered in response to the Strategic Review of the Australian Apprentice Incentive System.

“Additional skilling initiatives include support for women in non-traditional trades and investing in their clean energy workforce.  Ai Group also welcomes the recognition the government has provided to degree apprenticeships which we have championed,” Willox said.

The budget allocated $1.1 billion over five years for the first stage reforms of the Universities Accord, but that included measures already announced to pay for selected student placements and limit the indexation of HECS-HELP loans.

ATSE’s Walker said the development of a needs-based funding system to supports students who would typically miss out on a university education, was welcomed.  

“We look forward to working with the government to design this system in a way that supports under-represented students and prepares the STEM workforce of the future. 

Chalmers announced the government would establish a Commonwealth Prac Payment, which would provide $319.50 per week to 68,000 eligible higher education students and over 5000 VET students each year during their clinical and professional placement periods.

Walker said ATSE would urged the government to extend this support to university engineering students in recognition of the dire shortage in engineers, “whose skills will be critical to the clean energy transition”.

$33.5 million was allocated over six years for initiatives aimed at enhancing domestic industry and workforce capacity, while $4.4 million would be spent in 2024-25 on Vocational Education and Training support, including the creation of 15,000 fee-free TAFE places and 5000 places for pre-apprenticeships.

More 2024 Budget coverage: 

BUDGET 2024: A Future Made for certain industries

BUDGET 2024: Future Made priorities

BUDGET 2024: Small Business features

BUDGET 2024: Excise pleas ignored

 

Packaging News

Birds Eye has committed to sourcing post-consumer recycled (PCR) material as part of its broader sustainable packaging journey, commencing with plastic steam bags.

A new national circular economy framework will be released by the end of the year, which will outline innovations and priorities needed for the country to transition.

Raphael Geminder’s $234m bid to take full control of Pact fell short of the 90 per cent ownership he needed on Friday, resulting in the share price dropping by 9 per cent in trading this week.