Treasurer Scott Morrison has handed down his third budget, with tech investments in artificial intelligence, satellite technology, supercomputers, women in STEM and a national space agency.
ACS President Yohan Ramasundara welcomed the budget boost to various sectors, but said more was needed.
“While there has been an improvement in terms of a funding allocation for building digital skills, the reality is that we need to do more,” he said.
“Further investment in training, development and small business digital literacy will go a long way to securing a strong digital economy from which all Australians will benefit.”
Here’s where the 2018 budget money was allocated in ICT and innovation:
National Space Agency
Australia’s long overdue space agency has been given $41 million over four years to stick a flag into the ground and say, “let’s do this”. Most of this money ($26 million) will go towards coordinating space activities for the country, and $15 million will come in the way of grants to space projects that generate jobs and business opportunities.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML)
The government is investing $29.9 million over four years to pump up Australia’s AI and ML capabilities in fields including cybersecurity, health and energy. This will fund the development of a Technology Roadmap, Standards Framework and a national AI Ethics Framework. Money will also go towards AI and ML-focused PhD scholarships and school education to address skills gaps, and additional funding to Cooperative Research Centres Program to support AI and ML initiatives.
Women in STEM
The government has heard the cries bemoaning the lack of women in STEM education and careers, and is splashing out $4.5 million over four years to lure them in. This will include a newly appointed Women in STEM Ambassador who will go school-to-school talking up STEM to girls. A decade-long plan providing a roadmap for increasing female participation in STEM will be developed, along with a STEM resource kit.
When it comes to staying safe online, the Government will provide $14.2 million over four years to support the functions of the Office of the eSafety Commissioner (the eSafety Office), which includes $11.7 million for new functions undertaken by the eSafety Office following the expansion of its role from promoting online safety for children, to promoting online safety for all Australians. These include administering a new civil penalty regime to combat the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, and providing guidance and support to Australians of all ages who experience online abuse.
Mature age workers (anyone 45+ years old)
In news that will be depressing to many people, the government defines mature age workers as those aged 45 and over. Good news, though, is that the government would like to hand out $189.7 million to help these workers transition to the new economy and stay employed. The money will be used to develop digital skills; a training fund of up to $2000 each for workers aged 45-70 years to reskill; and $15.2 million over three years for mature age workers to stay in employment rather than retire.
Looking to leverage institutional knowledge, the Government is also funding ‘Inclusive Entrepreneurship Facilitators’ focusing on mature age workers to promote entrepreneurship and new business opportunities and to provide business mentoring.
This forms part of a focus that also includes working with business and community peak bodies to develop strategies that promote the benefits of a diverse workforce, influence hiring practices and reduce discrimination.
Consumer Data Rights and National Data Commissioner
Consumers want more control of their personal data and the government will invest $45 million over four years to develop the Consumer Data Right as a safer way for consumers to share and use their data. This will be overseen by a National Data Commissioner. The Right will commence with the banking, energy and telecommunications sectors and eventually apply economy-wide.
Research & Development
Among the major talking points from the budget were the reforms to the research and development (R&D) tax incentive, which, according to the budget, are expected to save the government $2.4 billion.
The changes were largely in response to the 2016 review of the scheme and will now primarily target big businesses.
The introduction of a R&D premium for companies with an aggregated annual turnover of more $20m is aimed at refocusing the incentive. This will be the company’s tax rate plus:
• 4 percentage points for R&D expenditure between 0 per cent to 2 per cent R&D intensity.
• 6.5 percentage points for R&D expenditure above 2 per cent to 5 per cent R&D intensity.
• 9 percentage points for R&D expenditure above 5 per cent to 10 per cent R&D intensity.
• 12.5 percentage points for R&D expenditure above 10 per cent R&D intensity.
Companies with an annual turnover below $20m will receive a premium of 13.5% above a claimant’s company tax rates, with cash refunds capped at $4m per annum.
Additionally, the R&D expenditure threshold – the maximum amount of expenditure eligible for concessional tax offsets – has been lifted from $100m to $150m per annum.
It was also indicated that there will be a greater focus on compliance and administration, after Morrison earlier said the incentive had been “taken for a ride” by some companies.
Supercomputer and GPS
In another move targeted at the tech sector, the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Western Australia will be given $70 million for a system upgrade.
This will include funding for to replace the Galaxy and Magnus supercomputers and supporting infrastructure, which are currently used to support researchers around the country.
There will also be $36.9 million delivered over three years to provide Australians with standardised satellite data through the Digital Earth Australia Program. This program will use innovative technologies to analyse changes to the physical landscape of Australia, providing insight into pressing environmental changes, while also providing advanced satellite imaging to farmers.
How would you like one sign-in for online government services? The Government is providing $92.4 million in 2018–19 for the next stages of the Commonwealth digital identity solution, GovPass which will allow just that. This funding includes a trial of approximately 100,000 tax file number (TFN) applications being completed online.
Asian Innovation Strategy
The government is expanding the National Innovation and Science Agenda’s Global Innovation Strategy to establish a new Asian Innovation Strategy. The Global Innovation Strategy is designed to provide aid and funding to Australian organisations that collaborate with international partners in research and development. The Asian Innovation Strategy is providing $20 million over four years to create a separate stream for the grant program that focuses primarily on Asia.
The government will spend $1 million over two years to support a review of existing domestic and international measures of innovation. This will inform the development of new metrics that will ensure that innovation is accurately measured in Australia to better target investment.
The Digital Transformation Agency has been commissioned by the Federal Government to explore areas in which blockchain might add value to government services and minimise transaction costs. The government has allocated $700,000 for this purpose.
The Government will provide $341.5 million over nine years from 2018-19 to fund capital works by the Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) across its properties.
This measure will ensure that the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria, which is Australia’s national biocontainment laboratory, continues to meet regulatory requirements in responding to biosecurity threats and supporting Australia’s agricultural industry. This measure will ensure that the CSIRO continues to deliver world-class science, while generating operating efficiencies through a reduction in its footprint.
The cost of this measure will be met from the planned disposal of part of the CSIRO’s property portfolio, realising $245.1 million over nine years from 2018-19, and from within the CSIRO’s existing resources.
To support Australian businesses protecting their intellectual property, the Government will provide $600,000 this coming financial year to modernise IP Australia’s patents management system, streamlining access to its services via digital channels.