Dr Cathy Foley AO
Australia’s Chief Scientist
Dear Dr Foley,
As Australia’s research-intensive, globally ranked in the world’s top 100 universities, investing some $7.7 billion on R&D annually, the Group of Eight (Go8) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Draft National Science and Research Priorities.
Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 network and member universities may wish to make their own individual submissions. The Go8 also consents for this submission to be published in full.
In the Go8 submission to the Australian Universities Accord, we called for a National Research Strategy that incorporates the National Science and Research Priorities, supporting the Go8’s position that the Priorities have a principal role in determining the key directions for Australia’s science and research system.
They cannot simply be published and forgotten, thus – detrimentally for Australia – ceding way to other national priorities as convenient.
The Priorities are relevant not only to university and government research institution activity, but also in Australia’s industries and businesses which must be encouraged to look to the Priorities as a first indication of how to diversify their R&D. It should never be ignored that they are a key partner in delivering the productivity goals Australia so desperately needs to be a competitive nation; and a nation that delivers increasing living standards for its citizens.
Our recommendations therefore emphasise the need for appropriate authority and settings for the Priorities to be effective, noting that implementation should be within a whole-of-system context, not left to individual researchers, organisations or government portfolios.
The Priorities can be especially powerful in driving a rise in Australia’s R&D expenditure as a proportion of GDP from a record low of 1.68 per cent for the nation. They will be even more powerful if they can influence business investment in R&D in a system that, critically, values and supports basic research.
Our submission notes the Go8’s support for the four Priorities themselves, albeit with some suggested adjustment.
The Go8 welcomes the acknowledgement of First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems and emphasises the need to establish concrete ways to bring these to bear on our future performance as a research nation.
We thank you for the opportunity for discussion at the May 2023 Go8 roundtable and subsequent joint workshops with the Australian Academy of Science in June-July, noting that many of the ideas, interests and concerns outlined in this submission were initially raised by Go8 participants at those workshops and roundtables.
- The Science and Research Priorities should be established with clear, abiding and potentially legislative authority. They must have dedicated funding and workforce support to enable them to set the strategic direction for science and research investment and prioritisation, and collaboration across sectors including by Government, academia and industry.
- The intent for the Priorities should be clearly set out, including the basis for their use and revision and how they will inform strategic direction and investment for science and research in juxtaposition to other Government or national Priorities and investments. The Priorities should also include an explicit call for support for basic research – in itself a national Priority – given its critical importance.
- A strategy must be developed in consultation with stakeholders to ensure transparency around the implementation of the Priorities.
- To achieve the required transparency, a regular Statement of Progress should be published. It should set out in detail the relevant progress made by Government, academia and industry against the Priorities.
- The Priorities and the forthcoming National Science Statement should include a commitment to undertake significant effort within the first three years of the Priorities to develop strategies, in collaboration with First Nations experts, that would achieve in practice recognising the importance of First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems.
- The Priorities and the forthcoming National Science Statement should emphasise the dual importance of managing and preventing climate change – not just addressing its impacts – and addressing biodiversity decline.
- The proposed Priorities should be endorsed by Government at the thematic level and underpinning detail of the Priorities, such as the critical areas of research, should be regularly reviewed and updated as needed in consultation with the science and research community, industry, government and other consumers, end-users and stakeholders.
- The multidisciplinary nature of each Science and Research Priority be emphasised and championed throughout the lifetime of the Priorities. This is seen as essential given the cross-connectedness between the Priorities and the value of multidisciplinary approaches to addressing related challenges and opportunities.
- The Science and Research Priorities and the forthcoming National Science Statement should explicitly call for business to consider how their R&D can align with the Priorities as well as their business requirements. This is essential to encourage this sector toward a more diverse R&D output, one that extends beyond the current focus on a limited number of fields of research.
- The forthcoming National Science Statement should be renamed the ‘National Science and Research Statement’ to recognise the common parlance regarding science and research, and to avoid misconceptions of ‘science’ as being restricted to STEM, as well as for consistency in nomenclature between the Statement and the Priorities.
The Go8 strongly supports national priorities for science and research and a National Statement to signal the criticality of science and research to Australia’s future, and to present clear parameters to guide the nation’s investment and direction.
Australia’s key allies and competitors, such as the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Korea, Singapore, China and New Zealand do articulate their focus on specific science, research and innovation. The OECD identified a decline in 2021 in health and defence R&D funded by governments and more emphasis on energy and environment. The Global Innovation Index 2022 reported from its survey of 132 economies that ‘Research priorities have further shifted to public, environmental and occupational health (…), digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, (…), and environmental topics’, with the newly released Global Innovation Index 2023 subsequently highlighting strong technological progress in information technology, health, mobility and energy.
Authority for the National Science and Research Priorities
However, without clear authority, there may only be organic alignment of science and research activity in Australia to the Priorities. The Go8 would argue this has already occurred within the existing and past sets of national science and research priorities. Clear authority is necessary if the Priorities and Statement are in fact intended to provide direction to, rather than be haphazardly or coincidentally reflected in, our science and research activity and outcomes.
Authority could take the form of funding through a dedicated separate envelope to incentivise alignment of activity with the Priorities.
Alternatively, or additionally, the Priorities and the National Science Statement could be written in as a primary consideration, in most cases to take precedence, in developing new Government measures that depend on science and research activity. This would include those whichspecifically serve other national priorities.
Currently, the Priorities do not provide a compelling justification for new Government budget or policy measures involving science and research. Instead, decision-makers including Ministers have often pointed to external imperatives to drive investment in areas of science and research priority. For example, investment in COVID-19 vaccine development was largely considered in the context of the Modern Manufacturing Initiative priorities rather than in reference to the relevant National Science and Research Priorities.
- At a minimum, Government portfolios should identify from the outset (such as in New Policy Proposals) if and how the Science and Research Priorities give authority to the proposed new measure, and how the measure will complement and give effect to a specific Priority or Priorities.
- It should also be explicitly stated how the Priorities and the Statement are expected to interact with the priorities and strategies of the two major research funders – the Australian Research Council (ARC) and
- The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), as well as with the Medical Research Future Fund and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy. If the Priorities and the Statement are indeed the vision and direction for science in Australia, then they should be expected to demarcate their responsibilities versus that of other key science and research bodies.
A possible consideration is whether legislation is required for the priorities. There is a precedent for national priorities to be enshrined in legislation. For example the Australian Medical Research and Innovation Priorities under the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) MRFF Act 2015, and priority areas of the Australian economy for the purposes of the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) under the NRF Corporation Act 2023.
Promoting strategic alignment with the Priorities
A clear mechanism is needed to promote strategic alignment of Australia’s science and research activity to the National Science and Research Priorities, to ensure they remain relevant. The Draft Priorities document does not directly discuss the purpose of the Priorities, how they are to be used, or their role in Australia’s science and research system. The introduction notes that they ‘set out the “what” and “why” for Australia’s science and research efforts over the next decade’. The guiding principles note they have a time horizon of 10 years with the critical research associated having a 5-10 year horizon, and that they signal to industry and the research sector the direction over the coming decade. The Draft notes a five-year interval for review of the Priorities.
Three key elements would seem essential to bolster the role that the Priorities would ideally play in shaping the system:
- A framework that unequivocally sets out the purpose of the Priorities and how they should be used to strategically impact our knowledge system, including their interplay with other key contributors to the system such as discovery, undirected or basic research. This would assist researchers to determine how the Priorities can guide their activity and inform Government as it navigates changing circumstances and unexpected challenges, so that new investments in science and research need not be justified principally by alignment to other key Government imperatives.
- A specific investment strategy that encompasses workforce as well as fiscal support to induce intensity of activity in the identified priority areas, in which some dedicated funding would be a key (but not sole) component. This would be alongside existing investments by the two national research councils and support for national research infrastructure. This element would serve to set out unambiguously how various sources of funding for science and research could support the Priorities, including ARC grants while respecting the ARC’s responsibility to support basic research.
- The abovementioned clear authority for the Priorities would influence Australia’s science and research direction.
These three points could form part of the National Research Strategy the Go8 has called for as part of the Universities Accord. All three should also take account additionally that:
- The timescales involved in achieving the stated priorities are often generational. While there can and need to be benefits of research programs within the agreed time horizon, research plans and commitment from stakeholders in a certain direction under the priorities need to be made in a strategic plan that stretches to more long-term goals over two or three decades.
- The Priorities have the potential to grow in scale and purpose over time in addressing challenges. Their success will rely on addition of disciplines and complexity, cooperation and co-investment of time, and resources and ideas from more and more people and organisations to build a collaborative approach to national problem solving. Current Australian Government programs and science funders do not facilitate such processes and we would encourage dialogue with funders as to how to achieve this.
Clarity of purpose and intent will also support more accurate monitoring of how the Priorities are met and implemented. This would assist informing both the research sector’s future investments and efforts, as well as Government policy. While acknowledging the complexity of arriving at useful indicators and metrics, there must be more transparency around how the Priorities are implemented.
- Despite two existing ‘evaluative’ tools on alignment of research activity – the ARC’s collection of applicants’ advice regarding how their proposed research relates to the national science and research priorities; and the Government’s retrospective identification via the Science, Research and Innovation (SRI) Tables that set out which priorities its SRI funding programs supports – government, industry and other beneficiaries, do not have a clear picture of where Australia invests or seeks to invest its SRI effort.
Given the absence of discussion of R&D in the Measuring What Matters framework (which is proposed in the Draft to be utilised to measure progress), the Go8 recommends further consultation with stakeholders to determine key ways progress can best be monitored. This process should inform the development and publication of a regular Statement of Progress which discusses in detail the relevant progress made by Government, academia and industry, against the Science and Research Priorities.
Currently there is no specific funding program or dedicated funding attached to Australia’s national science and research priorities. Research funding is often tied to other national priorities, such as the National Manufacturing Priorities, or more recently the National Reconstruction Fund Priorities. The ARC’s Industrial Research Transformation Program priorities are based on Industry Growth Centre themes. Nor currently do the science and research priorities have legislative or policy authority, unlike for example the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) Priorities or the National Reconstruction Fund priorities.
- The Go8 steers clear of suggesting that all publicly funded science and research activity must directly support one or more priorities. However, the multiple ‘priority lists’, reported by the ARC when it attempted to map government funded science and research activity against the science and research priorities, point to the need for a whole-of-government streamlined approach to identifying and articulating what Government considers to be the key areas for science and research.
- In addition, the Go8 believes that basic research cannot easily be aligned to one priority, given the very nature of this activity. Because of this, the proportion of ARC funding that supports basic research should have a status separate to funding allocated to directly support priorities.
Importance of First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems
The Go8 commends the intention to elevate and recognise First Nations knowledge systems and perspectives on science. While acknowledging the complexity of doing so, the Go8 strongly supports the University of Melbourne’s call to elevate First Nations knowledge systems alongside the current western sciences approach. This approach extends beyond equity and inclusion, to transform Australia’s and the world’s approach to consider how the two systems can together create a future paradigm for science and research.
While the intent is welcomed, more could and should be done within the released Priorities document to describe the potential of recognising First Nations knowledge systems. It is also imperative that there be minimal lag in pursuing direct ways to achieve the intent, in consultation with First Nations communities. Suggestions for considerations as the basis for moving forward include:
- How the engagement process with First Nations people and communities is best constructed to enable a successful discussion towards the intent in the Priorities, and ensuing actions. For this to happen, First Nations researchers and communities must be recognised as partners across the research system.
- Recognition of the synergies between First Nations and western knowledge systems, and also the different perspectives, including what is perceived as groundbreaking. For example, First Nations peoples have always upheld and pursued a sustainability philosophy and ethic in fulfilling their responsibilities in caring for country, where country is understood as the land, water, sky and the living things that occupy those spaces and exist between them. It should also be recognised that First Nations and western knowledge systems may describe aspects of the same reality but from different standpoints. Both can be regarded as valid and thus contribute to new knowledge(s).
- Embracing the idea of reciprocity, exchange and mutual impact/gain rather than a default position that automatically defers to western science.
- Harnessing the existing experience of First Nations researchers who work across the First Nations and western knowledge systems, to inform how First Nations and western knowledge can be best brought together, ‘braided’ as described in a Go8 workshop.
- Working towards First Nations and non-First Nations students, academics and others being provided with the means to build capacity in all aspects of First Nations knowledges and knowledge systems.
- Having a default position of valuing First Nations knowledge, expertise and relationships. This would be a necessary foundation to access benefits from knowledge generated at the interface of First Nations and western knowledge.
- First Nations people should be appointed to key decision-making roles, not limited to advisory roles in the research system, and efforts made to increase the number of First Nations people in the research sector.
- Genuine, reciprocal engagement with First Nations communities needs to occur throughout the research lifecycle, and across all the Priority areas, if First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems are to be protected and enabled.
Basic research must be supported
The Go8 understands from direct discussions with the Chief Scientist that basic research is a major priority to which the Government is committed, but that the science and research Priorities will focus instead on the practical outputs and shorter-term considerations arising for the development of the new set of Priorities.
We emphasise, as many contributors to discussions have done, the extremely critical importance of basic research to underpin and expand all science and research, and we continue to advocate for a higher fiscal commitment by Government to basic research. Basic or fundamental research is not merely an enabler as unfortunately described in early drafts of the Priorities.
The role of basic research extends to advancing the frontiers of human knowledge; to introducing new and unexpected paradigms, and to potentially overturning and reshaping the tenets of our existence. Basic research is non rivalrous as discussed in the Go8’s paper, Basic Research: The Foundation of Progress, Productivity, and a More Sovereign Nation. This means that it can be used by multiple parties simultaneously, with increasing returns to scale. Given that basic research does not necessarily lead to immediate or direct tangible applications, a systematic and reliable approach to investing in it is essential.
Go8 response to the listed Priorities
The Go8 agrees that the Priorities identified are largely reasonable, expected and consistent with the discussions in which the Go8 participated. To assist in refining the Priorities and as final advice to Government, the Go8 notes:
- Priorities should be articulated where possible from the perspective of the opportunities and potential for ‘big ideas’ to be delivered as much as the challenges, problems and tensions to be resolved. They can signal potential new, unforeseen improvements for Australia and its people, not simply transactional remedies to known issues.
- We strongly support the emphasis on the cross-connectedness of the Priorities. Given that research effort to address difficult, abiding or unforeseen problems is likely to be cross-disciplinary, it is important to acknowledge (as has been attempted in Figure 3 of the document) that optimal results depend on a holistic approach accommodating several collaborating angles of research inquiry.
- There is an opportunityas never before for First Nations knowledge and First Nations knowledge systems and approaches to be central to, not adjacent or simply an added feature in the new Priorities and Statement. As pointed out in the Roundtable and in workshops, western science systems alone will be insufficient to address major national and international challenges including climate change. They also cannot be the default perspective to enable the aspirations of First Nations people. The Go8 supports an approach led by First Nations experts to instil First Nations knowledge and perspectives into Australia’s science and research – one that respects and draws from First Nations practices in engagement and scholarship. While the complexity of evolving to this more holistic and unique approach to science and research cannot be underestimated, Australia is in a singular position to transform not simply the national but also the global direction on science and research.
- In the same way that universities must continue to ensure industry and business are aware and can access and use their research, the national interest – as signalled by the Priorities – should be elevated in the R&D considerations for industry and business. For the Priorities to be impactful in this respect, a two‑way commitment is necessary. The Priorities must have regard to industry and business (and potential future industry and business) and conversely industry and business must be encouraged to adopt and invest in the agreed Priorities. No previous statement has explicitly called on industry and business to action the Science and Research Priorities; rather, academia, and to a lesser extent government have been the key actors. That Australia’s business investment in R&D is largely focused in just three Fields of Research – Information and Computing Sciences; Engineering; and Biomedical and Clinical Sciences – which together comprise just under 80 per cent of Business Expenditure on R&D, is not a coincidence. This is highly pertinent to the aim stated under the ‘Enabling a productive and innovative economy’ that ‘Australian businesses will engage more in research and development increasing our global competitiveness’.
- The Go8 emphasises the need for implementation of the Priorities to be focused beyond just the economic benefit of the ensuing research, to broader societal benefits, to people’s lives, their health, social interactions (and beyond to impacts on the wider environment).
- A multidisciplinary approach to research, in preference to a linear approach based on a binary ‘division’ of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), is vital to the success of the Priorities and to support economic policy and approaches. The complex interactions that the Priorities engender between physical and biological science and social sciences and rely on for success relate to people, communities and changes in decision making:
- successfully addressing the key challenges and opportunities that the Priorities relate to requires a multidisciplinary approach, where there is co-design of research across disciplines and with the community is a far more integrated manner than typically happens in science and research projects in most individual disciplines. Implementation requires a new way of working on national priorities by researchers and in and with communities and end users, including but beyond Indigenous communities.
- human behaviour/societal responses need to be factored in from inception in any new system or venture, including the perspectives of people with lived experience.
- a major gap is the lack of social science data to underpin how new challenges are addressed, new approaches such as adoption of emerging technology, and policy improvements.
- Sovereign capability and advancement deserve particular consideration in the new Priorities, given the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic and geopolitical shifts affecting Australia.
- Conversely, Australia’s strength as an international partner in R&D is a clear advantage in any science and research endeavour, whether academic, industry or government driven. The benefit of international connection must be emphasised in every Priority.
Go8 Comment on critical research areas against the draft Priorities
- Specific areas for focus listed under each Priority provide the further definition needed for researchers, industry, government and other stakeholders to grasp how they may use and refer to the Priorities to influence and guide their own activity. The challenge is for these areas to be both clear enough in what specific research is needed and broad enough to encompass multidisciplinary approaches.
- Go8 discussion identified that critical research areas should be disruptive in nature rather than just responsive: ‘if it isn’t potentially disruptive, it isn’t worth doing’. The importance of discovery as an outcome of science and research should also be embraced through the Priorities.
- There would be benefit in the Priorities document clearly stating that each critical research area will depend on identifying: the basic research needed; the integrative and multidisciplinary approaches needed (including to encompass indigenous knowledges); and the implementation and translation science that would support delivery of benefits from the basic research.
- The Go8 advocates for ‘living’ critical research still geared to the Priority but adapted regularly and as needed via continual review and improvement of the underpinning research areas.
- The National Science Statement should emphasise the importance of data, data analysis, data modelling, data-evidenced evaluations and interventions, supported by rigorous /robust methods, as these were raised in discussions on all Priorities. Modelling and data are seen as necessary to support sharper understanding and ability to address issues, such as the carrying capacity of our populations for food and water, how many minerals (e.g. potassium and nitrogen) we export unintentionally when we export food supplies, but also qualitative data to support our understanding of what conditions enable actions aimed at health outcomes.
- Basic research was emphasised in discussions as vital for continued growth in knowledge, and as the basis to solutions across all Priorities.
- That First Nations knowledge and perspectives are instrumental to a more complete and comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities should be front of mind across all Priorities.
Ensuring a net zero future and protecting Australia’s biodiversity
Critical considerations for this Priority
- Prevention of climate tipping points must be recognised as an important area for study under this Priority alongside research into preparedness for the impacts of climate change. The Priorities must not shy away from acknowledging the importance of climate mitigation research, alongside adaptation research. In addition, all other Priorities need to consider the importance of research in addressing climate change.
- Biodiversity decline is as important an area to address, noting that most problems will not be solved if only climate issues are addressed. For example, there are also substantial connections between biodiversity decline/exploitation and human health, with the rise of zoonotic diseases being a more well‑known example of this. However, deforestation, the loss of pollinators and other ecosystem service providers also cause massive impacts.
- The importance of multidisciplinary approaches to biodiversity is particularly emphasised, given that various value systems, including those of First Nations, are valid and have a role to play in how biodiversity is approached. The comparative nature of attributing value to Australia’s biodiversity can result in unwanted or unresolvable issues, for instance in valuing one species over another, or one species over human prospects or conditions or if financial or economic value were to take precedence over other forms of value (such as cultural) in resulting policy. Consideration should be given to working with First Nations people to not simply protect and restore ecosystems as suggested in the draft, but to also proactively informing novel approaches to secure our environments, including terrestrial, marine and atmospheric.
- Consideration should be given to inserting ‘Climate change’ into the name of this Priority to signal its criticality as an area of focus, e.g. ‘Ensuring a net zero future, addressing climate change and protecting Australia’s biodiversity’.
Supporting healthy and thriving communities
Critical considerations for this Priority
- This Priority rightly links wellbeing with health
- Systemic bold change is needed to achieve tangible health and wellbeing benefits for Australian rather than incremental approaches:
- Equity needs to be about equity in health, not just equity in access to health, encompassing prevention as well as treatment, recognising the broader social and environmental factors in health and wellbeing.
- There needs to be an emphasis on the importance of education tailored to the recipient and on improving the reach of health messages and measures including using role models.
- Climate change as a driver of health needs to be addressed, with research needed into climate factors that impact on healthy communities and individuals – with a view to the opportunities and benefits not just the negative impact of the environment.
- Digital Health and research into how to optimise this as a mechanism should be supported.
- Siloed approaches are insufficient, and this Priority needs to elevate the importance of understanding the connections between health conditions, and between health determinants.
- Social and environmental factors (in addition to climate) should also be the focus of research, such as broader inequities in society that affect equity in health, the tension between focus on the most prevalent diseases and those that lead to highest mortality; and the unsustainability of our health system which is confronting a medical workforce shortage. The Priority should foster implementation at scale of what are proven effective approaches to healthcare, reversing what is perceived as a trend in Australia of small‑scale or limited implementation.
- The Priority should promote understanding at both the community level and the individual level, as a basis of enabling better policy/outcomes.
Enabling a Productive and Innovative Economy
Critical considerations for this Priority
- The interconnectedness between the economy, society and the environment needs to be highlighted and inserted via the critical research areas. The economic impact of advanced technologies cannot be the sole or even major focus, given the impacts of these technologies more broadly on people’s lives, health, social interactions, and in addressing major societal problems such as climate change, and the importance of cultural change as an enabler of an innovative economy.
- This Priority must be inclusive of disciplines beyond engineering and the physical sciences, such as the biological sciences. The Go8 supports the identification under this Priority of AI, quantum, robotics and biotechnology as advanced technologies to focus on, and emphasises the importance of including space technologies.
- A nuanced view of productivity, innovation and the economy is needed, one that does not simply promote a set solution (such as a circular economy) or draw on traditional perspectives but considers additional pathways or lenses.
- Delving further into Australian specific factors that affect/limit innovation as a contributor to economic growth, such as a perceived underuse of R&D including university IP by business and the risk averseness of Australian SMEs versus overseas competitors, should form part of the research foci for this priority, if optimal progress towards a strong and innovative economy is to occur. The Industry and Science Minister recently pointed to Australian SMEs’ reluctance to adopt technology like AI, however if measures such as the Government’s Responsible AI Adopt program are to succeed, they need to be informed by a deeper understanding and appreciation of what holds SMEs back, and whether it can be solely attributed to limited management capability identified by the Productivity Commission.
- Workforce, talent, attraction and retention of people to support a strong and innovative economy must be important research considerations for this Priority.
- Questions of sovereignty should focus on areas where global markets are not already captured (such as social media) and where either Australia has a foothold (such as agriculture) or there are evident windows of opportunity (such as critical mineral supply). Sovereign knowledge and access are needed to develop and harness advanced (not just emerging) and dual use technologies. Research can help us find new and different ways to use existing technologies, something we can do despite our lack of scale.
- The goal should be direct sovereign capability in targeted areas, not in everything. In addition to the areas listed in the Draft, space technologies should be included given their importance for many sectors.
Building a stronger, more resilient nation
Critical considerations for this Priority
- Resilience as an area for study should be broadly defined, encompassing not just the areas noted in the Draft but to include resilience to disruption in general, ranging from areas as diverse as resilience to climate change to the impact of social media to cybersecurity concerns to threats to supply chains.
- Equity and inclusiveness should be core to this Priority, and research considerations should include how to prevent marginalisation of groups and ensure that people’s participation and engagement in research and society is unhindered and ubiquitous. This is critical to more resilient communities and insufficiently discussed against this Priority in the draft.
- The consideration and development of future approaches to First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems could be centred in this Priority, with a first principle to consider how First Nations knowledge and perspectives can be equally established alongside existing and accepted knowledge frameworks.
Go8 response to CONSULTATION QUESTION 5 REGARDING THE NATIONAL SCIENCE STATEMENT
In addition to advice provided above regarding how the Priorities can be supported, which may be addressed in the National Science Statement, the Go8 re-states its position that the National Science Statement be renamed the National Science and Research Statement. This would assist in reconciling the different perceptions of what science means within both the academic and broader communities, while signalling acknowledgement of the Government’s own distinct science and research portfolios. As noted in our letter to you of 11 July 2023, views vary even within Go8 academe from regarding science as the set of immutable natural rules and research as the mechanism to achieve knowledge, to agreement to the understanding of science as the practices that use knowledge and apply it, to resistance to including all disciplines in ‘science’.
The references to ‘science agencies’, ‘science infrastructure’, ‘Australian Government science programs’ and ‘Domestic and international science relationships’ in Consultation Question 5, raise immediate questions as to whether this question and the intent and scope of the National Science Statement (and Priorities) are limited simply to these agencies, infrastructure, programs and relationships within the Industry, Science and Resources portfolio. As noted previously, the Go8’s view is that the Statement and Priorities – being national in nature – should have broad coverage across all relevant Australian Government portfolios and activities, including those supported under the key research funders in the Education, Science, Health, Defence and Environment portfolios. The use of the term ‘science infrastructure’ in preference to the commonly used ‘research infrastructure’ is puzzling and may suggest a schism between the relevant portfolios when it comes to describing these facilities.
- Australian Government agencies including those that support research and science, and their associated programs should promote and embed the Priorities as the default direction for priority-driven research that they support or rely on, including but not limited to application-focused research. Agencies should respect and continue to support the role for basic or fundamental research, and discovery-driven research in the system – noting that outcomes may have unforeseen benefits that may be relevant to the Priorities or more broadly. For example, basic research can create a platform for future technologies that do not yet exist, though align with the Priority on ‘Enabling a Productive and Innovative Economy’.
- The Department of Industry, Science and Resources has a particular role to promote the Priorities and Statement with Australian industry and business, given its responsibility for those sectors. Industry and business should be encouraged to consider how their R&D activity can be guided by the Priorities and Statement, beyond their immediate or pressing business requirements – whether in collaboration with research institutions and universities or with other businesses and partners.
- All agencies including the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, the Department of Education, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the ARC and the NHMRC, the Department of Defence and other agencies that have a role in international relationships should consider and promote the Priorities and Statement as key guidance in determining areas for common engagement with other countries and jurisdictions on research and science.
- Key agencies such as the Department of Industry and the Department of Education should consider the synergies between the Priorities and the key science and research aspirations of jurisdictions with which Australia is seeking to strengthen science and research relationships, and of those who are seeking to further such relationships with Australia. For example, there is clear alignment between the draft Priorities and key European aspirations for science and research that should be examined in considering potential engagement with Europe and its key funding program, Horizon Europe.
- Domestically, promotion of the Priorities and Statement by key agencies such as the Department of Industry and the Department of Education during engagement with state and territory governments, including relevant state and territory science and research agencies and Chief Scientists, would assist in ensuring alignment (including limited duplication) as possible with and by activity on other domestic jurisdictions.
- The Priorities should be used as a principal though not sole basis for determining strategies for national research infrastructure. Where new, urgent and unforeseen needs for additional infrastructure arise, or a key gap or potential gap is identified, alignment with the Priorities should assist in supporting the business case for funding.
 OECD (2023). “OECD Main Science and Technology Indicators. R&D and related highlights in the March 2023 Publication”, OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation. http://www.oecd.org/sti/msti2023.pdf
 E.g. 2020-21 MYEFO measure titled COVID-19 Response Package — vaccine security — manufacturing capability and capacity, later 2021-22 Budget measure COVID-19 Vaccine Manufacturing Capabilities (https://www.industry.gov.au/sites/default/files/2021-06/mrna-approach-to-market-questions-and-answers-21-may-2021.pdf)
 Other examples include the National Health and Medical Research Council’s health priorities which derive from the NHMRC’s CEO responsibilities under the NHMRC Act 1992 to provide an assessment of the major national health issues likely to arise in the period of the corporate plan and the Infrastructure Priority List which derives from a requirement in the Infrastructure Australia Act 2008 for Infrastructure Australia to develop such Infrastructure Priority Lists to prioritise Australia’s infrastructure needs. See https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/research-policy/research-priorities/nhmrc-health-priorities and https://www.infrastructureaustralia.gov.au/infrastructure-priority-list.
 That 81 per cent of the ARC’s funded research projects between 2004 and 2021 align with the National Science and Research Priorities, as noted by the 2023 ACIL Allen report on Impact Assessment of ARC-funded Research, does not provide a strong picture of how priorities are being met, simply what projects have self-identified at application stage with a particular priority.
 Measuring What Matters cites ‘innovation’ as a metric with a sole associated metric ‘Number of patent and trademark applications’.
 Medical Research Future Fund Act 2015 (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2023C00052)
 National Reconstruction Fund Corporation (Priority Areas) Declaration 2023 (https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2023L00716)
 An example of highly impactful research that was noted as not specifically aligning with the current National Science and Research Priorities is the work by Professor Heather Douglas (University of Melbourne; previously University of Queensland) on Changing the law to Protect Survivors of Domestic and Family Violence, the case study of which was included in the 2023 ACIL Allen report on Impact Assessment of ARC-funded Research
 ARC 2019, Snapshot Research Priorities in Australia (https://www.arc.gov.au/sites/default/files/snapshot_research_priorities_in_australia_march2019.pdf), showed that there were at least 11 such lists from a review of initiatives funded by the Education, Health and Industry portfolios alone; and an additional 13 linked to specific programs or research agencies.
 See submission by University of Melbourne Pro-Vice Chancellor Indigenous to Stage 1 consultations on the National Science and Research Priorities (https://consult.industry.gov.au/sciencepriorities1/survey/view/149)
 ABS 2023, Business expenditure on R&D, by fields of research, 2021-22. This compares to around 81 per cent of Higher Education Expenditure on research and development (HERD 2020) being focused on 12 FoRs, including these three that business focuses on.
 Speech by Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic 20 September 2023 at the Mindfields Automation Summit, ‘Unlocking the potential of AI for Australian industry’, https://www.minister.industry.gov.au/ministers/husic/speeches/unlocking-potential-ai-australian-industry