What was missing in Australia’s $1.9 billion infrastructure announcement


Virginia Barbour, Queensland University of Technology

When we think about infrastructure it’s most often about bridges or roads – or, as in this week’s federal government AU$1.9 billion National Research Infrastructure announcement, big science projects. These are large assets that can be seen and applied in a tangible way.

It’s not hard to get excited over money that will support imaging of the Earth, or the Atlas of Living Australia.

But important as these projects are, there’s a whole set of infrastructure that rarely gets mentioned or noticed: “soft” infrastructure. These are the services, policies or practices that keep academic research working and, now, open.

Soft infrastructure was not featured in this week’s announcement linked to budget 2018.




Read more:
Budget 2018: when scientists make their case effectively, politicians listen


Ignored infrastructure

An absence of attention paid to soft infrastructure isn’t just the case in Australia, it’s true globally. This is despite the fact that such infrastructure is core to running the hard infrastructure projects.

For example, the Open SSL software library – which is key to the security of most websites – has just a handful of paid individuals who work on it. It’s supported by fragile finances. That’s a pretty frightening thought. (There’s another issue in that researchers doing this work get no academic credit for their efforts, but that’s a topic for another time.)

There are other high profile, globally used, open science infrastructures that also exist hand to mouth. The Directory of Open Access journals which began at Lund University relies entirely on voluntary donations from supporting members and on occasional sponsorship.

Similarly, Sherpa Romeo – the open database of publishers’ policies on copyright and self-archiving – came out of projects at Nottingham and Loughborough Universities in the UK.

In some ways these projects’ high visibility is part of their problem. It’s assumed that they are already funded, so no-one takes responsibility for funding them themselves – the dilemma of collective action.




Read more:
Not just available, but also useful: we must keep pushing to improve open access to research


Supporting open science

Other even more nebulous types of soft infrastructure include the development and oversight of standards that support open science. One example of this is the need to ensure that the metadata (the essential descriptors that tell you for example where a sample that’s collected for research came from and when, or how it relates to a wider research project or publication) are consistent. Without consistency of metadata, searching for research, making it openly available or linking it together is much less efficient, if not impossible.

Of course there are practices in place at individual institutions as well as national organisations. The soon-to-be-combined organisations -Australian National Data Service, the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources project and Research Data Services (ANDS-Nectar-RDS) – are supported by national infrastructure funding. These provide support for data-heavy research (including for example the adoption of FAIR – Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable standards for data).

But without coherent national funding and coordination, specifically for open science initiatives, we won’t get full value from the physical infrastructure just funded.




Read more:
How the insights of the Large Hadron Collider are being made open to everyone


What we need

What’s needed now? First, a specific recognition of the need for cash to support this open, soft infrastructure. There are a couple of models for this.

In an article last year it was suggested that libraries (but this could equally be funders – public or philanthropic) should be committing around 2.5% of their budget to support open initiatives. There are some international initiatives that are developing specific funding models – SCOSS for Open Science Services and NumFocus for software.

But funding on its own is not enough: we need a coordinated national approach to open scholarship – making research available for all to access through structures and tools that are themselves open and not proprietary.

Though there are groups that are actively pushing forward initiatives on open scholarship in Australia – such as the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, the Council of Australian University Librarians, and the Learned Academies as well as the ARC and NHMRC who have open access policies – there is no one organisation with the responsibility to drive change across the sector. The end result is inadequate key infrastructure – for example, for interoperability between research output repositories.

We also need coherent policy. The government recognised a need for national and states policies on open access in its response to the 2016 Productivity Commission Inquiry on Intellectual Property, but as yet no policy has appeared.




Read more:
Universities spend millions on accessing results of publicly funded research


It’s reasonable to ask whether in the absence of a national body that’s responsible for developing and implementing an overall approach, what the success of a policy on its own would be. Again, there are international models that could be used.

Sweden has a Government Directive on Open Access, and a National Body for Coordinating Open Access chaired by the Vice-chancellor of Stockholm University.

The Netherlands has a National Plan for Open Science with wide engagement, supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In that country, the Secretary of State, Sander Dekker, has been a key champion.

The EU has had a long commitment to open science, underscored recently by the appointment of a high-level envoy with specific responsibility for open science, Robert-Jan Smits.

Private interests might take over

Here’s the bottom line: national coordinated support for the soft infrastructure that supports open science (and thus the big tangible infrastructure projects announced) is not just a “nice to have”.

One way or another, this soft infrastructure will get built and adopted. If it’s not done in the national interest, for-profit companies will step into the vacuum.

We risk replicating the same issues we have now in academic publishing – which is in the hands of multi-billion dollar companies that report to their shareholders, not the public. It’s clear how well that is turning out – publishers and universities globally are in stand offs over the cost of publishing services, which continue to rise inexorably, year on year.


The Conversation


Read more:
Publisher pushback puts open access in peril


Virginia Barbour, Director, Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, Queensland University of Technology

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Post-budget poll wrap: Labor has equal best Newspoll budget result, gains in Ipsos, but trails in Longman



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While this is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd consecutive Newspoll loss as PM, the past two have been narrow losses.
AAP/Ellen Smith

Adrian Beaumont, University of Melbourne

This week’s Newspoll, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,730, gave Labor a 51-49 lead, unchanged from three weeks ago. Primary votes were 39% Coalition (up one), 38% Labor (up one), 9% Greens (steady) and 6% One Nation (down one).

This Newspoll is Malcolm Turnbull’s 32nd successive loss as PM, two more than Tony Abbott. However, the past two have been narrow losses.

The total vote for Labor and the Greens was up one point to 47%, while the total for the Coalition and One Nation was steady at 45%. The gain for the left would normally result in a gain after preferences, but rounding probably helped the Coalition again.




Read more:
Poll wrap: Labor’s Newspoll lead narrows federally and in Victoria


39% (up three) were satisfied with Turnbull, and 50% (down three) were dissatisfied, for a net approval of -11, Turnbull’s highest net approval since the final pre-election Newspoll in July 2016. Bill Shorten’s net approval was down two points to -22. Turnbull led Shorten as better PM by 46-32; this is Turnbull’s clearest better PM lead since February.

Newspoll asks three questions after every budget: whether the budget was good or bad for the economy, good or bad for you personally, and whether the opposition would have delivered a better budget.

The best news for Labor was on the third question, where it only trailed by seven points, equal to their deficit after the badly perceived 2014 budget. According to The Poll Bludger, Labor trailed by more during all of the Howard government’s budgets.

This budget was seen as good for the economy by 41-26, and good for you personally by 29-27. The Poll Bludger says it is fifth out of 31 budgets covered by Newspoll on personal impact, but only slightly above average on the economy.

Turnbull led Shorten by 48-31 on best to handle the economy (51-31 in December 2017). Treasurer Scott Morrison led his shadow Chris Bowen 38-31 on best economic manager. By 51-28, voters thought Labor should support the government’s seven-year tax cut package.

Turnbull has delivered a well-received budget, while Shorten’s credibility took a hit after four Labor MPs were kicked out over the citizenship fiasco.

Voters were not sympathetic to politicians who held dual citizenships. By 51-38, they thought such politicians should be disqualified from federal parliament (44-43 in August). By 46-44, voters would oppose a referendum to change the Constitution to allow dual citizens to become MPs.

A key question is whether Turnbull’s ratings bounce will be sustained. The PM’s net approval and the government’s two party vote are strongly correlated, so the Coalition should do better if Turnbull’s ratings are good. Past ratings spikes for Turnbull have not been sustained.

While people on low incomes receive a tax cut, it will not be implemented by withholding less tax from pay packets. Instead, people will need to wait until they file their tax returns after July 2019 to receive their lump sum tax offsets. As the next federal election is very likely to be held by May 2019, this appears to be a political mistake.

In last week’s Essential, 39% thought the Australian economy good and 24% poor. While Australia ran large trade surpluses in the first three months of this year, the domestic economy is not looking as good as it did in 2017 – see my personal website for more.

Ipsos: 54-46 to Labor (53-47 respondent allocated)

An Ipsos poll for the Fairfax papers, conducted May 9-12 from a sample of 1,200, gave Labor a 54-46 lead by 2016 election preferences, a two-point gain for Labor since early April. Primary votes were 37% Labor (up three), 36% Coalition (steady), 11% Greens (down one) and 5% One Nation (down three).

Newspoll is no longer using last-election preferences, so it seems better to compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated preferences with Newspoll, not the last election preferences. By respondent allocated preferences, Ipsos was 53-47 to Labor, a three-point gain for Labor.

Ipsos is bouncier than Newspoll, and the Greens’ support is higher. If you compare Ipsos’ respondent allocated two party vote with Newspoll, the difference is diminished.

Turnbull had a 51-39 approval rating (47-43 in April). This is Turnbull’s best rating in Ipsos since April 2016; Ipsos gives Turnbull his strongest ratings of any pollster. Shorten’s net approval was up three points to -12. Turnbull led Shorten by 52-32 (52-31 in April).

By 39-33, voters thought the budget was fair (42-39 after the 2017 budget). By 38-25, voters thought they would be better off, the highest “better off” figure in Nielsen/Ipsos history since 2006. However by 57-37, voters thought the government should have used its extra revenue to pay off debt, rather than cutting taxes.

Queensland Galaxy: 52-48 to federal Coalition, 53-47 to state Labor

A Queensland Galaxy poll, conducted May 9-10 from a sample of 900 for The Courier Mail, gave the federal Coalition a 52-48 lead, unchanged since February, but a 2% swing to Labor since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 40% Coalition (down one), 33% Labor (up one), 10% Greens (steady) and 10% One Nation (up one). Primary vote changes would normally imply a gain for Labor, but this was lost in the rounding.

By 39-33, Queenslanders thought the budget was good for them personally, rather than bad. By 39-28, they thought the budget would be good for Queensland.

The state politics questions gave Queensland Labor a 53-47 lead, a one-point gain for Labor since February. Primary votes were 38% Labor (up one), 35% LNP (down one), 12% One Nation (up two) and 10% Greens (steady).

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk had a 46-38 approval rating (44-38 previously). Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington had a 31-28 approval rating (29-25). Palaszczuk led Frecklington as better Premier 47-27 (42-31).

Longman ReachTEL: 53-47 to LNP

The Longman byelection is one of five that will be held soon. A ReachTEL poll, conducted May 10 from a sample of 1,280 for the left-wing Australia Institute, gave the LNP a 53-47 lead, about a 4% swing to the LNP since the 2016 election. Primary votes were 36.7% LNP, 32.5% Labor, 15.1% One Nation and 4.9% Greens.

ReachTEL is using respondent allocated preferences. The two party vote in this poll looks reasonable assuming One Nation preferences flow to the LNP.

National polls and the Queensland Galaxy poll show swings to Labor compared with the 2016 election. It would be highly unusual for a seat to swing so strongly to the Coalition when other polling shows a swing to Labor. In the past, seat polls have been far less reliable than national and state-wide polls.

In better byelection news for Labor, the Western Australian Liberals will not contest either Perth or Fremantle. Fremantle has a 7.5% margin with an incumbent recontesting, but Labor only holds Perth by a 3.3% margin with no incumbent.




Read more:
Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie most vulnerable at byelections forced by dual citizenship saga


Essential: 52-48 to Labor

This week’s Essential, conducted May 10-13 from a sample of 1,033, gave Labor a 52-48 lead, a one-point gain for the Coalition since last week. Primary votes were 38% Coalition (steady), 36% Labor (down one), 10% Greens (steady) and 7% One Nation (up one).

By 44-28, voters approved of the budget overall. 22% thought the tax cuts would make a difference to their household. 39% supported the tax cuts, with 30% wanting more spending on schools and hospitals and 18% preferring a reduction in government debt.

The ConversationBy 44-40, voters disagreed with giving higher income people larger tax cuts. By 79-14, voters agreed that those earning $200,000 should pay a higher tax rate than those earning $41,000.

Adrian Beaumont, Honorary Associate, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Most of the benefits from the budget tax cuts will help the rich get richer


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Chris Samuel/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Robert Tanton, University of Canberra and Jinjing Li, University of Canberra

In the federal budget, Treasurer Scott Morrison promised tax cuts to all working Australians in the form of an offset and changes to tax income thresholds. But our analysis of Treasury data shows that while the government advertised these as payments to low and middle income Australians, most of the benefits would flow through to high income earners in future years.

If all of the stages of the tax plan passed parliament, there would be a sharp increase in benefits for people earning above A$180,000, due to the reduction of their marginal tax rate from 45% to 32.5%.

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Taxes in most countries are progressive. This means that the more you earn, the higher your marginal rate (the additional amount you pay for each dollar earned).

There are good reasons for this – progressive tax systems mean those on a lower income pay a lower average tax rate, while those on higher incomes pay a higher average tax rate. This reduces income inequality – as you earn more, for each dollar you earn, you will pay more in tax than someone on a lower income.

With the 2018-19 budget, the proposal is for a “simpler” tax system from 2024-25. This means a reduced number of tax brackets, and a lower rate of 32.5% to those earning between A$87,001 and A$200,000.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said following the budget:

Well, you’ve still got a progressive tax system. That hasn’t changed. In fact, the percentage of people at the end of this plan, who are on the top marginal tax rate is actually slightly higher than what it is today.

However this new tax system from 2024-25 is less progressive than the current system. It means higher income inequality – the rich get more of the tax cuts than the poor.

As part of the new proposal, low and middle income earners get a tax offset in 2018-19, with high income earners getting very little. This part of the plan is progressive – more money goes to lower income earners.

However, by 2024-25, the tax cuts means high income earners gain A$7,225 per year, while those earning A$50,000 to A$90,000 gain A$540 per year, and those earning A$30,000 gain A$200 per year.

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Of course, another factor of tax cuts is that they only benefit those who are employed. Tax cuts don’t benefit people like the unemployed, pensioners, students (usually young people) and those on disability support pensions.

The conversation Australians need to have is how we should be spending the revenue boost we are seeing over the next few years. We can either spend this windfall gain on benefits to high income earners, in the hope that this will flow through spending to everyone else; or maybe we should encourage young people into housing through an increase to the first home owners grant, or increased funding for our schools, universities and health system.

The ConversationWe’ve developed a budget calculator so you can see how your family is affected by the 2018 budget.

Robert Tanton, Professor, University of Canberra and Jinjing Li, Associate Professor, NATSEM, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Bill Shorten outbids Turnbull’s tax cut for lower and middle income earners



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Shorten pledged to give bigger income tax cuts for 10 million taxpayers.
Lukas Coch/AAP

Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has launched a tax bidding war, promising to top the government’s tax relief for lower and middle income earners, as he prepares to fight a string of byelections in Labor seats.

The Labor alternative almost doubles the budget’s relief for these taxpayers, incorporating the early part of the government’s plan and then building on it.

Delivering his budget reply in Parliament on Thursday night, Shorten pledged to give bigger income tax cuts for 10 million taxpayers. Some four million would get A$398 a year more than the $530 under the government’s plan.

Labor’s “Working Australians Tax Refund”, would cost $5.8 billion more than the government’s plan over the forward estimates.

Labor’s alternative comes as debate intensifies about the latter stage of the government’s plan, when a flattening of the tax scale would give substantial benefit to high income earners.

The ALP hardened its position against that change as modelling cast doubt on its fairness. The opposition launched a Senate inquiry which will report mid June on the tax legislation, introduced into parliament on Wednesday.

The government says it will not split the bill, which it wants through before parliament rises for its winter break, but will be under pressure to do so including from the crossbench.

Under Shorten’s proposal, the ALP would support the government’s budget tax cut in 2018-19. Once in power, it would then deliver bigger tax cuts from July 1 2019, when it began the refund.

In Labor’s first budget “we will deliver a bigger better and fairer tax cut for 10 million working Australians. Almost double what the government offered on Tuesday”, Shorten told parliament.

The Labor plan would give all taxpayers earning under $125,000 a year a larger tax cut than they would get under the budget plan.

In a speech heavy on the theme of fairness, Shorten said: “At the next election there will be a very clear choice on tax. Ten million Australians will pay less tax under Labor”.

He also pitched his budget reply directly at the campaign for the byelections.




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“This is my challenge to the Prime Minister. If you think that your budget is fair, if you think that your sneaky cuts can survive scrutiny, put it to the test. Put it to the test in Burnie, put it to the test in Fremantle and in Perth.

“I will put my better, fairer, bigger income tax cut against yours. I’ll put my plans to rescue hospitals and fund Medicare against your cuts. I’ll put my plans to properly fund schools against your cuts and I’ll put my plan to boost wages against your plan to cut penalty rates and I’ll put my plans for 100,000 TAFE places against your cuts to apprenticeships and training and I’ll fight for the ABC against your cuts.”

In the Labor model, a teacher earning $65,000 would get tax relief of $928 a year, $398 more than the $530 offered by the government.

A married couple, with one partner earning $90,000 and the other $50,000 would receive a tax cut of $1855, making them $796 a year better off under Labor than under the government.

Shorten said Labor could afford the tax cuts it proposed because it wasn’t giving $80 billion to big business and the big four banks. Also, it had earlier made hard choices on revenue measures.




Read more:
Politics podcast: Mathias Cormann and Jim Chalmers on Budget 2018


An ALP government could deliver “the winning trifecta” – “a genuine tax cut for middle and working class Australians; proper funding for schools, hospitals and the safety net; and paying back more of Australia’s national debt faster”.

Shorten said that the Liberals were proposing to radically rewrite the tax rules in their seven year plan. Research had revealed that $6 in every $10 would go to the wealthiest 20% of Australians, he said .

“Very quickly, this is starting to look like a Mates Rates tax plan”.

“And at a time of flat wages, rising inequality and a growing sense of unfairness in the community”.

Other initiatives he announced include:

· A plan for skills, TAFE and apprentices costing $473 million over the forward estimates.

· Abolition of the cap on university places, re-instating Labor’s demand driven system, at a cost of $140 million over the forward estimates.

· Reversing cuts to hospitals and establishing a Better Hospitals Fund, seeing an extra $2.8 billion flow to public hospitals. This would cost $764 million over the budget period.

· Invest $80 million to boost the number of eligible MRI machines and approve 20 new licences – which would mean 500,000 more scans funded by Medicare over the course of a first Labor budget.

The Conversation· Provide $25m to the Commonwealth Public Prosecutor to establish a Corporate Crime Taskforce. The Taskforce would deal with recommendations for criminal prosecution from the banking royal commission.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018: when scientists make their case effectively, politicians listen


Alan Finkel, Office of the Chief Scientist

Budget 2018 confirms that the case for funding science is being heard in Canberra.

Science and research are integrated in the national objectives laid down in the treasurer’s speech: to create jobs, boost health and improve the liveability of communities.

Many of the measures appear to have origins in proposals advanced by the science community.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


Lessons from Budget 2018

What lessons can we take from this year’s outcome? After two years in Canberra, I haven’t discovered a magic key to the Federal coffers. But here are my general observations.

Intrinsic value is not sufficient

We can’t assume that the broad public support for science will translate into support for specific proposals unless we do the work to explain the benefits, including more jobs and better health.

Being intrinsically valuable is not sufficient. Clarity about what we can deliver is essential when science is competing with spending proposals with obvious and immediate benefits – like more hospital beds.




Read more:
Science isn’t broken, but we can do better: here’s how


Politicians need help

It helps to remember that most politicians aren’t experts in science policy. I’ve wrestled for years with the term “national research infrastructure”. People I talk to outside the research sector simply don’t understand it. A small change to saying “national research facilities” turns the lights on.

Show outcomes

It’s important for politicians to see the outcomes of public investment. They see the dollar figures in the budget papers but they don’t necessarily connect the research breakthroughs they read about in the newspapers years later to the programs that made them possible. It is important to help local members, irrespective of their party, recognise the impact of previously funded programs working for Australians.

Review and communicate

Take stock of progress and give credit to what has been achieved to date before heading back into the arena for the next round. As custodians of public funds, researchers should be proud to share their achievements with the taxpayers who ultimately make them possible.




Read more:
Science Meets Parliament doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook


We’re all in this

Finally, I’ve always found politicians to be far more receptive to funding proposals when they see commitment from other quarters. It’s not just the Commonwealth that needs to step up. It’s business. It’s state and territory governments. It’s philanthropists.

If we reach out widely, we can strengthen our advocacy with new allies, and at the same time, help government to focus on the things that only government can do.

Below I highlight some key areas funded through Budget 2018.

Key science and technology items in Budget 2018, from the Australian Academy of Science.

National facilities

I welcome the emphasis on national-scale research facilities: I was Chair of the taskforce that delivered the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.

This year’s budget invests $1.9 billion over 12 years, adding to the $1.5 billion over ten years committed to the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) in 2015.

As shown below, $393.3 million is allocated in the next five years.


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I am encouraged that the government has committed to review the investment plan every two years, in recognition of the importance of keeping this discussion firmly on the national agenda.

In addition to these funds, the budget acts on an urgent priority flagged in the Roadmap – high performance computing. $70 million for the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth adds to the $70 million previously committed to the National Computational Infrastructure in Canberra.

This builds on the $119 million announced for the European Southern Observatory in the previous budget.

National missions

A second notable feature is the follow-through on the national missions proposed in the Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) 2030 Plan.

The ISA mission to preserve the Great Barrier Reef is supported by $100 million in new investment for coral reef research and restoration projects, as part of a $500 million package announced last month.

The ISA mission to harness precision medicine and genomics to make Australia the healthiest nation in the world is backed with $500 million over the next ten years from the Medical Research Future Fund.




Read more:
Four ways precision medicine is making a difference


A scaffold for the genomics revolution was provided by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) in the recent Precision Medicine Horizon Scanning report, commissioned by the Commonwealth Science Council.

A forthcoming Horizon Scanning report, on artificial intelligence, will likewise inform the $30 million commitment to AI and machine learning in the 2018 budget. The funding includes a national ethics framework for AI – a welcome development that will position Australia well in the global AI standards debate.


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More broadly, the budget acts on priorities that scientists have championed for years.

There is $41 million for a National Space Agency, including a $15 million fund for International Space Investment.


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Over four years, $36 million will be provided for the Antarctic science program.

An amount of $4.5 million over four years is aimed to encourage more women into STEM education and careers, including a decadal plan for women in science.

With a focus on GPS technology, $225 million is allocated over four years to improve the accuracy of satellite navigation, and $37 million over three years for Digital Earth Australia. The goal of this funding is to make satellite data accessible for research, regional Australia and business.


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There is also $20 million for an Asian Innovation Strategy, including an extension of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund for four years.

Business innovation

In the business arena, changes to address integrity and additionality (that is, driving R&D to levels beyond “business as usual”) in the Research and Development Tax Incentive (RDTI) will reduce by an estimated $2.4 billion the money the scheme delivers to industry.

As one of the authors of the “3Fs” review of the RDTI – with Bill Ferris and John Fraser – I support the rebalancing of Australia’s business innovation budget. We are a global outlier in our heavy reliance on the indirect pull-through achieved through the tax system, instead of mission-driven direct investment.

The ConversationWith money recouped from the RDTI, scientists and research-intensive businesses should be making the case for more and better-targeted programs. Work remains to be done.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist, Office of the Chief Scientist

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018 was old news for energy policy – the next big headlines won’t come until July


David Blowers, Grattan Institute

As with many previous budgets, matters relating to energy and climate change were relegated to little more than a footnote in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s 2018 budget speech. And even the contents of that footnote told us nothing new.

This will bring relief to some, but cause frustration for others.

No money was set aside for a new coal-fired power station, despite the plaintive calls from the backbench in recent weeks. Nor was there any extra help for consumers struggling with sky-high electricity bills. There was no extra funding for the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund, but neither was money cut from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency or the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.




Read more:
A high price for policy failure: the ten-year story of spiralling electricity bills


What Budget 2018 did contain was three “announcables” – or, to put it more accurately, re-announcables.

First, Morrison declared that adoption of the federal government’s National Energy Guarantee would save the average household A$400 a year on its electricity bills. This is a bit of sleight of hand. Yes, modelling for the NEG shows that consumers’ bills will be on average A$400 lower than in 2017. But much of those savings will occur before the NEG comes into force in 2020.

Second, the treasurer declared that:

All energy sources and technologies should support themselves without taxpayer subsidies. The current subsidy scheme will be phased out from 2020.

The subsidies to which Morrison refers are from the Renewable Energy Target (RET). But it is hardly news that the scheme will to be phased out from 2020. This has been known for a decade. In fact, it’s a bit of a stretch to say the subsidies are being “phased out” at all.

After 2020, existing or new renewable energy projects will still be able to generate the same renewable energy certificates for every megawatt hour of electricity they produce, which they can then sell to retailers. The ability to generate certificates – and therefore generate a subsidy – will only end in 2030. The difference between the pre- and post-2020 RET is that there will be no annual increase in the target.

Finally, the treasurer pledged that the federal government will keep up the pressure on the big energy companies to give consumers better electricity and gas deals. This announcement is a signal as to when we can expect to see the next real action from the government on energy. It will come in July, when Morrison receives the report on the Retail Electricity Pricing Inquiry, which is being carried out by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).




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As the Libs claim South Australia, states are falling into line behind the National Energy Guarantee


The Turnbull government will be keen to act on the ACCC’s recommendations, given the looming federal election and the pressure on all politicians to find a way to cut voters’ energy bills.

The ConversationSo if we want some real headlines on energy, rather than some reheated footnotes, we will be waiting for a couple of months yet.

David Blowers, Energy Fellow, Grattan Institute

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Government timing tricks hide the real budget story



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Timing tricks help politicians avoid dealing with the substance of their policies. That isn’t going to change any time soon.
Cindy Zhi, CC BY-ND

Richard Holden, UNSW

This year’s budget may not have had a whole lot of surprises, but it was chock full of crafty timing tricks. The government’s new personal income tax plan is implemented over seven years, the much-vaunted return to surplus begins in 2019-20, and support for the “smart economy” involves $2.4 billion over, wait for it, 12 years.

In fact, it seems that timing tricks are now a thing in Australian politics. Revenues are brought forward and spending pushed back for cosmetic effect.

The Coalition’s company tax cuts are scheduled to be implemented over a full decade, Labor’s plan to cut back on negative gearing has modest short-term impact on the budget but ramps up over time, and on and on.




Read more:
Morrison’s budget tax plan is another missed opportunity


This gradual, glide-path approach to fiscal policy is sometimes good, sometimes not so much.

Labor’s negative gearing plan is an example of where the long timeframe is both sensible and appropriate. By grandfathering in existing negatively geared properties the Labor plan ensures that folks who relied on existing tax arrangements when making investment plans are not punished. Similarly, current Coalition policy regarding raising the retirement age for the pension is not retrospective.

Protecting reliance interests in this way is important for both fairness and certainty. The principle applies equally to potential changes in superannuation taxation, indexation of the aged pension, and other budget measures past, present and future.

Having said that, both sides of politics could do a better job of protecting Australians who have relied on existing policy settings when making big decisions. The government’s changes to superannuation taxation last year clearly violated the principle, and Labor’s plan to curtail the use of franking credits also runs afoul of it.

But many of these timing tricks are just that—tricks. Take the company tax cut. It is clearly structured to make sure the big revenue hits happen in years eight to 10.

The hope seems to be that voters don’t focus on things that far into the future, but companies possibly do. Add to that the fact that the federal budget is heavily focused on a four-year horizon — the so-called “forward estimates period”.

Four years is a completely arbitrary time frame with no real economic basis. The idea is that it is far enough into the future to be meaningful, but close enough to the present to be predictable. In reality it is neither meaningful nor predictable.

Treasury forecasts are almost always overly optimistic. In the last 20 years of budgets, from both sides of politics, they are almost always wrong.

From Wayne Swan’s “the four years of surpluses I announce tonight” to Joe Hockey’s hockey-stick GDP growth numbers and Scott Morrison’s fantastic forecasts, the federal budget makes Disney movies look pessimistic.

Yet this forward-estimate timing window, a media that goes along with it, and a public that is starved for time, mean that politicians can get away with pulling good news forward and pushing bad news back; gaming the system.

Indeed, since future parliaments are not bound by today’s legislation, I wonder whether there is any use at all for a government to announce what they plan to do 10 years hence. If history is any judge, then the political party in question probably won’t be in office. Prime ministers and treasurers have a tough enough time surviving to the next election, let alone making it through a decade.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


But there is a purpose to this long-term planning with legislative force. It creates a default that a future government needs to reverse. And we know from the Nobel-prize-winning work of Danny Kahneman and Dick Thaler that defaults can have a powerful psychological and behavioural effect — it can change the choices people make, and how they feel about those choices.

Speaking of defaults and timing, perhaps the most natural thing that could be done with regard to the federal budget would be to index tax brackets to wages growth. This would instantly do away with “bracket creep”, where wages growth and fixed tax thresholds lead middle Australia to pay an ever-increasing average tax rate. Governments of all stripes hate this because it forces them to actually raise taxes rather than get a free kick every year which folks tend not to notice very much. In fact, 80% of deficit reduction in recent years has come from such bracket creep.

Timing is likely to be a constant theme in the run-up to the next federal election. We can expect Labor to emphasise their $200 billion “war chest” that they plan to spend over the next decade. Equally, the government looks set to keep pushing the line that the big banks are paying more tax now and won’t get a tax cut until close to 2030.

The ConversationTiming tricks help politicians avoid dealing with the substance of their policies. That isn’t going to change any time soon.

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics and PLuS Alliance Fellow, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018 boosts aged care, rural health and medical research: health experts respond



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A$1.6 billion over four years will allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer.
Tanoy1412/Shutterstock

Kees Van Gool, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, UNSW; Lesley Russell, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, University of Technology Sydney

The winners of this year’s health budget are aged care, rural health and medical research.

The government has announced A$1.6 billion over four years to allow 14,000 more older Australians to remain in their home for longer through more high-level home care places. For those in aged care, an additional A$82.5 million will be directed to improve mental health services in the facilities.

The budget includes A$83.3 million over five years for a rural health strategy, which aims to place more doctors and nurses in the bush and train 100 additional GPs.

There’s A$1.3 billion over ten years for a National Health and Medical Industry Growth Plan, which includes A$500 million for new research in the field of genomics.

Other key announcements include:

– A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings on PBS
– A$302.6 million in savings over forward estimates by encouraging greater use of generic and bio similar medicines
– A$253.8 million for a new Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


Aged care

Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group at UNSW

It was well foreshadowed that this budget would bring with it significant provisions for aged care. It has been widely reported that reforms to pension and superannuation tax have resulted in disaffection in the Coalition within older age groups.

Making older Australians the cornerstone of budget measures is a calculated political tactic in a budget that in the short term makes only limited tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

The A$1.6 billion for 14,000 new places for home-care recipients will be welcome, but are a drop in the ocean, given there are currently more than 100,000 people on the national priority list for support.

Additional commitments around trials for physical activities for older people, initiatives to improve connections to communities and protections for older people against abuse will bolster those remaining in homes and communities.

Commitments made for specific initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and aged care facilities in rural and remote Australia will be welcomed, although their size and scope will likely result in little to address older age groups with complex needs.

While investment in aged care services will be welcome, it remains to be seen whether this multi-million-dollar commitment will succeed in clawing back support from older voters.

Recent years have seen around A$2 billion of cuts made to the sector through adjustments to the residential care funding formula. The current financial commitments go some way to restoring spending, but do not significantly advance spending beyond previous levels in an area of the population we know is expanding substantially in volume and level of need and expectation.

A number of new budget commitments have been announced in relation to mental health services for older people in residential aged care facilities, for a national mental health commission, and for Lifeline Australia.

However, given the current turbulence in mental health services, it’s unclear whether these will impact on the types of issues that are being felt currently or whether this will further disaggregate an already complex and often unconnected system.

It’s unclear whether this will be enough to win back older Australians’ support.
U.J. Alexander/Shutterstock

Equity, prevention and Indigenous health

Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

The government states its desire for a stronger economy and to limit economic imposts on future generations, but this budget highlights a continued failure to invest in the areas that will deliver more sustainable health care spending, reduce health disparities, and improve health outcomes and productivity for all Australians.

We know what the best buys in primary prevention are. But despite the fact that obesity is a heavy and costly burden on the health care system, and the broad agreement from experts on a suite of solutions, this can is once again kicked down the road.

There is nothing new to address the harms caused by excessive alcohol use or opioid abuse.

The crackdown on illegal tobacco is about lost taxes rather than smoking prevention.

There is A$20.9 million over five years to improve the health of women and children – an assorted collection of small programs which could conceivably be claimed as preventive health.

There is nothing in this budget to address growing out-of-pocket costs that limit the ability of many to access needed care.

Additional funding (given in budget papers as A$83.3 million over five years but more accurately described as A$122.4 million over 2018-19 and 2019-20, with savings of A$55.6 million taken in 2020-21 and 2021-22) is provided for rural health that should help improve health equity for country Australians.

Continued funding is provided for the Indigenous Australians’ Health Program (A$3.9 billion over four years); there is new money for ear, eye and scabies programs and also for a new Medicare item for remote dialysis services.

There are promises for a new funding model for primary care provided through Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (but no details) and better access for Indigenous people to aged care.

The renewal of the Remote Indigenous Housing Agreement with the Northern Territory will assist with improved health outcomes for those communities.

PBS, medicines and research

Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics at the University of Technology Sydney

The budget includes a notable increase in net expenditure on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) of A$1.4 billion for new and amended listings of drugs, although most of these have already been anticipated by positive recommendations by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

Access to a number of new medicines has been announced. The new and amended medicine listings are clearly funded through savings in PBS expenditure from greater use of generic and bio-similar medicines, given the net increase in expenditure over the five year outlook is around A$0.7 billion.

The budget includes A$1.4 billion for pharmaceuticals.
Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

In terms of medical research, there is an encouraging announcement of significant further investments through the Medical Research Futures Fund. This will be welcomed by health and medical researchers across Australia.

What is notable is the focus on the capacity of health and medical research to generate new jobs through new technology. While this is certainly important, it is as much about boosting the local medical technology and innovation industry than on improving health system performance. And the announcements in the budget are as much about the potential job growth from medical innovation as on providing more or improved health services.

There is new funding for medical research, development of diagnostic tools and medical technologies, and clinical trials of new drugs. The focus on a 21st century medical industry plan recognises that health is big business as well as being important for all Australians.

All of this is welcome, but it will be absolutely critical that there are rigorous processes for evaluating this research and ensuring the funding is allocated based on scientific merit. This can represent a major challenge when industry development objectives are given similar standing in determining priorities as health outcomes and scientific quality.

Rural health

Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy at the University of Sydney

Rural Australians experience a range of health disadvantages including higher rates of smoking and obesity, poorer survival rates from cancer and lower life expectancy, and this is not solely due to the poor health of the Aboriginal community.

The government has committed to improving rural health services through the Stronger Rural Health Strategy and the budget has some funding to underpin this.

The pressure to fund another medical school in rural NSW and Victoria has been sensibly addressed by enhancing and networking existing rural clinical schools through the Murray Darling Medical Schools network. This will provide more opportunities for all medical students to spend a large proportion of their studentship in a rural setting while not increasing the number of Commonwealth supported places.

There is a major need to match this increased student capacity with a greater investment in specialist training positions in regional hospitals to ensure the retention of that workforce in country areas. Hopefully the new workforce incentive program will start to address this.

The budget includes a Stronger Rural Health Strategy.
jax10289/Shutterstock

Hospitals and private health insurance

Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University

There was no new money in today’s budget for Australia’s beleaguered public hospitals. The government is still locked in a deadlock with Queensland and Victoria, which have refused to agree to the proposed 6.5% cap on yearly funding increases from the Commonwealth. With health inflation of about 4% and population growth close to 2% the cap doesn’t allow much room for increased use due to ageing or new technology.

There is no change in the government’s private health insurance policy announced last year and nothing to slow the continuing above-inflation premium rises.

The ConversationOn the savings side, there was also no move yet on the private health insurance rebate which some experts think could be scrapped.

Kees Van Gool, Health economist, University of Technology Sydney; Andrew Wilson, Co-Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group, UNSW; Lesley Russell, Adjunct Associate Professor, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, University of Sydney; Peter Sivey, Associate Professor, School of Economics, Finance and Marketing, RMIT University, and Rosalie Viney, Professor of Health Economics, University of Technology Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how much does the NDIS cost and where does this money come from?



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More Australians are joining the NDIS than predicted, so cost predictions have had to be updated.
Shutterstock

Helen Dickinson, UNSW

Although the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is relatively young, there has been much debate over how it will be funded.

Treasurer Scott Morrison recently said Labor had left a A$57 billion shortfall in funding for the NDIS. So many were left scratching their heads at the announcement that next year’s proposed increase in the Medicare levy – which was supposed to cover some of this shortfall – would be scrapped.




Read more:
Turnbull government abandons $8.2 billion Medicare levy increase


So how much does, and will, the scheme actually cost? Who is supposed to pay for it and why is there debate over the funding?

Calculating the costs

These are difficult questions to answer because we lack high-quality data about the extent and nature of disability in Australia. The information we do have is based on predictions, and work is underway to check these are accurate.

The case for creating an NDIS was made by the Productivity Commission in its 2011 inquiry on Disability Care and Support. The commission recommended Australia’s system of inequitable, fragmented and inefficient disability services be replaced by a new national scheme that would provide insurance cover to all Australians in the event of significant disability.

The one thing all sides of politics agree on is the NDIS represents a significant increase in disability spending, which stood at around A$8 billion per year at the time of the initial Productivity Commission report.

Original estimates suggested the NDIS would cover 411,000 participants and cost A$13.6 billion at maturity. However the Productivity Commission now estimates that around 475,000 people with disability will receive individualised support at a cost of around A$22 billion per year.

The A$8.9 billion difference between the Productivity Commission’s original estimates and the current estimate is a substantial gap. But A$6.4 billion of this difference is due to pay rises awarded to social and community services employees.

The remainder is due to the growth in the population and also the inclusion of participants over 65 years who were not included in original estimates. Once we account for these, estimates are fairly close to those originally predicted.

Last year’s Productivity Commission review of costs found the NDIS was broadly coming in on budget. Greater-than-expected numbers of children with autism and intellectual disability were accessing the scheme, but not all those with an individualised plans were able to spend their budgets.

So, for now, the NDIS seems to be tracking as intended. The NDIS budget is estimated to gradually increase over time to 1.3% of GDP by 2044-45 as participants age. Estimates also suggest the scheme will produce benefits adding around 1% to the GDP.

Where the money comes from

The original Productivity Commission report suggested the federal government be the single funder of the NDIS and that revenue to support the NDIS be paid into a separate fund (the National Disability Insurance Premium Fund) to provide stable funding for the scheme.

The Productivity Commission suggested this approach because disability services have long been subject to debate about who should bear the costs of these services: the Commonwealth or the states and territories. Indeed, part of the reason for the NDIS was to guarantee funding for disability services and stop these debates and blame-shifting.

But this isn’t what happened.




Read more:
The NDIS costs are on track, but that doesn’t mean all participants are getting the support they need


The way the NDIS is funded is complex, with revenue coming from a number of sources. The NDIS is funded via a pooled approach from Commonwealth and state and territory governments. The Commonwealth provides just over half of the funding for the NDIS and the rest comes from state and territories. This arrangement is governed by a number of bilateral agreements that are revisited every five years.

At the creation of the scheme, all existing money spent by various governments was directed into the NDIS to cover costs. Then, in July 2014 we saw a first increase in the Medicare levy: from 1.5% to 2% of taxable income.

However, the increased Medicare levy doesn’t meet the full costs of the scheme – just as the levy doesn’t cover all the annual costs of Medicare. This revenue was directed into a special fund for the NDIS, DisabilityCare Australia, which is designed to reimburse governments for NDIS expenditure.

Any additional funding the NDIS needs has to come from general budget revenue or borrowings.

The NDIS Savings Fund Special Account was established to collect the Commonwealth’s contribution to the scheme. This fund pools underspends or savings from across government, protecting these as a forward contribution to the scheme as it grows over future budgets.

Behind the funding debate

Warnings have been sounded about the NDIS’s reliance on multiple sources, fearing it creates a risk of future instability of financing.

When the Labor government originally introduced the NDIS, it said it would fund the scheme through an increase in the Medicare levy, reforms to private health insurance and retirement incomes, and a range of “selected long-term savings” including an increase in tobacco excise and changes to fringe benefits tax rules.

Labor said the combination of these revenue streams would ensure the NDIS was fully funded to 2023. But many of the savings Labor promised were intentional, rather than set in stone, and were not dedicated to the NDIS as the Medicare levy was.

It’s estimated the Commonwealth will contribute around A$11.2 billion to the NDIS in 2019. Of this, around A$6.8 billion will come from the redirection of existing disability funds and the Commonwealth’s share of the DisabilityCare Australia Fund.

This leaves an annual funding gap of around A$4 billion once the scheme becomes fully operational, accumulating to around A$56 billion by 2028.

The Commonwealth announced it would increase the Medicare levy from 2% to 2.5% of taxable income from July 2019 as a way of filling the funding gap. Estimates predicted this would raise an additional A$8 billion in revenue over its first two years.

The bill needed to do this had stalled in the Senate, with Labor and the Greens opposed. They suggested the increase should only be applied to those in higher income tax brackets.

Last week the Treasurer announced tax receipts were running A$4.8 billon higher than was estimated in December, meaning the levy was no longer needed.

For now it looks like funding for the NDIS is assured, but many within the disability community have expressed concern this does not assure funding for the long term and uncertainty may continue to prevail.


The Conversation


Read more:
Disability workers are facing longer days with less pay


Helen Dickinson, Associate Professor, Public Service Research Group, UNSW

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Budget 2018: space agency details still scant – but GPS and satellite imagery funded


Anthony Wicht, University of Sydney

The Federal Government has announced $41 million of funding to kickstart the Australian space sector over the next four years.

The $41 million of funding is allocated across:

  • establishing the national space agency ($26 million over four years – $5.7 million in 2018/19, $9.8 million in 2019/20, $11.8 million in 2020/21 and $13.7 million in 2021/22)

  • international space investment ($15 million for grants over three years).

As expected, the funding establishes a national space agency, and ex-CSIRO head Dr Megan Clark is tipped to serve as the inaugural head.




Read more:
Infographic: Budget 2018 at a glance


The surprise in the budget is the around $260 million investment in applying satellite data to Australia – mostly in precise positioning but also in satellite imagery.

The applications of space technology cover:

  • $225 million for precise positioning technology that makes GPS signals accurate to centimetres, not metres, which unlocks efficiency and automation possibilities in agriculture, mining and transport

  • $36.9 million to improve “Digital Earth Australia”, a platform that assembles global satellite images of Australia in a user-friendly and publicly accessible way.

End to ambivalence

This budget marks the first time Australia has had an official space agency, and puts an end to decades of Australian ambivalence towards civilian space.


Timeline of key events in Australia’s space activities from 1957-2018: click on arrows at right and left to go back and forth.

https://cdn.knightlab.com/libs/timeline3/latest/embed/index.html?source=1XyVlDLjkmySON9coL-C6aQawqPOUakVkFDWwcgpPwzs&font=Default&lang=en&initial_zoom=2&height=650

Adapted with permission from Kerrie Dougherty – this timeline first appeared in her review of Australia’s space activities in 2017.


The emphasis on industry shows the agency’s mission is to enable the growing Australian space sector to strut its stuff on a global stage.

The space industry is worth more than A$400 billion per year, and plays an increasingly vital link in civil and military activity.

The government’s concept of a space agency is as an economic and national security play – it is not aimed as a catch-up attempt to lavishly funded international peers like NASA.

With this budget, the government is trying to walk a fine line between enabling successful Australian businesses in the high-tech space game, and creating a sector dependent on government largesse.




Read more:
Space Agency for Australia: here’s why it’s important


Four key aims of the space agency

The $41 million over four years is about the minimum viable amount to start towards these goals. Sensibly spent, it is enough to achieve the core aims of an Australian agency.

International credibility for Australian space: Australian space businesses bidding for international work dread the question “why doesn’t Australia have an agency?” as it’s often the prelude to “without an agency it’s just too risky for us to work together”. A funded agency takes this objection off the table and levels the playing field.

Support for Australian business: Early-stage grants to help businesses prove concepts – for example, to build a launch-ready small satellite – are within the means of this budget. This will help Australian startups cross the “valley of death” from concept to export-ready, space-tested hardware.

Federal and international coordination: A mix of state and federal agencies have a hand in civilian space activities; a funded agency will help impose order domestically and serve as a focal point for international engagement with other space agencies.

Long term strategic planning for the sector: Space is a long lead-time business. The agency will be responsible for strategic planning for the sector. The money will give its plans clout and an ability to nudge startups and universities into growth areas through funding allocations.

This is not the sort of funding for an agency that will be hiring engineers and building its own spacecraft. Most of the money will be spent in partnerships with commercial companies and universities to help get new ideas and good companies off the ground.

Some will be spent with international agencies to give Australia a “seat at the table” and a chance to bid for international contracts. These partnerships are the likely role of the $15 million earmarked for space investment.

The budget is light on detail and there are many unanswered questions, including:

  • what areas will Australia focus on?

  • where will key parts of the agency be located?

  • what will the future of the agency look like after the four years?

The ConversationI look forward to seeing these details in the near future.

Anthony Wicht, Alliance 21 Fellow (Space) at the United States Studies Centre, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.