As part of its second budget, the federal government has announced $300 million of funding for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS).
The future of the NCRIS had previously been under doubt after the government linked ongoing funding to the program, which covers 27 major national research facilities employing more than 1700 staff, to its reform agenda for higher education.
However the funding has been made available through cuts to the Sustainable Research Excellence program.
The budget also included funding for the cost of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation to continue operating the Australian Synchrotron.
Projects that have in the past benefited from NCRIS funding include the National eResearch Collaboration, Tools and Resources (NeCTAR) project, the National Research Network, and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre.
In the government’s first budget it earmarked $150 million for 2015-16 for NCRIS, but the government was unable to push the higher education changes linked to the funding through the Senate.
The funding in tonight’s budget will allow NCRIS to keep operating until 30 June 2017.
“The NCRIS extension will allow the completion of the research infrastructure review due to report to Government in mid-2015,” a statement issued by the office of education minister Christopher Pyne said.
“The review will provide a solid base for Government to plan for future national scale research infrastructure to support priority areas of research of national significance.”
The government’s previous standing on NCRIS funding had been condemned by the Greens and Labor as a form of blackmail.
“This budget continues to hold research and development funding at the lowest level for 30 years,” Greens science spokesperson Adam Bandt said tonight.
“It continues the anti-science bias of the Abbott government. The word ‘science’ was not mentioned once in the Treasurer’s speech.”
“The Future Fellowship funding for mid-career researchers has been partially released but a full release is being held hostage to Christopher Pyne’s attack on universities. Science and research is critical to Australia’s economy and prosperity. Once again this Budget shows the government has no plan and vision for the future.”
A statement issued by the Greens said that the government had "put the NCRIS and the Synchrotron on life support but this comes at the expense of $212.5 million cuts to university research and $26.8 million in cuts to the Cooperative Research Centres program with more cuts possible following a review".
In March, universities warned in an open letter that the government’s approach to NCRIS funding risked major damage to research programs.
"[W]ith continued uncertainty over the 2015-16 operational funding included in the last budget, many of the NCRIS facilities are preparing to close," said the letter, which was signed by representatives of the National Research Alliance.
The alliance counts among its members Group of Eight Australia, Research Australia, Universities Australia, Science and Technology Australia, and the Australian Academy of Science.
"The damage to Australia's domestic and collaborative international research effort that will result from such closures is immense. Continuity and productivity of critical research programs will be set back by several years, with some innovative Australian companies will be forced to take their operations offshore, many profitable international research collaborations will cease, and 1,700 highly skilled NCRIS staff could become unemployed.
"Importantly, with just four months until the end of the financial year, the uncertainty is already having an impact. Many NCRIS staff have been put on provisional notice of termination, and the consequent exodus of highly specialised skills has begun and will only accelerate as the end of the year draws closer.
"Furthermore, many of the facilities cannot be viably maintained if taken offline for significant periods. This means that if operational funding for 2015-16 is not confirmed in the next two months, the Government will be effectively decommissioning high-cost public infrastructure that in many cases has years if not decades of productive working life remaining."