Industry, Innovation and Science: Regional Australia—A Stronger Economy Delivering Stronger Regions 2018–19

The Australian Government is building on our commercial and scientific strengths to capitalise on the opportunities of a modern economy and enable businesses to thrive and create jobs. The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science contributes to this vision by facilitating the growth and productivity of globally competitive industries.

Industry, Innovation and Science (part of the Jobs and Innovation portfolio) has a broad regional presence through its networks and agencies. The Department has 35 per cent of staff located outside Canberra in 31 locations across Australia.

The Department’s policies and programs, such as the Industry Growth Centres Initiative and the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, help regional businesses to build their capability, innovate and grow. Through the Office of Northern Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the Australian Government is helping to unlock the full potential of northern Australia through new opportunities that support regional job creation and economic growth.

The Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan, announced in the 2018-19 Budget, presents the Australian Government’s investment in infrastructure to enable the generation and commercialisation of new ideas, and support businesses to grow and create new jobs. Key elements of the plan (highlighted below) will positively impact regional Australia by creating new economic opportunities and jobs.

The Australian Government’s International Space Investment will underpin the long-term competitiveness of Australian businesses. Space-related products and services will support productivity growth in industry sectors including transport, logistics, mining and agriculture. For example, farmers can use nanosatellites to monitor environmental conditions to reduce crop failure and maximise profitability. In the mining sector, space technologies can be used to detect new viable mineral resources.

The SME Export Hubs program supports new industry-led consortia of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in regional areas to develop local, regional and Indigenous brands, and connect these businesses to global export markets. This will positively impact regions by driving SME growth and creating jobs.

New Initiatives

Better GPS for Regional Australia

The Australian Government is providing ongoing funding ($160.9 million over the forward estimates), following a successful trial in 2016‑17, for a Satellite-based Augmentation System (SBAS) which will deliver precise and high-integrity positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data via satellite. SBAS will deliver a satellite positioning capability across all of Australia and its maritime zones, with an accuracy of 10cm. The ability to obtain precise positioning data will have numerous benefits across multiple industries. These benefits include:

  • safer Australian aviation with research showing SBAS assisted aircraft approaches are eight times safer than those using ground-based navigation aids
  • decreased likelihood that Australian aviation flights will be cancelled or diverted due to weather or multiple attempts at landing will be required
  • safer and easier maritime navigation
  • safer and improved traffic management of rail operations including systems that prevent train-to-train collisions and enforce speed restrictions
  • enable automated driving and real-time road pricing applications
  • safer and more efficient mining through vehicle tracking, automated operations and improved safety and environment protection
  • improved management of livestock health and improved agricultural yield production
  • enable virtual fencing technology on farms and reduction of chemical pollution.

SBAS, together with the Better GPS to support Australian business measure, will ensure Australia has a world class and comprehensive national positioning capability.

Better GPS to support Australian business 

Better GPS to support Australian business provides ongoing funding ($64.0 million over the forward estimates) for a national positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) data network. The National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) relies on Global Navigation Satellite Systems and when augmented with a quality national ground station network, can deliver PNT data with 3-5cm accuracy in near real time.

NPIC will reduce existing barriers and improve coverage so private companies, public organisations, scientists and entrepreneurs in Australia can access national, standardised PNT data. This will drive productivity and encourage innovation in a number of industries—particularly automation and semi-automation in transport, agriculture, mining and construction. Examples of current applications include very high accuracy locations on smartphones, timing in energy and finance networks, multimodal logistics and self-steering machinery on farms, mining and construction sites. NPIC will also create opportunities for new products and innovation in emerging industries including autonomous parcel delivery.

NPIC, together with the Satellite-based Augmentation System, will ensure Australia has a world class and comprehensive national positioning capability.

World class satellite imagery to enable Australian businesses to grow

The 2018-19 Budget provides ongoing funding to Geoscience Australia’s Digital Earth Australia (DEA) platform, which was funded for two years in the 2017-18 Budget.

The DEA platform translates over three decades of satellite imagery into insights about the health and productivity of the Australian continent and coastline. When prepared and analysed using high performance computing, this imagery provides a wealth of information for monitoring the environment, and increasing productivity in the agriculture and mining sectors.

DEA is already providing a range of tools and information of interest to regional Australia. For example, the Water Observations from Space product provides a national map of where water has been seen in Australia from 1987 to the present, and can be used to better plan water management strategies. Other DEA products can provide information about crop health, and pasture and livestock management decisions.

DEA also supports Australia’s rapidly growing digital economy by lowering the costs associated with accessing and analysing vast volumes of satellite data. This creates opportunities for Australian industry, particularly small-to-medium and regional businesses, to develop new applications that can compete with offerings from much larger companies in the global market for spatial information and services. This market has already created around 4 million jobs worldwide and has the potential to increase productivity in sectors representing around 75 per cent of the global economy.

By providing ongoing funding, the Australian Government is expanding the capability to provide a greater range of product and services to industry and government.

International Space Investment

The Australian Government is investing $26.0 million over four years from 2018-19 on establishing an Australian Space Agency. Funding of  $15.0 million over three years from 2019-20 is also provided to enable the Australian Space Agency to partner with international space agencies such as European Space Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency on strategic projects. This investment will provide Australian businesses opportunities to be involved in established international space programs.

International investment by the Agency will act as a vehicle to drive greater participation by Australia in the global space economy. The Agency will consider investments in partnerships with other parties including potentially with states and territories. A rigorous evaluation approach will be applied by the Agency to ensure the investments have maximum impact with minimal outlay. This investment will generate additional high-technology manufacturing activity in regional areas as well as ongoing economic productivity such as transport, logistics, mining and agriculture.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Export Hubs

Funding of $20.0 million over four years is allocated to help Australian SMEs to grow and export by supporting the private sector to develop local and regional business collaborations (hubs) in areas of competitive strength. The hubs will help SMEs work together to develop local, regional and indigenous brands, and connect with new markets and global supply chains, by identifying export opportunities, creating scale and building on regional competitive strengths.

Hubs will collaborate with the Industry Growth Centres in the priority sectors—Advanced Manufacturing; Cyber Security; Food and Agribusiness; Medical Technologies and Pharmaceuticals; Mining Equipment, Technology and Services; and Oil, Gas and Energy Resources. Based on their national consultation across their respective sectors, Growth Centres’ advice is that regions with a critical mass of advanced SMEs, firms and services have the potential for improved industry and innovation ecosystems and export performance, supporting local and regional economic growth and job creation.

Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative

The Australian Government is supporting science jobs, strengthening Australia’s national Antarctic interests and Hobart’s role as an Antarctic hub and research city by providing funding certainty for Australia’s Antarctic science program.

The Jobs and Innovation portfolio will provide $50.0 million in grant funding over ten years, starting in 2019-20, to establish a new Antarctic Science Collaboration Initiative (ASCI)—a ten year collaborative science, research and innovation grant program.

The ASCI will make a significant contribution to Australia’s overall investment in Antarctic science over the next decade, which is a cornerstone of our sovereign claim to the Australian Antarctic Territory.

The ASCI will provide funding certainty for critical Antarctic science jobs in Hobart that currently supported by the Antarctic Climate Ecosystems CRC (ACE CRC). The ACE CRC will cease operations on 30 June 2019 and transition staff to a new, ASCI supported, entity.

Research and Development Program for Reef Restoration and Adaptation: Design and Feasibility Phase

The Australian Government will be investing $6.0 million over 18 months from 2017-18 to 2018‑19 to fund a design and feasibility phase for a large-scale research and development program for reef restoration and adaptation, to promote the survival of corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

Regional communities will benefit from proximity to a globally significant innovation venture, including through increased global recognition of the participating research institutions and creation of new job opportunities in regional Australia. For example, a resulting reef restoration toolkit has the potential to create new job and export opportunities in the region for Australian manufacturers, engineers, scientists and environmental managers, as well as securing existing Reef-dependent jobs, including for Indigenous Australians who manage a third of the Reef’s catchment areas.

Communities in the Great Barrier Reef region, which includes the regional centres of Cairns and Townsville, will benefit from plans to restore the resilience and strength of the Reef. Reef-dependent activities could potentially support 34,000 direct and indirect jobs and inject $6.4 billion into the economy each year

Encouraging More Women to Pursue STEM Education and Careers

The Australian Government is investing a total of $4.5 million of funding over four years to encourage more girls and women to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and pursue STEM‑based careers. There are three parts to this:

  • A Women in Science Strategy, informed by a Decadal Plan for Women in Science, will provide a roadmap for sustained increases in women’s science participation.
  • A Women in Science Ambassador is a visible, full-time role model to help coordinate and promote action to reduce barriers to women’s participation in STEM. The Ambassador will be a national advocate, building awareness and visibility of issues affecting women and girls in science, and how they can be addressed to achieve cultural change.
  • A resource kit will help support the engagement and encouragement of school age girls into STEM study and careers.

Current Initiatives

Industry Growth Centres

The Industry Growth Centres Initiative has funding of $232.0 million over six years from 2017-18 to support industry sectors of competitive strength or strategic priority. There are six such sectors currently involved in the Initiative:

  • advanced manufacturing
  • cyber security
  • food and agribusiness
  • medical technologies and pharmaceuticals
  • mining equipment, technology and services
  • oil, gas and energy resources.

The Australian Government has established these Industry Growth Centres in a long-term partnership with key industry leaders to improve the productivity and competitiveness of these sectors, help firms grow and prosper, and generate economic growth and employment. This will enable the Centres to build on their initial success and continue as broader industry and innovation ecosystem, with a view of establishing a hybrid funding model in the long-term.

Industry Growth Centres focus on four key areas: (1) improving management and workforce skills; (2) improving collaboration between industry and research to commercialise ideas; (3) improving access to international markets and global supply chains; and (4) optimising the regulatory environment.

Three of these Growth Centres in particular—food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; and oil, gas and energy resources—are sectors with significant operations in regional areas. Other Growth Centres such as advanced manufacturing and cyber security have impacts for both urban and regional areas.

Industry Growth Centres are helping align industry and innovation policy and programs, including the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and Cooperative Research Centres, to contribute to improving the productivity, competitiveness and innovative capacity of their sectors.

Advanced Manufacturing Fund

The Australian Government has provided $100.0 million over two years from 2017-18 to boost innovation, skills and employment in advanced manufacturing, an enabler for both urban and regional areas.

The Advanced Manufacturing Fund is an integrated set of policy initiatives that will help car-related businesses, including those in regional areas, move into other industries; encourage further research; provide facilities to test new products; and develop business and engineering capabilities in advanced manufacturing.

Manufacturing continues to be a major contributor to Australia’s prosperity in cities and regional communities and the fund is focused on creating an economic environment which encourages private sector investment and jobs growth. Elements of the fund, such as the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund, will target areas most affected by the transition of the automotive industry. The funding is supporting five elements:

  • $47.5 million for a new Advanced Manufacturing Growth Fund, building on the existing $155.0 million Growth Fund, helps industry adjust to the wind-down of car manufacturing. The funding is for up to a third of the project cost of capital upgrades to establish and expand high value manufacturing in South Australia and Victoria. This will help make businesses more competitive through innovative processes and equipment. In Round 1 of the program, 18 companies shared in around $27.9 million of funding. Five successful companies were based in regional Victoria and will receive funding of around $10.1 million from the round.
  • $4.0 million for the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre supports small scale and pilot research projects in advanced manufacturing, benefiting small firms and early stage researchers, allowing them to quickly move to larger scale research or commercialisation.
  • $20.0 million under the Cooperative Research Centre Projects initiative is for larger scale advanced manufacturing research projects of up to $3.0 million in funding over three years.
  • $10.0 million is to establish Innovation Labs in South Australia and Victoria to enhance manufacturing business capability in the digital age and improve the use of existing innovation lab infrastructure by manufacturing small and medium enterprises.
  • $5.0 million maintains engineering excellence by investing in student research at universities, technology institutions and in industry to continue the flow of highly trained engineers to the automotive design and engineering sector.
  • $13.5 million tariff concession is on imported vehicle prototypes and components used by Australian motor vehicle design and engineering services that operate in a global network.

Growth Fund

The Australian Government established a $155.0 million Growth Fund, to which it is contributing $100.6 million over six years from 2013-14. The Growth Fund is supporting employees, businesses and the regions most affected by the closure of Australia’s car manufacturing industry. The Growth Fund is helping workers from Holden and Toyota to transition to new jobs, support automotive supply‑chain firms diversify into new products and markets, and to accelerate new business investment in manufacturing.

The Growth Fund includes the following elements:

  • the $90.0 million Next Generation Manufacturing Investment Program to accelerate private sector investment in high value manufacturing in Victoria and South Australia
  • the $20.0 million Automotive Diversification Program to help automotive Australian supply chain firms capable of diversifying to find new markets
  • the $30.0 million Skills and Training Initiative to help Holden and Toyota workers recognise their skills and train for new jobs. Holden and Toyota contributed $15.0 million funding each.

Entrepreneurs’ Programme

The Entrepreneurs’ Programme is the Australian Government’s flagship initiative for business competitiveness and productivity at the firm level. It provides practical advice and support for businesses, including: provision of private sector advice; co‑funded grants to commercialise novel products, processes and services; funding to take advantage of growth opportunities; and connection and collaboration opportunities. This is building the capabilities of SMEs in key growth sectors. Services and grants are delivered through four elements: Business Management; Innovation Connections; Accelerating Commercialisation; and Incubator Support. Services are flexible, tailored and focused on value-added advice and support. Services can be accessed by all Australian businesses, including those in regional Australia, subject to meeting the program’s eligibility requirements.

In line with the Australian Government’s priority on regional development, the Government has expanded the Incubator Support element to better facilitate entrepreneurial activity in the regions. This will enable the initiative to further support the competitiveness of regional start-ups by improving the services and capabilities of new or existing incubators. New features include additional facilitative support and more generous funding ratios for regional projects to maximise outcomes for regional areas.

Single Business Service

Consistent with the Australian Government’s Digital Transformation Agenda, the Single Business Service is putting the needs of Australian businesses first by simplifying and streamlining access to information and advice.

Ongoing funding is provided to implement the initiative as part of the Entrepreneurs’ Program. The Single Business Service initiative recognises that businesses have struggled to access Australian Government services and navigate the wealth of Australian Government information available to find what they need or who to talk to. Businesses, including those in regional Australia, can now get information and help through one website (www.business.gov.au), one contact centre (13 28 46) and, AusIndustry’s national network to:

  • get a business up and running
  • develop and commercialise ideas and products
  • improve, innovate and grow a business
  • reach new markets.

Centre for Defence Industry Capability

The Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC) is a ten-year initiative of the Defence Industry Policy Statement worth $230.0 million from 2016-17. Its purpose is to help transform the relationship between the Department of Defence and the defence industry, and to fund defence industry development, critical skilling and export initiatives.

A national footprint has been established for the CDIC and comprises around 40 highly experienced business and innovation advisers and support staff. The CDIC is headquartered in Adelaide, with advisers located across all states and territories to form a national advisory network which extends to regional areas.

The CDIC is coordinating tailored region-based engagements to bring together stakeholders in a united effort to deliver defence capability, grow the Australian industrial base and present a national position to overseas markets. The CDIC and the Department of Defence are working with states and territories on:

  • industrial development activities and support for new and established defence companies
  • region-based activities in trade shows, related industry events and communication strategies
  • better connecting businesses with opportunities in other sectors, markets and international opportunities
  • exchanging information with region-based defence industry development agencies on current and emerging industrial capabilities to aid in the development and delivery of support programs and initiatives.

Cooperative Research Centre Program

The Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) Program, established in 1990, is a competitive, merit-based grant program that supports industry‑led collaborations between industry, researchers and the community. The CRC Program has two funding streams:

  • CRCs, which undertake medium to long term, industry-led high quality collaborative research
  • CRC Projects (CRC-Ps), which undertake a short-term, industry-identified and industry-led collaborative research project.

Businesses investing in research and development through CRCs and CRC-Ps are increasing their income, competitiveness and productivity. The CRC Program continues to support CRCs and CRC‑Ps that have impacts on rural and regional Australia.

CRCs and CRC-Ps contribute to strengthening rural and regional development in areas such as our agriculture and mining industries, farming systems and improving health outcomes for Indigenous Australians. Regional businesses (including small and medium‑sized enterprises), Rural Research and Development Corporations, universities and other research organisations can be a part of CRCs and CRC-Ps and their activities.

Business Research and Innovation Initiative

The Business Research and Innovation Initiative (BRII) Pilot is providing $12.0 million over three years from 2016‑17 in competitive grants for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to help the Australian Government to tap into leading‑edge thinking and find the most innovative solutions to important challenges in public policy and government service delivery.

Entrepreneurs receive funding to create innovative products and services. Businesses retain the intellectual property and the right to commercialise the ideas in Australia or overseas.

Critical early‑stage financial support to innovative start-ups and SMEs will help them test their new ideas and provide a path to market through developing a track record. The initiative also acts as a catalyst for SMEs with government as a customer thereby driving employment and economic growth.

Regional and rural Australia will be assisted through the solutions to current and future challenges. For example, a current challenge “…improve transparency and reliability of water market information” will assist participants and farmers with the confidence to participate in Australia’s water markets, and in turn contribute to the sustainable management of water resources across Australia.

Regional and rural SMEs are also eligible for and being assisted through BRII with grant recipients from areas such as Wollongong and North Bruny in Tasmania working on providing solutions to government challenges.

Major Projects Facilitation Agency

The Major Projects Facilitation Agency provides services to ensure that investors and developers are aware of all regulatory approval and compliance obligations that affect their project. The Major Projects Facilitation Agency is a ‘single point of entry’ into the Australian Government and works closely with state and territory governments to complement their activities. It provides information and advice across all tiers of government and across jurisdictions. The Major Projects Facilitation Agency also supports red tape reform by monitoring regulatory impacts on development and identifying opportunities for improvement.

While the agency provides a national service, it has offices in Tasmania and Northern Territory. Under the Australian Government’s economic plan for Tasmania, the Major Projects Facilitation Agency’s Tasmanian office was established in 2014 and allocated $2.7 million in funding over three years to July 2017. The Major Projects Facilitation Agency’s Darwin office was established in January 2016 as part of the Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia initiative and was allocated $2.1 million in funding to July 2019.

Anti-Dumping measures

The purpose of Australia’s anti‑dumping system, which is administered by the Anti‑Dumping Commission, is to give Australian producers the opportunity to compete with imports on a level playing field.

Anti‑dumping measures are currently in force on certain imported goods that compete with goods produced by a number of industries that are located in regional Australia. These include the food processing industry located in Shepparton, Victoria, and the steel industry, which has its manufacturing hubs in regional New South Wales and South Australia.

Tradex Scheme

The Tradex Scheme provides an upfront exemption from customs duty and goods and services tax on eligible imported goods that are intended for direct export or incorporated in other goods that are exported. This program is broad-based and available to all eligible applicants. The upfront exemption can provide significant cash flow advantages that can also assist the competitiveness of Australian business, including those operating in regional areas, in developing their export markets.

Square Kilometre Array Project

The Australian Government is a partner in a 10 nation project to establish the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Observatory, which will operate radio telescopes with unparalleled scientific and technical capabilities. The telescopes will be co-hosted in Australia (which will host the SKA ‘low’ frequency element) and South Africa (which will host the SKA ‘mid’ frequency element), with the global headquarters in the United Kingdom. As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, the Australian Government announced $293.7 million over 10 years from 2016-17 to further support Australia’s involvement in the SKA project. The project is currently in its pre-construction design and engineering phase, with construction currently scheduled to commence in 2019.

The Australian elements of the SKA will be sited in the remote Murchison district in the Mid-West region of Western Australia, with support and computing facilities in Geraldton and Perth. Constructing and operating the SKA-Low telescope will generate a variety of benefits for the region, including economic activity, employment and skill development opportunities. The traditional owners of the SKA‑Low site—the Wajarri Yamaji—will be amongst the local beneficiaries. Negotiations for an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the site are currently underway.

The Australian Government is partnering with the Western Australian Government to enable the SKA project in Australia. The state and Australian governments are actively engaging with a range of regional stakeholders including Indigenous communities, pastoralists, local government, regional development agencies and local business. The Australian SKA Office also meets twice a year with its Regional Stakeholders Group. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss the progress of the SKA project and any related issues such as infrastructure, opportunities for education and industry development.

Maintaining Australia’s Optical Astronomy Capability

The Australian Government is investing an additional $26.1 million from 2017-18 to 2020-21 ($119.0 million over 10 years) to maintain Australia’s reputation for world-renowned astronomical research and instrumentation through unparalleled international collaboration and opportunity. This measure secures the operation of the Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) beyond July 2020, at which time Commonwealth funding was expected to cease. As the AAT is located in regional Coonabarabran, the continued operations of the telescope, expected until at least 2024, will continue to benefit regional jobs, tourism and the local economy. The investment involves a ten‑year strategic partnership with the European Southern Observatory, which was signed on 11 July 2017. This partnership provides Australian scientists and businesses competitive access to research infrastructure and industry opportunities with the world’s foremost eight-metre optical/infrared telescopes at La Silla and Paranal Observatories in Chile.

This partnership will also be complemented by the transition of Australia’s world-leading research and commercial capabilities in optical astronomy, through the Australian Astronomical Observatory, from government to research‑sector ownership from 1 July 2018. This is expected to create new options and pathways to expand industry engagement across Australia, and to commercialise innovative technologies and spin-off applications on an international stage. This measure addresses the critical gap in astronomy capability identified in the Decadal Plan for Australian Astronomy (2016‑2025).

Inspiring Australia—Science Engagement Program

The Inspiring Australia—Science Engagement Program is providing $22.6 million from 2016-17 to 2018-19 and ongoing funding of $7.2 million per year from 2019-20 for a range of activities that will be delivered under the Inspiring Australia banner. The Minister for Jobs and Innovation, or the Assistant Minister for Science, Jobs and Innovation, may approve additional funding for program elements from time to time.

The program provides support for regional Australia through a wide range of activities. These include National Science Week, an annual nationwide celebration of science with activities occurring across Australia and providing opportunities for people of all ages and backgrounds to engage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). National Science Week supports activities that reach regional and remote Australia, through local events as well as online activities. Locally-organised National Science Week committees ensure diverse programs of activity are available in regions throughout Australia.

Each state and territory has an Inspiring Australia manager employed by a museum, university or other science-based organisation, with Australian Government funding to support National Science Week and other Targeted Science Communication including in regional locations. For example, these contracts have supported a growing network of regional science hubs, local collaborations of organisations that work together to deliver science engagement events for their regions. These aim to create a platform through which as many Australians as possible can participate in science and gain access to quality science engagement activities.

To ensure Australian communities are able to engage in STEM programs throughout the year, the national network of Inspiring Australia officers is working with regional STEM hubs to build capacity in regional areas and encourage the development and promotion of combined and inter‑linked community calendars of STEM activities. This initiative aims to support deeper community engagement in STEM and build connections to further learning and participation opportunities.

The program also provides funding for Citizen Science Grants, which provide opportunities for the public to engage in science by participating in scientific research projects that include the collection or transformation of data in Australia. Projects can take place anywhere in Australia, including in regional areas or through the internet, enabling citizens who may previously not have had the opportunity to participate in science to do so. Participants will be empowered by learning new skills, forming new networks, and receiving updates on their participation in research projects.

The program also provides funding for Maker Projects, to support the development of STEM skills in students and youth under 18 years of age in design, engineering and programming, through hands-on learning. The objective of the Maker Projects is to encourage practical skills, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking through the development of maker spaces and activities in schools and communities, including those in regional and disadvantaged areas. Stream A funds eligible Australian schools to purchase equipment required to support the establishment of a maker space for students to access and work on STEM-related activities; whilst Stream B supports Australian communities and regions to encourage participation in STEM and innovation related events and activities in partnership with industry for youth under 18 years of age.

The Sponsorship Grants for Student Science Engagement and International Competitions element of the program supports young Australians to develop skills and potential career opportunities in a STEM field. This is facilitated by providing grants to organisations (for example, such as schools and community groups) to sponsor eligible young Australians to participate in conferences, competitions and other STEM-related events both in Australia and overseas. This is of particular importance to students living in regional areas who may not otherwise have access to these types of STEM engagement opportunities or who may have difficulty funding the costs of travelling to these STEM events.

Questacon Smart Skills Initiative

The Questacon Smart Skills Initiative includes the programs: Smart Skills, Maker Project, Invention Convention and Enterprising Australians. It is a free initiative developed for secondary school students that creates an awareness of technology, engineering and design thinking amongst young Australians. The Smart Skills program includes: regional tours; in‑school workshops for students; and professional development workshops for teachers. The Maker Project program includes school workshops and school holiday workshops at Questacon; and virtual workshops across Australia. A key element of the Questacon Smart Skills Initiative is the Invention Convention, a three-day program that delivers intensive innovation and enterprise-focused workshops in regional centres. The Invention Conventions involve partnerships with local and national enterprises to assist in fostering innovation. Enterprising Australians showcases inspirational stories of Australian innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs through online and travelling exhibitions. The Questacon Smart Skills Initiative has ongoing funding of $1.7 million per annum through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, announced in December 2015.

Questacon Virtual Excursions

Questacon reaches rural and regional Australia through its Schmidt Studio and its Virtual Excursions that are part of the Questacon Smart Skills Initiative program, which involves one hour hands‑on workshops covering topics including environmental science, physics of flight and the innovation process. These videoconference workshops are designed for students in primary and secondary school and are an effective means for schools who have limited opportunities due to their location.

Shell Questacon Science Circus

The Shell Questacon Science Circus is an award‑wining partnership program between Questacon, the Australian National University and Shell currently in its 33rd year. The Science Circus program tours nationally, returning to the same communities every few years.

The Science Circus facilitates and hosts a temporary science centre in regional and remote areas, presents in‑school science shows to pre‑primary, primary and secondary school students and families, and facilitates teacher professional development workshops. The team of presenters consists of up to 16 students studying towards a Master of Science Communication Outreach at the Australian National University. The program has ongoing funding of $150,000 per annum through the National Science and Innovation Agenda.

Travelling Exhibitions

Questacon tours travelling exhibitions to a range of regional and metropolitan venues across Australia, fulfilling Questacon’s national role and responsibility of providing access to hands‑on informal learning experiences outside the Questacon Centre in Canberra. The interactive exhibitions are developed in‑house by Questacon and provide engagement for all ages. The travelling exhibitions provide a range of size, topics and complexity options suitable for most venue requirements. Travelling exhibitions, as part of Questacon’s core business activity, are funded through ongoing Questacon departmental appropriation.

Teacher Development Programs

Questacon delivers a broad range of accredited programs to pre-service, casual and registered teachers through the national outreach programs and stand-alone activities. The programs build confidence, skill and content knowledge in teachers in the delivery of STEM activities in the classroom. The STEM X Academy is an intensive five-day program delivered each January in partnership with the Australian Science Teachers Association and the CSIRO that joins teachers with researchers to develop new activities for the classroom. Teacher development, as part of Questacon core business activity, is funded through ongoing Questacon departmental appropriation.

Installation of Solar Photovoltaic System

Through the Public Service Modernisation Fund, $1.8 million (over 2017-18 and 2018‑19) has been allocated to deliver an off grid solar photovoltaic system to provide supplementary low cost electricity to the Australian Institute of Marine Science’s regional Cape Ferguson headquarters. This site houses the National Sea Simulator, a world-class marine research aquarium facility for tropical marine organisms in which scientists can conduct cutting-edge research. This investment will help lift the current utilisation of the National Sea Simulator from 65 per cent to 90 per cent while reducing costs and carbon emissions. This investment will also help the local region through the employment of local contractors to install the solar photovoltaic system.

National Carp Control Plan

Carp are the worst freshwater aquatic pest in Australia. They dominate the Murray-Darling Basin, where they can make up 80-90 per cent of fish biomass, with significant detrimental effects on water quality and ecosystem health. The economic impacts of carp infestation have been estimated at up to $500 million per year, with the majority of this impact felt in regional areas.

The Australian Government provided $15.0 million over three years from 2016-17 to support the development of the National Carp Control Plan. This funding will deliver the scientific research, operational planning, community engagement and communications activities required to support a potential carp virus release and subsequent clean up. The aim is to ensure that the National Carp Control Plan enables maximum impact on carp populations with minimum disruption to industries, communities and the environment. The plan is expected to be finalised in 2018.

The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science works closely with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, the Department of the Environment and Energy, and the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation in the development of the National Carp Control Plan.

White Paper on Developing Northern Australia

The Australian Government is continuing to build on its commitment to develop Northern Australia because unlocking the full potential of this important region brings benefits to the nation as a whole. In 2015, the Australian Government released the White Paper on Northern Australia, Our North, Our Future. This $6.2 billion economic development plan is creating the right conditions for growth and prosperity in the north.

Over half of the White Paper initiatives have already been delivered, and the rest are well underway. From delivering roads and water infrastructure to the establishment of the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility, the Australian Government is creating an environment that encourages business growth, jobs and investment.

The Office of Northern Australia in the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is coordinating the delivery of the White Paper and strategically expanding the northern agenda into a contemporary focus. In addition to this, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has responsibility for the delivery of the following measures:

  • $5.0 billion Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility
  • expanded access to the Entrepreneurs’ Programme to include tourism and smaller northern Australian businesses
  • $75.0 million for the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia.

The Department has also established the Major Projects Facilitation Agency in Darwin and moved the Office of Northern Australia headquarters to Darwin.

The White Paper on Developing Northern Australia also includes the following key initiatives:

  • Northern Australian Tourism Initiative
  • Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment.

Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), announced in the 2015‑16 Budget, is a major initiative of the Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia and is integral to the Australian Government’s strategy for the north.

The NAIF commenced on 1 July 2016 and has up to $5.0 billion over five years to provide in concessional finance to encourage and complement private sector investment in economic infrastructure (such as rail, water, energy, communications networks, ports and airports) that otherwise would not be built or would not be built for some time.

The NAIF is an independent corporate Commonwealth entity that operates at arm’s length to the Australian Government. The NAIF Board makes decisions about the eligibility and financing of all economic infrastructure projects in accordance with the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Investment Mandate in the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility Act 2016. This support for transformative economic infrastructure is a significant step for the longer term expansion of the economy and population in northern Australia. Investment will be spread across the three jurisdictions in northern Australia.

Northern Australian Tourism Initiative

The Northern Australia Tourism Initiative was announced in the Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia. This initiative is providing $13.6 million over four years, with an expected completion date of 30 June 2019, to assist tourism businesses in northern Australia with practical support to build management and business capability, helping businesses to improve their performance and grow and be more internationally competitive. It extends both the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and the Australian Small Business Advisory Services (ASBAS) program to better target the needs of the northern Australian tourism industry.

Under the ASBAS Northern Australia Tourism Initiative, not‑for‑profit small business advisory services are funded to improve their capability to provide low-cost advisory and information services to Indigenous and non‑Indigenous tourism small businesses and tourism small business intenders in northern Australia.

Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia

The Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia included $75.0 million over 10 years to establish a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Developing Northern Australia, which commenced operations in 2017‑18. The CRC will assist businesses, governments and researchers to work together to identify opportunities for business and growth in the north. The industry-led CRC, based in Townsville, is focusing initially on agriculture, food and tropical health areas where the north has particular strengths.

On 17 October 2017, the Australian Government announced Cooperative Research Centre Projects grants totalling $13.9 million for seven industry-led collaborative research projects addressing unique industry problems in northern Australia. The funding for the projects builds on the $75.0 million investment in the CRC for Developing Northern Australia.

National Resources Development Strategy—Exploring for the Future

Over four years from 2016-17, the $100.5 million Exploring for the Future program is investigating the potential of mineral, energy and groundwater resources in northern Australia and parts of South Australia, both regions where the resource potential is relatively poorly known. The program aims to de‑risk and renew the appetite for investment in mineral exploration, and help identify major new gas and minerals resources.

Exploring for the Future is delivering a comprehensive prospectus of Australia’s resources through the collection and release of nationally significant geological data and information. Access to new and more detailed geological data and information will assist all participants in the resources sector increase the potential and level of exploration activities in Australia. The new pre‑competitive data has the potential to stimulate investment and employment opportunities in minerals and energy exploration, resource development and groundwater resource development.

Exploring for the Future will provide a broad-regional understanding of resource potential across the entire northern Australia region. This broad understanding will be linked to a series of focused regional minerals, energy and groundwater projects in areas with the greatest knowledge gaps.

National Radioactive Waste Management Facility—Community Benefit Program

The Australian Government is providing a total of $6.0 million over two years from 2016-17 for community based projects for completion within two years of commencement.

In 2017-18, a $2.0 million Community Benefit Program has been made available to each community around the shortlisted sites of Wallerberdina Station (near Hawker, South Australia) and Lyndhurst and Napandee (in Kimba, South Australia). This is in acknowledgment of the communities’ contribution to the ongoing community consultation process to site a National Radioactive Waste Management Facility and the short-term disruption during the site identification process. Forty-five projects have been announced to deliver social and economic benefits in the communities.

This is the second time the community around the shortlisted site of Wallerberdina Station has received a $2.0 million Community Benefit Program. In 2016-17, 11 projects in the Hawker and Quorn regions of South Australia were announced (grants totalling $2.0 million). A number of these projects have already been completed.

Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project

The Rum Jungle Rehabilitation Project provides $10.8 million in funding, from 2016-17 to 2019-20, to finalise a detailed rehabilitation plan for the former Rum Jungle mine site in the Northern Territory and its continued site management and maintenance activities. It also supports maintenance activities at the Rum Jungle Creek South site, a public recreation area.

Onshore Gas Social and Economic Research Fund

The Onshore Gas Social and Economic Research Fund provides scientific and independent research to enable Australians to form their own views of the social, economic and environmental impacts and benefits of gas projects based on local data and regional characteristics. Addressing community and land holders concerns about the impacts of onshore gas is essential for the development of the gas industry.

In 2014-15, the Australian Government invested $1.5 million in the expansion of the Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance (GISERA) from Queensland into New South Wales. The New South Wales Government, CSIRO and key industry players matched this funding. The Australian Government is providing $4.0 million in funding to CSIRO over four years from 2016‑17 to further expand the alliance, becoming the Onshore Gas and Social and Economic Research Fund, to regions where onshore gas activity is occurring or has the potential to be developed.

On 7 February 2018, the South Australian Government announced its partnership with CSIRO, through GISERA, to undertake social and environmental research on the potential impacts and opportunities of onshore gas development on the environment and communities in the onshore Otway Basin in South Australia’s South East. The South Australian Government’s $1.0 million investment over three years will be complemented by contributions from CSIRO and the Commonwealth.

GISERA’s research program includes: research on surface and ground water; greenhouse gas footprint; agricultural land management; terrestrial biodiversity; marine environment; and socio‑economic impacts and opportunities. GISERA’s research independence is ensured through the strong governance framework, which includes project approval from Regional Research Advisory Committees and undergoing CSIRO’s peer review process. All research is available on GISERA’s website: gisera.csiro.au.

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