The Industry Minister’s ongoing failure to confirm funding for two key Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) is a worrying sign that Australians should brace themselves for further short-sighted cuts to science, research and innovation in the Abbott Government’s second Budget.   

The future of the Advanced Manufacturing CRC and the CRC for Optimising Resource Extraction (ORE) is now hanging in the balance. Funding for both CRCs will run out at the end of June.

It remains a complete mystery why Ian Macfarlane has not announced the extension of CRC ORE and the creation of the Innovative Manufacturing CRC to extend the work of the Advanced Manufacturing CRC.

These announcements have been sitting on the Minister’s desk for five and eleven months respectively.

The money is there – or at least it should be. All Mr Macfarlane has to do is process the paperwork to provide security for the CRCs’ employees and industry partners.     

But instead he has allowed the Abbott Government’s record on CRCs to go from incomprehensible to straight out incompetent.

The Abbott Government’s first Budget cut $80 million from the program and cancelled the 17th funding round.

Four months later, Mr Macfarlane released the terms of reference for a CRC review predicated on a National Commission of Audit recommendation that the program be abolished.

In October, Mr Macfarlane provided bizarre and unsubstantiated commentary about CRCs going off on their own path, and said that some CRCs “will terminate” as a result of his policies.

Mr Macfarlane has now received the CRC review, but has yet to release the report or the Government’s response.

Last week, the CRC Association noted that: “No announcements have been made about the 18th funding round, which would normally have opened in late 2014 for a mid-2015 closing date.”

Staff across all 35 existing CRCs must be wondering if the inexplicable delay in announcing funding for the Innovative Manufacturing CRC and CRC ORE means more cuts are on the way.

Any such cuts would threaten researchers’ livelihoods, their research and their record in cutting edge industry and public benefit innovation. 

This Government needs to stop dithering and act to secure the future of the CRC program and these two CRCs in particular.

This Budget must be about the jobs of the future – not just Tony Abbott’s job.

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