Budget 09: the reaction from scientists

Finance Minister Bill English this afternoon delivered the 2009-10 budget. Key science and technology policy and funding initiatives are summarised on the front page of the SMC website.

The SMC asked scientists and research institutions to comment on the implications for science, technology, research and development and innovation.

Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, Director, He Kainga Oranga/Housing and Health Research Programme, University of Otago, Wellington comments:

“I’m very pleased to see that there has been multi-partisan agreement about the importance of retrofitting insulation and install sustainable heating and that significant investment has been included in this Budget.  There is going to be a ramp up over four years and by the end  of that time it is estimated that over a quarter of uninsulated houses in New Zealand will be insulated. 
“I think it’s important that the Government is requiring people to insulate their houses before they can access the subsidies for sustainable heaters.  This makes physical and energy efficiency sense and is based on sound public health science. There has also been further attempts to increase the incentives for landlords to upgrade their properties, which is important for the 40% of householders that rent in the private sector.”

Professor Roger Field, Chair of the NZ Vice-Chancellors’ Committee comments:

“The current recession is the time to invest in universities’ key role in increasing professional skills, innovation and research output.  Such counter-cyclincal investment in universities is the best way to ensure New Zealand can climb out of recession through a highly-skilled workforce.”

“The NZVCC will continue to reiterate that investment in university education and research is a crucial investment in infrastructure that will stimulate a return to economic prosperity.”
Professor Peter Hunter, Chair of the Marsden Fund Council comments:

“The Marsden Fund has repeatedly shown its importance to the New Zealand’s science system, through its support of emerging researchers under the Fast-Start scheme and from the high level of regard from the science community. This welcome increase to the Fund means that at least five more Fast-Start projects will be funded this year along with another eight standard projects.”

Neville Jordan, President of the Royal Society of New Zealand comments:
“The increase in funding for the CRI Capability Fund, the HRC, and the Marsden Fund shows the Government’s commitment to scientific excellence and building sector capability. Supporting excellence is a key role of the Royal Society, so we applaud this emphasis.” 
Anthony Scott, chief executive, Science New Zealand comments:

“At the more basic science end, the increases to the Marsden Fund (up 24 per cent, or $9m pa), Health Research (up 13 per cent; $8m pa) and the PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund (now at $250m pa) are welcome.   
“The Government has recognised the distinctive contribution of its Crown Research Institutes, which employ about two-thirds of the nation’s science researchers. The 20 per cent increase ($10m pa, to $61m) in the Capability Fund is very welcome.  The only fund exclusively available to CRIs, it is about 8 per cent of total CRI revenue.  It will be instrumental in helping CRIs retain or develop RS&T capability of particular importance to New Zealand, delivering both excellence and relevance.
“We look forward to the detail on 2 June regarding the Primary Growth Partnership.  The injections of $30m, $40m, $50m and $70m over the coming four years, with matching private sector investment, sound very attractive.  All manner of technologies and industries can flow from developments in the primary sector, so the spin-off effect should be considerable.”

Dr Paul T. Callaghan, Alan MacDiarmid Professor of Physical Sciences, Victoria University of Wellington comments:

“This is an extremely disappointing budget for science and technology. While the $ 9m million per annum increase in the Marsden Fund is welcome, the overall investment in Research and Development has been increased by a mere $28 million, even if we ignore the loss of the R and D tax credit and Fast Forward.

“That leaves New Zealand’s’ per capita GDP investment in R and D unchanged at around 0.52 %, way below that of Australia, the OECD average, and small economies like Finland, Singapore and Denmark, all of whom have built prosperity from innovation.

“If New Zealand is to turbocharge its way out of this recession, we have to develop new export businesses based on knowledge and innovation.

“What we need are significant new investments to build our innovation system.  The 2009/10 budget has not addressed that issue.”

Dr Jeff Tallon, MacDiarmid Institute, Industrial Research Ltd and National Science Panel comments:

“I think the most important initiative from this government is not in this budget. That is the appointment of a Chief Science Advisor to the PM. This lifts the profile of science in government and sets in place a process for change. We desperately need change of cultural attitudes to research and science – in politics and business.

“The PM’s science prize is probably a good move as it will help lift the whole profile of science in NZ (and may help keep science on the political agenda). I would suggest that it should only be awarded every few years otherwise its elite status could be degraded in time.

“Clearly we are in hard times. This year the US and Australia have taken an aggressive stance in investing heavily in science and innovation. They have taken the view that we have to invest in using our brains to achieve new levels of productivity. This budget does offer a boost to RS&T but the level is definitely timid. To turn NZ around, to start catching up in the productivity stakes we actually need major new investment in our science system.

“That said, I of course welcome the proposed increase to the Marsden Fund, HRC and the capability fund. Someone has worked hard behind the scenes to get this boost in investment approved by Caucus, but it is cautious rather than bold. At some stage soon we need a bold response and we need to tackle our research-averse culture. My hope is that the PM’s science advisor will eventually be persuasive in this respect.

“The primary growth partnership will be welcomed by those who lamented the loss of the Fast Forward initiative. But again we need to be looking beyond our primary sector and investing in the sector of high-value, advanced technology products. We have only to look at emissions and future fuel costs to see that big changes are needed here.

“I am not convinced that broadband is the best spend. A few years back the IT penetration in Ireland was about half that of NZ on a comparative basis, yet they had completely leap-frogged us economically. Broadband is only useful to the wealth of our nation if we are making and selling products.”

Dr Andrew West, Chief Executive of AgResearch comments:

“The increase in Capability Funding and the creation of the Primary Growth Partnership are most welcome especially at this time of constraint in government spending.”

Dr Peter Dearden, Director of Genetics Otago comments:

“I am encouraged, as a University Researcher, to see increases, albeit small ones,  in funding for the engines of fundamental research in New Zealand- the Marsden Fund and the HRC, as well as funds to help the CRIs maintain capability. I am also pleased to see a general increase the the funding for science in New Zealand as science and innovation will be key factors in the future NZ economy. I hope this signals sustained increased support for fundamental, innovative research in New Zealand.”

To talk to these or other scientists about reactions to the budget, please contact the Science Media Centre on tel: 04 499 5476 or email: smc@sciencemediacentre.co.nz.