Australian R&D Review

Linking Australian Science, Technology and Business
A publication by ELWINMEDIA providing independent information on current developments in the Australian Innovation System


Uni-fying affairs

Here you find stories covering recent developments in our universities. These and related stories can also be found in the dedicated 'university' page (see 'sections' in the ARDR menu at the top of the page.)
...read recent uni stories

Northern dreaming

The Australian Government's Green Paper On Developing Northern Australia, released in June, envisions significant opportunities for an economically already thriving region of Australia, with the resources industry at the core of its economic expansion.
possible policy directions for developing nothern Australia
Click image to enlarge -The six possible policy directions canvassed in the Green Paper

The Green Paper is part of a process towards a broader policy framework for the region's ongoing economic development, which the Government plans to detail in a White Paper within the next 12 months. To this end, it has also formed a National Strategic Partnership with the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

...read full story

All you need is IP

IP Australia's second update* on the state of our intellectual property system reports that the number of Australian patent applications continues to grow strongly, up by 13% in 2013.

Demand for design rights grew by 7%, plant breeder's rights by 9%, while trade mark filings remained fairly steady.

...read full story
Click image to enlarge.

Born to be wide

10 June 2014 - Somewhat overshadowed by the suprise decision of Germany to pull out of the Square Kilometre Array Project, the CSIRO reported promising test results from its Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.

...while even the sky has a limit

Earlier in June the German Government informed the SKA director-general of its intention to end the country's SKA membership by June 2015.
...read full story

Industrious hubs

12 June - The Australian Government announced that seven new Research Hubs will be created through grants totalling almost $24 million over the life of the projects.
New research hub at the University of Newcastle
Four out of seven new Research Hubs will target the resource industry, including a new hub at the University of Newcastle
Image: University of Newcastle

The funding is provided under the ARC administered Industrial Transformation Research Program scheme, a legacy program of the former Gillard Government and established as a component of the ARC Linkage Program. The program also includes the Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme, for which, however, so far no funding round has been advertised for 2014.

...read full story
Linkage Projects 2014 infographic
Click image to explore the interactive infographic

... and collaborative splurge

27 June - A new round of grants under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme will provide a total of $88.2 million for 251 collaborative research projects. ...read full story

Supercritical power

03 June 2014 - A collaborative research project between the CSIRO and solar energy firm Abengoa Solar has reported the highest level of 'supercritical steam' ever produced using solar energy.
CSIRO solar steam production
Scheme of a supercritical solar thermal power plant.
Image: CSIRO

The Advanced Solar Steam Receiver Project achieved a steam pressure of 23.5 megapascals at temperatures of up to 570 degrees Celcius using the two solar thermal test plants at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle.

...and a sunny baseload promise

Abengoa's molten salt tower technology
Click image to enlarge
The $5.7 million project, to which the Australian Renewable Energy Agency contributed $2.8 million, is part of a larger ARENA co-funded research collaboration between CSIRO and its Spain-based commercial partner.

The ultimate goal of this research is the cost competitive production of baseload electricity through solar power.

...read full story

Digitised sanity

The nation's progress with the establishment of a Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) is still marred by the complexity of the task, and some shortcomings in its implementation.
Booze&Company estimates for digitizing healthcare benefits
Booze&Company estimates of benefits resulting from digitizing the healthcare sector

Yet, it is a very worthwhile effort to pursue, according to a review of the project commissioned by the Australian Government in 2013.

...read full story

To ehealth or not to ehealth?

The electronic consumer patient
Not only since the recent federal budget is reality sinking in that while increasing life expectancies and comfortable life styles are welcome results of social progress, they are going to present headaches for Governments because of ballooning healthcare costs.

However, This is assuming that there is no significant change in the way healthcare is administered.

The expectation is that the emerging health information technologies (HIT), such as personal e-health records, will significantly reduce the incidence of human errors and increase efficiency in the administration of healthcare.

But this hope is not uniformly shared, with scepticism especially entrenched among health professionals.

...read full story
Exploration red tape
For a full list of PC recommendations and the Government's interim response click here

Explorative responses

According to the Canadian Fraser Institute 2013 survey of global business leaders, Australia is already one of the most attractive destinations for investments in the world, with WA even taking out the top spot (see story Sovereign reputation').

But the Australian Government is continuing to "restore investor confidence in Australia's economic workhorse" with the release of its interim response to the 22 recommendations of the Productivity Commission's (PC) Inquiry Report into Mineral and Energy Resource Exploration.

...read full story

...for offshore manna

Nine new exploration permits potentially attracting more than $372 million in investment over the next six years have been awarded as part of Round 1 of the Australian Government's 2013 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release.
Australian 2013 Offshore Exploration Permits
Click image to explore the awarded permits in an infographic

As can be explored in more detail in our infographic, all but one of the awarded permits are located in the Carnarvon, Browse and Bonaparte Basins offshore from Western Australia (including one within the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands). The one exception, a permit located offshore Victoria in the Otway Basin, was awarded to Origin Energy Resources.

More information: http://minister.industry.gov.au

Stay away from bleeding hearts

May/June 2014 - Cyber security is becoming a pressing issue for Australian online users, and is a focus of the Australian Government's 2014 Stay Smart Online Week launched on 2 June 2014.
heartbleed down under

But as a report released by the CSIRO in May highlights, the challenge is emerging across all sectors of society as we increasingly rely on digital services, including public services such as patient health records and taxation data.

...read full story

...as a peak is in sight

The enormous growth in mobile service delivery through wireless communications requires available radiofrequency spectrum, for which demand could almost triple by 2020.

But because of practical limits, the radiofrequency spectrum is a limited resource. Consequently, there is the possibility that we are heading toward a 'spectrum crunch', and to overcome this challenge we will require new technologies and expanded infrastructure.

This is according to a new CSIRO report which canvasses a 'wireless' future where new digital services will have a pervasive impact on almost every aspect of our life. And the agency promotes its own Ngara technology platform as a tool to help prevent potential spectrum bottlenecks in rural and remote Australia.

...read full story

...with emerging non-fixation issues

The current plan for a National Broadband Network includes around 8% or 1 million premises for which fixed line broadband technology is not an economically viable option.

Instead these premises will be serviced through fixed wireless technology or two satellites that are currently under construction.

By no means these are confined to remote or even regional Australia, but often are at the edge of cities, metro fringe areas and the outskirts of country towns.

In May, NBN Co released its redacted review of the progress made in the non-fixed line footprint, and identified substantial issues with the approach taken by the company.

...read full story

From clever back to lucky

or say it with Shakespeare: "Put out the light, then put out the light"

14 May 2014 - The Australian Government has handed down its first budget which is to fix a budget 'emergency' that has so far not been recognised by any of the major international rating agencies.
Click the image to explore a detailed infographic on Australia's general government debt (net and gross) compared to other countries, and how it has developed over time.

Despite the promise of a targeted fund for medical research, for which funding is at present up to a hostile Senate, science and innovation in this country will be hit hard, with significant cuts across areas of research, education and training.

We provide here a budget wrap up on R&D and also explore in more detail a major claim underlying the budget: the existence of a budget emergency.

...read full story

Smoke screen or genuine reduction?

The release of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) White Paper on 24 April 2014 provided long awaited details about the core policy element of the Australian Government's Direct Action strategy (for a previous story on the ERF Green Paper see Emitted future).
Click the interactive infographic to explore

Prior to the White Paper, the Climate Change Authority (CAA) published the final report of its Targets and Progress Review in February 2014. The report presents an alternative view on how Australia should proceed with its emissions reduction effort, while it is also providing factual context to the Government's new policy proposal.

And more recently, on 9 May 2014 the Government made its Emissions Reduction Fund Draft Legislation available for public comment. The main bill of this package is the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Amendment Bill 2014, which essentially expands the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) to allow crediting of emissions across the Australian economy.

...read full story

Blowing with the wind

Wind energy is in many countries the fastest growing renewable energy source, although its use is largely concentrated in Europe and the US.
Wind Energy Generation Australia infographic Elwinmedia
Click image to explore an interactive infographic

In December 2013 highly densely populated Germany had 23,645 wind energy projects installed on land providing 33.729 megawatt of energy. But the industry is also experiencing rapid growth in India and China.

In Australia, which has vast wind energy resources, primarily in the western, south-western, southern and south-eastern coastal regions of the country, the industry has also seen a significant expansion. As previously reported, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) Energy in Australia 2013 report estimates that by mid century wind energy could produce around 21% of Australia's electricity.

However, there are concerns that in Victoria planning restrictions and health concerns may have impacted on the industry. While this has led to the stalling of some projects, the State's 420 megawatt Macarthur Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, just became fully operational (January 2013) ...read full story

Productively connected on the run

03 April 2014 - New research released by the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) revealed a link between Australia's mobile broadband connectedness and its productivity and overall economic growth.
Mobile connectedness and GDP (ACMA)
Click image to enlarge

Commissioned by ACMA and the Centre for International Economics, the Economic impacts of mobile broadband on the Australian economy, from 2006 to 2013 study surveyed 1,002 Australian businesses.

It found that in 2013 mobile broadband led to an estimated increase in Australia's economic activity of $33.8 billion, of which $26.5 billion was attributed to time savings for businesses using mobile broadband.

...read full story

Improving the rollout or putting the cart before the horse?

09 April 2014 - An updated Statement of Expectations issued by the Australian Government to NBN Co ahead of an independent cost-benefit-analysis has received mixed responses from media commentators.

The Statement gives the company the go-ahead for the use of an optimised multi-technology model in the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). This was recommended in NBN Co's Strategic Review released in December 2013 (see story Strategic cable salad)...read full story

Earthly delights

Australia's mining sector is in a process of transition, as new investments in projects are in decline while existing projects enter the production phase.
Click to enlarge

This is the overall message from the following report on recent developments, which also show that this does not equate to an end of the mining boom. Earnings from exported commodities are expected to increase driven by China's demand, especially for iron ore, and the commencing export of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).

...read full story
ARDR-STATES

State-us Quo of R&D

We have put together a collection of stories that we consider, justified or not, more relevant on a regional level. They cover the months February to March 2014.

In future, these stories will also be accessible in our 'States' section.

...read STATE stories

Scientific wonders

What has happened in Australian research of late? What have you missed?

Here are summaries of recent stories, which you can also find in our "'science stories' section...read full story

Agriculture competitiveness Issues Paper

Big thinking for a well-fed future

6 February 2014 - The Australian Government has released an Issues Paper as a first step towards the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper announced in December last year. ...read full story
agricultural regulation

Counterproductive helpers

A new report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) has traced the history of agricultural policies in Australia.

It reveals how the deregulation of the sector and the removal of distorting producer support over the past decades led to strong agricultural productivity growth...read full story

nhmrc funding

Healthy winners

18 February 2014 - Following the October 2013 announcement of $559 million in health and medical research grants (see Bucks for drugs), the NHMRC has released the outcome of another funding round for 2013 grant applications.

The new funding totals $133 million for projects across five NHMRC schemes:

  • 11 Program Grants worth a total of $101.6 million will support multi-disciplinary team-based research;
  • 7 Partnership Project grants worth a total of $4.4 million will support collaborative research between researchers and policy makers...read full story

Renewed doubts

17 February 2014 - The Australian Government has released the Terms of Reference for a review into the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme. By existing law a review of the RET is due in 2014.
RETcartoon

The Government also announced the appointment of a four member independent review panel, which will be chaired by Dick Warburton. The panel will primarily consider the contribution of the RET in the reduction of emissions, its impact on electricity prices and energy markets, as well as its costs and benefits for the renewable energy sector, the manufacturing sector and Australian households.

The Government expects a report from the panel by the middle of this year for it to provide input into the Energy White Paper process.

...read full story

Big not welcome?

In early 2013, the former Gillard Labor Government proposed to ammend the just 2 years earlier introduced R&D Tax Incentive for a more targeted support of small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

It was part of the A Plan for Australian Jobs (APAJ) policy, through which the Government responded to the Smarter Manufacturing for a Smarter Australia report.

With the proposed amendments large companies with turnover of $20 billion or more would not longer be entitled to the non-refundable 40% R&D Tax offset.

Following the September 2013 election, the Government decided to proceed with this proposed tightening of elegibility to the R&D Incentive as part of the Tax Laws Amendment (Research and Development) Bill 2013...read full story

CRC

Mighty dancers

21 February 2014 - The Australian Government has announced it will invest $186 million in the 16th round of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program.

The funding will go towards the establishment of three new CRCs, while also providing for the extension of four existing projects...read full story

Interdisciplinary teams: getting the mix right is crucial...

How to play together

As the topics of modern research become ever more complex, scientists increasingly see the need for collaborative approaches across the usual boundaries of scientific expertise.

However, interdisciplinary work is not without challenges, as was recently highlighted in The Character of Interdisciplinary Research report which the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) released in January.

...read full story

Cheap read

Australia's clinical genomics research is set to gather further steam through the Garvan Institute's acquisition of Illumina's HiSeq X Ten Platform.
The HiSeq X Ten Platform is composed of 10 HiSeq X sequencers.
Image: Illumina

Garvan is is one of the first in the world to acquire the machine. Announced by Illumina in January, the HiSeq X Ten Platform can process around 20,000 genomes a year. And run at capacity, the current cost of $10,000 for the sequencing of a human genome could drop to an estimated $1,000 each.

The technological advance in the field has been tremendous. Just a decade ago the price tag for a sequence of a human genome was more than $1 billion, and the process took months. With the Illumina sequencer there is now a practical avenue available for the clinical translation of genomic medicine such as through routine analysis of cancer biopsies and people with genetic disorders. The technology is also expected to facilitate population-scale genomics research.

The HiSeq is located at Garvan's Kinghorn Centre for Clinical Genomics, and at present awaits clinical accreditation. It will then be accessible to clinicians and researchers who are interested in establishing a clinical service or exploring the sequencing of large cohorts.

More information: www.garvan.org.au

Climate of change

Cloudy days

Two recent studies led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales have contributed important new insight that will improve climate change projections.

Based on the current trajectory, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is likely to double from preindustrial levels over the next 50 years.

Computer models simulating our future climate under such conditions have produced a broad spread of temperature scenarios that span from 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius. This variance is largely due to differences in how clouds and their feedback on global climate are accounted for.

In a study published in Nature in January, Professor Steven C. Sherwood and coworkers report a mechanism for the formation of low-level clouds, which removes much of this uncertainty. However, the authors show that climate models that are correctly simulating this feedback tend to be constrained towards more severe future warming scenarios, indicating increases by at least 3 degrees Celsius with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere...read full story

And in February, a study led by Professor Matthew England and published in Nature Climate Change explained why, despite increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG), the global average surface air temperature has stayed more or less steady since 2001 - but is likely to significantly increase again in future...read full story

Hot options

The rising costs in electricity prices can be largely attributed to the need for investments in network infrastructure to meet peak power demands.
Click image to enlarge

Thus an estimated $45 billion in electricity network infrastructure is expected for the period 2010 to 2015 alone.

Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) could provide a cost competitive alternative to expensive network upgrades, according to a collaborative study funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

...read full story
The Direct Action policy includes the Emission Reduction Fund, the 20 Million Trees and the One Million Solar Roofs programmes, and the Solar Towns and Solar Schools initiatives.

Emitted future

In December the Australian Government released a Green Paper on its new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) initiative.

The ERF is the core component of the Government's Direct Action Plan, which aims to reduce emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

To this end, the plan, which is modelled on the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, will encourage low-cost and effective emissions reduction opportunities.

...read full story

Profitable uni-verse

According to the Finance 2012: Financial Reports of Higher Education Providers, the 2012 operating revenue of Australia's 39 universities amounted to $25.2 billion, an increase by $6.6% from the previous year.
Click image to enlarge; graph shows sources of revenue for Australian universities in 2012

This included $24.6 billion for higher education activities, with the remainder earned from vocational education and training operations.

The bulk of the income was through funds from the Australian Government, which increased by 10.2% to $14.7 billion. Of this, $11 billion were provided through grants and $3.7 billion were from loans to students.

The reported operating expense of the 39 universities was $23.3 billion, of which employee benefits made up 56%, leaving an operating surplus of around $1.9 billion.

In 2012, the universities had assets valued at $59.5 billion, which were offset by $16.6 billion in liabilites, leaving a net asset position of $42.9 billion.

Excellence expected

On 24 December 2013, The Australian Government approved $285 million over seven years for 12 ARC Centres of Excellence.

The funding will commence in 2014.

The 12 centres, which were selected from a pool of 22 proposals at a success rate of 54.5%, will collaborate with 106 organisations from 44 countries. This is expected to leverage more than $392.2 million in cash and in-kind support.

...read full story
$103 million funding for dementia, type 1 diabetes and tropical diseases

Three off the hook

17 December 2013 - With cuts to research on the horizon, the Australian Government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) brought a redirection of funds towards three major fields of medical research: type 1 diabetes, dementia and tropical disease research. ...read full story

Not happy

Science & Technology Australia has released a statement in which it raises concern about the Australian Government's decision to remove $61 million from the ARC's Discovery Program and $42 million from the ARC's Linkage Program over the forward estimates.

Its president Dr Ross Smith said that the cuts would further limit the capacity of these 'world class' grants, which already have a success rate of below 25%. Governments needed to set priorities for research but that priority setting was very different from political picking and choosing.

"Peer review is simply the best way of ensuring tax-payers dollars are invested in world class research every time."

More information: www.scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au

Broad bandits seeking new direction

The Australian Government has followed up on the completion of a Strategic Review of the National Broadband Network with the release of data on the state of Australian broadband infrastructure.

The summary report on Broadband Availability and Quality Survey shows that 91% of Australian premises now have access to fixed line broadband.

Mobile broadband services through 3G and 4G technology can be accessed from 81% and 59% of premises, respectively, while all of Australia is covered by satellite broadband, although this type of service has a ceiling to the capacity of service delivery.

This still leaves some Australians with limited access to broadband services, but it appears that the quality of broadband connections may be a more pressing national issue.

Thus the delivery of broadband services to more than a third of Australian premises was found to be have peak download speeds of less than 9 mega bit per second (Mbps).

However, even with access to fast broadband it is not guaranteed that Australians actually participate in the 'Digital Age'. In fact, a study by the CSIRO and the Australian Centre for Broadband Innovation (ACBI) identified a significant 'broadband gap' with one in five adults not using the Internet at all and particularly smaller sized businesses showing low activity online.

The report raises the concern that a lack of certainty about the future rollout of Australia’s broadband infrastructure and the predominant focus on cost and scale rather than the potential benefits of next generation broadband are distracting from getting Australia prepared for the 'digital age'. Read full stories:

Sinking feelings

Australian research highlights the ecological importance and potential financial value of coastal carbon sinks.
Seagrass meadows image: NOOA
Seagrass meadows, a significant sink for atmospheric carbon
image: NOOA
It is widely appreciated that ecosystems on land, notably forests, are important sinks for atmospheric carbon. According to estimates reported by the IPCC in 2007, deforestation and land-use change accounts for 8-20% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.

However, much less recognised is the amount of organic carbon stored in our oceans. So called 'blue carbon' initiatives try to change this. It includes the Blue Carbon research initiative by the GRID-ARENDAL centre, which supports the United Nations Environment Programme (see also our 2011 dossier 'Ocean Views').

...read full story

One for all

The new Australian Government is in the process of streamlining the complex environmental approval process for offshore petroleum projects in Australian seas.
One stop shop for petroleum exploration

Following up on a key election promise, it aims for a 'one-stop shop' procedure in all Australian jurisdictions. In broad terms, this concerns maritime zones that lie within coastal waters of states and the Northern Territory (up to 3 nautical mile off the coast) and Commonwealth waters (3 to 200 nautical miles from the coast).

... read full story

...going fishing (for oil)

23 October 2013- The Australian Government expects a record investment of around $580 million over the next three years as a result of Round 2 of its 2012 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release (see also our previous story Hydrocarbonic investments).

Over a six year period the total investment could be up to $730 million, according to a statement released by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

Around $540 million guaranteed investments stem from three proposals that target a new oil and gas exploration area offshore South Australia in the Great Australian Bight (see 'Tough Bight to chew on' in our previous story). The sites of exploration are approximately 200 to 300 kilometres west to south-west of Ceduna. The permits were awarded to Chevron Australia New Venture Pty Ltd (2) and a joint venture of Murphy Australia Oil Pty Ltd and Santos Offshore Pty Ltd (1).

A further two permits are offshore Western Australia and were awarded to a venture of Woodside Energy Limited and Mitsui E&P Australia Pty Ltd, and to Shell Development (Australia) Proprietary Limited.

Seven further areas released did not receive compliant bids, with one further bid still under consideration.

Hot air action

Hot air action

16 October 2013 - The Australian Government released its Terms of Reference for the development of an Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) in the lead up to a Green Paper due in December 2013.

It will be followed by a White Paper in early 2014 for the ERF to take effect from July 2014, concurrent with the repeal of the carbon price legislation.

The ERF will be a major component of the Direct Action Plan initiative that is to replace the current carbon price legislation (A respective draft legislation package was released on 15 October 2013).

...read full story

Oh yes, Minister

ARDR analysis


With a new Government still to find its way, many key science and research programs of its predecessor will be re-evaluated.

This includes initiatives supporting the development of renewable energies.

# of energy patents worldwide
Click image to explore

On 21 November the House of Representatives passed a package of 7 bills with the primary objective to repeal the current carbon price mechanism and the, at the conservative side of politics, unloved Climate Change Authority. The legislation is now to be debated in the Senate.

With its proposed legislative changes, the Government also wants to remove the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and scrap $450 from the $3 billion the previous Government had allocated for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. In addition, a $370 million ARENA was to receive in 2014-15 will be deferred to 2019-20.

The agency will still have a sizable funding of $2.5 billion and, according to a statement released in November, its funding vehicles - the Emerging Renewables Program, the Accelerated Step Change Initiative, the Community and Regional Renewable Energy Program and the Regional Australia's Renewables & Industry Program - will continue accepting proposals.

...read full story

Stemming the challenge

The clinical scope for regenerative medicine is undoubtedly great, with much of the expectations focussed on stem cell therapies.

However, for most applications envisioned for human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), and more recently human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and mesenchymal stem cells, 'potential' may still most accurately describe the state of development.

Here we trace the progression of new stem cell therapies into clinical practice, in Australia and abroad.

In a recent review covering the translation of stem cell discoveries, one of Australia's most distinguished experts in the field, Professor Alan Trounson, writes that there is great momentum in the basic research across the breadth of potential applications.

However, "the spectrum of translational studies is rather limited".

...read full story

Dollars for the scholars

October/November 2013 - Australia's major research funding agencies, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC), have awarded research grants and fellowships worth a total of over $1 billion dollar.

Bucks for drugs

The 2013 funding round of three NHMRC research support schemes and five fellowship schemes will support 963 new projects with $551 million.
Click image to explore the infographic

This year the agency received over 5000 applications for NHMRC Project Grants, NHMRC Partnership Project grants, European Union Collaborative Research Grants and NHMRC fellowships. From this pool of applications only around 19% were selected for funding.

However, as is explored in more detail in the infographic, the success rate of organisations varied significantly.

...read full story

Better safe than sorry

IP Australia has released its Australian Intellectual Property Report 2013, the first report in a new annual series on the state of Australia's Intellectual Property System.

What makes this report an interesting read is that it is not just providing data on trade mark and patent filings. Within the context of an analysis of Australia's IP activity it also delivers a well rounded review of Australia's position as a trading nation.

A central message is that for advanced industrialised economies it is innovation, not production, that drives growth. It is now less important where products are assembled than who owns key resources and new ideas, for which IP is a key. Thus, the iPhone is wholly assembled in China but for just 2% of the overall profit.

Australia's investment in ideas as a percentage of GDP is below that of other developed countries, especially innovation leaders such as the US, Sweden and Switzerland. It has also not yet made the important shift towards so called intangible assets (R&D, design, organisational expertise and branding) which are important facilitators of new product development and productivity improvements.

For example, in the US the intagible stock of capital is equal to 91% of tangible assets, whereas in Australia it is only 4%.

...read full story

... and invented protection

The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) has provided further pieces to the ongoing process of overhauling our patent system.

At the end of August, it released an options paper for its review of the innovation patent system. It follows on from an issues paper released in 2011.

In addition to this review, the ACIP has also started a review of Australia's designs system, for which it released an issues paper in September 2013.

Australia's system for innovation patents primarily targets small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It was established in 2001 as a form of second tier patent protection, which can be obtained relatively quickly and cheaply with a lower inventive threshold than is set out for standard patents.

In fact, the threshold for standard patents has just been further raised through the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012.

The idea behind innovation patents is that SMEs can protect incremental inventions on the way to a marketable product. However, there are concerns that by providing similar protection levels to standard patents the system also opened the door to the unjustified blocking of new technologies, particularly in the information technology industry.

...read full story

Fly like a BERD

6 Sept 2013 - In 2011-12, Australian businesses continued to increase their spending on R&D (BERD).

However, as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spending decreased slightly from 1.28% to 1.24%.

Click image for an interactive infographics

According to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), BERD was $18.3 billion in 2011-12, an increase of 2% from the previous year, of which 96% was also funded by the business sector.

As in previous years, almost all of the funds were spent in the research fields of Engineering (62%) and ICT (30%), mainly undertaking experimental development (62% of BERD) and applied research (32% of BERD). Typical for Australia, only around 1% of BERD was directed towards pure basic research.

Despite the overall increase of BERD, Queensland and Victoria reported a significant downturn in spending - down $180 million and $141 million, respectively. This was offset by large increases in Western Australia (up $320 million and South Australia up $215 million).

...read full story

...with the right performance enhancer

The potential of innovation for improving business performance has been highlighted in a recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Click image for an interactive infographic

The Selected Characteristics of Australian Business, 2011-12 broadly covers data from the agency's 2011-12 Business Characteristics Survey which asked businesses about their performance compared to the previous year, which innovations they undertook during the period and their use of ICT.

Across all relevant indicators, including productivity, respondends indicated markedly better performances when they also engaged in a form of innovation activity (see figure). Thus, innovation-active businesses were more than twice as likely to report an increase in productivity (34%) than businesses that were not innovation-active.

It has to be noted, though, that the results do not discern how innovation-activity relates to performance improvements.

...read full story

Strategic desert

September 2013 - There is expressed discomfort within the R&D community that for the first time since 1931 an Australian Government does not include a Minister dedicated to science and research.

As it stands, the newly appointed Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, will have some responsibility for R&D and innovation, including for the CSIRO.

But the emerging picture suggests that science policy will now be even more fragmented across government portfolios than in the past.

In light of this we revisit a report Australia's Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb released in July.

The report Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach established that while there is considerable public investment in the STEM sciences in Australia, the returns are not optimal and urgently require a more strategic approach.

...read full story

Dear pie sought in the sky

New funding of $26 million over 6 years by the Western Australian Government launches the next phase of the International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).
Night sky at MWA site
image: John Goldsmith

The Government announced its ongoing support in its August budget (see 'It's budget time').

ICRAR was established in 2009 as a joint venture between Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

International in its scope, the research institute was set up to create a collaborative environment for scientists and engineers working with industry on projects related to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

In May 2012, the Australian-New Zealand partnership was tasked to host components of the SKA telescope, in a split arrangement with South Africa.

The project is to operate over a wide range of frequencies, from less than 100 megahertz (MHz) to several gigahertz (GHz). In preparation, the project partners set up 3 major precursor projects, the South African MeerKAT telescope, and in Australia the CSIRO-led SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), launched last year as well as the $51 million Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), constructed by an international consortium of universities.

...read full story
Associate Professor Tim Ward

image: SARDI

Marinating leader

17 August 2013 Associate Professor Tim Ward will lead the 4-year South Australian research program on the Great Australian Bight.

Announced in April (see 'Taking a Bight' for details), the $20 million Great Australian Bight Collaborative Research Science program by the CSIRO, Marine Innovation Southern Australia (MISA) and BPproject will research the Bight's ecosystems, marine resources and socio-economic importance.

More information: www.premier.sa.gov.au

Light play

July 2013 - The Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS) has opened its new $92 million headquarters at the University of Adelaide.
The Braggs in Adelaide, photo: IPAS

'The Braggs' was partly funded through a $29 million grant from the Australian Government and will house scientists working with photonics and soft glass optical fibre.

IPAS follows on from the university's former Centre for Expertise in Photonics, which conducted research into the generation and control of light. Led by Professor Tanya Monro, its successor now pursues a cross-disciplinary approach to improve measurement and sensing technology in a close relationship with industry partners.

The potential applications of IPAS research spread across a broad spectrum of areas, including defence, manufacturing, health and the environment. For example, current projects include a new sensor to detect early-stage gastric cancer, and the development of optical fibres that identify corrosion in military planes. (The IPAS was featured in an IN FOCUS article in our ARDRmagazine 12-09 issue).

More information:: www.adelaide.edu.au/ipas

One direction: Asia

08 July 2013 - A new National Centre for Asia Capability is to address a critical need of corporate Australia for an Asia capable workforce.

Set up as a national program it will combine the expertise of government, business and universities to provide Asia focused training programs, research and the development of regional networks

It is the first of its kind in the world and follows a key recommendation in the 2012 report of the Asialink Taskforce for an Asia Capable Workforce.

The Australian Government announced funding of $36 million towards the project, which will be administrated by the University of Melbourne's Asialink and include the University of New South Wales as a partner organisation.

More information: www.unimelb.edu.au

Hot largesse in the making

31 July 2013 - The construction of the largest solar power station in the southern hemisphere will start from January 2014, after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency(ARENA) reached financial close with AGL Energy Limited (AGL).
A projected image of a 53 megawatt (MW) solar power station at Broken Hill. A second 102MW station will be built at Nyngan.

image: AGL/First Solar

The project to be established across 2 sites in NSW will have a combined capacity of 155 megawatt, 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia.

The total costs of the construction are estimated at $450 million, of which $166.7 million will be from ARENA with a further $64.9 million provided by the NSW Government. The project will also benefit from $40.7 million from the Education Investment Fund which will fund solar power research by project partners, the University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

...read full story

Traceable fortunes

A recent statement by CSIRO suggests the agency is making headway in a development that could considerably boost the potential rewards of gold miners.

In a pilot study CSIRO conducted with Canadian firm Mevex a new gamma-activation analysis (GAA) technology was 2-3 times more accurately detecting gold than the industry's standard chemical 'fire assay'.

We've come a long way...

By scanning mineral samples with high-energy x-rays, the technology was able to detect gold ore below a threshold of 1 gram per tonne of rock. This could facilitate the recovery of otherwise discarded traces of gold present in mineral samples.

Each year, Australia produces gold worth a total of around $10 billion. Yet, according to CSIRO, a gold processing plant typically recovers only between 65%-85% of ore present in mined rock. Just a few percentages of improved yield could amount to hundreds of million of dollars worth of additional mining revenue.

As pointed out by project leader Dr James Tickner, the new technology could also be cheaper and more sustainable. GAA can be set up in an automated process, while chemical analysis involves the sending of samples to a central lab. With GAA there is also no need for the use of heavy metals, such as lead, in the analysis of samples.

CSIRO is now searching for a suitable commercial partner to implement a full-scale facility in Australia, which could be up and running in 2-3 years time.

If successful, GAA may in future also be adapted to the detection of other high-value metals, including silver, lead, zinc, tin, copper and the platinum group metals.

More information: www.csiro.au
SeaSim building at AIMS Cape Ferguson Headquarters

image: AIMS

Cruising onshore

01 August 2013 - The $37 million National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) has opened its doors at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).

Located at Cape Ferguson south of Townsville the facility is close to quality seawater and at a distance to urban population. According to the AIMS, these are ideal local conditions for the $37 million initiative, which is to simulate ocean conditions and the potential impacts of natural events and human activities.

...read full story
Monash University's New Horizons research hub

Horizons to the future

30 July 2013 - Monash University has launched its $175 million New Horizons Centre.

The new research hub at the Clayton Innovation Precinct is co-funded by the Australian Government, Monash and the CSIRO with the objective to advance Australia's manufacturing capabilities and facilitate collaborative research across disciplines and departmental, faculty and intstitutional boundaries.

...read full story

It's one world

25 Jul 2013 - The CSIRO has launched its new Biosecurity Flagship.
The CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria

It will run with an annual budget of $30 million and draw on CSIRO's extensive expertise in biosecurity research. This includes recent developments such as an equine Hendra virus vaccine and the delivery of a a biological control of the silverleaf whitefly, one of the world's most invasive pests.

The Flagship places a strong emphasis on developing a One Health (formerly One Medicine) approach to improve the response to emerging biosecurity threats.

The One Health strategy is a global interdisciplinary initiative that aims to integrate human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science. It emerged from the understanding that human health, animal health and the health of ecosystems are interdependent.

...read full story

XY still the norm

09 July 2013 - The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded 17 Australian Laureate Fellowships.

Worth a total of $47 million, they support national and international scientist working in research fields that range from improved child health, language learning, energy from seabed soils, to studies on bacteria.

The only women in the elite circle of eminent scientists are Professor Glenda Sluga from the University of Sydney, who was awarded the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship, and Professor Tanya Monro from the University of Adelaide, who received the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship.

However, the apparent gender inequality was not based on a lower success rate of female applicants but instead reflects that only 14 of the 112 applicants were women.

...read full story

What do we really want

30-08-2013 - Can we define the progress of our society more comprehensively than just by how we fare economically?

A final project report released by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and VicHealth is a first step to provide a sound scientific basis to answer this question. The report covers a pilot of the Australia’s Progress in the 21st Century (AP21C) project, in which ACOLA and VicHealth collaborated with the Australian National Development Index Limited (ANDI). Further partners in the project were the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

To date, the widely used proxy for the state of a country's progress is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is easily measured and compared. Nevertheless, it becomes increasingly clear that broad economic indicators fall short of capturing the true wellbeing of a society, notwithstanding that they are retrospective rather than forward looking.

...read full story
Click the image to enlarge; Model of a small modular rector by US firm NuScale.

image: NuScale

Fissionary outlook

Australia is blessed with abundant renewable energy, including wind, solar, ocean waves and geothermal.

It is also the world's third largest supplier of uranium for use in electricity generating nuclear power stations. With this large domestic access to fuel source, electricity generation through nuclear power could be an obvious option.

Yet, despite the potential of nuclear power stations to produce electricity largely emissions free, it has not been at the forefront of public debate, and was not an issue raised in the lead up to the election. 

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has recently called for the issue to be put back on the national agenda. The organisation says that Australia has a moral responsibility to debate how its uranium is used and disposed of.


...read full story
Built by Fujitsu, the NCI supercomputer is named after the Japanese god of thunder, lightning and storms - Raijin.

image: Elwinmedia with use of a depiction of Raijin by Tawaraya Sotatsu (17th century)

Super-flops at ANU

31-07-2013 - The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) high performance computing centre has opened at the Australian National University (ANU) with the launch of its $100 million supercomputer Raijin.

Running at 1.2 petaflops (floating point operations per second) when performing at its peak, Raijin is Australia's fastest supercomputer and thus a major addition to the nation's rapidly advancing computing capacity.

...read full story

...for mining and disasters

09-07-2013 -The National Computational Infrastructure supercomputer will be the backbone of a partnership between CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and AuScope developing a national integrated geoscience network.

Visualisation and spatial information storage software as well as 'virtual laboratories' operating in the cloud will support the project, which is to provide better access to Australia's geoscience data.

...read full story

Born to be wild

June 2013 - The Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA) passed into law on 30 April 2013.

It is hoped to mark the beginning of a more sustainable timber industry in the State, after a long protracted struggle between conservationists and forest industry.

Click image to enlarge. Tasmanian forests agreement reserves map

The Royal Ascend of the Act also fullfills a requirement of the2011 Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreementwhich stipulates a cooperation between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments in an effort to transform the State's ailing economy.

Over $200 million of federal financial assistance can now flow into an Economic Diversification Fund and will primarily target projects in the areas Tourism, Dairy, Aquaculture, Horticulture, Forestry and Energy.

...read full story

Patent power to the Crown

26-06-2013-In June, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013 passed the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.

The bill is part of a general overhaul of the Australian patent law the Government has undertaken over recent years. The new changes are based on a recent inquiry about the compulsory licensing of patents by the Productivity Commission (PC).

...read full story

Healthy money going south

The Australian Government has provided $40 million for a new South Australian Centre for Cancer Biology (CCB) facility.
Uni Adelaide Clinical School
Click for a youtube video of the Health & Biomedical Research Precinct, which is shaping to become the largest health and biomedical precinct in the Southern hemisphere.

youtube video published by DPTI South Australia

The 16 research teams of the centre are currently located within SA Pathology but with a recent partnership between the University of South Australia and SA Pathology the centre will now also become a key component of the State's new Health & Biomedical Research Precinct.

The precinct is a major investment in health and biomedical research in the State. Its key infrastructures include a new Royal Adelaide Hospital, funded with $2.1 billion by the State, and the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute , which received federal and state investments of $200 million and $79 million, respectively.

In addition to the CCB funding, the Australian Government is investing a further $60 million in another key project of the precinct, the Integrated Clinical School facility by the University of Adelaide.

More information: www.premier.sa.gov.au

Getting the priorities right

21-06-2013 - The Australian Research Committee has followed up on one of the actions detailed in its National Research Investment Plan released at the end of last year.

In June it announced a set of 15 strategic research priorities, which are to drive investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia. They will supersede the National Research Priorities (NRPs), which have been discontinued.

...read full story

Hydrocarbonic investments

17-06-2013 - Australia's petroleum industry is a major contributor to our national wealth.
Click image to enlarge.
According to the figure by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), Australia's trade balance in petroleum products is negative since 2003-04
According to recent data by IBIS World Australia's oil and gas extraction generated revenue of more than $40 billion in 2012-13.

However, we are net importers of crude oil and refined petroleum products as production is declining while domestic demand, particularly for transport fuel, is increasing.

Since 2003-04, our balance of trade in petroleum products has been negative, as illustrated in a figure by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, and the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics recently reported in its Australian Petroleum Statistics that in 2012-13 the total export value of Australian petroleum products was around $28 billion while the value of imports was around $40 billion.

Some commentators are warning that this could become a problem for our energy security, although this concern was not shared in the Government's 2012 Energy White Paper.

However, there is a general understanding that Australia needs to increase its effort in petroleum exploration. Here we cover recent developments related to this crucial industry.

... "read full story
Australia still making things

Manufactured board

14-06-2013 - The Australian Government has announced the board of the new Manufacturing Precinct.
It is one of ten Industry Innovation Precincts funded under the $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs initiative (read more in It's budget time).
... read full story

Peak-less into the future

April-June 2013 - Early last year the ARDR reviewed the emerging advanced biofuels industry, both on a domestic and global level.
        Among the examples featured were Licella Pty Ltd.'s production of 'drop-in' fuels from wood biomass and residues and Muradel Pty Ltd's algal biofuel technology. In June, Resources Minister Gary Gray unveiled Muradel's first 'green crude' from microalgae, which could be used in the existing petroleum industry or provide fuel for aviation.
        Both companies have recently received $5.4 and $4.4 million, respectively, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency's (ARENA) Advanced Biofuels Investment Readiness Program.
...read full story

Sharing the gap

07-06-2013- ARENA has established a new $60 million SHARE (Supporting High-value Australian Renewable Energy) initiative, which from 1 July will accept industry applications for projects that aim to close the knowledge gap in 3 priority areas. ...read full story

Under one umbrella

The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and CSIRO are joining forces in an agreement that covers a broad range of technologies.

These include horizon scanning and emerging technologies, manufacturing technologies, advanced technologies, advanced materials, intelligent processing, energy storage, autonomous systems, sensors and bio-technology.

Under the alliance Australia's largest publicly funded organisations will also share professional development training programs for staff, undertake staff exchanges and joint community outreach activities and share infrastructure including participation in each other's innovation precincts.


More information: www.csiro.au; see also DSTO's 5 year strategy covered in Facing defensive prospects

It's budget time

May-August-2013 - Over recent months Australian governments have delivered their 2013-14 budgets in an ongoing difficult global financial environment.

We here report on the federal budget as well as on state budgets from the Victorian, Queensland, South and Western Australian Governments.


...read full story
Click image to enlarge - The state of resources and energy projects as of April 2013 and how it may unfold over the next 5 years.

Economic abyss in sight?

Australia's economy is increasingly dependent on its mining industry but how long will the current boom be able to prop up the domestic economy?

Just a few years ago it was believed to be lasting, possibly for decades to come. But the tides have turned with mega projects either cancelled or delayed, such as the $36 billion Browse LNG project (Woodside), the $30 billion Outer Harbour Development at Port Hedland (BHP Billiton) and the $20 billion Olympic Dam Expansion (BHP Billiton).

A report by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) covering the six months to April 2013 shows that the stock of investments in committed resources and energy projects has indeed plateaued, albeit on record levels at about $268 billion.

...read full story

Charged changes

30-05-2013 - The Future Grid Cluster was launched in Sydney to develop an analytical framework for the most cost effective integration of renewable energy sources and technologies into Australia's electricity grid.

Funded with $13 million over 3 years, the project is a research collaboration between the CSIRO and the universities of Sydney, Newcastle, Queensland and New South Wales.

....read full story

Heads firmly in the cloud

29-05-2013 - The cloud is emerging as a major way of delivering a wide range of ICT services such as the external storage of data and the provision of processing power on external web servers.
       Cloud services can be open to the public or are delivered through private clouds that are restricted to a selected group of consumers, while hybrid systems are also common in many organisations. Yet despite the broad spectrum of services and deployment options, cloud services share basic characteristics in that users can:
  • quickly and cheaply scale up or down;
  • share computer resources;
  • access services from multiple devices;
  • access capacity on demand; and
  • easily meter the consumption of services.
       The Australian Government's National Cloud Strategy (NCS), first announced in October last year and released at the end of May, unsurprisingly highlights the synergies between its National Broadband Network and the benefits associated with cloud computing technologies. ...read full story

Can we put it on their table?

25-05-2013 - With the release of Australia's first National Food Plan the Australian Government has provided a potential framework for Australia's agricultural industries for the coming decade.

        The plan delineates the Government's policy position for the future of the sector, and sets out 16 goals to 2025.
        Only months out from a general election, it is uncertain to what extent the plan will be implemented but, together with other recent reports on this issue, it does provide a coherent perspective on the broader context and the mix of challenges and opportunities that face the nation's food producing industries.
        Earlier in May, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) presented a 5 year outlook in its Agricultural Commodities: March Quarter 2013 report that suggests the agricultural sector will need to lift its innovation performance to return to productivity growth levels required to deliver on increasing global demands for food. ...read full story

Regional boost

10--5-2013 - Announced in the federal budget, Charles Sturt University will receive $5.9 million from the Australian Government to build a Food, Soil and Water Research Centre. As part of a new $40 million science precinct, the Port Macquarie campus, the centre will address local as well as global issues.

        It is planned to be developed by 2015, in partnership with the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council, and expected to cost a total of $8 million.
More information :http://minister.innovation.gov.au

Fracklustre advances

16-04-2013 - The Australian Government released a discussion paper that aims to improve how companies monitor greenhouse gases during the exploration and production of coal seam gas.
Click to enlarge
        It is the second round of public consultations on proposals which for the first time address the differences between conventional extraction of gas and CSG.
       These include the use of hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' in CSG production. There is now some evidence that fracking may lead to more emissions than, for example, conventional CSG extraction techniques.
       The proposed amendments to the current rules for fugitive emissions estimates, which are specified by the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Measurement) Determination 2008, are in line with new requirements in the US, which were introduced by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 ...read full story

Partners in health

Over the past months, the NHMRC released several announcements that relate to its NHMRC Partnership for Better Health initiative.

        Established to better translate research into health policy, the initiative has two components - the Partnership Project scheme which supports investigator driven specific projects and the Partnership Centres, which are broader in focus with teams of researchers and decision-makers together addressing multiple objectives.
        The themes of each centre is negotiated by the Knowledge Broker (at present Professor Philip Davies) with co-funding partners.
        According to NHMRC information, there are currently two agreed themes: a Partnership Centre that is to deal with cognitive and related functional decline in older people, and a Partnership Centre addressing perspectives on preventing lifestyle-related chronic health problems.

Centred vision

09-04-2013 - Australia's first Partnership Centre was launched, which over the next 5 years will address the complex problems faced by older people with cognitive decline, including dementia.

The partners in the $25 million centre include the NHMRC and the several NGOs including the Brightwater Care Group (WA), HammondCare (NSW), Helping Hand Aged Care (SA) and Alzheimer's Australia.


        The new centre will bring together consumers, researchers and aged care providers in a research program that will be led by chief investigator Associate Professor Susan Kurrle,and is driven by the needs of the health sector.

Dollars for healing buddies

10-04-2013 - The Australian Government will provide $7.9 million for 11 Partnerships for Better Health - Partnership Projects, which will be jointly funded by the NHMRC and partners including Commonwealth and State agencies, hospitals, medical research institutes, and patient advocacy groups.

This is in accordance with recommendations by the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research - Better Health through Resesearch [McKeon Review"] to imbed research into all facets of the health system, Australian Health Minister Tanya Plibersek remarked in a statement

...read full story

Infectious collaborations

10-04-2013 - The Australian Government has also announced a new medical research partnership with the Government of Singapore to jointly fund the work of five research teams based in both countries.

        The projects will address three of the most infectious diseases in the Asia-Pacific region - tuberculosis, dengue fever and influenza.
       The funding is provided through the NHMRC and Singapore's Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
       Participating Australian research institutions include the University of Melbourne, Monash University, The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, the Macfarlane Burnet Institute for Medical Research and Public Health, the Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory and Melbourne Health.
More information: www.health.gov.au

Healthy system with gaps in translation

05-04-2013 - The Australian Government has released the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research - Better Health through Resesearch.

Chaired by Simon McKeon, the review panel reached the overarching conclusion that Australia's health care system performs well by international standards - only Japan, Spain and Italy achieve higher life expectancy at lower cost.

Nevertheless, there is an insufficient connection between health and medical research (HMR) but calls and health care services delivery.For example, the panel cites a recent CareTrack Australia report according to which around 43% of Australians do not receive appropriate, evidence-based healthcare.

Laying out a 10 year strategy, the panel details 21 recommendations that aim for a better integration of HMR into all aspects of the healthcare system.

Click to enlarge

Major points include that current HMR investment should be optimised and be boosted with additional competitive programs that could be accessed by a broader range of researchers than current programs. Measures to improve research capacity in the health sector include support for initially 100, and over a 10 year period up to 1,000 research grants for health professionals

...read full story

Prolific targets

01-02-2013 - In February, the Australian Government announced 38 grants worth total of $10.6 million for research projects targeting cancer, including the understanding of genetic variants of cancers, improved support for carers, and research into improved treatments.
The grants are provided through Cancer Australia's Priority-driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme, an annual national research grants scheme conducted by Cancer Australia in partnership with the NHMRC...read full story

Facing defensive prospects

12-04-2013 - In April, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) launched a 5 year strategic plan in the face of a changing global security and Defence environment.
The times, they are a'changing
        This includes the increased blurring of state and non-state threats, the military modernisation in the Asia-Pacific region, the global access to commercial off-the-shelf technology and the rapid progression of cyber capabilities and other disruptive technologies.
        These external challenges coincide with a tightening resource environment. Set out as a guide for the organisation's future research, collaborations and business activities, the paper identifies ten key strategic initiatives and related actions comprised in four broader themes ...read full story

...well fed

04-04-2013 - The University of Tasmania has launched the Centre for Food Innovation (CFI) in Launceston.
These good old days ...

image: Australian Defence Force


       The centre was established as a tripartite partnership between the university, the CSIRO and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).
       According the university, it is a 'groundbreaking collaboration' that will link Tasmania to national food research networks and initiate joint research projects.
        The facility will not only promote added-value food production for regional Tasmania but also enhance the food science and technology capabilities of the DSTO Scottsdale facility, which is currently upgraded with $18.7 million from the Australian Government.
        Research driven by the CFI will, for example, aim to extend the shelf life of food using innovative processing and packaging technologies and to develop technologies for new specialised foods that could find dual use in Defence and civilian markets.
       Potential collaborative partners of the CFI include the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, Australian Maritime College logistics, the School of Human Life Sciences and the Sensing Tasmania (Sense-T) network. The centre will also work closely with the Food Precinct as part of a national food network.
More information:http://www.dsto.defence.gov.au

Clean competition

02-04-2013 - A key initiative of the Clean Technologies Supplier Advocate and the Supplier Advocate Program, the Australian Clean Technologies Competition, was launched in early April.

It is the third since the initiative commenced in 2011.

Selected applicants will receive mentoring from some of the country's leading advisors on commercialisation, business modelling, funding solutions and successful techniques for pitch delivery. In addition, finalists will also be assisted in participating in export markets and participate in a Government-led trade mission in Asia.

Entries close on 3 June. For further information visit www.cleantechcomp.com.au.

More information: http://minister.innovation.gov.au

Spacious ambition

09-04-2013 - Australia's first space policy was launched at ANU's Stromlo Observatory in early April.

        From 1 July 2013 there will also be a new Space Coordination Office which, as part of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, will coordinate and showcase Australia's domestic civilian space activities.
Click image to enlarge. NASA has currently more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.

        The Australian Government has increasingly recognised the importance of space research, including through the $40 million over 4 years Australian Space Research Program and the creation of a Science Policy Unit. This renewed interest is also founded in the increasing economic contribution of space capabilities, such as satellites.
       According to the Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Senator Kate Lundy, Satellite imagery alone has added around $3.3 billion to GDP in 2010. And positioning technologies such as GPS added an estimated $1 billion to GDP in 2008, which is likely to increase to between $6 and $12 billion by 2030. NewSat, an Australian satellite communications company just completed a $600 million financing package for its Jabiru 1 satellite. And the NBN project includes an investment of nearly $2 billion in satellites that will provide remote Australia with access to the Internet.
       The Satellite Utilisation Policy now released closely follows the Principles for a National Space Industry Policy, which it now replaces as a statement of Australia's objectives and direction for civilian space activities....read full story

Sinking feelings

20-02-2013 - According to a three-year study recently published by CSIRO scientists and international coworkers in the journal Biogeosciences, the Australian landscape soaked up around one third of the carbon emitted by fossil fuels in Australia over the past 20 years.

        It also established that emissions from exported fossil fuels greatly exceed fossil fuel emissions from within the country. Thus in 2009-2010 Australia exported 2.5 times more carbon in fossil fuels than was emitted from fossil fuels burned within Australia.
       The Australian Terrestrial Carbon Budget project is one of 14 regional and continental studies around the world that are part of a key initiative by the Global Carbon Project, the Regional Carbon Cycle Assessment and Processes (RECCAP)initiative. Through RECCAP the GCP aims to establish the mean carbon balance of large regions of the globe at the scale of continents and large ocean basins, including their component fluxes.
       In their analysis for Australia, the scientists to into account account fossil fuel emissions within Australia and through exported fuel, and also how much land carbon is either lost or gained as the 'breathing' of plants and soil responds to variable climate and rising CO2 concentrations. It also considered effects of fires, erosion and deforestation. The work established that over the past 20 years rising atmospheric CO2 caused a 15% increase in plant production compared to pre-industrial times, whereby the fertilising effect was found to be larger in warmer regions of Australia.
       In the period 1990-2011, the average take-up of carbon plants was 2.2 billion tonnes, significantly more than the average uptake over the past 100 years, which reflects the fertilising effect of atmospheric CO2. But for any individual year the amount was highly variable. In fact, in wet (high-growth) years, the Australian bioshpere absorbed more carbon from the atmosphere than the total of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, while in dry years, nearly the same amount was again released back to the atmosphere.
       Most of the absorbed carbon (56%) was found to be on account of grassy vegetation, dominant in the dry and savannah regions, while woody vegetation accounted for the remainder (44%).
More information:http://www.csiro.au

Taking a Bight

09 April 2013 - The Great Australian Bight, off the central and western portions of the South Australian coastline, will be the target of a unique $20 million science program by BP Development Australia (BP), CSIRO and Marine Innovation Southern Australia (MISA), a consortium of a number of South Australian institutions*.

       Announced in April, the project will be undertaken over four years.
(Click image to enlarge) - Great Australian Bight coastline and the Southern Surveyor image courtesy CSIRO; the map right-top: Wikipedia

       It is one of a few whole-of-ecosystem studies of the marine environment and the potential resources in the Bight, with the broader objective of supporting sustainable development in the region.It will target the following 7 broader themes:
  • Oceanography
  • Pelagic Ecosystem and Environmental Drivers
  • Benthic Biodiversity
  • Ecology of Iconic Species and Apex Predators
  • Petroleum Geology and Geochemistry
  • Socio-economic Analysis
  • Integration and Modelling
       The RV Southern Surveyor set sail in early April for scientists to collect water and seafloor sediments from depths three kilometres below the ocean surface - the deepest set of samples obtained from the Bight to date. They will be studied to reveal the distribution, diversity and ecology of animals, plants and microbes in the deepwater environment of central and eastern GAB.
       The research results will be available to stakeholders interested in the region through publication in science journals, literature and published reports.
*MISA is a collaborative consortium of South Australia's major marine research institutions, including SARDI (South Australian Research and Development Institute), the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the South Australian Museum.
More information:http://www.csiro.au

Disastrous foresight

14-03-2013 - The University of Melbourne, National ICT Australia (NICTA) and IBM Research-Australia are collaborating in the development of a next generation IT platform for improved disaster management - the Australia Disaster Management Platform (ADMP).
       The project will built on existing roadmaps such as the Victorian Emergency Management Reform - Whitepaper, Dec 2012, the project will address the current shortfall in emergency support tools that are inter-operable, which may hamper a more coordinated and effective response to major emergencies.
       The ADMP will process vast amounts of geo-spatial and infrastructure information from multiple data sets to create real-time practical information streams on disaster events. This will allow users to become aware of emergency situations in real-time. The platform will also be used for the development of simulation and optimisation models within available and changing constraints.
More information:www.nicta.com.au

Patently friends

China and Australia are forging closer ties on many levels, including intellectual property.
       In a recent development the Intellectual Property Offices of both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding for continuing cooperation on 25 February 2013.
In this context, the director general of IP Australia, Philip Noonan, highlighted the importance of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act, of which the last provision came into effect on 15 April (... and a bill with further ammendments to the Patent Act was introduced into Parliament at the end of May - see below).
        The key objectives of the Raising the Bar reforms are to raise the quality of patents granted in Australia and to more closely align the inventive step standard required for Australian patents with international standards. In effect, Australia's patentability test is now similar to other large IP Offices, including that of China, and hence it is more straightforward for Australian technology exporters to secure a patent in China
...read full story

Diverse knowledge gap

03-04-2013 - The new Centre for Biodiversity Analysis was launched in Canberra as a partnership between the CSIRO and the Australian National University (ANU).

        According to the centre's director Professor Craig Moritz (ANU), its work will aim to improve our understanding about Australia's biodiversity and help governments and non-governmental organisations to translate policy into action.
(Click image to enlarge) - Australia is one of 17 global biodiversity hotspots which include: Australia, The Congo, Madagascar, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, United States and Venezuela.
map: Australian Government Department of Environment;

image: CSIRO, Marie Davies

       With an estimated 600,000 to 700,000 species Australia is a biodiversity hot spot, one of 17 countries described as being 'megadiverse'. Most of Australia's species are believed to be unique to the region. According to government information this includes 84% of our plant species, 83% of mammals, and 45% of birds. Yet our knowledge of Australia's biodiversity is still limited and work at the new centre will address this. It is also an early example for the developing Canberra Global Research Precinct, a ANU-CSIRO collaboration that will focus on plant and environmental science, and promote the uptake of research outputs by government agencies.
More information: www.csiro.au; Blog about the launch by Professor Professor Ary Hoffmann and Dr John Oakeshott: http://csironewsblog.com

Productive challenges

25-03-2013 - While most sectors in Australia have experienced slowing but still positiv growth of productivity, in the mining sector multifactor productivity declined by around one third in the decade to 2010-11.
       However, a new discussion paper by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) observes that measuring mining productivity poses special challenges.
       Thus a decrease in productivity can also reflect factors such as the depletion of ore deposits, as ore grades or other aspects of resource quality declines as more inputs are needed to produce a marketable product. Similar trends are observed in comparable resource rich countries such as Canada and the US.
(Click image to enlarge) - Labour productivity, capital productivity and MFP growth in mining, Canada, the United States, and Australia, average annual growth rates (%), 1989-1990 to 2006-07

Graph: BREE report: Productivity in the Australian Mining Sector, March 2013

        However, the study found that if adjusted for deposit quality depletion, Australia's mining productivity actually grew at a positive rate over the past decade, although at a slower pace than in the 90s.
       But other factors may weigh in as well such as inefficiencies of vintage capital, output-input lags, the lumpy nature of mining investment, and high commodity prices that place a priority on rates of extraction rather than costs of extraction.
       When adjusted for ore quality and capital lag effects, multifactor productivity grew in each state and sector as a result of both technical efficiency improvements and the scale of operations.
More information:www.bree.gov.au

High-tech down under

11-03-2013 - Ferra Engineering is one example of a successful technology exporting company that developed from the humble beginnings of a small family business, a two-man operation in 1992, that now employs more than 100 people.

        The Brisbane based company specialises in the design, manufacture, assembly and testing of aerospace structures and sub-systems. Its international success was recently underpinned with a $60 million deal with multinational aerospace and defence company Boeing, which the Queensland Government announced in March. Ferra will manufacture the Joint Direct Attack Munitions Systems (JDAM), a US developed guidance kit. According to information obtained from Wikipedia, the JDAM kit converts unguided bombs, or 'dumb bombs' into guided all-weather 'smart' munitions that use the Global Positioning System (GPS) and have a range of up to 15 nautical miles (28 km).
More information: http://statements.qld.gov.au

Radiating gold

March/April 2013 - While the uranium industry is still only at the verge of a recovery after a crash in uranium spot prices and uranium market shares triggered by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, Western Australia got its first uranium mine approved and Queensland is set to recommence development and operation of uranium mining.......read full story

Bit by bit body and mind repair

Ehealth technologies are expected to transform Australia's health care delivery. An example for the potential is a project launched in Victoria at the end of March.
Are you ready for the doctor?
The Regional Cystic Fibrosis e-Health & Telemonitoring Program is a pilot project by Monash University and partners*. Funded by the Victorian Government under the $18 million Broadband Enabled Innovation Program its objective is to remotely monitor patients with cystic fibrosis at home and to reduce their specialist and hospital visits by delivering services online.
       To this end the project will leverage the high-capacity broadband currently rolled out in regional Victoria, the State's Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said at the launch. The new technology will facilitate the exchange of information, including care plans, radiology images and video-consultation, and include an online patient portal.
More information:www.premier.vic.gov.au; * project partners include: Monash Medical Centre, Royal Children's Hospital, Alfred Health, Cystic Fibrosis Victoria, SmartHealth Solutions, Attend Anywhere and Riskman International

Hitting the ground

The Great Artesian Basin is not only Australia's largest groundwater basin, it represents the world's largest and deepest artesian acquifer - a confined acquifer that holds groundwater under positive pressure.
The Great Artesian Basin
image: CSIRO
        In March, the Australian Government released the Great Artesian Basin Water Resource Assessment, which the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia carried out as part of the Sustainable Yield Projects.
        In addition and complementing the Assessment, a four-year Mound Springs project investigated surface and groundwater interactions and mound spring characteristics in the western area of the Great Artesian Basin. The project was funded by the National Water Commission and the South Australian Government and carried out by a number of South Australian project partners*.
        Together, the studies provide details about water availability in the GAB to guide waterpolicy and water resource planning. ....read full story

Money makes the world...

March 2013- Access to venture capital, or the apparent lack of it, is an Achilles heel of Australia's innovation system.

        To ease this particular problem for innovative, and potentially high growth smaller firms, the Government implemented the Innovation Investment Fund (IIF) in 1998. Managed by AusIndustry, it is set up as a co-investment scheme that provides licensed private sector fund managers with capital for investments that must be matched (at an agreed ratio) with capital raised by the fund manager from the private sector.
        Since inception 3 rounds of the IIF established 16 funds and co-invested in successful new companies such as Seek, Bionomics, Pharmaxis and Benthic Geotech.
        However, the scarcity of venture capital remains a major obstacle for innovative SMEs, and hence the Australian Government's recent Plan for Australian Jobs package includes a new $350 million round of the IIF program.
        In March, Industry and Innovation Minister Greg Combet also announced that three recently IIF licensed venture capital funds will invest at least $200 million, with $100 million contributed by the Government, into early stage Australian companies.
        The support through Carnegie Venture Capital Pty Ltd ($40 million), and GBS Venture Partners Pty Ltd and Innovation Capital Associates Pty Ltd ($30 million each) will not only inject equity capital but also assist a whole range of companies with management expertise.
More information: www.environment.gov.au

Arresting protection

22-02-2013 - Scientists from the University of British Columbia have led a major international study that promises to deliver a new and urgently needed class of influenza drugs.
Click image for a detailed depiction
        Published in Science in February, the 15 authors also included 4 scientists from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering.
        The current common influenza drugs Relenza and the more frequently used Tamiflu target neuramidase, an enzyme of the virus that is essential for it to spread in the human body.
        Flu virus particles are formed inside of body cells which they enter after binding to a component of the cell surface, the sugar sialic acid. However, newly formed virus particles can only effectively release from their host cell when this sialic acid is removed from both viral and cell surfaces through the action of the neuraminidase enzyme.
        Both Relenza and Tamiflu prevent this step thus blocking the spread of the virus in the body. However, resistance against the drugs, in particular Tamiflu, are now occurring and there is urgent need for alternatives.
        According to the World Health Organisation, influenza kills approximately 500,000 people each year, with up to 2500 of those deaths occurring in Australia. Costs to the Australian health care system are estimated to be more than $85 million.
        The scientists confirmed a recently proposed mechanism through which neuramindase cleaves sialic acid residues and developed compounds that fix the enzyme action in an intermediate state, thus preventing a further reaction with the host cell's sialic acid.
        Importantly, the drugs targeted a site that is found in all flu strains, and they were effective against strains resistant to Relenza or Tamiflu. Hence the authors believe they constitute attractive new antiviral candidates.
More information: www.csiro.au

How to make a nickel

13-03-2013 - The CSIRO has commenced a $3.5 million pilot plant in Perth to test new technology developed by Sydney-based Direct Nickel through which low grade nickel resource from laterites can be converted into a higher grade resource.
        Nickel is a key component of stainless steel and mostly mined from nickel sulphide deposits as they are cheaper to process. But with deposits depleting and around 70% of world reserves of nickel found in laterites there is an increasing need to mine this resource more cost effectively with little environmental impact.
Click image for a video describing the process.
Image and video: CSIRO
For Australia, this could present major benefits as we have abundant low grade nickel laterite deposits.
        Current processes rely on the use of sulphuric acid at high temperatures and pressures, resulting in expensive treatment and disposal of chemical waste. By contrast, Direct Nickel's technology uses nitric acid, of which over 95% can be recycled and reused. The set up and operating costs are estimated to be less than half those of existing processes, and the technology is more efficient in extracting the nickel from the laterite ores. It is also believed to be the first process capable of treating all laterite ores.
        After positive initial results, CSIRO expects that the technology could be available to industry as early as 2016.
More information: www.csiro.au

Cooperative commitment

16-02-2013 - Providing a total of $70 million, the 15th round of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program will fund the establishment of 3 new centres and the expansion of the current Vision CRC research program.
The new CRC for Cell Therapy
Manufacturing will be led by the
University of South Australia

Responding to the announcement, the CRC Association (CRCA) expressed concern regarding the level of funding, given that $150 million were initially allocated for this round and 7 out of 9 initial applications were selected to interviews. But proposals for CRCs in Biodiversity, Resilient Regions and Prostate Cancer missed out in funding.

However, this may not indicate a cut to the overall level of funding for the program, CRCA chief executive officer Tony Peacock wrote in the association's newsletter. Thus, in the announcement of the funding, the Government reaffirmed that $619 million will be made available over 2012/13 to 2015/16 period

...read full story

When the west waves move

28-02-2013 - Carnegie Wave Energy Limited has formally accepted a $1.27 million grant from the Clean Technology Innovation Program for its $2.5 million trial to power desalination plants with wave energy.

(Click image to enlarge)- CETO Power and Freshwater technology

Carnegie's CETO technology has frequently generated waves among renewable energy enthusiasts. Its Perth Wave Energy Project ('PWEP'), a $31.2 million power station under construction at Garden Island to become the company's first commercial-scale CETO grid-connected wave energy project.

But apart from electricity, the high pressure seawater generated as CETO's fully submerged buoys move with the wave motion, can also be used to produce desalinated water through standard reverse osmosis desalination technology.

This concept is the basis of the CETO desalination pilot which will co-located with the PWEP aims to demonstrate the technology's potential to reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from desalination plants.

More information: http://minister.innovation.gov.au

The show is on

28-02-2013 - The $230 million Science and Technology Centre launched at the Queensland University of Technology's Gardens Point Precinct at the end of February.
The Cube;

image: Queensland University of Technology

       The project commenced in 2008 to bring together expertise in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
        It is funded by the Australian and Queensland Governments ($75 million and $35 million, respectively) and the Atlantic Philanthropies ($25 million) and includes the headquarters of QUT's newest research institute, the Institute for Future Environments (IFE). The IFE houses more than 300 scholars from the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, business, law, education, health and creative industries, whose focus will be on some of the world's most pressing problems with core research areas including:
  • Smart energy use and clean technologies
  • Sustainable use of natural resources
  • Monitor and document the health of our planet
  • Robot design and deployment
  • Production of sustainable foods
  • Information security and resilient infrastructure
  • Application of maths and computers to global problems
        Another major research hub within the centre is the $17 million Central Analytical Research Facility (CARF), which is dedicated to the most advanced electron and light microscopy, analytical chemistry, environmental analysis and molecular genetics.
        But the core feature of the centre is the Cube - a two storey high public space in which the public can engage with dedicated projects such as the Virtual Reef project. One of the world's largest touch and display system, the Cube boasts 190 square metre of high-definition screens including 48 touch panels, which integrate with 14 high-definition projectors to reach a massive 115-megapixel resolution.
More information:www.pm.gov.au

Marine prospects

The Australian Government's Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group (OPSAG) has released a new review of Australia's marine wealth and research infrastructure capabilities.
Click image to enlarge -
The UNCLOS zones and limits that comprise
Australia's marine jurisdiction.

Image: Geoscience Australia

        The report A Marine Nation 2025: Marine Science to support Australia's Blue Economy follows up on OPSAG's 2009 strategic paper that marked a renewed policy interest in our marine endowments (reviewed in Treasure hunt under the sea; ARDR magazine, April 2009 edition).
        Non only has Australia the third largest marine jurisdiction of any nation in the world, covering a total of 13.6 million square kilometres, the environment of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is also extraordinarily complex ranging from tropical to antarctic conditions. There are three oceans that surround Australia, our coastal seas and the continental shelf waters surrounding the continent, and our Antarctica and offshore island territories. In addition, marine environments communicate with estuaries, rivers and catchments and thus interact with our freshwater systems.
        Given our exposure to the seas the state of our ocean environment will affect how we fare with major national challenges facing Australia. According to Marine Nation 2025 these include: sovereignty; national security and natural hazards; energy security; food security; biodiversity and ecosystem conservation; climate change; and resource allocation.
        Yet, as we have detailed in a recent dossier article (Ocean views; ARDR magazine; Sep-Dec 2011 edition), in the past marine science has not ranked high on the nation's agenda, despite the importance of the seas also for our cultural idendity.
        This has somewhat changed in recent years....read full story

Feeding the world

06-03-2013 - The University of Sydney has launched the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food at Camden.
Click infographic to enlarge - Australia's and China's shares in global grain production and trade
        Set up with more than $20 million, the teaching and research facility will focus on a more water efficient and less carbon intensive food production, and also issues around the interaction of agriculture and mining.
       In a broader outlook, an interdisciplinary team of researchers will target the challenge for Australia to benefit from the increased food demand in Asia, as its middle class is projected to grow to 3 billion by 2030.
       As outlined in the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, the development could provide significant opportunities for Australian businesses including those in the food technology and production industries.
       In this Australia has strong common interests with China, as was reflected in the Feeding the Future, report on the Australia-China cooperation to enhance food security released at the end of December 2012.
       The centre has recently entered into an agreement with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science which will result in a Sino-Australia Joint Laboratory for Sustainable Agro-Ecosystems established in Australia with a mirror facility established in China. In addition, the centre will collaborate with Nanjing Agricultural University in setting up a Sino-Australian Laboratory for Food Security at the centre and in Nanjing.
More information: http://sydney.edu.au

Of coal and gas...

In March, Environment Minister Tony Burke was again in the crossfire for intending to increase federal powers in the approval process of CSG and large coal mining developments.

This followed on from the Government's controversial conditional approval of AGL's coal seam methane gas (CSG) project at Gloucester in NSW, announced in February alongside further approvals for two NSW coal mine projects at Maules Creek and at Boggabri (see below).

With the planned amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 a project would require Australian Government assessment and approval of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments if they have a significant impact on a water resource. According to Minister Burke, so far federal approval of projects includes water to the extend there has been an impact on issues such as threatened species or a RAMSAR wetland.

With the amendments, the Australian Environment Minister would have the capacity to take all potential impacts on water into account

...read full story
Click infographic to enlarge - Australia's use of the Internet

Graphs: Elwinmedia based on data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

Fast future

New data on Internet use by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows the ever increasing appetite for downloads.

Meanwhile a new report by the CSIRO predicts a future in broadband connected homes, the ACMA shows the rapid uptake of smartphones and tablets, and Adelaide plans to become a free wireless city...

...read full story
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Australian R&D Review




Dear Reader,


While the ARDR is still in the process of transitioning from its previous magazine-style format to a web-style publication, some content is now available. We hope it is of interest although we don't yet have the scope of our previous ARDR magazine.

Recent stories across all fields of the Australian R&D landscape are displayed on our homepage and in future we will also have pages that cover special areas of R&D.


The stories on our homepage can be read scrolling to the right (on mobile devices use your finger). Alternatively you will find stories and short descriptions in the contentlist (right corner on our homepage).


If you have any feedback, input or questions, please send us an email at info@elwinmedia.com


If you are interested in our previous website and back issues of ARDR magazines, you can find it here.





























































































































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The ARDR expressly disclaims any and all warranties and liability in connection with the information published in the ARDR and your use of such information.

©2008 Elwinmedia
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Fracklustre advances

16-04-2013 - The Australian Government released a discussion paper that aims to improve how companies monitor greenhouse gases during the exploration and production of coal seam gas. It is the second round of public consultations on proposals which for the first time address the differences between conventional extraction of gas and CSG.

These include the use of hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' in CSG production. There is now some evidence that fracking may lead to more emissions than, for example, conventional CSG extraction techniques.

The proposed amendments to the current rules for fugitive emissions estimates, which are specified by the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Measurement) Determination 2008, are in line with US requirements introduced by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 2011.

They would also refine how companies estimate fugitive emissions from CSG wells during a well workover or well completion, in particular where fracking techniques are a component of the extraction process.

The project uses empirical data from Australian CSG wells to establish factors for leakage that underly fugitive emissions and are specific to Australia.

According to Professor Alan Randall, head of Agricultural R&D Resource Economics at the University of Sydney, the proposals would substantially advance the monitoring of emissions from gas-fields, "moving away from back-of-the-envelope methods and toward direct measurement of site-specific emissions".

The paper also includes a report on a collaboration between the Government's Climate Change Department and the CSIRO.

The project uses empirical data from Australian CSG wells to establish factors for leakage that underly fugitive emissions and are specific to Australia.

Submissions closed on 8 May 2013.

More information: www.climatechange.gov.au
















































































































































































































































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Healthy system with gaps in translation

05-04-2013 - The Australian Government has released the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research - Better Health through Resesearch.

Chaired by Simon McKeon, the review panel reached the overarching conclusion that Australia's health care system performs well by international standards - only Japan, Spain and Italy achieve higher life expectancy at lower cost.

Click image to enlarge

Nevertheless, there is an insufficient connection between health and medical research (HMR) but calls and health care services delivery. For example, the panel cites results from the CareTrack Australia project, which is part of a NHMRC program grant according and according to which around 43% of Australians do not receive appropriate, evidence-based healthcare.

Click image to enlarge

The review report presents a 10 year strategy with 21 recommendations that aim for a better integration of HMR into all aspects of the healthcare system. Major points include that current HMR investment should be optimised and be boosted with additional competitive programs that could be accessed by a broader range of researchers than current programs. Measures to improve research capacity in the health sector include support for initially 100, and over a 10 year period up to 1,000 research grants for health professionals.

In 2011-12, Australia's total investment in HMR was around $6 billion, of which $4 billion or 0.09% of GDP was contributed by governments. Although Government expenditure on health is slightly below the OECD average, this is mainly due to the exceptionally high expenditure in the US, which is at 0.31% of GDP almost 3 times the OECD average of 0.11%.

The panel recommends to adopt a 'national health sytem R&D investment target' of 3%-4% of the total government expenditure on health. This would reflect similar targets for general R&D, which in many OECD countries is set at 3% of GDP. The panel also proposes to create a set of national HMR priorities, to which around 10-15% of NHMRC funding for HMR should be allocated for 'top-down strategic research'.

Other key recommendations include to accelerate clinical trial reforms building on the report by the Clinical Trials Action Group, and the establishment of integrated health research centres that bring together hospital and community-care networks, universities and medical research organisations.

In support of investments in HMR, the report points out that according to a 2008 Access Economics report the health benefit obtained for each dollar invested are estimated at $2.17. Benefits associated with health research can, for example, be linked to improved productivity due to the reduced burden of chronic diseases and better workforce wellbeing.

Further points by the panel include the finding from some studies that Australians place an estimated value on each additional year of life of around $432,000. By contrast, the Government's implicit valuation of each 'quality-adjusted life year is just about $42,000. The panel also draws a direct link between HMR life expectancy over the past 100 years and HMR discoveries [hereby is notable, though, that life expectancy rose steadily from 50 years in the late 19th century to around 82 years today without the apparent spikes one might expect with certain HMR discoveries.]

But there are measurable economic returns to HMR investment. Thus it underpinned growth in medicinal and pharmaceutical exports, which in 2009 overtook the motor vehicles industry as Australia's largest manufacturing export category. Most of these exports (40%) now are targeting Asian countries, and it is likely that this market will grow significantly in the future. Australia's biotechnology industry is also maturing, with over 100 companies now listed on the Australian Stock exchange with a combined market capitalisation of $32 billion (31 Dec 2012).

More information: www.health.gov.au
















































































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Prolific targets

01-02-2013 - In February, the Australian Government announced 38 grants worth total of $10.6 million for research projects targeting cancer, including the understanding of genetic variants of cancers, improved support for carers, and research into improved treatments.

The grants are provided through Cancer Australia's Priority- driven Collaborative Cancer Research Scheme, an annual national research grants scheme conducted by Cancer Australia in partnership with the NHMRC. Since inception in 2007, 209 grants totalling $71.8 million have been funded through this scheme. Projects include:

More information: www.health.gov.au
















































































































































































































































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Dollars for healing buddies

The Australian Government has announced $7.9 million for 11 Partnerships for Better Health - Projects, which will be jointly funded by the NHMRC and partners including Commonwealth and State agencies, hospitals, medical research institutes, and patient advocacy groups.

This is in accordance with recommendations by the Strategic Review of Health and Medical Research - Better Health through Resesearch [McKeon Review"] to imbed research into all facets of the health system, Australian Health Minister Tanya Plibersek remarked in a statement.

Major projects include:

More information: www.health.gov.au
































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































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Facing defensive prospects

12-04-2013 - In April, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) launched a 5 year strategic plan in the face of a changing global security and Defence environment.

This includes the increased blurring of state and non-state threats, the military modernisation in the Asia-Pacific region, the global access to commercial off-the-shelf technology and the rapid progression of cyber capabilities and other disruptive technologies.

These external challenges coincide with a tightening resource environment. Set out as a guide for the organisation's future research, collaborations and business activities, the paper identifies ten key strategic initiatives and related actions comprised in four broader themes:

1.Delivery: 2. Shaping: 3. Tomorrow: 4. Organisation
The times, they are a'changing

The strategy also includes a strategic research investment program targeting key areas that will be addressed over the next five years. They include:

More information: www.minister.defence.gov.au
















































































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Spacious ambition

09-04-2013 - Australia's first space policy was launched at ANU's Stromlo Observatory in early April. From 1 July 2013 there will also be a new Space Coordination Office which, as part of the Department of Industry, Innovation, Climate Change, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, will coordinate and showcase Australia's domestic civilian space activities.
Click to enlarge;
NASA currently has more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.

The Australian Government has increasingly recognised the importance of space research, including through the $40 million over 4 years Australian Space Research Program and the creation of a Science Policy Unit. This renewed interest is also founded in the increasing economic contribution of space capabilities, such as satellites.

According to Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Senator Kate Lundy, satellite imagery alone has added around $3.3 billion to GDP in 2010. And positioning technologies such as GPS added an estimated $1 billion to GDP in 2008, which is likely to increase to between $6 and $12 billion by 2030.

NewSat, an Australian satellite communications company just completed a $600 million financing package for its Jabiru 1 satellite. And the NBN project includes an investment of nearly $2 billion in satellites that will provide remote Australia with access to the Internet.

The Satellite Utilisation Policy now released closely follows the Principles for a National Space Industry Policy, which it now replaces as a statement of Australia's objectives and direction for civilian space activities.

The policy's context is an increasingly congested space environment presenting both opportunities and challenges for Australia. Australia heavily relies on information from satellites that are owned by its international partners and the policy's overarching objective is to secure on-going and cost-effective access to these space capabilities.

However, to this end Australia will increasingly have to contribute to international missions, preferably in areas it has niche expertise such as ground infrastructure and the application of space information.

The potential benefits and opportunities for Australia are nevertheless significant, with the increasing integration of space capabilities in Australian industries such as agriculture, mining and telecommunications.

The policy does not commit to space launch activities such as human space flight. Instead its focus is on space applications that have national significance and may contibute to improved productivity, better environmental management, national security, law enforcement and national disaster management, a smarter workforce and equity of information and services.

Key aspects of the policy include:

More information: www.minister.innovation.gov.au
















































































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Radiating gold

March/April 2013 - While the uranium industry is still only at the verge of a recovery after a crash in uranium spot prices and uranium market shares triggered by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011, Western Australia got its first uranium mine approved and Queensland is set to recommence development and operation of uranium mining.

Need for more

11-06-2013 - In a speech at an international mining conference in Darwin Resources Minister Gary Gray said that Australia needed new uranium mines to meet rapidly global demand. He called on business leaders to work together with Parliament to facilitate growth of the industry.

He referred to a relevant House of Representatives' Standing Committee on Industry and Resources, whose recommendations addressed skills, the elevation of uranium mining to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), indigenous engagement, international safeguards and worker safety.

In highlighting important Government initiatives, Mr Gray mentioned the 2006 Uranium Industry Framework, which led to the Uranium Council, which was established to ensure the progressive and sustainable development of uranium exploration, mining, milling, transport logistics and export; establishing nationally consistent best practice standards.

More information:http://minister.ret.gov.au

In April, Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke gave conditional approval for the Wiluna uranium mine project in Western Australia, the first in the state after it lifted a ban on uranium mining in 2008.

According to a Government statement, the conditional approval is based on advice by Geoscience Australia, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, and the Supervising Scientist, as well as public comments.

The $269 million Wiluna Uranium project proposed by Toro Energy Limited would have an estimated lifespan of 14 years during which it is expected to process 1.3 million tonnes of ore each year to produce 780 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate. To put this in perspective, the SA's Olympic Dam mine produced 4500 tonnes of uranium oxide in 2005 ( as well as copper, silver and gold).

The project is located in the state's Mid-West region is based on the two largest of five separate calcrete-hosted uranium deposits√ƒ¬Ę√Ę‚¬¨√Ę€¬ĚCentipede and Lake Way√ƒ¬Ę√Ę‚¬¨√Ę€¬Ěwhich received WA Ministerial environmental approval in October 2012.

In March, the Queensland Government announced an independent committee report with 40 recommendations for a best-practice uranium mining industry in the State amid plans by the Government to lift a ban on mining put in place in 1989. Exploration of uranium deposits still continued and the estimated value of identified uranium deposits in Queensland stands now at $10 billion.

According to Natural Resources and Mines Minister Andrew Cripps, uranium exports could earn billions of dollars and provide hundreds of jobs and economic benefits, particularly in rural and regional communities.

In addition to recommendations that address a safe and environmentally responsible industry process the committee proposes to facilitate the use of existing ports in Darwin and Adelaide, and use existing shipping lanes. It further recommends the application of a 5% royalty regime to uranium, with the possible use of a higher rate once the price of uranium reaches a certain higher threshold. It should also offer a new mine a concessional royalty rate of 2.5% for the first 5 years of a mine√ƒ¬Ę√Ę‚¬¨√Ę„¬Ęs life.

The chairman of the Uranium Mining Implementation Committee Paul Bell said a well-regulated uranium mining industry would pave the way for significant economic activity in regional Queensland.

With its move towards uranium exploration and mining, Queensland joins South Australia, the Northern Territory and recently Western Australia as uranium mining states. New South Wales has lifted a ban on exploration but is yet to decide on whether to recommence uranium extraction, although in January a report in the ABC suggested that this may be on the cards.

The global outlook for uranium demand is still uncertain. For over a year prices have been fairly depressed after Germany and Japan signalled they would phase out their nuclear power. By contrast, other nations are in the process of expanding nuclear power, including China, India, Russia, Ukraine, the US, the UK and South Korea.

According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), 62 reactors will be under construction worldwide in 2013, with another 484 either planned or proposed. Expansion is in Asia on the horizon, with a capacity of 200 gigawatt electricity generated by 2030.

In 2010-11, Australia's share in world uranium production was 11% - the third largest producer of uranium, after Kazakhstan and Canada, which contributed 35.6% and 16.7%, respectively.

The countries using most nuclear energy for electricity production (2518 terrawatt hours globally in 2011) are the US and France, with a share of 31.3% and 16.7%, respectively.

More information: Queensland, Western Australia
















































































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Hitting the ground

The Great Artesian Basin is not only Australia's largest groundwater basin, it represents the world's largest and deepest artesian acquifer - a confined acquifer that holds groundwater under positive pressure.

In March, the Australian Government released the Great Artesian Basin Water Resource Assessment, which the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia carried out as part of the Sustainable Yield Projects.

In addition and complementing the Assessment, a four-year Mound Springs project investigated surface and groundwater interactions and mound spring characteristics in the western area of the Great Artesian Basin. The project was funded by the National Water Commission and the South Australian Government and carried out by a number of South Australian project partners*.

Together, the studies provide details about water availability in the GAB to guide waterpolicy and water resource planning.

The $6.25 million Assessment involved a basin-scale investigation of water resources and the potential impacts of climate change and groundwater development out to 2070.

Stretching over more than 1.7 million square kilometres the Great Artesian Basin is the only reliable source of freshwater through much of inland Australia, covering roughly 1/5 of the nation. There are also major industrial projects depending on this source of water. The Olympic Dam mine in SA is the most outstanding example, reportedly using around 35 million litres each day.

And the potential of coal seam gas (CSG) mining activities potentially depleting or contaminating the groundwater reservoir has raised major concerns across the community.

Yet there remain significant gaps in our knowledge of the functions of the GAB. Only recently studies have overturned a long held view that the GAB is as a single, large, contiguous groundwater flow system in which aquifers are continuous across the extent of the entire basin.

Click image to enlarge - Shown are the geographic extent of the Great Artesian Basin and, in the enlarged image of the basin, its ground surface topography with areas of potential groundwater recharge. This image also shows the four reporting regions of the Assessment. In the right image is shown a three-dimensional illustration of vertical leakage of groundwater via faults and polygonal faulting.
Images: extracted from the report Water resource assessment for the Great Artesian Basin, December 2012

The results of the Assessment confirm the GAB is an extensive and complex groundwater system heavily influenced by geological features including faults, ridges and connections with other geologic basins. These features all interact to influence actual groundwater and flow conditions. The study identified areas where underlying geological basins and overlying shallow groundwater are potentially connected with aquifers of the GAB. The Assessment also demonstrates that groundwater has a greater potential to move vertically across GAB formations than previously thought.

Yet it could take many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years for water to travel from its recharge areas in Queensland to discharge in areas such as the mound springs in South Australia.

More information: www.csiro.au; *South Australian project partners include the South Australian Arid Lands NRM Board, Flinders University, Adelaide University, CSIRO, and the Northern Territory Government and the Allocating Water and Maintaining Springs in the Great Artesian Basin research project (the GAB Mound Springs project).

Tenderly tapping

May 28-05-2013 - The Government has issued a tender for up to 7200 megalitres of unallocated water from its Great Artesian Basin Water Resource Plan.

The targeted area for the water release comprises management areas in the Surat Basin. According to the Government, the released volumes were determined by the Department of Natural Resources and Mines through its water resource planning process, which indicated that these volumes of water could be released while maintaining the environmental values of the Great Artesian Basin and the security of supply to existing water users.

More information: www.dnrm.qld.gov.au
















































































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Cooperative commitment

16-02-2013 - Providing a total of $70 million, the 15th round of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program will fund the establishment of 3 new centres and the expansion of the current Vision CRC research program.

Responding to the announcement, the CRC Association (CRCA) expressed concern regarding the level of funding, given that $150 million were initially allocated for this round and 7 out of 9 initial applications were selected to interviews. But proposals for CRCs in Biodiversity, Resilient Regions and Prostate Cancer missed out in funding.

However, this may not indicate a cut to the overall level of funding for the program, CRCA chief executive officer Tony Peacock wrote in the association's newsletter. Thus, in the announcement of the funding, the Government reaffirmed that $619 million will be made available over 2012/13 to 2015/16 period. The new CRCs include:

In addition, the funding includes $5 million for the development of a world first, intelligent retinal camera by the Vision CRC. Designed to also be used under extreme condition, the camera will allow non-specialised staff in remote locations the accurate and rapid detection of sight-threatening conditions such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

The Government further announced it will also establish a priority public good funding stream within the CRC program.

Image: Bushfire CRC

And subject to an equivalent commitment by State and Territories, it committed up to $47 million over eight years from July 2013 for the existing Bushfire CRC to continue and to develop a complementary natural hazards research program into flood, earthquake, cyclone and tsunami events.

More information: www.pm.gov.au
































































































































































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Marine prospects


The Australian Government's Oceans Policy Science Advisory Group (OPSAG) has released a new review of Australia's marine wealth and research infrastructure capabilities.
Click image to enlarge - The UNCLOS zones and limits that comprise
Australia's marine jurisdiction.

Image: Geoscience Australia

The report A Marine Nation 2025: Marine Science to support Australia's Blue Economy follows up on OPSAG's 2009 strategic paper that marked a renewed policy interest in our marine endowments (reviewed in Treasure hunt under the sea; ARDR magazine, April 2009 edition).

Not only has Australia the third largest marine jurisdiction of any nation in the world, covering a total of 13.6 million square kilometres, the environment of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is also extraordinarily complex ranging from tropical to antarctic conditions. There are three oceans that surround Australia, our coastal seas and the continental shelf waters surrounding the continent, and our Antarctica and offshore island territories. In addition, marine environments communicate with estuaries, rivers and catchments and thus interact with our freshwater systems.

Given our exposure to the seas the state of our ocean environment will affect how we fare with major national challenges facing Australia. According to Marine Nation 2025 these include: sovereignty; national security and natural hazards; energy security; food security; biodiversity and ecosystem conservation; climate change; and resource allocation.

Yet, as we have detailed in a recent dossier article (Ocean views; ARDR magazine; Sep-Dec 2011 edition), in the past marine science has not ranked high on the nation's agenda, despite the importance of the seas also for our cultural idendity.

This has somewhat changed in recent years.



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In 2008, the United Nations confirmed Australia's entitlement to exploit around 2.56 million square kilometres of its 'extended continental shelf', an area beyond 200 nautical miles from our coastline that equals around a third of the land mass of continental Australia. Resources associated with this region are potentially vast, although harnessing them may present significant challenges (including legal obstacles as highlighted by an ARDR opinion by Dr Robin Wagner in 2009). Still, the UN decision helped reset the priorities of Government science policy towards our ocean wealth, also because of the existing gap of knowledge about this frontier.

Mooring news

In April, a key mooring facility at Maria Island, which is part of Australia's integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) and equipped with a suite of environmental sensors, joined an international network to detect increasing ocean acidification.

It is now one of 3 IMOS moorings included in the network.

It was built at CSIRO's Hobart Marine Laboratories, and deployed late last year as the 4th IMOS instrument at the Maria Island site. CSIRO operates the instruments and provides the data generated to the public.

Two other IMOS moorings are located on the western side of South Australia's Kangaroo Island and on the central Great Barrier Reef near Townsville.

The IMOS observations are extended into the Southern Ocean through the French Antarctic supply ship Astrolabe and the Australian ice breaker Aurora Australis, which provide a platform for at-sea monitoring during return voyages from October to March between Hobart and the Antarctic bases they visit.

The surface waters of the Southern Ocean are where some of the most profound shifts in carbonate chemistry will occur by mid-century, potentially influencing the survival of deep-sea coral communities and calcifying pelagic species.

Thus the 2009 Marine and Climate Super Science Initiative provided $387.7 million for major new investments in our marine research and research capabilities including a new marine research vessel to replace the RV Southern Surveyor and a major extension of the Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) network.

CSIRO's mooring at Maria Island

image: CSIRO

At the heart of these efforts, and the main theme of the Marine Nation 2025 document, is the need to strike a balance between national and economic interests associated with our ocean environments while protecting the diverse life forms they harbour.

OPSAG proposes the term 'blue economy' to canvas the sustainable management of Australia's marine industries, which contributed an estimated $42 billion to the economy in 2009. As repeatedly pointed out in the report, this is slightly more than the value of agricultural industries in that year - and it may increase to more than $100 billion by 2025. This assumes further expansion of existing industries as well as emerging opportunities such as renewable energies (including wind and wave).

The estimate includes so called 'ecosystem services', although the value of these are not easily quantifiable in market terms. A recent study by the Centre for Policy Development estimated that their combined value is around $25 billion. This includes services such as regulating carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by ocean absorption, recycling essential nutrients and controlling pests and diseases as well as social and cultural benefits including sport and recreation, and inspiration for art, design and education.

The greatest economic impact, however, is expected to stem from the recent major expansion of hydrocarbon extraction facilities offshore north-western Australia and new developments of gas processing facilities in both north-western Australia and the coast of central Queensland. Demand, particularly for LNG, is expected to grow significantly, with exports predicted to grow from currently 20 million tonnes per year to more than 100 million tonnes by 2035. However, to meet this deman Australia will require further offshore exploration for new gas reserves. Yet, according to OPSAG despite 75% of known hydrocarbon reserves being located in maritim jurisdictions, less than 10% of the area with known reserves is under exploration permit.

Australia's key infrastructure is the research vessel RV Southern Surveyor, a crucial component of Australia's marine science capability, which will be replaced by the RV Investigator (commissioned in 2013/14). However, Australia's second major marine research vessel, the polar supply and research vessel Aurora Australis is operated by the Australian Antarctic Division, while a fleet of smaller vessels are operated by various other institutions.

This is reflecting the lack of integration in the management of the nation's marine science capabilities The RV Southern Surveyor is a crucial marine infrastructure, used for example in the discovery of submarine volcanoes between Fiji and Samoa offering evidence of mineral deposits, for examining climate records from ancient corals and producing a carbon chemistry map of the Great Barrier Reef region.

Meanwhile the 2009 Montara oil and gas leak in the Timor sea off the Western Australian coast is a stark reminder of the potential risks associated with offshore oil and gas mining.

Australian fisheries are a major stakeholder in the marine environment, despite their comparably small economic output - according to Marine Nation 2025, wild catches were worth just $1.4 billion in 2010. But, as OPSAG points out, Australian fisheries have disproportionately large ecological, social and political footprints. They also include the significant recreational fishing and indigenous customary fishing activities, which together are estimated to contribute around $2.5 billion to the economy but are not managed in the same way as the commercial fishing industry.

While fishing will remain important to meet global demand - in 2009 fish provided 16% of global animal protein consumption - according to OPSAG, the bulk of increases in global demand will be met by aquaculture. Over the past decade the value of the Australian production increased by around 40%, from $0.68 billion in 2000 to $0.87 billion in 2010, but further growth will present a critical research challenge and relevant infrastructure, particularly controlled environment seawater environments.

Aurora Australis

image: Australian Antarctic Division

Given the considerable economic interests at stake finding the right balance between exploiting marine resources and protecting the diverse live forms oceans harbor is a major challenge.

In November 2012, the Government proclaimed the world's largest network of marine protected areas (MPAs) covering 2.3 million square kilometres - more than a third of Australian Commonwealth waters. And a final management plan for the marine parks is currently before Parliament, as announced by Environment Minister Tony Burke in March.

However, the ARDR understands that even among conservationists there is some controversy over the effectiveness of the new MPA network. Only a small fraction of the network constitute green 'no-take' zones offering high levels of protection and as Professor Bob Pressey recently pointed out in a commentary in "The Conversation" these are mostly located in areas that make little difference to fishing and mining. Professor Pressey further criticises that the network is minimising the impact of marine protected areas on commercial and industrial interests while minimising the contributions of these areas to protecting marine biodiversity. "The conservation benefits are vanishingly small in proportion to size of the new areas," Professor Pressey writes.

Better understanding of our ocean environment will require investments in marine science and infrastructure. The gathering of adequate data, for example, will be paramount and according to OPSAG, the continuation of Australia's Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS) is crucial as without it our capability to support marine assets would be severely compromised. Yet its funding is only committed until 2013, OPSAG says (The ARDR understands that IMOS funding for 2013-2014 is applied for under the recently established Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme).

Despite increased investments in marine research and infrastructure, currently there is a fragmented approach prevailing. Major marine infrastructure capabilities, such as data infrastructure and marine observing systems, are separately managed by institutions. In order better coordinate the use of capabilites, OPSAG proposes to expand the concept of national facilities (see box).

Also, various national science frameworks and strategies - climate change science, earth system science, Antarctic science, fishing and aquaculture - have marine components instead of having an integrated management.

OPSAG's central proposition is to establish a more unified national approach such as through a formal National Marine Science Steering Committee, which would be tasked with the development of a Decadal Plan for Marine Science. Its obectives would be to:

More information:www.aims.gov.au
















































































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Of coal and gas...

In March, Environment Minister Tony Burke was again in the crossfire for intending to increase federal powers in the approval process of CSG and large coal mining developments.

This followed on from the Government's controversial conditional approval of AGL's coal seam methane gas (CSG) project at Gloucester in NSW, announced in February alongside further approvals for two NSW coal mine projects at Maules Creek and at Boggabri (see below).

With the planned amendments to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 a project would require Australian Government assessment and approval of coal seam gas and large coal mining developments if they have a significant impact on a water resource.

According to Minister Burke, so far federal approval of projects includes water to the extend there has been an impact on issues such as threatened species or a RAMSAR wetland. With the amendments, the Australian Environment Minister would have the capacity to take all potential impacts on water into account.



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In a statement Minister Burke said that in many instances the process would involve data already been collected in the state approval process. But by becoming a matter of national environmental significance it will have the full resources of the Independent Expert Scientific Committee and the analysis that results from it. Projects that are early in the approval process will at all stages be able to incorporate the additional matter of environmental significance.

Critical voices of the proposed legislation include Associate Professor of Environmental Law (ANU) Andrew Macintosh, who told the ABC that industries are right to be concerned as the reasons for creating a centralised authority "just don't hold water". He said that traditionally the states have been the primary regulator for environmental issues and it's only on specific issues that the Commonwealth can and should get involved.

...and rocking the boat...

Earlier, the Government's decision to conditionally approve three controversial resources projects in NSW had been met with strong criticism from environmentalists and affected community groups.

In February, Environment Minister Tony Burke confirmed his decision on the Maules Creek and Boggabri coal mine proposals and the coal seam methane gas (CSG) project in Gloucester after a confidential letter sent by Minister Burke to the NSW Government was leaked to Fairfax Media.

However, he stressed that there were still significant outstanding issues to be worked through. For the Gloucester CSG Project this includes hydrogeological modelling based on further field studies and analyses.

Notwithstanding the concerns for ground water contamination associated with the CSG project, the carbon footprint of the three projects combined could be as large as 47 million tonnes of greenhouse gases a year or around 8% of Australia's total emissions.

There are strict conditions placed on the projects which will also require further work to minimise environmental impacts. However, the NSW Government will be excluded from the process, Minister Burke said referring to the leak.

The Government's conditional go-ahead is based on advice by an Independent Expert Scientific Committee.

AGL welcomed the outcome for its fully owned Gloucester project, despite the 36 additional strict conditions that include measures for the protection of the Giant Barred Frog, Green and Golden Bell Frog and Small Flower Grevillea, as well as for the protection of groundwater.

The project encompasses the entire Gloucester Geological Basin and was approved by the State in 2011 subject to 70 stringent conditions. In its first stage there will be up to 110 gas wells with the gas to be piped to a delivery station in Hexham, NSW.

Whitehaven's Maules Creek Project targets one of Australia's largest coal deposits, containing 362 megatonnes of recoverable reserves. According to Whitehaven, the project could support an open cut mining operation for more than 30 years at a production rate of 10.8 megatonnes of coal per year.

However, the project has been met with fierce opposition from conservationists and local community groups, in parts due to its potential impact on the Leard State Forest (see also an opinion piece by Amanda Kelly in The Conversation).

The Boggabri Coal Mine project is an open cut mine fully owned by Idemitsu Australia Resources Pty Ltd and located in the NSW Gunnedah Basin 17 kilometres north-east of Boggabri. In 2009 it exported around 1.55 million tonnes of coal but could now see the mine increase its production to 7 million tonnes per year until 2053.

However, to comply with the conditions set out by Minister Burke the coal mining projects will have to:

...with wet hopes

Meanwhile the Queensland Government released its CSG Water Management Policy, which aims to encourage industry to use CSG water in a way that protects the environment and maximises its productive use as a valuable resource.

The policy sets out that if a feasible beneficial use of water has been considered, CSG water is to be treated and disposed of in a way that minimises the impact on the environment.

The State Government hopes that by setting clear priorities for CSG water management it encourages industry-led compliance.

















































































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Fast future

New data on Internet use by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) shows the ever increasing appetite for downloads while a new report by the CSIRO predicts a future in broadband connected homes, the ACMA shows the rapid uptake of smartphones and tablets and Adelaide plans to become a free wireless city...
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Data feasting

According to the ABS report Internet Activity, Australia, December 2012, Australians downloaded 34% more data in the December quarter 2012 than in the 3 months to June 2012, and over 60% more data than in the December quarter 2011.
Australian use of the Internet

Graphs: Elwinmedia based on data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics

In line with this, the number of subscribers to Internet services rose throughout 2012 by 5.0% to almost 12.2 million, of which 24% were within the business and government sectors.

While in 2012 data downloads by mobile handset subscribers increased significantly, by 38% in the December quarter compared to the 3 months to June, over 95% of the total data downloaded was through fixed line broadband (see figure).

And the download speeds are becoming faster. Around half of all broadband subscribers - 5.4 million - are now provided with advertised download speeds of between 8 megabits/sec (Mbps). A further 1.6 million are connected to advertised speeds of 24 Mbps and more.

Smart movers

Complementing the ABS data, research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) released in February shows that Australians continue their rapid adoption of smartphone and tablet technology.

Over the 12 months to May 2012 take-up of these devices increased by 104% to 8.67 million units. In the 6 months to May 2012, Australians accessed the Internet around 9.2 million times using a mobile phone and 4.4 million times using a tablet.

The research further revealed that compared to other mobile phone users, smartphone users were:

The authors of the report note that continued rollout of mobile network upgrades, growth in 4G coverage and the increased use of WiFi hotspots are key drivers for the increase in smartphone ownership. In the June 2012 quarter, over 2 million Australians used a WiFi hotspot, 32% more than in the previous year.

Virtually leading nation

South Australia's Adelaide is ready to benefit from the increasing demand for mobile access to the Internet. According to a plan launched in November 2012, the Adelaide City Wireless Broadband project could see the SA capital become the first in Australia to offer free Wi-Fi across the city centre by the end of 2013.

Broadly at home

A recent report by the CSIRO details how the next generation of broadband services, the rapid uptake of devices such as smartphones and tablets and the concurrent development of dedicated applications and services is set to transform our homes.

A broadband-connected home

image: CSIRO (extracted from the CSIRO report)

Broadband Connected Homes shows that scenarios in which almost all facets of domestic life are controlled through a system of interconnected digital devices are about to become reality. Its central theme is to highlight the importance and potential of new generation broadband to realise this envisioned future.

The report predicts that new services will emerge in areas such as energy management, home telecare and telehealth, teleworking and video delivery. But the connected home future will also include many services that are currently delivered through traditional media.

For this to be possible, the connected home must evolve to become a platform through which devices and applications from multiple vendors work together. This may require that open standards are identified and supported. In addition, because of the large amount of data shared, privacy and security will need to be addressed.

In this context, the report highlights some of the common misconception about the current use of broadband in Australia.

Based on ABS data there is a great variability in broadband connections. More than 80% of Australians are connected to the Internet, and of those over 90% (or around 75% of all Australians) are connected to at least basic broadband (see above). However, this refers to all data services providing more than 256 kilobit per second (kbit/s) download speed. By comparison, next generation broadband is understood to deliver at least 10 megabit per second (Mbit/s). It is also important to note that unlike with fibre optic connections, with first generation connections the advertised download speed is usually affected by factors such as distance from the exchange, the quality of copper in the case of ADSL services using the standard telephone line, or signal strength and quality in the case of wireless services.

The tremendous increase in mobile and fixed wireless services and the concurrent steep decline in dial-up connections has led to the common believe that downloads using wireless services are equally increasing. However, this is not the case (see the above infographic). Comparing the 3 months periods to December 2010 and 2011 reveals that while downloads over fixed-line broadband increased by 84.5%, wireless data download increased only 36.5%. Moreover, wireless data downloads accounted for only around 6.7% of total data download in the period to 2011.

In essence, while smartphone adoption contributes to broadband connection rates, this is only complementary to fixed line services, which do the heavy lifting. For this ubiquity of connectivity is most important.

The report makes here a strong case for the rollout of the National Broadband Network, as service providers can rely on that most of residents in Australia can access high quality broadband services with known characteristics and do not need to invest themselves in network infrastructure.

If the current rollout continued after next election, 93% of premises would be serviced with fibre based connections, at launch supporting up to 100 Mbit/s data download speeds and 40 Mbit/s data upload speeds. Fibre also provides an easy upgrade path for upgrades to provide higher speeds in future.

Around 4% of premises would be serviced with a fixed wireless (4G/LTE) solution providing 12 Mbit/s download and 1 Mbit/s upload speeds. Further 3% of premises would be serviced with satellites. While also delivering speeds of around 12 Mbit/s (1 Mbit/s), satellite services are limited by greater latency which could particularly affect voice, video and interactive gaming.

















































































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Patently friends

China and Australia are forging closer ties on many levels, including intellectual property. In a recent development the Intellectual Property Offices of both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding for continuing cooperation on 25 February 2013.

In this context, the director general of IP Australia, Philip Noonan, highlighted the importance of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act, of which the last provision came into effect on 15 April (... and a bill with further ammendments to the Patent Act was introduced into Parliament at the end of May - see below).

The key objectives of these reforms are to raise the quality of patents granted in Australia and to more closely align the inventive step standard required for Australian patents with international standards. In effect, Australia's patentability test is now similar to other large IP Offices, including that of China, and hence it is more straightforward for Australian technology exporters to secure a patent in China.


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Patent and trademark attorney firm Watermark remarked in an article published on their website that this could reduce overall costs as the patent grant process may be facilitated in one country as a result of the grant of a patent in the other country. In the lead-up to the MOU, discussions between the two countries also concerned WIPO-CASE, an online patent work sharing program created by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) and a group of IP offices from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the so called Vancouver group.

According to Watermark, the Vancouver group, whose members share a similar size and development and have a similar legal heritage, aims to reduce unnecessary duplication of work, and to contribute to a more effective approach to work sharing. Together with WIPO, the group developed the WIPO-CASE pilot system to facilitate easier exchange of patent search and examination results. Thus the Centralized Access to Search and Examination system (CASE) provides a digital library of search and examination reports that can be shared by participating IP Offices.

Another avenue of cooperation could be the cloud patent examination solution (CPES), which is proposed by the Chinese IP Office to simplify procedures for patent applicants and improving the efficiency of the offices when dealing with the same patent application.

More information: www.ipaustralia.gov.au

...as the brother is getting bigger

30-05-2013 - The Australian Government has introduced the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013 into Parliament that clarifies its capacity to access patented inventions that deliver critical public services.

The move is in response to a Productivity Commission's Report on Compulsory Licensing of Patents which found there was uncertainty around the scope of current Crown use provisions, particularly in the context of healthcare.

While critical issues related to the use of patents, notably gene patents, is playing out in the courts, the bill is clarifying that in exceptional circumstances the Australian Government has the power to protect patients' access to healthcare services.

To this end, the Government plans further measures that include:

More specifically the bill includes the following key elements:
More information: http://minister.innovation.gov.au
































































































































































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Can we put it on their table?


25-05-2013 - With the release of Australia's first National Food Plan the Australian Government has provided a potential framework for Australia's agricultural industries for the coming decade.
Click image to enlarge - Agricultural production and yields vary widely across Australia, reflecting the different geographical and climatic conditions; map sourced from Feeding the Future report, released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in December 2012.

The plan delineates the Government's policy position for the future of the sector, and sets out 16 goals to 2025.

Only months out from a general election, it is uncertain to what extent the plan will be implemented but, together with other recent reports on this issue, it does provide a coherent perspective on the broader context and the mix of challenges and opportunities that face the nation's food producing industries.

Earlier in May, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) presented a 5 year outlook in its Agricultural Commodities: March Quarter 2013 report that suggests the agricultural sector will need to lift its innovation performance to return to productivity growth levels required to deliver on increasing global demands for food.

While expected climatic changes, population growth, changing economic conditions and increasing competition for resources are concerns, Australia is also part of a rapidly developing region with unprecedented opportunities, as highlighted by the Government's 2012 Australia in the Asian Century White Paper.

According to the National Food Plan, the global middle class is expected to grow from 1.8 billion in 2010 to 3.2 billion in 2020 and 4.9 billion in 2030, with 85% of this growth occurring in Asia. This will be an important driver of increased food imports, especially in China where demand is expected to outpace local food production. In addition, it will also shape the mix of food imports towards more meat and processed produce and thus present important opportunities for Australia's exporters of higher value food products.

06-06-2013 - The Food Industry Innovation Precinct is one of up to 10 new Industry Innovation Precincts that will be funded with a total of $504.5 million under the $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs initiative (read more in 'It's budget time').

An offer by La Trobe University and RMIT to host the precinct for an interim period of 12 months was accepted by the new precinct board announced in May (below). The industry-led initiative will initially be established at La Trobe's R&D Park Bundoora campus, which has other food-related infrastructure such as pilot plant and food preparation and tasting laboratories. The campus is also close to food industry partners in sectors such as dairy, confectionary, meat and cereal.

As announced in May, Chair of the Food Industry Precinct will be Peter Schutz who will be joined on the board by:

  • Dr Geoffrey Annison, Australian Food and Grocery Council;
  • Dave Ashcroft, Petuna Aquaculture
  • Catherine Barnett, FoodSA
  • Associate Prof Kim Bryceson, University of Queensland
  • Charlie Donnelly, National Union of Workers;
  • Margaret Haseltine, Agri-Food Skills Australia
  • Dr Hermione Parsons, Victoria University
  • Dr Christine Pitt, Meat and Livestock Australia;
  • Dr Alastair Robertson, CSIRO; and
  • Simon Talbot, Kraft Australia and NZ.

The Food Precinct will work in conjunction with the $236 million Industrial Transformation Research Program (ITRP), another key part of the Industry Innovation Precincts initiative.

More information: www.maff.gov.au

The value of food consumed worldwide is projected to be 75% higher in 2050 than in 2007, an annual average increase of 1.3%. Demand will especially increase for beef, wheat, dairy products, sheep meat and sugar, and this is projected to lift the value of Australia's agrifood exports by 142% between 2007 and 2050.

China alone will account for around 43% of this increase, and the country's growing importance for Australia's food sector is triggering initiatives such as the joint Australia-China study Feeding the Future, which was released in 2012.

Another major expanding market for food products is India, which will account for 13% of the projected increase in global consumption, with rising demands primarily for wheat and dairy products.

The Government plans to invest $28.5 million in a new Asian Market Strategic Research Fund to help Australian food producers in their response to these significant export opportunities that emerge in the Asian region.

You want it, we move it

The National Food Plan includes a new $28.5 million Asian Food Markets Research Fund, which will provide grants for R&D projects that, for example, commercialise new products suitable for Asian markets, develop new ways to process, package and export products for Asian markets, conduct market research, or undertake research to overcome market hurdles, such as quarantine constraints.

The Fund will also support the completion of two key studies: The $2.2 million What Asia Wants study will assess the long term food demand prospects across individual Asian countries so Australian food producers can plan for new opportunities. The study is complemented by the Moving Food: Infrastructure needs for the future study.

More information:www.maff.gov.au

There will also likely be growth in the domestic demand for food of around 3% per year.

Australia exports over half of its agricultural produce, which is enough to feed around 60 million people. In 2011-12, food products earned Australia $30.5 billion, accounting for 11.5% of the nation's total merchandise trade. While Australia did import food worth $11.3 billion, it still leaves a sizable food trade surplus of $19.2 billion, which places us among the top ten food exporting countries in the world.

Nevertheless, our global share in total food production is relatively small. By 2050 we are projected to contribute only about 3% of world food exports. Hence we will not be able to feed the world. But as the National Food Plan highlights, Australia is well positioned to contribute significantly not only with food but also by providing important expertise in agricultural technology to developing countries.

In 2011-12, the Australian sector's primary production generated earnings of $42.6 billion. Almost 90% of the fresh food consumed in Australia is produced here. The majority of consumed processed food is also from local sources, and earned the food and beverage manufacturing industry $91.2 billion.

The Australian food sector, which employs around 15% of Australia's workforce, consists mostly of SME's, a potential concern in so far as these often lack the scale, experience and skills to invest in long-term innovation.

There are major challenges ahead, including slow productivity growth. Between the late 1970s and the 1990s, Australia's agricultural productivity grew by 2% per year but growth has since slowed significantly, in part due to the widespread drought conditions during the last decade.

Hence, a central goal detailed in the plan is to reverse this trend and lift Australia's agricultural productivity by 30% over the next decade. Innovation in the sector will be crucial, such as through the now 46 Collaborative Research Centres which since 1991 have undertaken food industry related research programs.

Other measures include:

The sustainability of food production is another major objective of the plan, with proposed investments including:

As part of the push for increasing productivity, the plan also includes to promote biotechnological advances, including genetically modified food, and nanotechnology as avenues to overcome adverse challenges. It includes the development a national strategy for biotechnology in agriculture.

More information: www.maff.gov.au

Australian foody in demand

05-03-2013 - While growth in agricultural productivity has slowed, according to projections by ABARES the sector will achieve $39 billion in exports and $51 billion in production in 2012-2013.

However, ABARES' five year outlook to 2017-18 anticipates a fall in the average value of farming, fishing and forestry production to around $50 billion in real terms. Exports are also projected to ease to $37 billion.

Australia's agricultural sector achieved an average total factor productivity growth of 1% per year between 1977-78 and 2010-11, more than most other industries, but growth declined in the decade to 2010-11. This was the result of declining output growth, although input also declined significantly over the period.
Graph: "Agricultural commodities, March quarter 2013; ABARES

Over the medium term the value of farm production may fall in real terms to around $45 billion by 2017-18, which is 4% lower than in 2012-13.

ABARES Agricultural Commodities: March Quarter 2013 report shows that productivity in the broadacre industries increased on average by 1% per year between 1977-78 and 2010-11. This was on the back of an overall decline in the use of resources and increased poduction intensity in most industries. However, primarily through the impacts of the recent drought but also because of reduced public expenditure in agricultural R&D, productivity growth has slowed over the past decade.

According to ABARES' executive officer Paul Morris, greater focus on innovation and being more targeted in meeting consumer demands in Asia will be essential to take advantage of future opportunities. This would require greater industry investments in R&D and innovation, while governments need to carefully balance competing priorities.

In a speech at ABARES' 43rd Outlook Conference he said that amid scarce resources and global competition, the trade-off between economic development, the environment and community expectations has probably never been quite as stark as it is at present. "The way that industry and policy makers respond will be central to the future of agriculture, fisheries and forestry in this country," he said.

While the world's demand for food will increase, there is also more competition on the horizon, including from countries in the Asian region. ABARES economist Jammie Penm expects that food production in Asia will increase significantly over the next decades as countries have greater potential to increase their agricultural productivity.


More information: www.daff.gov.au/abares










































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Economic abyss in sight?


Australia's economy is increasingly dependent on its mining industry but how long will the current boom be able to prop up the domestic economy?

Just a few years ago it was believed to be lasting, possibly for decades to come. But the tides have turned with mega projects either cancelled or delayed, such as the $36 billion Browse LNG project (Woodside), the $30 billion Outer Harbour Development at Port Hedland (BHP Billiton) and the $20 billion Olympic Dam Expansion (BHP Billiton).

A report by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) covering the six months to April 2013 shows that the stock of investments in committed resources and energy projects has indeed plateaued, albeit on record levels at about $268 billion.


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While the investment level remained unchanged since October 2012, the number of projects accounting for this investment dropped by 14 projects to 73 projects at the Committed Stage. This loss of investment was largely offset by cost increases in 5 mega projects that occurred after a final investment decision (FID) was made.

Energetic outlook

Australia produces a diverse mix of energy products, reviewed in detail in BREE's Energy in Australia 2013 report released in June.

In terms of energy content, in 2010-11 Australia's production was to 59% made up of coal, with uranium and natural gas contributing a further 20% and 13%, respectively.

The remainder was crude oil and LPG, together accounting for 6%, while renewables were just 2% of the total energy produced. However, this share is expected to rapidly increase over the next decades.

The energy industry contributed almost $80 billion, or 6%, to the total Australian economy in 2010-11, with coal mining and the extraction of oil and gas alone each adding $27 billion or 4%. Another $22.5 billion or 1.7% came from the electricity supply industry.

...read full story

These mega projects, each worth more than $5 billion, together account for some 80% of all investment in Committed Stage* projects. Indeed, few mega-projects dominate investments in resources and energy projects. The 13 mega projects that were approved in the period 2003 to 2012 account for 59%, or $232 billion, of the cumulative investments in Committed Stage projects over this period. Yet 48 large projects (valued at over $1 billion but less than $5 billion) approved in the same period account for 24%, or $93 billion of the total, while the remaining 332 projects with values under $1 billion account for just 17%.

LNG projects are the current drivers of investment with 18 LNG projects at Committed Stage together contributing $189 billion of the $268 billion total investment. However, LNG projects are also prone to cost blow outs post-FID. Thus 4 out of the 6 LNG onshore projects face cost increases totalling $20 billion, which includes the Gorgon LNG and Australia Pacific LNG ($9 billion and $1.7 billion, respectively).

Click image to enlarge - The state of resources and energy projects as of April 2013 and how it may unfold over the next 5 years.

Floating Liquefied Natural Gas (FLNG) may present an alternative to increase the profitability of LNG projects, and is now also discussed as an alternative to Woodside's cancelled Browse LNG Development at James Price Point. Instead of the need to process the gas onshore to LNG, the extraction process is completed entirely offshore, with the LNG plant anchored directly above the gas field. After extraction, the natural gas is processed on-board before being cooled to liquid form and stored until an LNG ship offloads the cargo.

The world's first project of this kind is Shell's $12 billion Prelude Development in the Browse basin, around 200 kilometres off the north-west coast of WA. And at the end of April, Woodside announced an agreement with Shell that could provide a framework for a Browse FLNG joint venture.

There are still projects worth $232 billion at the Feasibility Stage* and projects worth over $120 billion at the Publicly Announced Stage*, although it is unclear how many of these will progress to the Committed Stage*.

BREE estimates that over the past twelve months around $150 billion of projects were either delayed, cancelled or re-assessed. A likely scenario for the next 5 years is that the level of committed investment will moderately decline to $256 billion by the end of 2013 and then further decrease to around $70 billion by 2017. This would represent a major drop in investment levels but the BREE report emphasises that there are still major opportunities that could reverse this outlook. Thus if all the projects that were assessed as 'possible' do indeed progress to the Committed Stage within the next 5 years, investments could increase to around $310 billion in 2014 before declining to around $195 billion in 2017.

An important indicator of future mining activity is the level of expenditure in exploration, and here a currently less optimistic outlook for commodities is reflected in a decrease in expenditure during the last two quarters of 2012. In the December quarter of 2012, $264 million was spent on exploring so called greenfield sites(entirely new sites of resource potential). This represents a decrease of 16% compared with the September quarter, and a 27% decline compared with the June quarter, although the total expenditure in 2012 ($1.2 billion) was the same as for 2011.

Click image to enlarge - Exploration expenditure over the past 5 years

A similar picture emerges for brownfield explorations, which target sites that are close to already known deposits. The $561 million spent in the 2012 December quarter were 8% less than in the September quarter and 21% less than in the June quarter 2012, yet total exploration expenditure targeting brownfields ($2.5 billion) was unchanged from 2011.

*Publicly Announced Stage projects are either at a very early stage of planning, have paused in progressing their feasibility studies or have an unclear development path; Feasibility Stage projects have completed an initial feasibility study and the results support further development; Committed Stage projects have completed commercial, engineering and environmental studies, received all required regulatory approvals and finalised the financing for the project.




























































































































































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Charged changes


30-05-2013 - The Future Grid Cluster was launched in Sydney to develop an analytical framework for the most cost effective integration of renewable energy sources and technologies into Australia's electricity grid.

Funded with $13 million over 3 years, the project is a research collaboration between the CSIRO and the universities of Sydney, Newcastle, Queensland and New South Wales.

Australia's electricity grid currently generates electricity using to 92% coal and gas, and this presents a significant challenge. It is estimated that over the next decades investments of around $240 billion will be needed to transform the sector into a less emissions intensive industry.

This would include that by the mid of this century renewable energies contribute around 50% to electricity production, and that the remaining coal and gas power stations are fitted with carbon capture and storage technologies to reduce their emissions.

The Cluster's research is split into 4 major areas to address these challenges:

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More information: www.csiro.au












































































































































































































































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Heads firmly in the cloud


29-05-2013 - The cloud is emerging as a major way of delivering a wide range of ICT services such as the external storage of data and the provision of processing power on external web servers.

Cloud services can be open to the public or are delivered through private clouds that are restricted to a selected group of consumers, while hybrid systems are also common in many organisations. Yet despite the broad spectrum of services and deployment options, cloud services share basic characteristics in that users can:

The Australian Government's National Cloud Strategy (NCS), which was first announced in October last year and released at the end of May, unsurprisingly highlights the synergies between its National Broadband Network and the benefits associated with cloud computing technologies.

The push for the NBN as well as for a rapid uptake of cloud computing technology across the government and business centres reflects the importance the Government generally places on ICT. According to the NCS, it is "a major driver of innovation and productivity improvement in all facets of society". And the cloud, it states, may become a potentially 'disruptive' and 'transformative' innovation, similar to the widespread use of electricity.

As a number of studies have highlighted, a wide adoption of cloud technologies could benefit economic growth - a KPMG study suggests it could increase annual GDP by $3.3 billion by 2020 - and also help reduce carbon emissions since with the centralised cloud infrastructure ICT operations of firms require less energy.

The NCS lists a number of consumer benefits associated with cloud computing. Foremost it could bring down costs that particularly for SMEs and not-for-profit organisations can be prohibitive in developing online capacity. By using cloud services, consumers can avoid having to buy and operate expensive hardware. Immediate cost savings by shifting basic services such as email and data storage is claimed to range between 30% and 50%.

Other benefits may include:

The NCS cites a 2012 study commissioned by the European Union, according to which over 80% of enterprises surveyed had reduced their ICT costs through cloud services. In addition, the firms reported productivity increases (40%) and improved business processes (35%).

However, a major obstacle to a more rapid uptake is that users who could benefit the most are not aware of it.

Research by Optus suggests that only around 8% of SMEs understand what cloud computing is, and 60% are unaware of the technologies, while 4% do use it. While a more recent survey by MYOB in 2012 found that around 20% of SMES were using cloud computing, it still points to a slow uptake.

There are a number of programs in place which could help facilitate better knowledge about benefits but also the risks associated with cloud services (see box).

Among businesses, data privacy and security are important issues and a MYOB survey found that for 16% of SMEs concerns about data ownership inhibit their uptake of cloud services.

Yet according to the NCS, the risks with cloud services are not inherently more or less than traditional ICT, but the relative risks are different. The Government's own research lists among them:

As the industry is still emerging, the government's position is that sector-specific regulation is currently not warranted, while self-regulation could indeed be an opportunity for key players to set themselves apart.

The Government sees a role for itself in providing better information through a suite of online tools and resources, for example through its digitalbusiness.gov.au website and other online information portals.

Other actions include:

The NCS also makes the case that Government leadership in procuring cloud services could help overcome some of the concerns within the private community, including through the setting of appropriate standards.

Yet many agencies have also been slow in adopting the technology, again primarily due to security concerns. The Australian Government's Information Management Office (AGIMO) published in 2011 a Cloud Computing Strategic Directions Paper, and in 2012 a list of selected cloud service providers (the Data-centre-as-a-Service-Multi Use List) to assist agencies in procuring cloud services. The Government is currently reviewing the directions paper, and is committed to accelerating the broader uptake of cloud services by its agencies, for example through cloud service trials, the results of which it intends to publish.

With the implementation of the NCS, agencies would at least have to consider cloud services in new ICT procurements. In addition, the Government intends to promote cloud services to NGOs that receive public funding, and explores the feasibility of a whole-of-government cloud.

Another avenue supporting the emerging cloud computing market is through R&D. However, the NCS does not detail any specific measures or investments beyond those currently in place, including through NICTA, the CSIRO, the university sector and collaborative mechanisms such as the CRC program. Any additional investment needs will be assessed as part of the National Research Investment Plan.

While the NCS makes a strong case for cloud computing, according to an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald, the reactions from the sector were mixed. Thus the apparent failure to mandate a cloud-first approach in its national cloud computing strategy attracted some criticism, although others welcomed the strategy.


Queensland's clouded priority


30-05-2013 - The Queensland Government has opted for a 'cloud-first' approach in the procurement of ICT services. The announcement at the end of May followed on from a successful cloud trial of email service within the Government's Chief Information Office.

According to the announcement, an Invitation to Offer (ITO) cloud-based services to the State Government will be released at the end of September.


More information:http://statements.qld.gov.au
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Energetic outlook


Australia's diverse mix of energy products was reviewed in detail in BREE's Energy in Australia 2013 report released in June.

In terms of energy content, Australia's 2010-11 production was to 59% made up of coal, with uranium and natural gas contributing a further 20% and 13%, respectively.

The remainder was crude oil and LPG, together accounting for 6%, while renewables were just 2% of the total energy produced. However, this share is expected to rapidly increase over the next decades.

The energy industry contributed almost $80 billion, or 6%, to the total Australian economy, with coal mining and the extraction of oil and gas alone each adding $27 billion or 4%. Another $22.5 billion or 1.7% came from the electricity supply industry.


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Coal has a special position in Australia's energy mix. Thermal and metallurgical coal are major export commodities, with combined earnings of around $48 billion in 2011-12.

We share 6% of the world's coal production, of which 87% is exported, representing 27% of the world's trade with coal.

Around 97% of the exported coal is from Queensland (most metallurgical coal) and New South Wales (most thermal coal).

Both metallurgical coal and thermal coal have seen sharp increases in export value. Between 2007-08 and 2011-12, the value of exported metallurgical coal rose from around $12 billion to more than $21 billion, and thermal coal from around $9 billion to more than $17 billion.

BREE projects that over the medium term coal production will further increase as a result of new investment in mining and also infrastructure capacity, which in the past has constrained exports. As of October 2012, there were 17 committed coal mining projects, with a further 63 at the feasibility stage.

With 2.7% of the world's total energy production we are the ninth largest energy producer in the world and sustain a growing export industry, earning the nation $70 billion in 2010-11.

After taking into account its energy imports, such as petroleum products, 63% of Australia's net energy was exported in that year.

Primarily driven by increased global demand, Australia's production increased on average 9% each year over the past decade. Much of this growth was driven by global demand and the value of our energy exports has increased by some 7% each year (2011-12 Dollars) since the early 90s, and 10% between 2010-11 and 2011-12 on the back of more exported coal and LNG.

We are net importers of crude oil and refined petroleum products, yet crude oil is at the same time one of our most valuable resources and energy exports, ranking 6th after iron ore, metallurgical and thermal coal and gold.

Gas accounts for 25% of Australia's total energy consumption, while half of its total production is exported. In 2011-12, Australia earned $12 billion from liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports.

Two thirds of our gas is from Western Australia, and there most is recovered from the Carnarvon Basin.

Australia's longest producing gas source is the Victorian Gippsland Basin, accounting for around 12% of production in 2011-12. A further 8% is sourced offshore in the Victorian Otway and Bass basins.

Production of coal seam gas (CSG) now accounts for 12% of national gas production, and this is set to increase with 3 major CSG to LNG projects due for completion by the middle of the decade.

Major gas projects under construction or committed include conventional gas projects:

  • Pluto (4.3 million tonnes per year (mtpa));
  • Gorgon (15.6 mtpa);
  • Wheatstone (8.9 mtpa);
  • Ichthys (8.4 mtpa); and
  • Prelude (3.6 mtpa)
  • .

The 3 unconventional CSG to LNG projects are:

  • Queensland Curtis LNG (8.5 mtpa);
  • Gladstone LNG (7.8 mtpa); and
  • Australia Pacific LNG (9 mtpa).

The domestic consumption of energy grew slower than production, averaging only 0.8% per year over the past 5 years, as the energy intensity of the nation's economy kept declining on the back of gained energy efficiencies and an increased share of the less energy intensive service industries.

Our major energy consuming sectors are the electricity generation sector (28%) followed by transport (22%) and manufacturing (22%). Together these sectors account for 75% of all energy consumed. While increasing, the mining sector still contributes only 10% to consumption.

Major technical advances amid rising fuel prices in the transport sector are the primary source for the declining energy intensity of the Australian economy, only partially offset by a sharp increase in energy intensity seen in the mining sector.

Australia now ranks as the 17th largest non-renewable energy consumer in the world, and 19th on a per capita basis.

The mix of energies consumed in Australia is also changing, as the share of coal is in decline while we use more gas. In 2010-11, coal accounted for 35% and oil for 36% of Australia's energy consumption. The use of gas has continuously increased over the past 3 decades, particularly in electricity production and it accounted for 24.8% of total energy consumed in 2010-11.

By contrast, the share of renewables has largely remained unchanged over the past decade, contributing 4%.

However, BREE projects that over the next 4 decades consumption of renewables will grow by around 3.6% each year to 1032 peta joules (PJ), while total consumption will only slightly increase by 1% each year to 7369 PJ.

Around 53% of Australia's renewable energy is comprised of biomass such as wood and bagasse, while hydro power used for electricity generation makes up 23%.

The remaining 24% is through the use of biofuels, wind and solar. The generation of electricity from wind and solar has increased sharply over recent years. The energy produced from wind more than doubled from 9 PJ to 21 PJ in the 5 years to 2010-11, while solar energy tripled, from 0 to 3 PJ over the same period. This was largely offset by a drop in the use of bagasse energy, which more than halved to 43 PJ.

While renewables are projected to increase their share in energy production, particularly in the generation of electricity, Australia's main energy products are at present coal (70%) and gas (20%).

These energy sources have blessed Australia with, by international standards, relatively cheap electricity, and this appears to be still the case as is suggested by a BREE figure that compares household electricity prices with other OECD countries based on purchasing power (see figure).

Click image to enlarge - Real household price indices, OECD eonomies, 2012 `

graph: BREE Energy in Australia report 2013

However, BREE projects that under carbon price arrangements their share will increase to 51% by 2049-50.

As of October 2012, there were 14 renewable energy projects in an advanced stage of development, which together would add around 2 GW capacity. Of these, 13 are wind projects, which reflects the excellent wind resources at Australia's southern coast. In addition, costs for wind technology have come down significantly in recent years and are set to become cheaper than fossil fuel based electricity generation if a price on carbon and the renewable energy target (RET) stays in place.

In addition to the advanced stage projects, their are 91 less advanced projects including 72 wind energy projects and 11 solar energy projects. Together these could add another 17 GW capacity.

There are also 3 geothermal energy and 3 ocean energy projects in a less advanced stage adding up to 1 GW.

However, while wind is still growing strongly, and by mid century is projected to produce 21% of Australia's electricity, BREE projects that its growth will be outpaced by solar, and also geothermal. By 2049-50, solar could contribute around 16%, and geothermal 8% to Australia's electricity generation.

























































































































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Peak-less into the future


April-June 2013 - Early last year the ARDR reviewed the emerging advanced biofuels industry, both on a domestic and global level. Among the examples featured were Licella Pty Ltd's production of 'drop-in' fuels from wood biomass and residues and Muradel Pty Ltd's algal biofuel technology.

In June, Resources Minister Gary Gray unveiled Muradel's first 'green crude' from microalgae, which could be used in the existing petroleum industry or provide fuel for aviation.

Both companies have recently received $5.4 and $4.4 million, respectiveley, through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency's (ARENA) Advanced Biofuels Investment Readiness Program.


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Running a commercial demonstration plant since 2011, Licella will use the ARENA grant for a $8.2 million feasibility study into the construction of its first pre-commercial biofuels plant. The 21 months study aims to deliver an investment case for the plant which will produce up to 125,000 barrels of bio-crude oil per year. As a drop-in fuel the oil could be directly used to replace existing fuels, for example in the aviation industry.

Licella's technology is based on water in a so called supercritical state under elevated heat and pressure. In this fourth state of matter water has both acidic and basic properties and physical features that are similar to that of gases. Under these conditions biomass such as saw dust can be processed to produce drop in biofuel. The company has piloted the technology for over 3 years in Somersby north of Sydney.

The recipient of the second grant, Muradel, is a joint venture between the University of Adelaide, Murdoch University and South Australian biofuel company SQC Pty Ltd.

Since November 2010, Muradel runs an open pond algae biofuels pilot plant at Karratha in Western Australia - the first of its kind in Australia.


Muradel's open pond growth of algae

The ARENA investment will support a project to up scale the marine algal plant from the pilot stage to a $10.7 million demonstration plant near Whyalla in South Australia.

Both projects are expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

More information: http://minister.ret.gov.au






















































































































































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Sharing the gap

07-06-2013- ARENA has established a new $60 million SHARE (Supporting High-value Australian Renewable Energy) initiative, which from 1 July will accept industry applications for projects that aim to close the knowledge gap in 3 priority areas. These include:

As part of the SHARE initiative, ARENA invests in 2 knowledge sharing projects. They are:
ARENA supported knowledge projects include:
  • a review and update by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) of the 2012 Australian Energy Technology Assessment (AETA) including producing a 2013 model;
  • production by BREE of the 2014 edition of AETA;
  • development by BREE of an inaugural Australian Liquid Fuel Technology Assessment;
  • a review of the commercialisation pathways of Australian geothermal technology development;
  • a deeper analysis of renewable energy in the Australian Energy Resource Assessment;
  • ongoing data collection of the off-grid market;
  • a detailed study of the prospects of Australian solar thermal, and
  • an assessment of the potential for integration of renewable energy in existing fossil power stations in Australia.
More information:www.arena.gov.au














































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































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It's budget time


May-June 2013 - Over recent months several Australian governments delivered their 2013-14 budgets in an ongoing difficult global economic environment.

Here we report on the federal budget as well as on state budgets from the Victorian, Queensland and South Australian and Western Australian Governments.


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Federal budget


The May federal budget projects a deficit of around $18 billion in 2013-14, despite major spending cuts of around $43 billion. These include the controversial efficiency dividend to grants provided under the Higher Education Support Act 2003(see below) and $159.1 million from the Education Investment component of the $200 million Solar Flagships program. The Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) Flagships Program is reduced by $500 million and $29 million over 2 years is saved through cuts in the Coal Mining Abatement Technology Support package. Funding of $370 million over 3 years from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) is deferred out to 2020, although ARENA's total funding of the program will stay over $3 billion. .

Also notable saving of around $1.1 billion over the forward estimates could stem from proposed changes to the R&D Tax Incentive (see box).

Introduced on 1 July 2011, the R&D Tax Incentive includes:
  • a 45% refundable tax offset for eligible companies with an aggregated turnover of less than $20 million per year; and
  • a 40% non-refundable tax offset for all other eligible companies.

The R&D Tax Incentive, which followed on from the previous Tax Concession, also brought new categories for eligible R&D projects with 'core R&D projects' defined as experimental activities that generate new knowledge, while 'supporting R&D projects' directly relate to core R&D but are subject to a so called dominant purpose test.

In his blog series on the R&D Tax Incentive, Kris Gale from Michael Johnson Associates writes that the bill excludes corporates responsible for approximately 20% of Australia's innovation spend from the nation's flagship innovation program. He further notes that the bill now includes the broadened concept of 'assessable income'. In the case of Australian residents this would extend to global ordinary and statutory income, while foreign residents only need to include Australian sourced ordinary and statutory income. He is also concerned that the proposed legislation presents an unprecendented extension of administrative power to Innovation Australia.

With the new arrangements, which are part of a Tax Laws Amendment (2013 Measures No. 4) Bill 2013 introduced into Parliament on 26 June 2013, large firms with an assessable income of $20 billion or more will no longer have access to the 40% non-refundable tax offset, although they will still be able to claim deductions for R&D expenditures under general tax law provisions.

Under the bill, smaller companies with an aggregate annual turnover of less than $20 million will also be able to opt for the R&D refundable tax offset to be assessed on a quarterly basis during an income year.

Nevertheless, there are significant initiatives targeting R&D and innovation, such as the $1 billion innovation program announced in February. Key spending initiatives include:
Additional funding for R&D facilities include:
  • $230 million for the CSIRO with the provision to upgrade its facilities at Clayton, Victoria, and Black Mountain, ACT; and
  • more than $30 million for the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville - also supporting the National Tropical Sea Simulator facility.

The Government will also continue its funding of the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, providing $189.9 million over the next 2 years. However, long-term funding will be subject to a review in line with the National Research Investment Plan.

There will also be an extension of the Reef Rescue Program costing $200 million over 5 years. The program was implemented in 2008 under the Caring for our Country initiative with the aim to protect the Great Barrier Reef and increase agricultural productivity.

As part of its Creative Australia policy vision of boosting our creative industries, the Government will provide $20 million over 3 years for an Australian Interactive Games Fund. The fund will support the development of the interactive video gaming industry in Australia.


Agriculture

Agriculture features prominently in the budget with key initiatives including:
Environment and climate change

Initiatives addressing environmental issues include:

University research and higher education

The Government plans to invest a total of $51 billion over the next 5 years in higher education.

While funding for universities will increase in every year over the forward estimates, the Government will introduce a 2% and 1.25% efficiency dividend in 2014 and 2015. This is to provide $903 million over 4 years in savings in order to fund the National Plan for School Improvement.

University-funding
Click image to enlarge

The efficiency dividend has been controversial with claims that the increased school funding would be at the expense of cuts to universities. However, the budget papers include a graph illustrating that the dividend will only be a minor dent in the overall growing funding of the higher education sector.

Funding for university places has increased from $3.5 billion in 2007 to $6.1 billion in 2013, and further $1.9 billion over 4 years are allocated to meet a predicted surge in the demand for places.



Innovation

The Government's key initiative in supporting Australia's innovation, productivity and competitiveness is a set of initiatives costing around $1 billion and detailed in the industry and innovation statement A Plan for Australian Jobs. A respective exposure draft of the Australian Jobs Bill 2013 was released in February with submission closed in April.

The plan has 3 core strategies:

Complementing its $1 billion Jobs Plan, the Government will bring forward $160 million in Clean Technology Investment Program funding to 2014-15, which will drive around half a billion dollars of manufacturing capital investment in Australia. The $800 million Clean Technology Investment program has so far supported 222 projects with more than $121 million in grants, leveraging a total of $338 million through additional private sector co-investment.


Reactions: Given the significant cuts or deferrals of funds for renewable energy and efficiency, green advocates were unsurprisingly critical of the budget. But the major criticism did focus on the planned efficiency dividend in the higher education sector.

The Australian Academy of Science has welcomed the additional funding for the ARC Future Fellowships program, the 2-year extension of NCRIS, and the continued funding of peak research bodies including CSIRO, the Cooperative Research Centres, and the National Health and Medical Research Council.

However, in a statement released by the Academy Professor Suzanne Cory said that "it is but a small and short-term investment against a background of a total of $3.3 billion in cuts and deferrals to research and higher education". The Academy is also critical that there is no support for a strategic international science program.

More information: www.budget.gov.au; For additional R&D related comments on the budget visit the Australian Science Media Centre website www.smc.org.au


Victoria

The narrative of the Victorian budget is that of an improving economy,with its GSP expected to grow at around 2.25% in 2013-14 and 2.75% in 2014-15.

Against these improving conditions net Government debt is forecast to peak at 6.4% of gross state product (GSP) in 2013-14. The budget projects an operating surplus of $225 million in 2013-14, which is then set to increase to $2.5 billion by 2016-17.

The overall emphasis of Government initiatives is on building infrastructure, with $6.1 billion allocated to major projects.

R&D and innovation related investments include:

Business:

Creative Industries:

$8.5 million over 4 years will deliver a suite of support to Victorian screen practitioners in the areas of television production, animation and games industry development.

Agriculture

In total, more than $104 million will be invested in agricultural research, development, extension as well as biosecurity. It includes the second year of funding for the Growing Food and Fibre initiative which, in partnership with industry, provides $61.4 million of additional investment over 4 years for projects targeting biosecurity and productivity-focused R&D.

Examples of supported projects are the genome sequencing in sheep and beef cattle, best practice lamb reproduction, the development of an experimental summer fruit orchard at Tatura, and almond productivity research.



ICT

A total of $19 million over 4 years are allocated for the technology portfolio, including new funding towards the implementation of the Victorian Government's ICT Strategy released in February, as well as the extension of core initiatives under Victoria's Technology Plan for the Future - Information and Communication Technology.

Mining

$31.7 million over 4 years will be spent on programs that support the mining industry, including a $19 million investment in exploration and the reduction of barriers to investment. The Government will also extend funding for Clean Coal Victoria, investing $8.3 million over 4 years.

Water

The Government will spend $50 million on water management and planning initiatives, which include $22.5 million for the Office of Living Victoria and $3 million for work associated with the Murray-Darling Basin.
More information:www.budget.vic.gov.au


Queensland

The Queensland Government also predicts a rebounding economy with growth of GSP forecast at 3% for 2013-14, and averaging 4% over the forward estimates. However, natural disasters continue to pose a significant challenge, with the budget allocating $9.3 billion over 3 years for the recovery from recent impacts.

In addition, the Government struggles with significant reductions in revenue forecasts contributing to a estimated fiscal deficit of $7.7 billion in 2013-14, and it has delayed a return to surplus to 2015-16.

Selected budget items of interest include:


Science and research The budget includes a $9 million over 5 years investment for dementia research undertaken at the Queensland Brain Institute.

Agriculture

With more than $400 million directed towards primary industries, the Government has allocated $16 million for the implementation of the Queensland Agriculture Strategy, which was released in June 2013. The strategy aims to double Queensland's production by 2040, outlining 60 initiatives. On key target is boosting the productivity of the State's beef industry, its largest farm export, including through 2 new extension officers. Other initiatives as part of the strategy include a winter cereal pre-breeding program, conducted in conjunction with the University of Queensland through the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation.

The Government will further invest $3 million in a project with the Queensland University of Technology on farm robotics for the automated planting, maintenance and harvest of crops.

The budget also includes a capital expenditure program for the development or upgrade of agricultural facilities totalling around $20 million.


Environment

The Government has allocated $80 million over 5 years in extra funding for the continuation of 14 regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies target the sustainable management of land and water resources, and the protection of the Great Barrier Reef.

Mining

Queensland's resources and exploration industries will be supported with $30 million for Geological Survey of Queensland (GSQ) initiatives.

More information:www.budget.qld.gov.au


South Australia


As other States, the South Australian Government is struggling with lower than expected GST receipts. Nevertheless, in its 2013-14 budget it paints an optimistic outlook for the economy over the forward estimates. The estimated deficit of more than $1.3 billion in 2012-13 and of around $900 million in 2013-14 is expected to improve over the forward estimates, with a modest surplus forecast in 2015-16.

Net Government debt is projected to peak at 12.5% of GSP in 2015-16, and economic growth is expected to improve to 2.5% over the coming year.

The Government's main spending emphasis is on a capital program worth a total of $10.1 billion over the forward estimates. This includes new funding for major road and rail projects under the Nation Building 2 program as well as support for existing projects, such as $248.1 million for the new Royal Adelaide Hospital.

Advanced Manufacturing

Advancing doing things...

Following a review of the State's manufacturing sector by Professor Goran Roos, the SA Government, guided by an Advanced Manufacturing Council, developed a 10-year strategy to support an emerging advanced manufacturing industry in the State.

The $11.1 million plan centres on the growth of high-tech precincts through which small businesses can exchange ideas between each other, and with universities and other institutions. Its initiatives include:

  • a network of internationally experienced manufacturing executives who will mentor other local manufacturing executives;
  • a series of education programs to help local companies create new business models, services and technologies;
  • a program to encourage food companies to work together to use new technologies and respond to new opportunities;
  • a pilot program, based on those used in the US and UK, to use government spending to help small businesses become more innovative; four workforce development programs;
  • a government assistance road map to better inform manufacturers of funding and assistance available;
  • a new voucher scheme to help firms connect with research providers;
  • a new Mining Industry Participation Office within State Government; and
  • a revised Industry Participation Policy to ensure South Australian businesses have full opportunity to participate in major projects.
More information: www.premier.sa.gov.au

Advanced manufacturing is one of 7 strategic priorities of the State Government, which follows on from a review by Professor Goran Ross of the State's manufacturing sector, which recommended to support the sector's transformation into an advanced manufacturing industry.

The review had also recommended to focus this development on key strength of the State. The recommendations were followed up by a $11.1 million Advanced Manufacturing Strategy, released at the end of 2012. In line with the strategy, the budget includes:



Mining

The Government will continue its support for the State's resources sector, with realising the benefits of the 'mining boom' another of its 7 strategic policy priorities. The budget allocates $8.6 million over 2 years in new funding to support exploration and innovation in the mining sector.

A new Mining and Petroleum Services Centre of Excellence will be established with $6 million over 4 years. In addition, the State's PACE initiative will receive $4 million over 2 years to fast-track exploration of projects in SA's Gawler Craton region, bringing the total funding of PACE to $28 million over the budget period.


More information:www.statebudget.sa.gov.au


Western Australia

Western Australia's economy is in a transition as major resource projects are moving into the less labour intensive production phase. Yet it continues to be the nation's fastest growing economy, while also boasting the fastest growth in its population (around 3.5% in 2012).

Handed down in August, the State's 2013-14 budget forecasts this year's economic growth at 3.25%, down from the 5.75% estimated growth in 2012-13.

Despite a generally positive economic outlook, the State Government says that the declining share of national GST revenue is a concern.

Following last year's fall to 55%, the State's population share in GST revenue is set to further reduce to 45% in 2013-14. As a result, the State's income from GST will be $477 million less than last year.

Nevertheless the Government is able to spend a total of $26.9 billion over the next four years, including $7.5 billion in 2013-14, on infrastructure projects alone. This is also in response to the fast pace of population growth in the State that poses significant challenges.

Special initiatives related to R&D and Innovation include:

The budget further includes a $297 million over four years package for agricultural projects targeting potential market opportunities in Asia.

The Seizing the Opportunity initiative builds on existing investments in agriculture, including the $311 million Ord Expansion Project and the $30 million Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre. Supported agricultural projects will include areas of R&D, land and water, industry development and investment attraction.

More information:www.ourstatebudget.wa.gov.au





































































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Manufactured board


The Australian Government has announced the board of the new Australian Manufacturing Innovation Precinct (AMIP), one of ten Industry Innovation Precincts funded under the $1 billion Plan for Australian Jobs initiative (read more in It's budget time)
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In May, the precinct's headoffice was officially launched at the New Horizons research facility, which Monash University shares with the CSIRO.

The New Horizons building, shared by Monash and the CSIRO, will house the Australian Manufacturing Innovation Precinct HQ.

image: Monash University

The appointments to the precinct's board comprise representatives from the manufacturing industry, unions and the research sector. It will be chaired by Albert Goller, former managing director and chair of Siemens Australia and New Zealand. Further members of the board are:


















































































































































































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Hydrocarbonic investments


17-06-2013 - Australia's petroleum industry is a major contributor to our national wealth. According to recent data by IBIS World Australia's oil and gas extraction generated revenue of more than $40 billion in 2012-13.
Click image to enlarge.
According to the figure by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), Australia's trade balance in petroleum products is negative since 2003-04.

However, we are net importers of crude oil and refined petroleum products as production is declining while domestic demand, particularly for transport fuel, is increasing.

Since 2003-04, our balance of trade in petroleum products has been negative, as illustrated in a figure by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association, and the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics recently reported in its Australian Petroleum Statistics that in 2012-13 the total export value of Australian petroleum products was around $28 billion while the value of imports was around $40 billion.

Some commentators are warning that this could become a problem for our energy security, although this concern was not shared in the Government's 2012 Energy White Paper. However, there is a general understanding that Australia needs to increase its effort in petroleum exploration. Here we cover recent developments related to this crucial industry.

Each year, the Australian Government conducts the Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release as a key measure providing the global exploration industry with new opportunities to invest in Australia's oil and gas sector.

In the process, the Government announces a number of potential areas - usually around 30 at a time comprising a mix of shallow-water and deep-water areas, areas close to existing sites of production as well as underexplored and rank frontier regions.

The Government also provides access to information such as pre-competitive geological and geophysical data and analysis, as well as information about marine reserves, environmental, fishing, security and other considerations that could impact on future petroleum activities in an area.

The bids by companies for exploration permits are usually assessed over a 6-12 months timeframe. However, if an exploration permit is granted it could be several years before any physical exploration activities occur in the area. In fact, the permit itself does not authorise petroleum exploration activities. Rather, permit titleholders have only the exclusive right to apply for such a permission.

The Australian Government has announced 13 new offshore petroleum exploration permits for areas off the coast of Western Australia (12) and Tasmania (1). Together the permits could translate in $180 million in new investment over the next 3 years.

The new titleholders were selected after the assessment of 23 bids for 15 offered areas as part of the first round of the 2012 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release.

The details for the 2013 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release were released at the end of May.

The 31 areas in Commonwealth waters are located across the following 6 basins: Bonaparte, Browse, Northern Carnarvon,Perth, Otway and Gippsland.

Click on image to enlarge; Areas currently covered by Australia's petroleum exploration permits

image: modified from interactive maps provided by NEATS

Tough Bight to chew on


The Great Australian Bight (GAB) is one of the lesser explored areas for petroleum, but has recently attracted renewed interest, especially after Geoscience Australia reported in 2007 that a survey in the GAB had identified areas with excellent source rock potential for black oil.

Petroleum exploration in the Bight Basin has a history of over 50 years but so far only 10 wells have been drilled, and this may reflect significant challenges. Nevertheless, it is considered as one of the most prospective underexplored frontiers in the world.

In 2011, BP acquired 4 exploration permits in the GAB, covering an acreage of some 24,000 square kilometres, which are some 300 kilometres offshore in water depth of up to 5,000 metres. In the following year the company completed a three-dimensional marine seismic survey and it is now in the process of planning for exploration wells. The company expects drilling to start in 2015-16, subject to respective approval, and this would bring the total investment by the company to $1.437 billion.

To this end the company has entered contractual arrangement for the use of a $755 million harsh environment semusubmersible drilling rig in the initial drilling operations.

3D Model of a Semisubmersible Drilling Rig.

photo: Hyundai Heavy Industries

The environmental concerns are significant, though, as part of the acreage stretches into the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, and the 4 oil exploration wells are to be in or adjacent to this zone. As BP details on its website, the conditions are extreme, because of the depth and the force of the waves building up from the Antarctic.

The company is also involved in a $20 million environmental study in the GAB (see story Taking a Bight.

BP is not alone seeking for oil in rough southern waters, with Bight Petroleum holding 2 exploration permits in the GAB. However, reflecting the considerable environmental concerns, at the end of May the Australian Government determined that a proposed 3-dimensional marine seismic survey across 3,000 square kilometres would have to go through a full federal environmental assessment process.

Nevertheless, there is heightened interest in the GAB and further 3 frontier areas in the GAB's Ceduna Sub-Basin were included in the 2012 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release.

Onshore en vogue


Related to this is new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics(ABS) in its quarterly update on the state of mineral and petroleum exploration in Australia.

According to the ABS Mineral and Petroleum Exploration, Australia, Mar 2013 report, the trend estimate for mineral exploration expenditure other than petroleum is pointing downwards, with a 4.5% fall to $772.6 million recorded in the March quarter. However, the outlook for petroleum exploration looks brighter.

Click on the image to enlarge; The graphs show the trend estimate of the expenditure on petroleum exploration in selected states and the Northern Territory based on data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics published in June 2013.

graphs: Elwinmedia

The trend estimate for total petroleum exploration expenditure rose 2.7% to $1232.5 million in the March quarter.

The largest contributor to the rise was South Australia (up 27.8%), and it is onshore exploration where the increased investment occurs. Thus the trend estimate for onshore petroleum exploration expenditure rose 11.6% to 339.8 million, whereas offshore exploration fell 0.8% to $889.0 million (In seasonally adjusted terms, petroleum exploration fell 13.6% to 1121.7 million in the March quarter).

Related to this story is the Energy in Australia 2013 report by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, which we cover in Energetic Outlook.

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Getting the priorities right


All directions
The National Research Investment Plan is to support the decision by government on research investments. The plan was released on 28 November 2012 and detailed a number of actions including:
  • the objective of guiding Australian Government research investment in a way that improves national wellbeing by increasing ;productivity and addressing Australia's key challenges;
  • a framework, in the form of a national research fabric, that enables the development of Australia's research capacity and capability to be responsive to the needs of all sectors including business;
  • a set of research investment principles that ensures government investments address the overall investment objective and are delivered efficiently;
  • a statement of strategic research priorities that enables investment to be focused on meeting the government's priorities.

The development of strategic research priorities is based on the understanding that the needs of the nation are most effectively met if investments in research are set within a comprehensive planning framework.

21-06-2013 - The Australian Research Committee has followed up on one of the actions it detailed in its National Research Investment Plan released at the end of last year.

In June it announced a set of 15 strategic research priorities, which are to drive investment in areas of immediate and critical importance to Australia. They will supersede the National Research Priorities (NRPs), which have been discontinued.


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The 15 priorities address 5 major societal challenges detailed by the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, in December 2012:


Living in a changing environment Promoting population health and wellbeing Managing our food and water assets Securing Australia's place in a changing world Lifting productivity and economic growth





































































































































































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Patent power to the Crown


26-06-2013-In June, the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment Bill 2013 passed the House of Representatives and is now before the Senate.

The bill is part of a general overhaul of the Australian patent law the Government has undertaken over recent years. The new changes are based on a recent inquiry about the compulsory licensing of patents by the Productivity Commission (PC).

In the report Compulsory Licensing of Patents released on 27 May 2013, the PC included the following key recommendations:
  • Replacing the 'reasonable requirements of the public' test for granting a compulsory licence to exploit a patented invention with a new public interest test;
  • Removing the provision in the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) dealing with situations where a patent is used anti-competitively;
  • Repealing section 136 of the Patents Act 1990 (Cth) and incorporating treaty obligations directly into the Patents Act; and
  • Incorporate a system of Crown use which would be a cheaper and quicker alternative compulsory licensing.

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The bill clarifies that the Government can intervene in cases in which patients are denied reasonable access to existing health car services because of an existing patent. This could have, for example, implications for the use of patented human genes in the screening of cancer.

The bill also details provisions that would implement the amended protocol of the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS Protocol) in Australia.

The TRIPS Protocol is designed to strike a better balance between the rights of a patent holder and the need of poor countries to obtain access to potentially life-saving medicines. Its implementation would mean that in response to a health crisis in developing crisis, Australian pharmaceutical manufacturers could seek a compulsory license for the manufacture and supply of a generic and thus cheaper version of a patented drug.

Further proposed changes provide for a single trans-Tasman patent attorney regime and single patent application and examination processes for Australia and New Zealand.

More information: http://minister.innovation.gov.au

Patently friends

China and Australia are forging closer ties on many levels, including intellectual property.

In a recent development the Intellectual Property Offices of both nations signed a Memorandum of Understanding to continue their cooperation on 25 February 2013. In this context, the director general of IP Australia, Philip Noonan, highlighted the importance of the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act, of which the last provision came into effect on 15 April.

The key objectives of these reforms are to raise the quality of patents granted in Australia and to more closely align the inventive step standard required for Australian patents with international standards.

In effect, Australia's patentability test is now similar to other large IP Offices, including that of China, and hence it is more straightforward for Australian technology exporters to secure a patent in China.

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Born to be wild


June 2013 - The Tasmanian Forests Agreement (TFA), which passed into law on 30 April 2013, is hoped to mark the beginning of a more sustainable timber industry in the State, after a long protracted struggle between conservationists and forest industry.

The legislation came into effect in June, amending the Tasmanian Forestry Act 1920.

Its main objective is to frame a path towards a more sustainable timber industry and the protection of Tasmania's unique native forests, of which an additional 170,000 hectares were recently classified as Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Click image to enlarge. Tasmanian forests agreement reserves map

The Royal Ascend of the Act also fullfills a requirement of the 2011 Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement which stipulates a cooperation between the Australian and Tasmanian Governments in an effort to transform the State's ailing economy.

Over $200 million of federal financial assistance can now flow into an Economic Diversification Fund and will primarily target projects in the areas Tourism, Dairy, Aquaculture, Horticulture, Forestry and Energy.

Tasmanian Forests Agreement Intergovernmental Agreement (TFIGA) 2013

In addition to assistance supporting the new arrangements affecting native forest conservation and the economic interests of the timber industry, the TFIGA's other main objective is the diversification of Tasmania's economy.

To this end the Australian Government agreed to provide $120 million over 15 years. The funding includes $112 million for regional development projects and $8 million for the Tasmanian Innovation and Investment Fund.

In total, the 2011 TFIGA canvassed a total investment of $277 million pledge into Tasmania's development, although most of the federal funding was subject to the TFA Act 2013.

With its commencement in June 2013, programs and expenditures worth over $200 million will now be invested. State and Commonwealth Investments under the TFIGA include:

  • $85 million in assistance to community members affected by the downturn in the State's timber industry;
  • $43 million to facilitate protection of new areas of high conservation value forests;
  • $120 million over 15 years, including an initial payment of $20 million to identify and fund appropriate regional development projects;
  • $7 million per annum ongoing to manage new reserves;
  • $1 million for mental health counseling and community wellbeing.

To support the process of creating new reserve areas as layed out by the TFA ACT 2013, the TFIGA establishes an Independent Verification Group as an advisory body to the Prime Minister and the Tasmanian Premier.

The governments also signed an Conservation agreement for the legally binding protection of an interim forest area covering almost 430,000 hectares.

Dairy, Aquaculture, Horticulture and Forestry products were identified as areas of special opportunity by Professor Johnathan West from the University of Tasmania in his report Diversifying Tasmania's Economy: Analysis and Options, which was commissioned as part of the 2011 TFIGA.

Interestingly, the study found that forestry is not as dominant in the Tasmanian economy as often believed. Thus in 2011 only 1.4% of employment was in the forestry sector, and of that only half was dependent on native-forest activity.

Professor West concludes that Tasmania has natural and human-made advantages that are sufficient for the State to catch up with the states on mainland Australia.

However, he writes that Tasmania's most important and promising development and growth opportunities are inhibited from realising their potential by blockages and obstacles.

In May, the Australian and Tasmanian Governments signed an update of the TFIGA. As part of the new agreement, the Australian Government announced that it would increase the remaining $93 million of its $120 million Economic Diversification investment to a $100 million. In addition, the funding will flow under the Tasmanian Jobs and Growth Plan over a period of 4 years instead of the previously planned 15 year period.

The Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act 2013 builds on the 2012 Tasmanian Forestry Agreement, but the amendments to the State's Forestry Act 1920 do not fully represent the negotiated outcome reached by forest industry and conservationists. For example, it places additional conditions on the creation of new reserves.

A Legislative Council Select Committee undertook an inquiry into the agreeement and the amended Tasmanian Forests Agreement Bill 2012 passed by the Tasmanian House of Assembly in November 2012. In its report it noted that State and Commonwealth Government had stayed outside the negotiation process despite the agreement influencing various areas of Government policy and thus affecting the wider Tasmanian community.

The committee's report details a number of concerns relating to key principles underpinning the original bill. Summarised by the committee's chair Paul Harriss,these include the minimum wood supply arrangements, the lack of proper scientific methodology associated with reserve decisions that will not achieve the best conservation outcomes, the limitations of the socio-economic work completed, the lack of detail in relation to durability and the lack of community consultation.

With the amendments to the Forestry Act 1920, the minimum volume of timber that Forestry Tasmania must make available to industry is reduced from 300,000 cubic metres to 137,000 cubic metres. The high quality sawlog is thereby to be sourced from areas defined as 'permanent timber production zone land'.

The new legislation also establishes a framework for the potential, although not garanteed, creation of reserves in areas that are currently state forest and open for native timber harvesting.

Just over 500,000 hectares of Tasmanian native forest in areas including the Tyenna, Styx Hastings, Picton and the Upper Florentine could eventually be reserved, including as national parks, conservation areas or nature reserves.

However, the creaction of any new reserves will require the approval of Parliament. In the transition, the Act prohibits logging within slightly less than 500,000 hectares of identified areas which are now declared as 'Future Reserve Land'. The process also includes compensation for community members that have a financial loss as a result of the state forest becoming a reserve.

The TFA Act 2013 also provides for the establishment of a Special Council, which is to advise the Minister on the implementation of the agreement, including through recommendations on the harvest of 'special species'(blackwood, myrtle, celery top, sassafras, huon pine and silver wattle).

















































































































































































































































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Super-flops at ANU


31-07-2013 - The National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) high performance computing centre has opened at the Australian National University (ANU) with the launch of its $100 million supercomputer Raijin.
Built by Fujitsu, the supercomputer is named after the Japanese god of thunder, lightning and storms - Raijin. It comprises a 1.2 petaflop Fujitsu PRIMERGY cluster, with Mellanox FDR Infiniband interconnect featuring 9 terabytes per second bandwidth.

image: Elwinmedia with use of a depiction of Raijin by Tawaraya Sotatsu (17th century)

Running at 1.2 petaflops (floating point operations per second) when performing at its peak, Raijin is Australia's fastest supercomputer and thus a major addition to the nation's rapidly advancing computing capacity.

The NCI was established with a $50 million grant from the Australian Government's Super Science Initiative. A further $50 million over 4 years has been provided through a co-investment from the ANU, CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), Geoscience Australia and other research-intensive universities.

High-end computing is an important component of applications that span a broad range of research fields. Climate science, computational chemistry, particle physics, astronomy, material science, microbiology, nanotechnology and photonics are some on this list.

However, Australia is only just catching up with the world in establishing essential capacity.

Recent major supercomputer initiatives include Australia's second petascale infrastructure, the Pawsey High-Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Western Australia, and the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative, which at present is the world's largest supercomputing facility dedicated to the life sciences

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More information: http://news.anu.edu.au


...for mining and disasters



09-07-2013 -The National Computational Infrastructure supercomputer will be the backbone of a partnership between CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and AuScope developing a national integrated geoscience network.

Visualisation and spatial information storage software as well as 'virtual laboratories' operating in the cloud will support the project, which is to provide better access to Australia's geoscience data.

The national geoscience data network expands on the AuScope Grid, a portal for Australia's geoscience information that is available to industry and the wider community. As part of the National Research Infrastructure Strategy it was developed by AuScope in collaboration with several universities, government and research organisations.

The AuScope Grid and the national geoscience network together will support and enhance collaborative projects such as the UNCOVER project, which aims to increase investment in research to achieve mineral exploration success.

However, the national geoscience network's capacity to provide earth science data from a range of sources in real-time could eventually also be used for real-time accurate prediction of the impact of natural hazards. According to Geoscience Australia senior advisor Dr Lesley Wyborn, at present most tsunami warning systems rely on theoretical models to predict how the event of an earthquake may unfold, and when a tide is going to be at a certain height. But in future, with the expansion of the network it may be possible to provide emergency managers a snapshot of what is actually happening at a certain point in time.

More information: www.csiro.au






















































































































































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...for mining and disasters


09-07-2013 -The National Computational Infrastructure supercomputer will be the backbone of a partnership between CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and AuScope developing a national integrated geoscience network.

Visualisation and spatial information storage software as well as 'virtual laboratories' operating in the cloud will support the project, which is to provide better access to Australia's geoscience data.


The national geoscience data network expands on the AuScope Grid, a portal for Australia's geoscience information that is available to industry and the wider community. As part of the National Research Infrastructure Strategy it was developed by AuScope in collaboration with several universities, government and research organisations.


The AuScope Grid and the national geoscience network together will support and enhance collaborative projects such as the UNCOVER project, which aims to increase investment in research to achieve mineral exploration success.


However, the national geoscience network's capacity to provide earth science data from a range of sources in real-time could eventually also be used for real-time accurate prediction of the impact of natural hazards. According to Geoscience Australia senior advisor Dr Lesley Wyborn, at present most tsunami warning systems rely on theoretical models to predict how the event of an earthquake may unfold, and when a tide is going to be at a certain height. But in future, with the expansion of the network it may be possible to provide emergency managers a snapshot of what is actually happening at a certain point in time.

www.csiro.au
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Fissionary outlook


Click image to enlarge; Model of a small modular reactor by US firm NuScale
Australia is blessed with abundant renewable energy, including wind, solar, ocean waves and geothermal.

It is also the world's third largest supplier of uranium for use in electricity generating nuclear power stations. With this large domestic access to fuel source, electricity generation through nuclear power could be an obvious option.

Yet, despite the potential of nuclear power stations to produce electricity largely emissions free, it has not been at the forefront of public debate, and was not an issue raised in the lead up to the election. 

The Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) has recently called for the issue to be put on the national agenda. The organisation says that Australia has a moral responsibility to debate how its uranium is used and disposed of.

Australia's electricity generation has to become less carbon emissions intensive.

But ATSE's president Dr Alan Finkel is concerned that if nuclear is not included as part of the mix it will be difficult to achieve an abundant and reliable supply of low-emissions electricity. 

Addressing ATSE's Nuclear Energy for Australia conference in Sydney, he said that France, with its extensive use of nuclear energy for electricity generation, is an example of the positive impact that the use of nuclear energy can have on emissions. Their grid average emissions level is 10 times lower than in Australia. 

World-wide nuclear power stations contribute around 11-12% of total electricity generated.

However, there remain important concerns, above all about the safe use of nuclear power given that the global nuclear industry has had several significant accidents (with Fukushima still presenting an ongoing problem...).

There is also the question of waste disposal.

In addition, the nuclear option is deemed expensive and may bear the risk of weapons proliferation.

According to the conference report, the majority of the delegates believe these concerns are not supported by evidence. Yet they need to be addressed in an open an transparent way if the technology is to be accepted by the public.

The long term costs associated with safe permanent waste disposal and the eventual decomissioning of power plants are considerable. But Australia could follow the example of other countries with a levy on the wholesale price of nuclear generated electricity, accumulated over the life of a plant, to provide for these costs.

Australia will have to attract a massive capital investment for electricity system expansion and large scale baseload plant replacement. But compared with a gradual migration to renewables, the introduction of nuclear power to Australia by 2030 would lead to very large savings to the economy through greenhouse gas emissions abatement, more competitive electricity costs, improved  health outcomes and reduced health costs over the decades following.

So called Generation III and Generation III+ pressurised water (PWR), boiling water (BWR) and heavy water (HWR) reactors, which produce electricity at a scale of 1000 mega watt electrical (MWe) and more, could be integrated into the eastern  electricity grid.

These reactors offer near-zero greenhouse gas and other airborne emissions, high fuel efficiency, minimal and manageable residual waste, built-in proliferation protection and advanced passive safety protection.

Less straight forward are small-scale factory assembled nuclear reactors, more widely known as small modular reactors (SMR). Typically having a capacity of less than 300 MWe, they could be useful, for example, in remote areas for applications in mining and processing. But so far they have not yet been sufficiently tested in international markets. 

Nuclear power in Australia will need an expanded and enhanced regulatory system, but the experts believe this not a prohibitive requirement.

The majority of delegates therefore concluded that there is no supported reason why uranium based nuclear power should not be considered as an energy option for Australia.

































































































































































































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What do we really want?


30-08-2013 - Can we define the progress of our society more comprehensively than just by how we fare economically?

A final project report released by the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) and VicHealth is a first step to provide a sound scientific basis to answer this question. The report covers a pilot of the Australia’s Progress in the 21st Century (AP21C) project, in which ACOLA and VicHealth collaborated with the Australian National Development Index Limited (ANDI). Further partners in the project were the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) and the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre.

To date, the widely used proxy for the state of a country's progress is its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is easily measured and compared. Nevertheless, it becomes increasingly clear that broad economic indicators fall short of capturing the true wellbeing of a society, notwithstanding that they are retrospective rather than forward looking.


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In 2008, a report by the OECD noted the emergence of a new global movement towards establishing new measures of societal progress that go beyond GDP.

Click image to enlarge; OECD framework of measuring wellbeing and progress;

source: OECD

In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) had already in 1999 begun to develop an integrated set of measures defining Australia's state of development, the Measures of Australia’s Progress (MAP).

It was one of the first projects of its kind in the world. To date, it provides regular updates on 17 indicators across a range of domains, and the ABS is currently working on a new version of the suite called MAP2.0.

At the Australia 2020 Summit, it was proposed to go a step further and to support the development of a composite index that measures Australia’s economic, social and environmental progress. This catalysed the establishment of the Australian National Development Index (ANDI), an incorporated member-owned initiative of leading community organisations, peak bodies, businesses, faith-based organisations, researchers, and independent, non-partisan grassroots citizens.

In order to provide a sound scientific foundation for the ANDI project, ACOLA and VicHealth embarked on the The Australia's Progress in the 21st Century (AP21C) project, and a pilot of this project has now been concluded. Its aim was to scope out a full 3-year AP21C project. Based on the results, Australia's National Academies would recommend and support a full AP21C project in which a new index of national progress is built on re-defining progress as 'an increase in equitable and sustainable wellbeing' rather than just GDP.

As delineated in the pilot's report, internationally there are a series of individual initiatives with similar focus. A more widely known example is the Bhutan Gross National Happiness program.

The OECD's Measuring the Progress of Societies, which started around a decade ago, has a more overarching focus. Its aim is to provide a global platform that brings together the increasing number of national, regional and community based programs for the development of new societal progress measures.

One of the most advanced projects is the the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, which is also a potential partner for the AP21C.

The pilot of AP21C comprised several separate studies including research on current wellbeing measurement models as well as community attitudes towards progress and progress domains.

Key categories and priorities of progress used in many international studies and by the ABS were found to be good starting points for an Australian progress index and measurement framework.

The communication with the public on these issues will require appropriate language, preparation and engagement techniques. However, with that in place valuable information can be obtained, the research found.

Thus survey results with 'ordinary Australians' suggest that indicators of 'equitable and sustainable wellbeing' could form a reasonable proxy for progress. Strikingly a slight majority of survey respondents felt that based on this measures Australia was not 'heading in the right direction. The most frequently mentioned reason for dissatisfaction was poor standards of government, leadership and politicians. This was followed by negative views on immigration policy and loss of national identity.

Australians appear to have a multi-layered view on national priorities and the kind of society they want Australia to be.

Attributes such as 'benevolent', 'economically successful', 'tolerant', 'egalitarian', and 'traditional' ranked highly. At the same time, respondents placed less importance on foreign aid and Indigenous wellbeing, and they had a high level of concern regarding immigration and cultural diversity.

The report determined that a sound cross-disciplinary scientific foundation for understanding and measuring societies progress is readily achievable. The project also established a series of potential national and international partnerships that could support a full AP21C project.

While not uncontroversial, a composite indexes, such as aimed for by ANDI, could be achieved in Australia, and is internationally increasingly in use. Importantly, with the Canadian example it has been shown that it can significantly influence public policy and media debate.

Indeed, the report authors strongly embrace the objective of the ANDI project, which they describe as potentially "one of the most significant collaborative undertakings of Australia's science and research sector in the second decade of the 21st century."
























































































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XY still the norm


09 July 2013 - The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded 17 Australian Laureate Fellowships worth a total of $47 million to both national and international researchers working across a broad spectrum of research fields. Topics range from improved child health, language learning, harvesting energy from seabed soils, to gaining a better understanding of bacteria.

The only women in the elite circle of eminent scientists are Professor Glenda Sluga from the University of Sydney, who was awarded the Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship, and Professor Tanya Monro from the University of Adelaide, who received the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship. However, the apparent gender inequality was not based on a lower success rate of female applicants but instead reflects that only 14 of the 112 applicants were women.


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On the long and protracted road to change this, Professors Glenda and Monro will as part of their fellowship also mentor women who are interested in taking up or continue a career in science.

Mentoring and capacity building weigh 30% in the selection of candidates, with the remainder based on the investigator's track record (40%) and the project/program of research activity (30%).

On average, the 5 year fellowships are supported with $2.8 million. The overall success rate of this year's applications was 15.18%, although this differed markedly between ARC disciplines. Thus, around 26% of Humanties and Creative Arts (HCA) projects won support, while Biological Sciences and Biotechnology (BSB) proposals had a success rate of only 9%.

Consequently, the HCA discipline was with 6 grants most successful. Next were Engineering, Mathematics and Informatics (5), then Physics, Chemistry and Earth Sciences (4), while only 2 projects fall under the Biological Sciences and Biotechnology discipline.

None of the 12 projects in Social, Behavioural and Economic Sciences were selected.

All recipients of fellowships will target a National Research Priority, with more than half of the awarded monies ($26 million) supporting projects in the Frontier Technologies for Building and Transforming Australian Industries category.


More information: www.arc.gov.au












































































































































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It's one world


25 Jul 2013 - The CSIRO has launched its new Biosecurity Flagship.
The CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria

image: CSIRO

It will run with an annual budget of $30 million and draw on CSIRO's extensive expertise in biosecurity research. This includes recent developments such as an equine Hendra virus vaccine and the delivery of a biological control of the silverleaf whitefly, one of the world's most invasive pests.

The Flagship places a strong emphasis on developing a One Health (formerly One Medicine) approach to improve the response to emerging biosecurity threats.

The One Health strategy is a global interdisciplinary initiative that aims to integrate human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science. It emerged from the understanding that human health, animal health and the health of ecosystems are interdependent.


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Most emerging human diseases originate from animals, including the MERS virus, a new SARS-like virus that appears to have spread from the Middle East and is believed to have killed 45 people since 2012. And a new strain of highly pathogenic bird flu, the H7N9, has been identified in China.

With the increasing mobility of people across the world potentially causing a faster spread of emerging diseases, there is a need for more effective responses to new health threats. The One Health approach aims to facilitate this.

Electron micrograph of the emerging virus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

image: CSIRO

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A US initiative, the board of One Health is largely dominated by US experts (26 out of 30 members are from the US). Nevertheless, Australia is represented through Dr Martyn Jeggo, the director of the Geelong Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases. And the list of non-US supporting organisations is extensive.

The initiative builds on forming strategic multidisciplinary partnerships. In line with this the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship collaborates with more than 20 national and international partner organisations.

At the end of July, the CSIRO announced another new alliance with Duke-NUS, which itself is a collaboration between Duke University (North Carolina) and the National University of Singapore. A signed relationship agreement covers the intention to form an International Collaborative Centre for One Health.

The Duke-NUS is also developing new tests for early and rapid detection of emerging infectious diseases, such as Hendra virus and coronaviruses, which CSIRO scientists will then test and validate at the CSIRO Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, Victoria.

More information www.csiro.au




























































































































































































































































































































































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Horizons to the future


30 July 2013 - Monash University has launched its $175 million New Horizons Centre.
Monash University's New Horizons research hub

The new research hub at the Clayton Innovation Precinct is co-funded by the Australian Government, Monash and the CSIRO with the objective to advance Australia's manufacturing capabilities and facilitate collaborative research across disciplines and departmental, faculty and institutional boundaries.

To this end it will accommodate 400 scientists from the university and the CSIRO working in engineering, IT and other sciences.

Located within the Australian Manufacturing Innovation Precinct (AMIP), it will house the AMIP's headquarters.

New Horizons will provide key facilities for research in 'future manufacturing', including a range of important materials synthesis, processing and proof-of-concept facilities. Researchers at the centre will also have the advantage of the close proximity to the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy, the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, Green Chemical Futures and the Australian Synchrotron.

Other major capabilities include:

In addition to its focus on research, New Horizons will also provide advanced teaching and research training capabilities.


More information: http://monash.edu/news


































































































































































































































































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Cruising onshore


01 August 2013 - The $37 million National Sea Simulator (SeaSim) has opened its doors at the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
SeaSim building at AIMS Cape Ferguson Headquarters

image: AIMS

Located at Cape Ferguson south of Townsville the facility is close to quality seawater and at a distance to urban population. According to the AIMS, these are ideal local conditions for the $37 million initiative, which is to simulate ocean conditions and the potential impacts of natural events and human activities.


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With a focus on tropical marine environments, research topics include climate change, coral bleaching, pest management, sediment and pollution, and seawater technologies. SeaSim's capabilities allow scientists to investigate the cumulative impact of pressures on marine ecosystems in a whole-of-ecosystem approach.

Variables that can be examined under fine controlled conditions include light, temperature, ocean acidity and salinity as well as marine sedimentation and contaminants.

Click the image for a Sea Simulator youtube video.

One of the key research projects will be on the Crown-of-thorns starfish, a marine invertebrate that feeds on coral and occurs naturally on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region. Outbreaks of the starfish can reach plaque proportions and contribute to the loss of live coral cover.

In fact, according to the AIMS, the starfish is responsible for a greater decline in coral cover than any other threat in the Great Barrier Reef.

Acanthaster planci (Crown of thorns) starfish and hard coral damage after feeding;

image: coral damage pic sourced from Nick Hobgood under creative commons 3.0. The insert showing a COT starfish is from
The Great Barrier Reef biome wikispace

However, finding ways to control the starfish through the study of its early life history and the factors that trigger outbreaks have been difficult because of the lack of suitable experimental facilities.

These are now available through the new SeaSim infrastructure.

More information: www.aims.gov.au


















































































































































































































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Hot largesse in the making


31 July 2013 - The construction of the largest solar power station in the southern hemisphere will start from January 2014, after the Australian Renewable Energy Agency(ARENA) reached financial close with AGL Energy Limited (AGL).
A projected image of a 53 megawatt (MW) solar power station at Broken Hill. A second 102 megawatt station will be built at Nyngan.

image: AGL/First Solar

The project to be established across 2 sites in NSW will have a combined capacity of 155 megawatt, 15 times larger than any other solar power station in Australia.

The total costs of the construction are estimated at $450 million, of which $166.7 million will be from ARENA with a further $64.9 million provided by the NSW Government. The project will also benefit from $40.7 million from the Education Investment Fund which will fund solar power research by project partners, the University of Queensland (UQ) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW).


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A total of more than 2 million photovoltaic panels will be installed at Broken Hill and Nyngan near Dubbo.

Under a partnership agreement with AGL, the Australian subsidiary of US firm First Solar will construct and run the projects over the first 5 years.

Both projects will use First Solar's thin-film PV modules, which according to the company have distinct advantages over traditional crystalline silicon solar modules, including a better temperature coefficient.

Click image to enlarge.
On the left is shown the temperature profile of First Solar and conventional silicon based modules as published in a paper in Photovoltaics International.
The right image depicts the CDE technology, which combines waste cadmium (generated as a by-product of zinc refining) with tellurium (a by-product of copper refining) into cadmium telluride (CdTe), a highly stable compound. In module manufacturing, an extremely thin layer of CdTe is deposited and bonded to the surface of one sheet of glass and encapsulated by another sheet of glass, creating the complete module which is sealed with a laminate material.

image: First Solar

All PV semiconductor technologies drop off in efficiency as temperature rises, and this loss of output is expressed in a temperature coefficient, which in the case of silicon based modules is around -0.5%.

In contrast, First Solar published in the journal Photovoltaics International data showing that its cadmium-telluride (CdTe) modules perform with a temperature coefficient of -0.25% per degree Celsisus. As a result, while First Solar modules appear to be less efficient at lower temperatures, according to the data they outperform silicon based modules at temperatures above 25 degrees Celsius.

Hence they may be better suited for the environmental conditions prevailing at the NSW sites.

More information: www.arena.go.au; see also ARENA fact sheet.





















































































































































































































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Strategic desert


There is expressed discomfort within the R&D community that for the first time since 1931 an Australian Government does not include a Minister dedicated to science and research.

As it stands, the newly appointed Minister for Industry, Ian Macfarlane, will have some responsibility for R&D and innovation, including for the CSIRO.

But the emerging picture suggests that science policy will now be even more fragmented across government portfolios than in the past.

In light of this we revisit a report Australia's Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb released in July.

The report Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in the National Interest: A Strategic Approach established that while there is considerable public investment in the STEM sciences in Australia, the returns are not optimal and urgently require a more strategic approach.


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In 2012-13 the Australian Government invested around $9 billion in a suite of 79 initiatives but these were fragmented across 14 portfolios.

Outline of the Strategy highlighting the primary purpose of STEM to achieve a better Australia by addressing clearly articulated goals.

And while we are still in the top performing group of nations, Australia's scientific enterprise has become vulnerable through the combined corrosive effect of rationing, ranking, short-term support through terminating programs, erosion of infrastructure and the unpredictability of the critical medium to long-term investment pipeline.

What is concerning is that Australian policy makers appear to lack the national urgency found in the US, East Asia and much of Western Europe to develop clear and cohesive strategies for advancing STEM.

Therefore the strategy paper includes a proposal for a coordinated whole-of-government policy approach, directed either through an enhanced PMSEIC or a new high-level committee. For example, in the US this is achieved through a National Science and Technology Council headed by the US president.

There also needs to be purpose and direction across the breadth of government programs.

Short-term funding or a termination of funding should only used sparingly, and only with a strategic purpose.

Despite the importance of STEM for Australia's economic and societal development, the moral dimensions of its utilisation is a province of society as a whole. "Science doesn't replace moral judgement. It just extends the context of knowledge within which moral judgements are made." However, the strategy paper cites a report by the League of European Research Universities (LERU) which found that too little new high quality knowledge is shared with the community or made accessible to politicians and decision makers.

A major objective is therefore to initiate a refreshed Social Compact about responsibilities and obligations related to STEM. This should be facilitated by the Australian Government and involve governments, community and STEM practioners.

The Compact should commit STEM practitioners to high ethical standards. Another obligation would be to describe benefits, risks and limits of knowledge when contributing to policy development. Research outcomes of publicly funded STEM research should also be openly accessible.

In return, the community would commit to agree to sustain public and private STEM research investments comparable with best performing nations, while allowing and respecting that the design and monitoring of STEM methods and processes are up to the practitioner peer community.

However, the community can only fully appreciate STEM research if it becomes more STEM literate, also in understanding scientific method, philosophy and history of science. Therefore, a major emphasis of the strategy paper is on laying out pathways how the decline in STEM education can be reversed. This includes that federal and state government are urged to cooperate in changing the education system across all its elements to better prepare students for a future increasingly bound to STEM.

Another key focus of the strategy paper is on our innovation system

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Innovation is seen as a key to improve Australian productivity and it has been a focus of recent policy initiatives. For example, targeting business innovation the former Government established Commercialisation Australia in 2010 to support SMEs in bringing new products to the market. The strategy paper acknowledges its success but, in line with various previous reports, notes that there are still structural barriers that inhibit the flow of people and ideas between private and public sectors. A cultural change will be required to minimise risk aversion and maximise risk management.

In 2011, just 4% of companies developed innovations new to the world.

This despite Australia's comparably strong research base. We contribute around 3% of the global research output with a population share of just 0.3%. However, in stark contrast to countries such as the US or Switzerland, where researchers are predominately employed in the business sector, Australia's research work occurs mostly in universities and research agencies, which together employ around 70% of all researchers.

A poor translation of research into new products has long been understood as a major weakness of Australia's innovation system

Yet after decades of inducement through publicly funded investment and incentive programs, business innovation involving universities or publicly funded organisations is still relatively rare.

The strategy paper proposes the establishment of a National Innovation Council to accelerate the commercialisation of ideas stemming from publicly funded research.

A series of proposed actions also seek to enhance the flow of STEM qualified people between the public and the private sector. However, ultimately stronger collaboration between the sectors could be achieved with higher levels of researcher employment in business.

Supplying business with a pool or graduates that bring the right kind of skills will be crucial.

An estimated 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge.

And if Australia is to move towards a high-value, export-oriented manufacturing sector it will require greater STEM competencies and skill sets in the workforce.

This is also a global trend. The strategy paper cites the US as an example, where an estimated 60% of the workforce of 2020 will require skills held by only 20% today. Such changes in the demand for a STEM skilled workforce will need to be addressed through measures such as funding for skilling and reskilling, and partnerships between prospective employers and education providers for training 'work-ready' graduates.

There is demand.

However, in Australia a proper assessment of what business requires from a STEM educated workforce is impeded by the lack of relevant statistics and information. What is clear, though, is that the current low entry of STEM researchers in the business sector presents a lost opportunity for our economy.

More of our science and research has to flow into economic outcomes. But at the same time Australia has to continue and increase its contributions to world knowledge. Only then we can fully benefit from the global flow of new ideas. After all, 97% of world knowledge occurs elsewhere.

While the strategy paper identifies Australia's policy short termism as a major impediment, it also breaks with the Australian tradition of sharply delineating 'pure' and 'applied' dimensions of science.

"The community receives optimal returns from STEM (and other) investments when the whole spectrum of research is fully supported."

Government investment for STEM is crucial also as business has only a limited capacity for basic research, because of the high upfront costs, uncertainty of outcome, openness of knowledge and the potential re-use by others.

Nevertheless, with the recently released Strategic Research Priorities a proportion of the support could be appropriated selectively to focus on certain areas of research.

But as knowledge knows no borders, and global challenges are emerging, there also is a need for more coordinated responses. The strategy paper lays out a strong case that we need more international collaboration and have to share capacity with neighbours that face similar challenges.

"There is now an opportunity to share talents, skills, expertise and infrastructure that arises rarely".

One key proposal put forward to extend regional research cooperation is the establishment of an Asian-Area Research Zone. This could enable to streamline resources in order to develop strategies and infrastructure to tackle shared priorities within the region.

More information:www.chiefscientist.gov.au
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Fly like a BERD


6 Sept 2013 - In 2011-12, Australian businesses continued to increase their spending on R&D (BERD). However, as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) spending decreased slightly from 1.28% to 1.24%.

According to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), BERD was $18.3 billion in 2011-12, an increase of 2% from the previous year, of which 96% was also funded by the business sector.

As in previous years, almost all of the funds were spent in the research fields of Engineering (62%) and ICT (30%), mainly undertaking experimental development (62% of BERD) and applied research (32% of BERD). Typical for Australia, only around 1% of BERD was directed towards pure basic research.

Click image for an interactive infographics

Despite the overall increase of BERD, Queensland and Victoria reported a significant downturn in spending - down $180 million and $141 million, respectively. This was offset by large increases in Western Australia (up $320 million and South Australia up $215 million).

In relative terms, the South Australian business sector reported the strongest increase in expenditure (26%). However, at 1.15% of its Gross State Product (GSP), the State's level of BERD is still well behind that of Western Australia (1.50% of GDP), NSW (1.40% of GDP) and Victoria (1.21%).

Queensland's BERD as a proportion of GSP fell from 0.99% to just 0.88%.

The New South Wales' business sector is by far the largest contributor, accounting for 35% of total BERD, while the second largest contributor to BERD, Victoria, is losing ground. With a share of 22% it is now only slightly ahead of Western Australia.

Victoria's poorer performance can be explained with the State's large manufacturing base. While nation-wide Manufacturing is still the major contributor to Australian BERD, accounting for 24% of R&D expenditure, the sector spent 7% ($331 million) less on R&D in 2011-12 than in 2010-11. By contrast, the mining industry, with 22% now the second largest contributor, increased its spending by 7% ($265 million).

Strong increases also occured in the financial and insurance services sector (up 8%, $217 million) as well as the professional, scientific and technical services sector (up 5%, $125 million). These industries contributed each 16%.

A more detailed analysis of the ABS data highlights how spending on R&D reflects the broader changes in the Australian economy (you can explore this in the interactive infographic). A comparison of the expenditures on R&D between industry sectors since 2005-06 reveals that while Mining is closing in to Manufacturing, the finance and insurance industries had the most significant increasesin R&D expenditure. Their share in BERD almost doubled from 9.6% in 2005-06 to 16.4% in 2011-12.

The lion's share of BERD is carried out by larger firms. In 2011-12, businesses with 200 or more employees accounted for 66% of Australia's BERD. Those with 20-199 contributed a further 21%. Interestingly, micro businesses (0-4 employees) reported the largest relative increase from the previous year, up 18% ($147 million), while large firms decreased their BERD spending, down 2% ($187 million). This is despite the strong performance of the mining sector, in which large firms are highly represented.





































































































































































































































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...with the right performance enhancers


The potential of innovation for improving business performance has been highlighted in a recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).
Click image for an interactive infographic

The Selected Characteristics of Australian Business, 2011-12 broadly covers data from the agency's 2011-12 Business Characteristics Survey which asked businesses about their performance compared to the previous year, which innovations they undertook during the period and their use of ICT.

Across all relevant indicators, including productivity, respondends indicated markedly better performances when they also engaged in a form of innovation activity (see figure). Thus, innovation-active businesses were more than twice as likely to report an increase in productivity than businesses that were not innovation-active.

It has to be noted, though, that the results do not discern how innovation-activity relates to performance improvements.


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In line with previous reports in the series, many of the investigated indicators were found strongly influenced by the size of the individual businesses. For example, 38% of large businesses (200 or more persons employed) reported collaborative activities, with 15% engaging in joint R&D projects. By contrast, only around 12% of micro businesses (up to 4 persons) were collaborating, with 3% engaged in joint R&D projects.

Using intellectual property (IP) protection is also strongly dependent on business size. More than 70% of business employing less than 20 people had no methods for IP, while almost 70% of large businesses used some form of IP.

Overall, only 22% of Australian businesses use some form of IP protection.

The results on business indicators reflect the particular characteristic of the Australian business landscape which is heavily geared towards smaller sized firms, although this varies between industry sectors (see insert). Across all Australian businesses less than 1% are large businesses with 200 or more persons employed, yet they contribute 43% of the total economic output (total value added) of Australia's private sector.

According to a recent report on Australia's small businesses by the Department of Innovation, the share of small businesses with less than 20 employees was almost 96% in 2011. This included 85% micro businesses of which 61% were non-employing and a further 24% with up to 4 persons. Only 3.8% were medium sized (20-199 persons) and less than 1% large businesses with 200 and more employees.

Around 84% of all small businesses are in the Services industry sector.

While a high proportion of small businesses (more than 80%) are found across all industry sectors, their share share of employment and contribution to a sector's activities varies markedly. Thus they employ almost 86% of people working in Agriculture, forestry and fishing while only around 15% in Mining and 31% in Manufacturing. Around half of the total private sector workforce is employed in small businesses. Across all industries, small businesses contribute around 34% of total value added but this varies significantly between sectors. For example, the share of small businesses in total value added is 9% in Mining, 20% in Manufacturing, 38% in Services and more than 80% in Agriculture, forestry and fishing.

Similarly, innovative activity and its impact on business performance differs with business size.

The ABS data show that in 2011-12 around 47% of businesses undertook a kind of innovative activity (with 41% actually introducing one), an increase of 8 percentage points from the previous year.

While 39% of micro businesses (0-4 persons) were innovation-active, this was reported by 76% of large businesses (200 and more persons). Across all businesses, 25% had an innovation still in development yet this was the case for 54% of large businesses.

Not only the capacity for innovations but also the type of innovations that available resources can be directed to varies with the size of a business. Innovations introduced in large businesses were more often related to improvements in operational processes (45% of large businesses), organisational/managerial processes (47%) and marketing methods (38%). Only 30% reported improved or new goods or services.

By contrast, smaller firms, of which 33% reported the introduction of an innovation in 2011-12, are more focussed on the introduction of goods and services than on other types of innovation. Thus, 17% reported improved or new goods and services, while businesses reporting operational or organisational/managerial processes and marketing methods were less frequent, each introduced by around 15% of micro businesses.

The strongest correlation with size was with innovations in organisational/managerial processes, which presumably are more important in larger corporations.

Interestingly, the ABS data do not reveal a direct correlation between business size and encountering a barrier to innovation, such as funds or cost of innovation. From micro to large employment size, the percentage of businesses reporting a barrier ranged between 35% and 53%, averaging at 45%. The occurrence of most examined barriers were similar across all business sizes, while others did not reveal a clear relationship to size.

For example, the lack of access to skilled workers was reported by around 18% of all businesses, including by a similar percentage of micro businesses (14%) and large businesses (17%), while almost 25% of small (5-19 persons) and medium sized (20-199) businesses reported this as a problem.

Comparably important barriers experienced across all business sizes were costs (14%), Government regulations and compliance (14%), and market uncertainty (16%).

The lack of access to additional funds, overall the most frequently reported impediment, is an exception to this. It was encountered by a total of 20% of businesses, but while this percentage was similar for micro, small and medium sized businesses (19%, 23% and 17%, respectively), it was reported by only 10% of large businesses.

Less than 5% of all businesses found a lack of access to knowledge or technology or the adherence to standards an impediment to innovation.

...as profits are increasingly on the line


An increasingly important indication that businesses are advancing and become more competitive is the use of ICT and e-commerce through the Internet.

Here the ABS data reveal a clear connection between innovative and web-based activities. This was especially significant in smaller firms (to explore see the infographics). Thus, 54% of micro businesses (0-4 persons) that had engaged in any form of innovation during the period had also a web presence, which compares to only 21% of businesses that were not innovation-active.

Click image for an interactive infographic

Published in seperate reports in June and August the ABS has detailed the use of the Internet by Australian businesses as of 2011-12 (to explore some of the key stats in detail click on the second infographic).

The ABS reports show that e-commerce is rapidly becoming a major component of Australian business activity. The worth of orders received by Australian business via the Internet increased by 25% to $237 billion in 2011-12. Nevertheless, the proportion of business receiving the orders remained largely unchanged at 28%, although the proportion of businesses placing orders via the Internet rose slightly from 51% in 2010-11 to 55% in 2011-12.

As depicted in the infographic, the way businesses use ICT again varies strongly between industry sectors and the size of businesses. For example, mining businesses have a relatively high web presence but are less likely to receive an order via the Internet. Agriculture, forestry and fishing has the lowest proportion of businesses with a web presence, but is around average in placing orders via the Internet.


In addition, social media is a growing component of web based activities. Thus almost half (48%) of businesses in the Arts and recreation services industry have a social media presence.

Again notable is how business size determines the use of ICT and the potential benefits from e-commerce, despite smaller business being almost equally well connected to the Internet than larger businesses.

The 1% of large businesses increased their income generated through e-commerce from around $66 billion in 2009-10 to around $129 billion in 2011-12. Over the same period, micro (0-4 persons) and small businesses (5-19 persons), which together account for more than 95% of businesses, raised their income earned through the web from $38.5 billion to just $48.9 billion.

While e-commerce and the use of the Internet for interacting with clients is increasingly important, not every business has a web presence nor has a need for it. In fact, this was the most common reason why they had not set up a website, reported by 64% of businesses. By comparison, lack of technical expertise (23%) or too high set up costs (17.9) and ongoing maintenance costs (13.5%) were less reported issues.

However, there is a wide range of processes, in which ICT plays a role, such as for accounting. While overall financial activities are the most common activities for business of all sizes, indicated by 85% of respondents, other uses of ICT are more variable depending on business size.

This includes working from home, which was far less common in smaller businesses than in larger businesses (reported by 38% of micro businesses compared to 77% of large businesses).


The gap is shrinking, though. Over the period from 2009-10 to 2011-12, respondents from micro businesses had the greatest increase (8%), indicating that they use ICT to work from home.

More information: www.abs.gov.au
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Dear pie sought in the sky


New funding of $26 million over 6 years, announced in the August budget of the Western Australian Government (see 'It's budget time'), launches the next phase of the International Centre of Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR).
Night sky at MWA site

image: John Goldsmith

ICRAR was established in 2009 as a joint venture between Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

International in its scope, the research institute was set up to create a collaborative environment for scientists and engineers working with industry on projects related to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

In May 2012, the Australian-New Zealand partnership was tasked to host components of the SKA telescope, in a split arrangement with South Africa.

The project is to operate over a wide range of frequencies, from less than 100 megahertz (MHz) to several gigahertz (GHz). In preparation, the project partners set up 3 major precursor projects, the South African MeerKAT telescope, and in Australia the CSIRO-led SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP), launched last year as well as the $51 million Murchison Widefield Array (MWA), constructed by an international consortium of universities.

The MWA officially opened its operations in July at the Western Australian Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory (MRO), which is also home to ASKAP.

A low-frequency radio telescop operating between 80 and 300 megahertz (MHz), the MWA features entirely static (no moving parts) and is capable of picking up radio waves that have travelled between 8 minutes (the Sun) and more than 13 billion years (soon after the Big Bang).

Its prime objective is to survey the entire Southern Hemisphere, for example to detect intergalactic hydrogen gas that surrounded early galaxies during the so called reionization epoch. As with ASKAP, the MWA generated data will be then processed at the 800 kilometres away Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre for SKA Science in Perth.

More information: www.ircrar.org

















































































































































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Invented protection


The Advisory Council on Intellectual Property (ACIP) has provided further pieces to the ongoing process of overhauling our patent system.

At the end of August, it released an option paper for its review of the innovation patent system. It follows on from an issues paper released in 2011.

In addition to this review, the ACIP has also started a review of Australia's designs system, for which it released an issues paper in September 2013.

Australia's system for innovation patents primarily targets small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs). It was established in 2001 as a form of second tier patent protection, which can be obtained relatively quickly and cheaply with a lower inventive threshold than is set out for standard patents.

In fact, the threshold for standard patents has just been further raised through the Intellectual Property Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012.

The idea behind innovation patents is that SMEs can protect incremental inventions on the way to a marketable product. However, there are concerns that by providing similar protection levels to standard patents the system also opened the door to the unjustified blocking of new technologies, particularly in the information technology industry.


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Other concerns address the potential misuse of so called divisional innovation patents, which people may acquire for tactical purposes to protect higher-level inventions rather than to protect the lower-level inventions the system was designed for.

But a study by VERVE Economics, commissioned by IP Australia with a report released in 2013, found that by and large innovation patents are not used for strategic reasons. Around 90% of innovation patent filings are made by SMEs or individual inventors, and the vast majority are Australian applicants, which contrasts standard patents. Their main purpose appears to be the protection of innovations and enhancing the reputation of the firm. By contrast, the low innovative threshold was found to play only a minor role.

In a recent consultation paper on this issue, IP Australia therefore proposed raising the threshold of the inventive step in innovation patents to that of standard patents. The former Government was open to this, despite concerns that such a move could effectively make the innovation patent system obsolete.

The ACIP options paper now covers all possibilities ranging from the potential abolition of the entire system and the option of keeping the status quo.

More information: http://www.acip.gov.au

















































































































































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Better safe than sorry

IP Australia has released its Australian Intellectual Property Report 2013, the first in a new annual series of reports on the state of Australia's Intellectual Property System.

What makes this report an interesting read is that it is not just providing data on trade mark and patent filings. Within the context of an analysis of Australia's IP activity it also delivers a well rounded review of Australia's position as a trading nation.

A central message is that for advanced industrialised economies it is innovation, not production, that drives growth. It is now less important where products are assembled than who owns key resources and new ideas, for which IP is a key. Thus, the iPhone is wholly assembled in China but for just 2% of the overall profit.

Australia's investment in ideas as a percentage of GDP is below that of other developed countries, especially innovation leaders such as the US, Sweden and Switzerland. It has also not yet made the important shift towards so called intangible assets (R&D, design, organisational expertise and branding) which are important facilitators of new product development and productivity improvements.

For example, in the US the intagible stock of capital is equal to 91% of tangible assets, whereas in Australia it is only 4%.


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Australia is a net importer of technology and IP. Thus in 2011, according to OECD figures, Australia spent $8.3 billion on technology but earned only $4.9 billion. The IP Australia report shows that this deficit is driven by more innovative regions, including Switzerland, Japan, the US and EU-15, while we are net technology exporters to less advanced regions in Asia and many non-OECD countries.

Australia is also in negative territory in terms of its IP trade balance. Thus, over the past decade payments for IP were around 1%-1.5% of the current account, while earning were at around 0.25% - 0.5% of the current account

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However, being a net importer of IP is not necessarily negative for the economy as long as that knowledge leads to increased domestic productivity.

Our role in the world of trading nations is still primarily defined by the export of raw materials, and while we have benefited from the strong terms of trade in mining, we are uncomfortably exposed to fluctuating global commodity prices.

Among its efforts to lift Australia's innovation game, the former Government also initiated an extensive overhaul of our national IP system. This was also to align its standards with that of our major trading partners. It is noteworthy, though, that according to the latest Global IP Index, the effectiveness and administrative performance of Australia's IP system already ranks globally third, and every part of its system that was considered ranked in the top ten.

Applications for patents and trade marks in Australia have now recovered from a short dip during the global financial crisis (GFC), with trade mark and design filings well ahead of pre-GFC levels.

Patent applications from Australian residents increased by 11% between 2011 and 2012, around 90% of filings were by non-residents. Of these more than 40% were from US residents, followed by residents from Japan (7%) and Germany (6%). By comparison, applications from Chinese and South Korean residents accounted for just around 2% each of total applications, although their number rose by 34% and 48%, respectively, during the period.

The US is also the dominant overseas destination for Australians seeking a patent elsewhere. Overall Australians filed 58% more patents overseas than at home and in 2011, the US accounted for 44% of their applications, while 30% of applications were in Asia and only 10% in Europe.

The picture for trade marks is markedly different in that 66% of filings in Australia were from Australian residents in 2012. This reflects the fundamentally different purpose of trade marks to identify or distinguish the source of a service or a good, while a patent grants and inventor the temporary right to exclusively exploit his invention.

As with patents, among the group of foreign applicants in Australia, the US was also by far the dominant source country for trade marks, accounting for 34% of applications, followed by Germany (6.5%) and China (5.7%).

However, the IP Australia report emphasises that there has been a sizable shift towards China in filings by Australian residents overseas, with growth particularly strong during and after the GFC. In 2011, China accounted for 19% of fillings, and surpassed New Zealand (17%) and the US (15%) as the leading destination for Australian trade mark applications.

A further 20% of applications were in other Asian countries.

IP Australia interprets this as a sign that market activity is shifting towards Asia, as trade marks are often the first kind of protection sought for a new product.

The report also provides an account of Australian state-by-state activities. With patents, NSW and Victoria together account for almost 90% of all applications, although including territories the ACT has with 200 patents per million residents by far the highest number of applications per persons (NSW: 139; Victoria: 119; Western Australia: 106; Queensland: 105.)

However, Australia's currently weakest states in terms of their economy are also are well behind in patent as well as in trade mark activities, although due to the low absolute numbers these figures have to be treated with caution. Nevertheless, per million residents, South Australians produce only 88 patents, Tasmanians a distant 27. Similarly, in their trade mark activity, South Australians are with 1,431 filings per million residents well behind other states and the ACT (Vic: 2129; NSW: 2084; ACT: 1675), only just edging out Western Australia (1304)

More information: www.ipaustralia.gov.au
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Dollars for the scholars


October/November 2013 - Australia's major research funding agencies, the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC), have awarded research grants and fellowships worth a total of over $1 billion dollar.

Bucks for drugs


Click image to explore the infographic
The 2013 funding round of three NHMRC research support schemes and five fellowship schemes will support 963 new projects with $551 million.

This year the agency received over 5000 applications for NHMRC Project Grants, NHMRC Partnership Project grants, European Union Collaborative Research Grants and NHMRC fellowships.

From this pool of applications only around 19% were selected for funding.

NHMRC 2013 grants

In a breakdown the awarded grants include:
  • 652 NHMRC project grants worth $423.5 million for investigator-initiated research projects in clinical, biomedical, public health and health services research;
  • 6 NHMRC partnership projects worth $4.5 million for projects involving researchers and policy makers to identify tailored, evidence-based solutions that improve health practice;
  • 12 European Union Collaborative Research Grants worth $4 million for Australian researchers working in multinational research collaborative projects; and
  • 293 NHMRC fellowships worth $126.9 million, which comprise:
  • 128 Early Career Fellowship grants worth $38.6 million;
  • 60 Career Development Fellowship grants worth $23.9 million;
  • 11 TRIP Fellowship grants worth $1.9 million;
  • 78 Research Fellowship grants worth $54.6 million; and
  • Practitioner Fellowship grants worth $7.9 million.

However, as is explored in more detail in the infographic, the success rate of organisations varied significantly.


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On balance, health and medical research (HMR) organisations, such as the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute, and larger universities had higher success rates than smaller universities.

Thus half of the applications were contributed by a group of 24 top performing organisations, which had an average success rate of 36%. The remaining half of applications from 54 organisations had a average success rate of only 12%.

Consequently, NHMRC research funding tends to be relatively concentrated in few research organisations - just 5 out of 77 aplying institutions accounted for more than 50% of total awarded grant funding.

In a state by state comparison, Victorian organisations were awarded the highest amount, with $236.4 million for 414 grants. This accounted for almost half of all NHMRC grant support, with Victoria's premier university, the University of Melbourne, receiving the greatest amount of funding of all research institutions ($80.1 million for 145 grants).

The toys are still mostly for the boys


The ARC has awarded 1177 research grants worth $522 million as part of its Future Fellowships scheme (commencing 2013) and major grants scheme (commencing 2014).

For its major grant scheme, the ARC Discovery Projects, the success rate was relatively low with only 19.9% of applications approved, which compares with 21.4% in the previous year. The total amount of awarded funding was also slightly less although the value of grants approved over the life of the projects was more than in the previous funding round, up by 1.5%.

ARC 2013 grants

In a breakdown the ARC grants will support:
  • 703 projects under the Discovery Projects scheme;
  • 201 projects under the Future Fellowships scheme;
  • 200 projects under the Discovery Early Career Research Award scheme;
  • 63 projects under the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme; and
  • 10 projects under the Discovery Indigenous scheme.

The ARC funding of Discovery Projects spread relatively evenly across all states/territories (with the exception of the AT). However, there were still notable differences in grant success even among larger research intensive universities. Thus, the Australian National University , the University of Western Australia and the University of Queensland had significantly higher funding rates (32%, 29% and 26%), than Sydney and New South Wales universities (both around 19%).

Around 90% of successful Discovery Projects proposals address National Research Priority areas.

Click image to explore the infographic

As is detailed in the infographic, the ARC provided statistics on the funding reveal the persistent gender gap across fields of science. Thus of the 9951 participants named on all project proposals, only 2440 were female compared to 7485 males, a ratio of 0.32. And this is not about to change as the ratio of female to male applicants was even lower in the career determining age group 25-29 and 30-39 (0.27 and 0.28).

This is further aggravated by a much lower grant success rate of early career females. Thus, females in the age group 25-29 achieved just half the funding rate of their male counterparts.

This cannot be explained by just differences in the preference of females for certain areas of research as the grant success rate spread relatively even across all fields of science, ranging between 18.5% and 21.5%.

Of 703 approved Discovery Project proposals, 443 foreshadowed international collaboration with researchers in 63 overseas locations. However, the ARC statistics also demonstrate that common language and cultural links may still play an important role in the choice for collaborators.

Thus the US and the UK together accounted for 43% of the 830 foreshadowed instances of collaboration. Potential collaborations with the UK were indicated by 133 approved proposals, while only 54 proposals foreshadowed such instances with Chinese researchers. Yet according to the SCImago Journal & Country Rank, China is now contributing more scientific papers in journals written in the English language than the UK.

In parts this may be due to quality and focus of China's research. However, the output and quality of German and Japanese researchers is comparable to that of the UK. Nevertheless, with 70 and 32 collaborative instances, respectively, researchers from these countries are far less often a choice of collaboration for Australian researchers.





















































































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Stemming the challenge


The clinical scope for regenerative medicine is undoubtedly great, with much of the expectations focussed on stem cell therapies.

However, for most applications envisioned for human embryonic stem cells (ESCs), and more recently human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs) and mesenchymal stem cells, 'potential' may still most accurately describe the state of development.

Here we trace the progression of new stem cell therapies into clinical practice, in Australia and abroad.

In a recent review covering the translation of stem cell discoveries, one of Australia's most distinguished experts in the field, Professor Alan Trounson, writes that there is great momentum in the basic research across the breadth of potential applications.

However, "the spectrum of translational studies is rather limited".


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Professor Trounson is a former professor of stem cell sciences and founding director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories (Monash University). He also founded the Australian Stem Cell Centre, co-founded the Monash Institute for Reproduction and Development and was a pioneer in the development of human in vitro fertilization (IVF).

Recently he announced that he would step down from his current role as head of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), which was endowed with a budget of $3 billion over 10 years by Carlifornia's taxpayers to help discoveries in stem cell biology progression into the clinic.

The funding has global reach, with CIRM frequently co-funding international research teams through international agreements, including with the State of Victoria.

In November, a global survey of clinical trials evaluating stem cell therapies was published in the journal Regenerative Medicine.
Clinical trials of stem cell therapies - industry involvement
Click image to enlarge

The study identified 4749 stem cell clinical trials registered worldwide. Of these, 1058 were 'novel' trials, which the authors defined as trials that were not observational in nature; did not involve an established stem cell therapy for an established indication, such as hematopoietic stem cells for leukemia; and did not investigate supportive measures...more

According to Professor Trounson efforts to boost translation are urgently needed despite the general optimism for effective therapies, as the absence of sufficient recognition for product development by universities left the area without inducement for academics to attempt translation.

At the same time, public funding bodies find it difficult to fund industry for translation and early clinical trial development as these are subject to at times short term interests of shareholders rather than the long term interests of the public.

The environment for businesses in the field is tough, although a recent study has found that globally the extent of industry involvement has grown rapidly since 2004 (see insert). There is little venture capital around and the regulatory pathways for stem cell therapies are often less clear than for other clinical developments, which can cause costly delays.

Professor Trounson and coworkers have recently proposed a partnership model to facilitate more focussed collaborations between academia and biotechnology industry in the absence of sufficient venture capital.

The thrust of the proposal is that public funding, such as provided through the CIRM, will sustain projects to at least proof-of-concept stage in humans (Phase IIb clinical trial).

However, not all areas of stem cell research face the many ethical and regulatory obstacles that have stymied translational progress with human ESCs and iPSCs (in fact, ESCs have so far been used in just a handful of clinical trials).

The outstanding example is the transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells, adult stem cells that can mature into blood cells.

While this clinical approach has revolutionised the treatment of blood cancers. it has its own set of limitations.

Bone marrow, the most commonly used source for hematopoietic stem cells, also contains immune cells, which can cause fatal complications. Immune cells introduced through 'allogeneic' bone marrow, in which case the donor differs from the recipient, they may start attack the 'foreign' tissue in their new environment. The condition is known as graft versus host disease (GvHD). As a result, hematopoietic stem cell transplants usually require the tissue donor to be either identical (autologous) or immunologically closely related to the receiving patient, and the use of immunosuppressant drugs.

GvHD is less frequently with umbilical cord blood, but its content of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) is relatively low, and so far researchers have failed to reliably expand hematopoietic stem cells in the laboratory.

However, researchers at Australian company Mesoblast have advanced a potential solution to the problem through the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), which they found can promote the expansion of hematopoietic stem cells before they are transplanted into patients. Currently tested in a Phase 3 trial in patients with hematological malignancies, the company hopes that this application will provide patients with a life-saving source of hematopoietic stem cells in cases where no matching donor is available.

With a current market capitalisation of around $2 billion a stellar performer in the nation's biotech space, Mesoblast has built its core business on the development of a range of therapies that are based on MSCs and precursor cells that give rise to MSCs - Mesenchymal Precursor Cells (MPCs).

While HSCs are destined to become blood cells, MSCs form a second tier of adult stem cells that can differentiate into all cell types found in tissues of the bone: bone tissue itself, fat tissue, cartilage and so called fibroblasts as well as hematopoiesis-supporting connective tissue. Types of these multipotent cells are present in a range of tissues such as bone marrow, fat tissue, the umbilical cord and even our teeth.

In addition to their capacity of transforming into specialised body cells, MSCs also serve important regulatory functions in the body. Factors released by these cells may act on target tissues to induce blood vessel formation, prevent heart muscle death, reduce fibrous scar tissue, improve bone and cartilage growth, and modulate the key elements of the immune system, including monocytes and T cells.

Important for their potential use in therapies is also that these cells appear not to trigger an immune response when transferred between unrelated persons. Thus the transplanted cells can be used 'allogeneic' to the recipient without the need for immunosuppressant drugs.

One feature of MSCs the company seeks to exploit is the capacity of MSCs to reduce the body's immune and inflammatory responses. A recent paper in the journal Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation, indicates that due to this characteristic a preparation of culture expanded allogeneic human MSCs can increase the survival of children who after a bone marrow transplanatation develop acute GvHD despite a treatment with standard immunsuppressants.

In November, Mesoblast announced that through its collaborator partner JCR Pharmaceuticals Co. Ltd it plans to register a MSC-based product for the treatment of steroid-refractory GvHD in Japan. This step could be helped significantly by a change in Japnese legislation under which stem cell products may be approved as regenerative medicines, which may only require the demonstration of safety in a Phase 2 clinical trial.

If successful it would be the first allogeneic cell-based product approved in Japan, and the result of the acquisition of the culture-expanded mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) business developed by US company Osiris Therapeutics. The deal, announced in October, will cost Mesoblast up to $100 million not including royalty payments on potential future sales. In return it will also get the rights to Prochymal, which is in Phase 3 trials for acute GvDH and also Crohn's disease. According to Osiris, it is the only stem cell therapeutic currently designated by the FDA as both an Orphan Drug and Fast Track product.

In addition to the now acquired drug developments, Mesoblast expects that in 2014 it will also progress Phase 3 clinical trials in congestive heart failure), orthopedics (spinal fusion and intervertebral disc repair) and cord blood expansion in bone marrow transplantation).

Another Australian company has based its business model on MSCs. Regeneus, which only since September lists on the ASX, has used a different approach to rapidly progress its regenerative medicine products into the clinic: the company has developed MSC-based products for both humans and animals and by first targeting the veterinarian market has found an effective testing ground for the subsequent clinical application.

Indeed, Regeneus core cell therapy products, a treatment of human musculoskeletal conditions and two related products for the treatment of canine and equine musculoskeletal conditions, are already commercially available.

The treatment is based on relatively simple proprietary method through which adipose-derived regenerative cells, including MSCs, can be obtained from a patient's own fat. As this provides enough cells for a treatment, a patient's own cells can be administered, which elegantly overcomes potential regulatory hurdles.

Undoubtedly, MSCs are attractive for regenerative medicine developments. A recent comprehensive analysis of clinical trials listed worldwide highlights that most of the increases in novel clinical trials since 2006 are due to trials using MSCs.

.The study also found that since 2009 the number of clinical trials with allogeneic products has rapidly increased although there are still more based on autologous approaches.

Nevertheless, MSCs are still newcomers in the regenerative medicine field and their story is far more complex than can be explored here (For an excellent review see Bianco et al (2013) Nature Medicine,19, 35–42; doi:10.1038/nm.3028). It is also important to note that while adult stem cells, such MSCs and also hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), have the important capacity of self-renewal, the range of cell types they can develop into is limited - consequently they are considered to be multipotent.

This marks a crucial contrast to the pluripotent nature of human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and human induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).

The spectrum of potential applications for ESCs and iPSCs is huge with envisioned replacement therapies hoped to bring about not only improved treatments but potential cures for diseases ranging from neurological disorders, cardiac diseases, hematologic diseases to diseases of the liver.

Parkinson's disease is one prominent example, in which already decades ago the transplantation of fetal tissue rich in neural stem cells showed a potential for an effective and lasting therapeutic approach that could replenish lost dopamine receptors in the brain. Fetal tissue are limited in supply, but grafts with human ESCs that are directed to become dopaminergic neurons were effective in animal models. However, there remain many problems, and not just legal and ethical ones, that have so far marred the translation of human ESC-based therapies such as for Parkinson.

Thus ESCs can form teratomas, a form of encapsulated tumor, which is a characteristic also used to test the pluripotency of cell lines. There is also still a limited body of knowledge about the basic factors and mechanisms that control the maturation of an ESC to a differentiated body cell.

But for clinical applications the most difficult hurdle may be that ESCs based therapies usually require the need for drugs that suppress the rejection of the 'foreign' cells by the recipient's immune system.

Not only is this likely to have serious side-effects, it is also not clear whether these drugs will impact on the ability of the stem cells to transform into the desired cell type.

There are examples to overcome this limitation. US firm ViaCyte develops human ESCs for the treatment of type 1 diabetes, which they found can be directed to become progenitor cells to functional insulin-secreting cells. Recently they reported the manufacture of these cells on a scale and reproducibility required for clinical use. There strategy to prevent immune rejection is to place the cells into thin plastic capsules. Inserted under the skin of patients they will allow free flow of oxygen, nutrients, and other factors such as insulin but protect the cells from the patient’s immune system. [This strategy is reminiscent of the approach of Australian/New Zealand company Living Cell Technologies Limited . Its DIABECELL product targeting the treatment of type 1 diabetes is based on pig insulin producing pancreas cells which are enclosed in nanoporous alginate capsules to prevent immune rejection.]

Since the early 2000s spare human embryos produced by in vitro fertilisation and then grown in culture to the so called blastocyst stage were made available to produce pluripotent and potentially immortal human ESC lines.

Additional ESC lines stem from IVF embryos in which genetic profiling before implantation revealed a disease causing genetic defect and which provide invaluable study objects.

However, as the pool of cells lines rapidly grew, the challenge emerged to ensure certain standards through which researchers can access traceable, quality-controlled and ethically sourced stem cell lines.

This motivated the International Stem Cell Forum's International Stem Cell Banking Initiative (ISCBI), which was founded in 2003 with the aim to create a global network of stem cell banks alongside of an agreed set of international standards for banking, characterisation and testing of human ESC lines. Coordinated by the UK Stem Cell Bank, it includes 13 member organisations, including the NHMRC.

A similar challenge now presents itself for researchers working with human induced pluripotent stem cells.

Human iPSC are currently generated by forcing adult body cells to produce certain gene regulating factors, so called transcription factors, which then activate genes characteristic for the embryonic pluripotent state of cells.

First produced in 2006 from mouse cells and then in 2007 from human cells, iPSCs were hailed as a crucial breakthrough for the advance of regenerative medicine: similar to ESCs they are pluripotent (hence form teratomas), but they can be prepared from a patient's own cells which are then less likely to cause immune rejection (although this can still occur). They were also seen as a major advance to somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a technology successfully used to clone Dolly the sheep in 1997, but which does lead to the destruction of a human egg and has so far failed to produce stable human ESC-like cells lines.

A additional aspect is that in cases were simple genetic mutations underly a disease it is feasible patient cells are used to form iPSCs, which are then genetically corrected before being transplanted back into the patient.

Despite the potential, the development with iPSC-based therapies is still lagging that of human ESCs. But recently researchers in Japan were reported to undertake the world's first study in patients in which iPSCs are tested for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration. Starting in 2014, the study will build on recent findings that iPSCs can be expanded and directed to become photoreceptor cell types using culture systems that mimic the development of embryonic retinal tissue. Transplanted into adult mice, these tissue were then found to integrate into retinas and form functional photoreceptor cells.

However, there remain significant roadblocks on the way to the clinic for iPSC-based therapies. In parts these are based on the reprogramming process. Thus the efficiency of standard procedures is still very low, and associated with these methods is a heightened risk that these cells form a tumour after the transplantation. But there are further issues. Recent research suggests that iPSC lines vary considerably in their genetic and functional makeup. Obviously, this also poses again the challenge how to ensure that the cell lines researchers around the world use for their studies are well-characterized and quality controlled.

Associate Professor Jeremy Crook from the University of Wollongong has recently co-authored a peer-reviewed paper, which recommends to adopt the experiences of existing, well-established human ESC banks in human iPSC resource centers.

The authors urge the scientific community and their funders to consider the dangers of pursuing massive hiPSC generation programs without first ensuring that the focus is on key genotypes needed in research and industry, and the appropriate ethical provenance and suitable scientific quality is met in the delivery of cells.

The authors warn that failure to do so "would be an inefficient use of public and private investments now being made in human iPSC banking."

The authors warn of the legacy of large numbers of unqualified cell lines that may be produced by inexperienced groups as they respond to growing demand.

"It could take decades to resolve any ongoing issues from published work on misidentified or contaminated lines alone. Just as important, there could be a loss of public and political support if funding is deemed to have been wasted."

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The figure published in the journal Regenerative Medicine by US researchers shows the proportion of industry and publicly funded novel stem cell clinical trials worldwide since 1992.
In November, a global survey of clinical trials evaluating stem cell therapies was published in the journal Regenerative Medicine.

The study identified 4749 stem cell clinical trials registered worldwide. Of these, 1058 were 'novel' trials, which the authors defined as trials that were not observational in nature; did not involve an established stem cell therapy for an established indication, such as hematopoietic stem cells for leukemia; and did not investigate supportive measures.

These trials were analysed across a set of characteristics, such as the degree of industry participation, the type of stem cell tested, the targeted disease, and whether interventions were autologous or allogeneic.

The study found that the registration of novel stem cell clinical trials is expanding rapidly around the world, particularly in east Asia, but also in Australia, Brazil, India, Iran and Israel.

Since 2004 industry involvement has grown rapidly. Commercial sponsors were involved in more than 25% of novel CTs in South Korea, Malaysia, Canada, Israel, India, Australia and the USA.

However, the study makes reference to the observation that some companies engaged in providing unproven stem cell therapies in clinics linked to 'stem cell tourism'; register CTs as a marketing tactic or as a method to recruit patients. According to the authors this practice adds a veneer of legitimacy to the companies.

Further findings of the study include:

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Oh yes, Minister

ARDR editorial



With a new Government still to find its way, many key science and research programs of its predecessor will be re-evaluated.

This includes initiatives supporting the development of renewable energies.

On 21 November the House of Representatives passed a package of 7 bills with the primary objective to repeal the current carbon price mechanism and the, at the conservative side of politics, unloved Climate Change Authority. The legislation is now to be debated in the Senate.

ARDR sun

The Government also wants to remove the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation and reduce the $3 billion the previous Government had allocated for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency by $435 million. In addition, a further $370 million ARENA expected to have available from 2014-15 will be deferred to 2019-20.

The agency will still have a sizable funding of $2.5 billion and, according to a statement released in November, its funding vehicles - the Emerging Renewables Program, the Accelerated Step Change Initiative, the Community and Regional Renewable Energy Program and the Regional Australia's Renewables & Industry Program - will continue accepting proposals.

In October, the new Minister for Industry Ian Macfarlane, who also has responsibility for aspects of Australia's innovation system, expressed his concern about the "stop/start nature of funding in the recent past". In an opinion piece published on the Science & Technology Australia website he wrote that the short-term focus of past investment has left critical projects jeopardised, and very costly research infrastructure underutilised. The nation's top researchers and innovative industries would have to be able to "plan and get on with the job of tackling our biggest challenges and grasping the greatest opportunities."

The Minister has the commendable view that whatever the Government commits to research must be undertaken in a strategic, consistent way with a long-term vision for Australia. In this he is on the same page with the newly formed Research Alliance, a broad-based grouping of scientific, research, university and public and private sector researchers, which recently issued a call to policy makers for a strategic and stable plan for science and research.

# of energy patents worldwide
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But producing a more strategic outlook for innovation in this country was also a strong ambition of the former Government which commissioned in 2008 a Review of the National Innovation System. Based on this review a far reaching policy strategy was developed, Powering Ideas: An Innovation Agenda for the 21st Century strategy. It is regrettable that with the change in Government neither the review nor the policy agenda it did inspire are likely to play much of a role in the coming years.

It must be the ambition of any Government to leave their stamp on history. However, a clever dog doesn't first wash the tree before marking his new territory. Indeed, a strong new scent on top of the old can leave a very recognisable legacy.

Minister Macfarlane's concerns indicate that he does understand an important driver of science, research and innovation: consistency. This requires, though, that policies developed by a new Government seek to build on rather than terminate those of the previous.

Renewable energies is an area in which the Government should follow this principle by lending continued support for both basic research and industrial development.

Australia already has significant capacity in renewable energy research - an area in which new technology usually means high tech development - and because of its natural advantages it could benefit more than other countries from new developments. However, this will depend on the willingness of its leadership to risk investing in its future - especially in times of financial constraints.

Globally renewable energies have emerged as one of the most innovative areas.

A recent study by researchers from the US published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that there has been a remarkable departure in the historic trend of low levels of energy patents. Patents related to renewable energies grew most rapidly, and this despite a persistent low level of R&D funding. For example, during 2004 and 2009 the average annual growth rates for solar and wind patents were 13% and 19%. By contrast, the number of new patents in nuclear energy remained low despite sustained high levels of public investment.

In his opinon piece, Minister Macfarlane indicated that the Goverment will continue the push of its predecessor for a stronger innovation base in Australia. He wrote that while Australia's current investment of around 2.2% of GDP in research places it near the middle of the OECD table, the nation should aspire to be in the top half of the OECD.

If this is the case, for a country that has at present few stakes in globally competitive high-tech developments, an emerging sector such as renewable energies, in which it also has natural competitive advantages, offers opportunities that should not be missed.























































































































































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Hot air action

16 October 2013 - The Australian Government released Terms of Reference for the development of an Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) in the lead up to a Green Paper due in December 2013.
hotairaction The ERF Terms of Reference were open for consultation between 16 October and 18 November 2013. They state that the Government is seeking business and community view on the design of the ERF including:
  • the likely sources of low cost, large scale abatement to come forward under the ERF;
  • how the ERF can facilitate the development of abatement projects, including through expanding the Carbon Farming Initiative and drawing on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme;
  • the details of auction arrangements to deliver cost effective outcomes;
  • the governance arrangements that will support the ERF, including the role of key institutions such as the Clean Energy Regulator;
  • the details of the monitoring, verification, compliance and payments arrangements for successful bidders at auction;
  • transitional issues relating to the existing Carbon Farming Initiative; and
  • the design and operation of a mechanism applying to emissions above the business as usual baseline.

It will be followed by a White Paper in early 2014 for the ERF to take effect from July 2014, concurrent with the repeal of the carbon price legislation.

The ERF will be a major component of the Direct Action Plan initiative that is to replace the current carbon price legislation (A respective draft legislation package was released on 15 October 2013).

Draft legislation for the repeal of the current price on carbon was released 15 October 2013. Submissions closed on 4 November 2013.
The Government intends to end the price on carbon by 1 July 2014, with 2013-14 the last year for liabilities to incur even if the Parliament does not pass the legislation until after 1 July 2014.
The draft legislation package also includes a bill for the abolishment of the Climate Change Authority.

In conjuction with other existing measures, such as the Renewable Energy Target, the ERF is provide sufficient incentives for a reduction of Australian Greenhouse Gas emissions by up to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

The Government says that the ERF will be based on a market mechanism designed to source the lowest cost abatement.

Businesses, farmers, households and other entities will be able to receive support for investments in technologies that reduce their emissions. However, the incentives will be capped to $300 million in 2015-16, $750 million in 2016-17 and then $750 million in 2016-17.

More information: www.environment.gov.au






















































































































































hotairaction
The ERF Terms of Reference were open for consultation between 16 October and 18 November 2013. They state that the Government is seeking business and community view on the design of the ERF including:



















































































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One for all


The new Australian Government is in the process of streamlining the complex environmental approval process for offshore petroleum projects in Australian seas.

Following up on a key election promise, it aims for a 'one-stop shop' procedure in all Australian jurisdictions. In broad terms, this concerns maritime zones that lie within coastal waters of states and the Northern Territory (up to 3 nautical mile off the coast) and Commonwealth waters (3 to 200 nautical miles from the coast).


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One stop shop petroleum approval

Australian offshore petroleum projects, if determined to potentially impact on matters of national environmental significance, have to be approved by the federal Minister for Environment. This decision is based on the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.


Commonwealth Waters

For Commonwealth waters, the projects also require an assessment under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 (Cth) (OPGGSA 2006) and associated OPGGSA(E) Regulations, which are administered by the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA).

The assessments differ in their scope as the OPGGS Act assesses all proposed activities and their potential impacts on the whole environment. By contrast, the EPBC Act focusses on potential impacts on specific environmental aspects such as listed migratory species or World Heritage sites.

Nevertheless, several reviews have indicated procedural duplications.

In order to streamline the approval process, the incoming Government and NOPSEMA set up a taskforce, which was asked to demonstrate how a one-stop authorisation by NOPSEMA under the OPGGS Act could provide the same environmental protection as the current dual process regime.

A draft report of the strategic assessment and a proposed new approval program was released 22 November 2013 for public comment (closing date was 20 December).

If endorsed by the Minister for Environment, Australian offshore petroleum projects in Commonwealth waters would in future be solely assessed and accepted by NOPSEMA, essentially providing a 'one-stop-shop' approval process.


State and Territory jurisdiction

The second layer of the one-stop-shop approach concerns projects within State and Territory jurisdictions.

Currently, mining and other projects in State and Northern Territory waters that are likely to impact on matters of national environmental significance are required to undergo an approval process in the State as well as receive national approval under the EPBC Act.

The Franklin River: In 1983, an Australian High Court decision allowed the Australian Government to stop the Tasmanian Government's dam project

In the election, the Coalition pledged to reduce the regulatory burden on business by offering the states and territories to also administer the assessment under the EPBC Act - again labelled by the Government again as a one-stop-shop process.

The EPBC Act already provides a mechanism to streamline the environmental approval process through bilateral agreements between a state/territory and the Commonwealth. For example, only in 2012 the Queensland and Australian Governments updated an existing bilateral agreement with the objective to avoid duplication and efficiency of the assessment process.

The Australian Government will use this mechanism to achieve a one-stop-shop system. After having signed respective Memoranda of Understanding with all states and territories, the first new bilateral agreement was reached with the NSW Government at the end of December.

For projects that fall under state or territory jurisdiction. This will, following national accreditation of the NSW system, effectively create a one-stop-shop process by transferring the assessment of applications under the EPBC Act to the State.

However, in a recent 'Explainer' in The Conversation, University of Queensland senior lecturer Chris McGrath questions the merits of the proposed system. Potential problems include that it could create a patchwork system accross Australia. He also points out that, as the EPBC Act is not repealed, only the decision maker is going to change. Yet the most important role of the EPBC Act may be compromised, which is to provide an appropriate level of oversight on state government projects.

"For proponents, most of the costs and delay comes in the environmental impact stage. There are already assessment bilaterals avoiding duplication of state and federal governments this stage. Given this, it is difficult to see where significant time and costs savings will be achieved by the policy."

The Government has, however, stated that it will retain control over decisions involving offshore Commonwealth waters, nuclear actions, and projects for which state governments are “likely to have a significant conflict of interest” as the proponent.

























































































































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Sinking feelings

Australian research highlights the ecological importance and potential financial value of coastal carbon sinks.

It is widely appreciated that ecosystems on land, notably forests, are important sinks for atmospheric carbon. According to estimates reported by the IPCC in 2007, deforestation and land-use change accounts for 8-20% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions.
Seagrass meadows image: NOOA
Seagrass meadows, a significant sink for atmospheric carbon
image: NOOA

However, much less recognised is the amount of organic carbon stored in our oceans. So called 'blue carbon' initiatives try to change this. It includes the Blue Carbon research initiative by the GRID-ARENDAL centre, which supports the United Nations Environment Programme (see also our 2011 dossier 'Ocean Views').

In 2009, the project published a report according to which around 51% of atmospheric carbon captured by living organisms is taken up at sea. Of this amount an estimated 71% is fixed by coastal ecosystems, which include mangroves, salt marshes, seaweed and the often extensive beds or meadows of seagrasses.

However, seagrasses are now among the world's most threatened ecosystems. It is estimated that factors such as dredging and filling activities and the degradation of water quality through poor land-use practices have led to the loss of around 30% of seagrasses that existed at the beginning of the 20th century. Not only does this decrease the potential uptake of carbon from the atmosphere, but it also releases organic carbon stably stored in soils under seagrass meadows back into the ocean-atmosphere CO2 pool.

...Money still makes the work go round

Compared to terrestrial ecosystems few studies have addressed carbon sequestration and cycling in coastal ecosystems and this is especially the case with seagrasses and seaweeds.

This was highlighted by a Nature Geoscience article published by researchers including from the University of Western Australia's Ocean Institute in May 2012.

The study analysed compiled published and unpublished measurements of carbon stored in seagrass meadows around the world. This led to a conservative estimate that seagrass ecosystems store between 4.2 and 8.4 petagram carbon. Per unit area the carbon storage capacity of seagrass is similar to that of forests and stably accumulates over millennia.

Seagrass meadows, of which the largest areal stocks are found in the Mediterranean, may thus be far more important carbon sinks than previously realised, the researchers write.

However, they estimate that at present rates of seagrass loss up to 299 terragram carbon per year could be transformed from its organic storage form into inorganic molecules, such as CO2.

This has not only ecological but also economic implications. Thus, there could be a significant monetary value of the carbon fixed in seagrass meadows if it is accounted for in a carbon offset scheme.

In 2011, the Ocean Institute reported preliminary research suggesting that the extensive seagrass meadows in WA’s Shark Bay could store around $350 million tonnes of carbon equivalents. The researchers calculated that a carbon price of $23 per tonne of emitted carbon this would equate to $8 billion (see also our ARDR dossier 'Ocean Views' from 2011).

Complicating the issue is that so far studies on the carbon sink characteristics of seagrass are mainly based on a single species, Posidonia oceanica, which is commonly found in the Mediterranean Sea. Yet it is likely that the variability among seagrass species and their range of habitats affects their carbon storage potential.

In September 2013, a study led by Edith Cowman University researchers was published in the journal PlosOne in September 2013 which investigated 17 Australian seagrass habitats encompassing 10 different species. This equates to around 1/3 of all Australian seagrass species. Based on an analysis of the top 24 cm of sediment, the study shows an 18-fold variation in the carbon storage capacity of different habitats. Taking this into consideration, the researchers estimated that the carbon stored in the seagrass sediments may be only around one-third of that calculated based on datasets from the Mediterranean Sea.

Nevertheless, based on this calculation the Australian seagrass ecosystem, which covers around 92,500 square kilometres of Australia’s coastline, could store a total of around 155 million tonne of carbon. Assuming a 2014-15 fixed carbon price of $25.40 and a market price of $35 per tonne of carbon by 2020 the researchers calculated a total value of our seagrass meadows of between $3.9 and $5.4 billion.

The authors estimated that per year Australian seagrass meadows take up around 1 million tonne or around 0.6% of the country's total annual CO2 emissions. According to the authors, this emphasises the value of this ecosystem for the nation.

All they need is light...

One factor that poses a threat to seagrass meadows is the rise in sea levels as in deeper waters seagrass may be deprived of the light it needs to stay alive.

However, research from the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions suggests that early intervention could be effective in minimising the impact.

In August 2013, the researchers published a study in the journal Global Change Biology, in which they used Australia's Moreton Bay as a laboratory to investigate seagrass meadows under the scenario of rising sea levels.

Moreton Bay is listed as a an area of international importance under a convention on wetlands known as the Ramsar Convention.

The researchers used a habitat distribution model to predict the interactive effects of known factors stressing seagrasses - sea level rise, changes in water clarity and land use. They estimated that under a scenario of water levels rising by 1.1 metres, as may occur by the end of the century, seagrass cover will decline by 17%.

However, they found that the potential loss could be reduced to around 5% through a coastal retreat strategy designed to improve the light conditions at the deep edge of seagrass meadows. This would include the removal of impervious surfaces, such as roads and houses, from newly inundated regions.

















































































































































































































































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Strategic cable salad

12 December 2013 - At the request of the newly elected Australian Government, NBN Co Limited undertook a strategic review on the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

Constraint by a tight time line of just over five weeks, the review's objectives included analysing the progress and the estimated cost of the NBN project under the the previous Government's fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) objective, as well as assessing NBN Co's financial and operational status. It was also to explore alternative strategies of NBN Co and the NBN rollout.

Key design features of the National Broadband Network (NBN) prior to the September 2013 election:
  • The NBN was to be rolled out by the Government Business Enterprise NBN Co with the aim to create a wholesale-only, open-access communication network;
  • 93% of Australian premises were to be provided with Fibre-to-the-node broadband with download speeds of up to 100 mega bit per second (Mbps), and the remainder covered with Fixed Wireless and Satellite technologies providing download speeds of up to 12 Mbps;
  • The NBN Co's latest corporate plan estimated that the rollout network would be completed by 2021 at a total capital expenditure of #37.4 billion and peak funding $44.1 billion.

Expert input was provided by advisory firms Deloitte, the Boston Consulting Group and KordaMentha.

The NBN Co report, which is only available in a substantially redacted version, provides a scathing judgement of the company's operations under its former leadership. This, it states, caused significant failures in reaching the company's objectives as set out in its Corporate Plan (see box).

According to the report, "the culture and leadership of the organisation are widely seen to be a major problem."

The main findings of the Strategic Review for a continued rollout of a fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) network include:
  • As of 30 September 2013, the number of premises passed by the rollout were 48% behind what the NBN Co's latest corporate plan estimate for this date. And of the 227,483 premises passed only 153,977 were found serviceable by NBN Co.
  • The completion will be delayed delayed by three years until 2024.
  • The delays in the FTTP rollout will result in lower average revenue per user and higher levels of non-subscription with ~$13-14 billion less revenue generated by the FY 2021;
  • The estimated capital expenditure will increase from $37.4 billion to $55.9 billion and the peak funding requirement will be $28.5 billion higher ($72.6 billion) in FY2024 than projected in NBN Co's latest Corporate Plan.

Among the factors that contributed to this were an "unrealistic assessment by key internal and external stakeholders of the complexity and time required to complete the task" and "blind faith" in the achievability of the Corporate Plan, "notwithstanding clear factual evidence to the contrary".

The report further attests the previous leadership of NBN Co a "lack of deep internal experience in complex infrastructure, construction projects and project management".

The review explored various alternative scenarios as to how best to proceed with the NBN project, including continuing the implementation of the FTTP plan under more efficient operational settings. On the basis of this, the review recommended as the best option an optimised multi-technology approach, which would deliver access to at least 50Mbps to ~90% of the fixed line footprint (that is premises with access to fixed broadband) and 100Mbps to 65-75% by 2019.

An optimal mix of technologies in the fixed line footprint could included the FTTP option for around 20-26% of premises, and for further 44-50% of premises access to fibre-to-the-node (FTTN). FTTN technology entails that broadband services are transported through fibre optic lines to a node, a common network box, from where it is then distributed to premises through various forms of wire (copper, cable or fibre). NBN Co estimates for the Australian context that FTTN would cost around $350 - $700 per connected premise compared to around $1,100-1,300 per premise for FTTP.

In addition, NBN Co proposes to connect around 30% of premises through upgraded Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) cable networks, in which fibre optic cables transport broadband signal to a node server to then be distributed to the premise through existing coaxial cables (however, as technology journalist Adam Turner details in a commentary for the Sydney Morning Herald, the technology can have considerable pitfalls at the user end.) The upgrade of an existing, fully deployed and connected HFC network could cost around $100 per premise.

Apart from cost savings, the plan could deploy broadband services to most of the 8-10% in the fixed line footprint area that currently have no or very low levels of broadband two years earlier than with all other investigated scenarios. It estimates for the fixed line footprint that:

Compared to the previous FTTP deployment, NBN Co claims that its new proposal would provide an upgradable path at lower cost, provide substantially earlier revenues, with peak funding expected to be around $41 billion compared to the revised outlook of around $73 billion now estimated for the FTTP rollout.

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Network patchwork

The Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report was released by the Australian Government on 23 December 2013.

It is the first release of its broadband availability and quality analysis.

The data are to inform NBN Co on currently underserved areas, which may then be prioritised in the NBN rollout wherever feasible.

A full report is expected to be released in the coming months.

Overall, the analysis estimates that 1.4 million premises (13%) are in areas of inadequate broadband infrastructure, often in regional or remote areas, where fewer than 40% of premises can access a fixed broadband service.

Broadband availabiltiy and quality, Australia
Click image to enlarge;
Percentage of Australian premises in each fixed broadband availability and fixed broadband quality band.
graph from the Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report

Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report

Key findings for Australian premises:
  • 9.9 million premises or (91%) have access to fixed line broadband services.
  • 3.1 million premises (28%) have access to a high speed broadband platform (fibre-to-the-premises, fibre-to-the-node, hybrid fibre coaxial networks or fixed wireless networks).
  • 8.8 million premises (81% have access to 3G mobile broadband services and 6.4 million premises (59%) have access to 4G services.
  • All Australian premises are covered by satellite broadband, although due to a capacity ceiling not all premises can access a service.
  • Accessible peak download speeds are 25 Mbps and 110 Mbps for around 3.1 million premises (28%), less than 24 Mbps (copper) for 7.1 million premises (65%), while 0.7 million premises (6%) premises have no access to fixed broadband services.
  • 3.7 million premises with access to xDSL broadband services over copper are located in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 9 Mbps, and 920,000 in areas with an estimated peak median download speed of less than 4.8 Mbps.

The most common form of fixed broadband subscription is provided through Digital Subscription Line (DSL) technologies, which broadly defines digital technologies transmitted through the existing telephone network and, as shown in the figure, these greatly range in peak download speeds

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DSL connections Australia: range of download speeds
Click image to enlarge
graph from the Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report


























































































































































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Gap finder

The CSIRO Broadband Impact and Challenges report is based on a series of surveys with members of community and business, as well as on other data on the potential economic and social benefits of next generation broadband.

The broader objective of the research was to reveal how and why the Internet is used and this is influencing individuals and organisations.

There are a range of opportunities that may come from faster broadband, such as improved health, education and government service delivery, better communication across distance and a revitalisation of regional centers. For business it promises improved service delivery, reduced costs of running a business and better access to new markets.

The research findings does support this expectation. But patterns of online behaviour were found to vary significantly across sectors of the community. For example, older people are in the majority online but their use is less frequent and covers fewer activities compared to younger people.

The standard of living also influences somewhat how people use the Internet. Thus compared to the better off, people in lower socio-economic circumstances use the Internet just as often but more frequently to access social networking sites and less often for email. They also have less often desktop computer at their disposal

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However and more importantly, around 20% of people do not use the Internet at all. Across all age groups and socio-economic backgrounds, the research found lack of skills and confidence rather than the cost of Internet services to be major barriers.

Thus even among non-users on low household incomes ($30,000 per year or less), lack of skills was selected as a main reason by the majority (62.5%) of respondents, whereas less than a third indicated affordability as a problem.

As the report points out, it is ironic that those that are likely to benefit the most from Internet use, older people and the less well-off, are also most at risk of being left behind.

The small hiding from the world

Using compiled data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics the researchers also investigated what factors underly the relative reluctance of particularly smaller sized Australian businesses to engage in Internet-based activities.

The findings suggest that the potential benefits of ICT developments and how to realise them are often not well understood.

Internet use: benefits for businesses
Click image to enlarge;
Profitability changes over five years, for businesses which reported increased IT investment in 2007 (red line) compared to those which did not (blue line).

Engaging with the Internet or investing in ICT does not automatically create economic benefits. Instead, the benefits depend on how this is done and they often take considerable time to realise. Thus, the researchers found that investments in a web presence or IT technology may take five years to return greater profits.

The various identified barriers for small business to successfully engage with the Internet include:

While the study reveals deficits in the digital readiness of the Australian community and the broader business sector, the possible solutions are less forthcoming.

The authors write that the challenge will be for to design effective means of engagement and training that target individuals and business owners who lack relevant confidence and skills. "Evidence suggests more strategic training initiatives are needed to support these sub-groups."



























































































































































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Hot options

The rising costs in electricity prices can be largely attributed to the need for investments in network infrastructure to meet peak power demands. Thus an estimated $45 billion in electricity network infrastructure is expected for the period 2010 to 2015 alone.
CSP technology
Click image to enlarge

Concentrating solar thermal power (CSP) could provide a cost competitive alternative to expensive network upgrades, according to a collaborative study funded by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

For more than two decades CSP has been commercially used to generate electricity. At the end of 2013, worldwide capacity of installed CSP plants reached around 3 gigawatts (GW).

But in Australia, despite its abundance of solar resource, there is at present only one demonstration plant. A major prohibitive factor for the technology is the still significant gap between the overall cost of CSP generated electricity and the potential revenue from grid-connected systems (around $100 megawatt hours for large systems).

However, the Breaking the solar gridlock study suggests that in various parts of Australia the decentralised generation of electricity using CSP plants could avoid expensive system upgrades for the transmission of centralised electricity generators, and thus become cost competitive.

The Breaking the solar gridlock project provides interactive graphics that let explore areas of network constraints potentially attractive for CSP. The maps are available here

At the same time, its use would increase the share of renewable energy in Australia's electricity system.

CSP generated power can potentially be used all day as it can be stored and easily used in conjunction with with other energy sources, such as biomass or natural gas. Thus grid integration is relatively straightforward compared to other renewable energy options.

The study results indicate that, assuming current expectations of investments, approximately $0.8 billion of planned network upgrades could be avoided through the installation of CSP in areas in which the amount of solar radiation is each day more than 21 mega joules per square metre. A further $0.5 billion in expenditure would be possible in areas that have less sun exposure.

Around 533MW of cost effective CSP could be installed in the next 10 years, potentially reducing greenhouse gas emissions by around 1.9 million tonnes per year.

Hence, the overall conclusion is that CSP could play an important and economically efficient role in Australia's electricity system.

Partners in the Breaking the solar gridlock study were the Australian Solar Thermal Energy Association (AUSTELA), the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney, the University of NSW, Ergon Energy and IT Power. Seven power network companies operating in the NEM also provided essential data.

More information: www.arena.govspace.gov.au; the "Breaking the solar gridlock" research report including maps on areas potentially suitable CSP is available here.


























































































































































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Emitted future

In December the Australian Government released a Green Paper on its new Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) initiative.
The Direct Action policy includes the Emission Reduction Fund, the 20 Million Trees and the One Million Solar Roofs programmes, and the Solar Towns and Solar Schools initiatives.

The ERF is the core component of the Government's Direct Action Plan, which aims to reduce emissions to 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

To this end, the plan, which is modelled on the United Nations Clean Development Mechanism, will encourage low-cost and effective emissions reduction opportunities.

The United Nations Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is the first global, environmental investment and credit scheme of its kind, providing a standardized emissions offset instrument.

It allows a country with an emission-reduction or emission-limitation commitment under the Kyoto Protocol to implement an emission-reduction project in developing countries. Such projects can earn saleable certified emission reduction (CER) credits, each equivalent to one tonne of CO2, which can be counted towards meeting Kyoto targets.

The mechanism was designed to stimulate sustainable development and emission reductions in developing countries, while giving industrialised countries some flexibility in how they meet their emission reduction or limitation targets.

Administered by the Clean Energy Regulator, the ERF is expected to provide credits for emissions reductions from 1 July 2014. The proposal entails the Government purchasing the lowest cost abatement through a reverse auction, which is then secured by a forward contract.

Australia's emssion reduction task
Click image to enlarge - According to Department of the Environment estimates (detailed in Australia’s Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, 2013), Australia faces a cumulative emissions reduction task of around 431 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (MtCO2-e) from 2014 to 2020, or 131 MtCO2-e in 2020 alone.
graph: Department of the Environment, Australia’s Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, 2013. Note: The Kyoto Protocol allows over-achievements in the first commitment period be credited in the second commitment period as ‘carry over’ surplus Kyoto units.

Businesses will be able to propose the quantity and price of emissions reductions they are willing to offer. The lowest-cost bids will then be selected by the Clean Energy Regulator.

Funding will not be provided for activities that are already occurring as part of normal business practice.

The Government has allocated initial funding of $1.5 billion over the forward estimates for the ERF and established an Expert Reference Group to provide advice on the ERF design.

The Green Paper is open for comments until 21 February 2014.

The proposed ERF mechanism is based on a mechanism akin to a reverse auction.

In an initial step, businesses will be able to submit bids at any time. At regular intervals the Clean Energy Regulator will then run tender rounds and select eligible offers on a lowest-cost priority basis up to a benchmark price ( the maximum amount it would pay per tonne of emissions reduced).

Once the supply of emissions reductions is well established, the Clean Energy Regulator will move to a more formal auction process.

Future auctions will take place several times a year, depending on the supply of projects. Successful bidders then can enter forward contracts with the Government.

It is proposed that the ERF will build on the Carbon Farming Initiative which will continue to operate while the ERF is implemented.



























































































































































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Clouded projections

Based on the current trajectory, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is likely to double from preindustrial levels over the next 50 years.

Computer models simulating our future climate under such conditions have produced a broad spread of temperature scenarios that span from 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius. This variance is largely due to differences in how clouds and their feedback on global climate are accounted for.

In a study published in Nature in January, Professor Steven C. Sherwood and coworkers report a mechanism for the formation of low-level clouds, which removes much of this uncertainty. However, the authors show that climate models that are correctly simulating this feedback tend to be constrained towards more severe future warming scenarios, indicating increases by at least 3 degrees Celsius with a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Click image to enlarge

Low-level clouds have been attributed a major role in climate sensitivity. They form below around 3 kilometres from the surface and cover a large fraction of the tropical ocean. As clouds in general, they reflect incoming sunlight and thus prevent heat from reaching the surface. And with low-level clouds this is not offset by a similar contribution to the greenhouse effect. Consequently, changes in low-level cloud cover can cause strong feedbacks, which may either exacerbate or alleviate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

Researchers have identified competing processes that can affect low-level cloud formation.

Generally it is understood that as the climate is getting warmer it causes more evaporation from the oceans. The increase in the amount of water vapour, itself a powerful greenhouse gas, could increase the amount of low-level clouds, which would then have a cooling effect on global climate.

However, there are also strong convection processes at work.

Updraughts transport air containing water vapour through the planetary boundary layer, the lowest part of the atmosphere below around 2 kilometres. If the air further ascends to the upper layers of the troposphere it eventually forms heavy rain and the air returns to lower altitudes.

Competing with this process is 'lower-tropospheric mixing' in which the moist air exits the updraught at much lower altitude and retains most of the water vapour without forming rain. The result of this is a reduction in the total cloud cover as less water vapour reaches higher cloud forming regions. And relative to a given amount of precipitation (rain, but also snow, sleet, hail or even mist), more moisture is taken out of the planetary boundary layer, in which most of the low-level clouds are formed.

The researchers show that lower-troposheric mixing increases in a warming climate and dries the boundary layer at a much higher rate than moisture is evaporating from the surface.

They found that climate models that project global mean temperatures increase at the lower end of the spread of 1.5 to 5 degrees Celsius assume unrealistically weak lower-troposheric mixing.

Based on the study's observational data, a doubling of CO2 will most likely result in a 4oC increase, with a lower limit of 3oC.

More information: Sherwood et al.(2014) Nature 505:37–42


























































































































































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Pacific fan

A study led by Professor Matthew England and published in Nature Climate Change explains why, despite increasing atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHG), the global average surface air temperature has stayed more or less steady since 2001 - but is likely to significantly increase again in future.

Professor Matthew England and colleagues detail a dramatic acceleration in trade winds, which has invigorated the circulation of the Pacific Ocean. As a consequence, more heat is taken out of the atmosphere and is transferred into the subsurface ocean, while bringing cooler waters to the surface.

However, once the winds abate, it is expected that the heat will be rapidly returned to the surface.

The strengthening of the Pacific trade winds began during the 1990s, but the increase had not been accounted for in climate models. Hence, they have failed to correctly capture the observed hiatus in warming.

Once corrected, they closely align to current observations.

In the context of the paper it should be noted that scientists have long been aware that temperatures do not rise in a continual upward trajectory.

In a background briefing organised by the Australian Science Media Centre, Professor England highlighted the effect of the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO) on global mean temperatures (see figure).

Similar to the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the IPO effects a change in climate that relates to sea surface temperatures (SST). But while the ENSO cycles typically last around 18 months, IPO events can span up to 20-30 years, and the effects manifest themselves mainly in the northern and southern Pacific.

On a larger scale, the IPO also influences global mean temperature, which over the past hundred years has either plateaued or increased depending on the state of the cycle.

Click image to enlarge - Shown are temperature measurements over the last century in relation to cycles of the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation cycles (IPO).
Image: Professor Matthew England

Currently we are in a cycle in which a slow down in the warming was expected. Nevertheless, given the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the extent of the plateau did surprise scientists.

It can now be explained with the finding that trade winds have accelerated by an extent that had not previously been recorded.

Click image to explore - In a series of figures the strength and direction of trade winds are shown, as well as how this influences sea surface levels and temperatures across the Pacific region
Figures: Matthew England as published in Nature Climate Change. The images were sourced from a background briefing at the Australian Science Media Centre.

In addition to the impact on global mean temperature, other parameters are also affected. Thus, the strong trade winds cause uneven sea surface heights across the Pacific region. While a general rise in sea levels is expected in a warming climate, higher sea levels are observed in the west compared to the eastern parts of the Pacific Ocean.

And similar trends are found for sea surface temperatures in the Pacific as well as surface air temperatures across the region.

More information: www.newsroom.unsw.edu.au; Australian Science Media Centre briefing: www.smc.org.au


























































































































































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Excellence expected

Olymp
On 24 December 2013, The Australian Government approved $285 million over seven years for 12 ARC Centres of Excellence. The funding will commence in 2014.

The 12 centres, which were selected from a pool of 22 proposals at a success rate of 54.5%, will collaborate with 106 organisations from 44 countries. This is expected to leverage more than $392.2 million in cash and in-kind support.

An ARC statement announcing the funding highlighted the new $23 million ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, which is located at the University of Adelaide and is led by Australian Laureate Fellow Professor Tanya Monro.

The centre's approach will step across the conventional constraints of research fields as it aims to probe molecular processes within living systems. According to Professor Monro, this poses measurement questions that cannot be addressed with existing technologies. Thus, the centre will draw on new nanoscale tools that are currently developed in in a diverse range of areas that comprise optical physics, biomolecular science, surface chemistry, and nanomaterials.

These tools are to be used in projects addressing three fundamental biological concepts:

  • The Spark of Life theme will explore in and around developing embryos;
  • The Origins of Sensation theme will involve probing immune signals linked to touch and pain in the central nervous system; and
  • The Inside Blood Vessels theme will explore the role of the endothelium within blood vessels and the damaging effects of plaque.

With three approved proposals that were awarded a total of $75 million, Monash University is by far the most successful administering organisation of ARC Centres of Excellence 2014 applications. They comprise:

The other successful centres were:
More information: www.arc.gov.au


























































































































































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How to play together

As the topics of modern research become ever more complex, scientists increasingly see the need for collaborative approaches across the usual boundaries of scientific expertise.

However, interdisciplinary work is not without challenges, as was recently highlighted in 'The Character of Interdisciplinary Research' report which the Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) released in January.

It is the second in a series of three studies through which ACOLA seeks to encourage and maximise outcomes from this type of collaborative approach.

It follows on from the Strengthening Interdisciplinary Research report in 2012, which found that the general value of bringing together insights from multiple disciplines and practitioners is broadly accepted. However, the study also revealed that the measures needed to really embed interdisciplinary research in the academic mainstream are not.

In a university statement, the report's author, Professor Gabriele Bammer from the Australian National University, highlighted the two essential problems: "First, interdisciplinary research is treated as if it is one entity, when in fact there are very different types of interdisciplinary studies. Second, the methods are never adequately documented".

The Character of Interdisciplinary Research study by Professor Michael Webber built on the recommendations of the first report and examined projects dealing with topics around environmental sustainability. It identified characteristics of successful interdisciplinary research and critical challenges including training, funding and institutional structures.

The study found that, at least in the investigated field of sustainability, there is a lack of knowledge how to practice interdisciplinary research, and there are few training options for researchers.

And there are significant challenges and barriers to be overcome.

Thus, because of the diversity of methodologies and backgrounds of collaborators additional time is required to develop trust between researchers and relations with stakeholders.

Interdisciplinary team: getting the mix right is crucial

The study also found that large projects or centres may not necessarily be the most effective for this type of research.

Barriers on the institutional level include the existing university structures which may mitigate broader inquiry. Interdisciplinary research can also inhibit career progress as the academic job market is organised around disciplines.

Attracting funding and publishing outcomes can also be difficult. Competitive funding is usually reviewed within disciplines, and the general peer review and research funding environment is often not welcoming to this type of research. And there is a lack of high-impact interdisciplinary journals.

The report identified 13 considerations for projects to be successful. They include:

The findings of this report will now be road tested in the third phase of the project called Assisitive health technologies for independent living: a pilot study. The project will comprise a 'live' scenario of an interdisciplinary approach that enables elderly and disabled Australians to live at home longer.

More information: www.acola.org.au



























































































































































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Three off the hook

17 December 2013 - With cuts to research on the horizon, the Australian Government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) brought a redirection of funds towards three major fields of medical research: type 1 diabetes, dementia and tropical disease research.
$103 million funding for dementia, type 1 diabetes and tropical diseases

The funds are totalling $103 million and are drawn from the budget of the Australian Research Council.

It includes $35 million over 5 years for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) and its Australian Type 1 Diabetes Clinical Research Network (CRN).

Established in 2010 by JDRF, the CRN is a collaboration between researchers, institutions, patients, industry and international networks that aims to enhance the translation of type 1 diabetes research. In 2012, the initiative received an initial $5 million from the Australian Government with a further contribution of $35 million promised by the then opposition.

CRN's primary objective is to increase diabetes type 1 clinical trial activity and capacity in Australia, facilitate patient inolvement in clinical trials and more broadly enhance research collaboration. At present it funds 12 projects involving 45 researchers across 29 Australian research institutes.

The remaining $68 million redirected from the ARC budget will support the development of treatments for dementia and tropical diseases.

The Government's MYEFO further includes a reduction of $10 million over the next three years from the ARC Centres of Excellence program.

More information: http://ministers.education.gov.au

Not happy

Science & Technology Australia has released a statement in which it raises concern about the Australian Government's decision to remove $61 million from the ARC's Discovery Program and $42 million from the ARC's Linkage Program over the forward estimates.

Its president Dr Ross Smith said that the cuts would further limit the capacity of these 'world class' grants, which already have a success rate of below 25%. Governments needed to set priorities for research but that priority setting was very different from political picking and choosing.

“Peer review is simply the best way of ensuring tax-payers dollars are invested in world class research every time.”

More information: www.scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au
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Mighty dancers

CRC
21 February 2014 - The Australian Government has announced it will invest $186 million in the 16th round of the Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program. The funding will go towards the establishment of three new CRCs, while also providing for the extension of four existing projects.

The three new CRCs are:

The four extended CRCs are:

Applications for the 17th round of the CRC program will open on 3 March 2014 and close 3 July 2014.
The CRC program, which is designed to link academic research with industry, was established in 1990 to deliver significant economic, environmental and social benefits.

According to a 2012 review by the Allen Consulting Group, CRCs have met these expectations. Allen Consulting estimated that the 117 CRCs that existed up to June 2012 generated a net economic benefit of $7.5 billion, exceeding the costs by a factor of 3.1.

Most of the economic impact of the CRCs was found to occur in the agricultural sector.

Beyond the economic success, the review also identified significant environmental and social benefits for the Australian community.

Allen Consulting did highlight that the value of the CRCs is founded in the unique structure of the program, through which the centres and the CRC partner organisations gain the capacity to tackle projects that require more time and resources than is normally available.

More information: www.crc.gov.au

New kids on the block

Recently launched CRC's include (updated 14-04-2014):
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Big not welcome?

In early 2013, the former Gillard Labor Government proposed to ammend the just 2 years earlier introduced R&D Tax Incentive for a more targeted support of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It was part of the A Plan for Australian Jobs (APAJ) policy, through which the Government responded to the Smarter Manufacturing for a Smarter Australia report.

With the proposed amendments large companies with turnover of $20 billion or more would not longer be entitled to the non-refundable 40% R&D Tax offset.

Following the September 2013 election, the Government decided to proceed with this proposed tightening of elegibility to the R&D Incentive as part of the Tax Laws Amendment (Research and Development) Bill 2013.

In July 2011, the R&D Tax Incentive replaced the previous R&D Concession. It includes two components:
  • a 45% refundable tax offset for eligible companies with an aggregated turnover of less than $20 million per year; or
  • a non-refundable 40% tax offset for all other eligible companies.

Having passed the House of Representatives, the Senate referred the Bill to a Senate Economics Legislation Committee with written submissions now closed and a public hearing held on 24 February 2014. The committee is expected to report to the Senate by 17 March.

However, the proposed ammendment has raised concerns. In January, the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) released a statement which describes the proposed changes as flawed. The statement quotes ATSE's submission to the Senate Standing Committee, in which it warns that "passing the Bill would have severe impacts on Australia's productivity".

ATSE also questions the claim that the Bill would have no impact on business expenditure on R&D in Australia given that a significant proportion of business expenditure on R&D in Australia is performed by large companies.

And it further points out that with the proposed changes large Australian companies could be disadvantaged because all their income (whether earned in Australia or overseas) could be assessable. By contrast, for foreign companies undertaking R&D in Australia the assessable income would only affect what they derived from Australia.

R&D Tax Incentive expert Kris Gale from Michael Johnson Associates commented in his blog that the issue is a "fundamental one". "If the Bill is passed, Australia will have the only R&D tax jurisdiction in the world that excludes otherwise eligible participants on the basis of size. A dangerous precedent will have been set that signals that controlling the cost of the program is best done by removing legitimate R&D performers from the system."

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Renewed doubts

17 February 2014 - The Australian Government has released the Terms of Reference for a review into the Renewable Energy Target (RET) scheme. By existing law a review of the RET is due in 2014.

The Government also announced the appointment of a four member independent review panel, which will be chaired by Dick Warburton. The panel will primarily consider the contribution of the RET in the reduction of emissions, its impact on electricity prices and energy markets, as well as its costs and benefits for the renewable energy sector, the manufacturing sector and Australian households.

The Government expects a report from the panel by the middle of this year for it to provide input into the Energy White Paper process.

Australia had a mandatory renewable energy target (MRET) since 2001, which was expanded to the current RET scheme in 2009 with bipartisan support.

It is designed to achieve a 20% share of renewable energy in Australia's energy production by 2020. However, given that it does not apply to Australia's exported energy the share of renewables in the nation's total energy production would amount to only a fraction of the 20% targeted for electricity production.

Since January 2011, the RET scheme consists of two parts:
  • The Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) creates a financial incentive for households, small businesses and community groups to install eligible small-scale renewable energy systems through Small-scale Technology Certificates (STCs). The STCs are created at the time of installation and are equivalent to 15 years of expected system output.
  • The Large-scale Renewable Energy Target (LRET) is based on Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs), which are created for each megawatt-hour of eligible renewable electricity produced by a renewable power station.
  • The RET is administered by the Clean Energy Regulator.
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Healthy winners

nhmrc funding
18 February 2014 - Following the October 2013 announcement of $559 million in health and medical research grants (see Bucks for drugs), the NHMRC has released the outcome of another funding round for 2013 grant applications.

The new funding totals $133 million for projects across five NHMRC schemes:

New South Wales will receive the highest amount of funding with $38.8 million for 47 grants, followed by Victoria with $38.4 million for 58 grants. However, on a per capita basis South Australia is the clear winner of this funding round. Per 100,000 residents the State attracted more than $1.0 million in grants, around twice as much as NSW, which scored $0.5 million.

With grants worth $44.5 million, cancer research was again the field of research that attracted most of the funding. It was followed by indigenous health research ($14.1 million) and cardiovascular disease research ($13.9 million).

Program grant recipients* are:
  • Professor Richard Harvey, Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute ($10.6 million) - The project will apply genomics and stem cell biology to identify evidence based therapies for treating heart disease and stimulating regeneration of heart cells.
  • Professor James Paton, University of Adelaide (8.8 million) - The dynamic interactions between major disease-causing microbes and their human hosts will be studies with the aim to develop improved vaccines and novel treatment strategies.
  • Professor John Kaldor, University of New South Wales ($10.4 million) - The program will study the biology of sexually transmitted infections, and assess new clinical strategies for prevention and treatment of these infections and their consequences.
  • Professor Ranjeny Thomas, University of Queensland ($11.8 million) - Chronic diseases can be triggered by inflammations as the body responds to infections. The research will study who is genetically at risk of inflammation and how related chronic diseases can be prevented or treated.
  • Professor Angel Lopez , University of South Australia ($6.7 million) - The research will study the mechanisms that control blood cell formation and how abnormalities play a role in leukaemia; through drug design and clinical trials the program will then direct a pathway from discovery to clinical translation.
  • Professor Anne Kelso, University of Melbourne ($13.6 million) - Involving seven research groups, the project will determine what factors lead to severe influenza outcomes, and how novel vaccines and treatment strategies could be used to mitigate the disease.
  • Professor Richard Lewis, University of Queensland ($9.2 million) - Novel peptides from cone snails and spiders could lead to better treatments of pain as they modulate specific channels in nerves that are critical to the transmission of pain signals to the brain. The project will evaluate and optimise these new targets to establish a clinical potential.
  • Professor Richard Bryant, University of New South Wales ($10.6 million) - the research will develop and evaluate clinical and population-based programs that address post-traumatic mental health needs.
  • Professor David Whiteman, The Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research ($6.3 million) - the program aims to increase our understanding of common cancers, such as of the skin, ovaries and uterus.
  • Professor Andrew Sinclair, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute ($5.5 million) - Bringing together expertise in human genetics, molecular and developmental biology, the project will investigate genes important for sex development. This aims to identify gene defects that cause disorders of sexual development (DSDs).
  • Professor Graham Giles, Anti Cancer Council of Victoria ($8.1 million) - The research will study the role of genetic, epigenetic and lifestyle factors in the development of colorectal and prostate cancer. Through the analysis of population and family-based datasets the researchers aim to establish improved predictors of a person's cancer risk.
  • *Indicated are the main chief investigator, the administering institution and the funding over a five year period. Funded program grants are to commence in 2015.
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Big thinking for a well-fed future

6 February 2014 - The Australian Government has released an Issues Paper as a first step towards the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper announced in December last year.
Agriculture competitiveness Issues Paper

The initiative will complement a series of related initiatives which include:

The Issues Paper is currently open for submissions until 17 April 2014 and will inform a Green Paper, which is due in the first half of 2014, for the White Paper then to be finalised by the end of this year.

With the Agriculture Competitiveness White Paper the Government intends to address a range of issues concerning Australia's agriculture sector. Under the Terms of Reference released in December 2013, an appointed taskforce will consider the following issues:
  • food security;
  • improving farm gate returns, including drought management;
  • access to finance;
  • competitiveness through the value chain;
  • regional communities;
  • inputs along the supply chain;
  • effectiveness of regulations affecting the agriculture sector;
  • enhancing agricultural exports; and
  • effectiveness of incentives for investment and job creation.

The White Paper will not address industry competitiveness issues associated with the fisheries and forestry sectors nor will it cover human nutritional health issues.

Through the White Paper the Government seeks to set out a pathway for strengthening Australia's agricultural industries, which in the first half of the 20th century contributed around 25% of the nation's gross domestic product and 70-80% of Australia's exports. However, similar to other advanced economies the share of the sector in the nation's total economic output has since declined. This is largely due to the growing economic importance of services industries and the mining sector.

In 2011-12, the agriculture sector accounted for just 2.4% of GDP. With around two-thirds of its produce destined for overseas markets, the sector contributed 5.7% to Australia's total exports.

Ag share in Australian exports
Click image to enlarge.
Share of Agriculture in Australian exports in 2011-12.
graph sourced from ABARES 2012

Still, in 2012-13 the sector's gross value of production was almost $48 billion and as is pointed out in the Issues Paper, the impacts on business activities downstream the value chain are significant - Australia's food and beverage processing was worth $91 billion, and food retailing $136 billion in 2011-12.

In 2012-13, agricultural industries employed 278,000 people with a further 225,000 employed in food, beverage and also tobacco manufacturing. This represents a relatively small share of Australia's total workforce, but the sector provides significant employment outside of urban centres. Thus, the majority of the around 136,000 Australian agricultural businesses are located in rural and regional Australia.

The Issues Paper details major challenges but also opportunities for the sector. They include:
  • increasing competition from overseas suppliers;
  • new production technologies and consumer attitudes to their application;
  • advances in the digital-economy;
  • increasing globalisation of supply chains;
  • competition for prime agricultural land; and
  • increasing frequency and intensity of adverse weather events.

The paper's overarching message is that Australia's farming sector needs to increase agricultural output, which may be achieved by:

Traditionally, Australia's farms have relied on strong growth in productivity as input costs have historically outstripped prices received for products. According to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), between 1961 and 2006 the productivity of agricultural industries grew on average 1.6% each year, but this growth has slowed over the past 15 years, in parts due to the impact of drought and a declining investment in agricultural R&D.

And as is noted in the Issues Paper, the risks associated with drought are likely to increase in the future.

Hence, stakeholders are asked to consider what drivers and constraints may influence the adoption of better business structures or practices that could prepare for these challenges.

Nevertheless, one of the major issues remaining for farmers dealing with income fluctuations is better access to capital, which may be addressed through improved business structures and alternative sources of finance. A recent measure is the Farm Finance Program, a scheme that offers concessional loans of up to $650,000 at a variable interest rate. At present, the pool of funds available are capped at $40 million in 2013-14 and $30 million in 2014-15.

Another major aspect is foreign investment.

Foreign ownership in agricultural land and businesses is overall still very low. However, the Issues Paper points out that in 2011 around half the milk and 40% of the red meat produced in Australia were processed by foreign-owned firms. Foreign-owned milling groups accounted for almost 60% of Australia's raw sugar production and 50% of wheat exporters operating in Australia were in foreign hands.

In this context it is noteworthy that just a few months ago the Government rejected a proposed 100% acquisition of GrainCorp Limited (GrainCorp) by US firm Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), arguing that it would be contrary to national interest. GrainCorp's ports network handles around 85% of eastern Australia’s bulk grain exports.

In 2011-12, the Commonwealth provided assistance worth $1.4 billion for the agriculture sector. Primary producers received 15% of total industry assistance, which compares with 19% for manufacturing, 7% for mining and 45% for services.

Another contentious issue relates to subsidies and its impact on the sector's competitiveness and restricted access to overseas markets. Subsidies for Australian farmers are low by OECD standards, with an estimated producer support* of 3% in 2012. This compares with 7% in the US, 19% in the EU and 14% in Canada. Australia's subsidies are also lower than in many emerging economies such as China (17%) and Indonesia (21%).

The Government's major vehicle to overcome access barriers for exporters is to enter free trade agreements (FTAs), of which seven are now in force with countries that account in total for 28% of Australia's total trade. In progress are agreements with China and Japan and in December 2013 Australia concluded negotiations with Singapore.

In addition to this, there are potential technical barriers to food trade that relate to food safety and quality, and biosecurity. The Issues Paper stresses that Australia’s biosecurity system faces increasing challenges, including changing global distribution of pests and diseases as well as increasing movement of goods and of people.

*The producer support is an indicator of the annual monetary value of gross transfers from consumers and taxpayers to support agricultural producers*

More information: www.agriculturalcompetitiveness.dpmc.gov.au
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Counterproductive helpers

Tracing the history of agricultural policies in Australia, a new report from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) shows how the deregulation of the sector and the removal of distorting producer support led to strong agricultural productivity growth.

Forward looking, the report details a framework of the main factors influencing the sector's performance, while also revealing opportunities for further reforms.

ABARES released its analysis in February, in a report that contributes to a broader OECD project on best national agricultural policy practices.

The analysis reveals that historically distortions in resource allocation within agriculture were a main contributor to inefficiencies. These resulted from wide disparities in levels of assistance that were entrenched across Australian industries.

But since the late 1970s, these support measures that aimed to maintain and stabilise farmer returns were wound back by successive governments.

As a result, decision-making in the sector became more responsive to market forces. It also set off a trend towards larger farms, often a result of more efficient businesses taking over the resources of exiting inefficient enterprises. And as the ABARES reports shows, a trend towards larger farms is associated with higher productivity changes and is largely due to changes in production technology that larger firms are more able to afford. A lack of access to skilled labour or available cash flow may also be more significant barriers for smaller firms wanting to innovate.

Looking to the future, the ABARES report demonstrates that production- and trade-distorting support has now largely been addressed and further efforts directed toward removing price distortions or increasing exposure to competition are unlikely to have significant impact on productivity.

ABARES framework of agricultural policy determinants
Click image to enlarge
ABARES framework of agricultural productivity determinants

The sectors is now strongly market-oriented but is facing significant external pressures due to increased competition for inputs, such as labour. These contribute significantly to relatively high procuction costs in this country. Adding to this are higher costs of agricultural exports that result from the current high exchange rate.

Much of these pressures relate to the structural changes in the Australian economy that are driven by the resources boom and Australia's historically high terms of trade.

There are still unnecessary regulatory burdens and, as the ABARES report details, other emerging factors which curtail the sector's productivity growth. These include natural resource pressures associated with climate change and shifts in societal expectations regarding technology, the environment and animal welfare outcomes.

Opportunities for supporting agricultural productivity growth include:
  • reducing regulatory burdens;
  • improving the efficiency of the rural RD&E system;
  • building human capital through improving labour availability and skills; and
  • ensuring incentives facilitate more efficient resource use across farms.

In fact, there are signs of increasing costs associated with regulation. In 2009, the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Australia 3rd against 148 countries in the overall burden of agricultural policy costs, but it has since lost ground and is now ranked 20th (WEF, 2013).

Issues that are likely to have ongoing implications on productivity include moratoria on commercial release of genetically modified crops but also concerns around foreign ownership of agricultural land, agribusinesses and agricultural food production.

In December 2013, the Parliament passed a package of three Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bills. It is essentially identical to legislation introduced into Parliament by the previous Government but which lapsed before passing the Senate prior to the election.

The bills are to provide greater consistency of governance across the five statutory and ten industry-owned RDCs. They also provide mechanisms for all RDCs to access government matching funding for voluntary contributions made by businesses to an RDC.

In addition, they provide RDCs with the ability to use some funds for marketing purposes.

The beneficial role that governments could play extends to increased investments in RD&E and an efficient agricultural innovation system, as innovation is an established key driver of productivity growth.

There are also opportunities in providing better access to essential infrastructure, such as transport, water, energy and telecommunications facilities. This is an area that could present bottlenecks especially for an expanding sector producing key commodities for export markets.

At the industry-level, policies should be avoided that impede structural adjustments such as the exits of inefficient farm businesses. This includes drought and rural assistance programs which have been found to more hamper than facilitate necessary adjustments.

ABARES December 2013 edition of Agricultural Commodities forecast Australian farm exports to be around $38 billion in the financial year 2013-14. Farm production is set to increase by 2.9%, while the gross value of farm production is forecast to increase by 6.3% to $50.9 billion.
More information www.daff.gov.au/abares
More information: www.daff.gov.au/abares/pages/publications
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Scientific wonders

What has happened in Australian research of late? What have you missed? Here are summaries of recent stories, which you can also find in our "'science stories' section.

Defrosting discovery

14 February 2014 - Under predicted climate change scenarios, permafrost ecosystems will increasingly transition to wetlands.
Swedish permafrost and Archeae order Methanocellales
Left: Thawing permafrost near Abisko in northern Sweden. Right: the new microbe with the proposed name Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis represents a new family within the order Methanocellales.
image: Wikipedia

This is set to expose new sources of previously inaccessible organic matter to microbial degradation, ultimately converting organic carbon into CO2 that is released into the atmosphere. Consequently, the process could provide a powerful positive feedback to climate change.

An added concern is that the microbial decomposition of organic carbon may also set free methane, a 25 times more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. However, what role methane producing microbes or 'methanogens' may play in a changing climate is still largely unclear.

A recent study led by the University of Queensland's Australian Centre for Ecogenomics discovered that in northern Sweden mires with thawing permafrost are dominated by a single type of unicellular methanogen. As detailed in a paper in Nature Communications, the microbe produces methane from CO2 and hydrogen, which it sources from other micro-organisms involved in the degradation of carbon.

The previously unknown organism belongs to the Archaea, a third domain of life that is distinct to Bacteria and Eukaryota, and whose members are often found in harsh environments. And within the Archaea, the new microbe was found to relate to species of the order Methanocellales, of which one member was previously described as a major cause of methane emissions in rice paddy fields.

However, based on a near complete genomic analysis and DNA database comparisons, the researchers propose their discovery to be the first representative of a new family of microorganisms, the Methanoflorentaceae, which they found globally distributed across distant arctic ecosystems and other locations that include temperate, subtropical and marine habitats.

Thus, Methanoflorentaceae could become major contributors to a positive climate change feedback.

More information: www.uq.edu.au

Tested saviour

05 March 2014 - Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination in a 'real world' setting has significantly reduced the frequency of abnormal Pap test results and precancers in women.
Human Papilloma Virus - Cervical Cancer
The image depicts HPV (left) and a cancerous cervix viewed through a speculum.
Image: modified from sketches from NIH/ADAMS.

Scientists from the University of Queensland and the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (QIMR) report in the British Medical Journal that they analysed Queensland Health datasets and for the first time linked the available records from the national immunisation program and the Queensland Pap Smear Register (PSR).

The study covered the first four years since the world-first national HPV vaccination program started in Australia in 2007. Similar prophylactic programs are now implemented in over 40 countries.

HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection associated with cancer, notably cervical cancer, and disease. It affects both males and females.

Various types of the virus are implicated in almost all cases of cervical cancer, which originates in the cervix uteri with vaginal bleeding a common first symptom.

Abnormal changes in the cervix that may indicate the cancer is developing can be detected in Pap smears.

The two HPV vaccines currently available cover up to four 'high-risk' types of virus, and hence are not completely eliminating the risk of cancer-causing HPV infections.

Similar to the results from previous clinical trials under controlled settings, the broader population study found that vaccinated women had a 46% lower risk of developing 'high-grade' changes in the cervix than women who had not been vaccinated. And the protection was found highest in women who were not infected with HPV at the time of vaccination as the vaccine appears not to impact on already existing infections.

The HPV vaccine used in Australia was developed under the leadership of UQ Professor Ian Frazer. Referred to as 'quadrivalent' it targets four of the 'high-risk' types of HPV (6,11,16 and 18), and marketed as Gardasil by CSL it is now also available for the protection of boys against genital warts.

More information: www.uq.edu.au

A gutful of love

A modified version of the hormone oxytocin may be effective in treating abdominal pain in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Oxytocin has been the first synthetically produced peptide hormone and since been used to induce labour in pregnant women and stimulate lactation in nursing mothers. And because of its potential role in complex social interactions, such as maternal behaviour, partnership and social bonding, it is at times referred to as the 'love drug'.

In addition to this broad range of functions, oxytosin administered intravenously is also known to increase the threshold for abdominal pain. But the instability of peptide drugs, such as oxytocin, in the digestive system has so far hampered their clinical development as a treatment of chronic abdominal pain, for which there is currently no effective medication available.

In January, scientists from Queensland and Adelaide universities reported in Nature Communictions a new version of oxytocin which they produced by developing a strategy they call 'chemoselective selenide macrocylization'. The synthetic analogue was found to be more stabile but just as effective as oxytocin.

They also show that the analgesic properties of the hormone are indeed conferred locally in the gut by acting on so called primary sensory DRG neurons, rather than centrally in the nervous system. The DRG neuron were found to produce high levels of oxytocin receptor in a mouse model of chronic abdominal pain, while DRG neurons in healthy mice did not show detectable levels of the receptor. The researchers speculate that this could minimise potential side effects in a clinical application.

So far, the oxytocin analogue has only been studied in mice but the researchers are now looking for commercial partners to advance the research into a clinical stage.

More information: www.uq.edu.au

Submerged ventilation

12 March 2014 - Taxonomically classified as a ray-finned fish, the most primitive living bony fish, the polypterids, have retained the ability to breathe air as well as water.

Their lungs bear similarities with those of lobe-finned fish or sarcopterygians, of which living forms include lungfishes and also tetrapods.

Click image to enlarge - image shows Polypterus and (insert) the position of a spiracle.
image sourced from wikipedia (insert: John Long)

However, polypterids have another notable feature - large canals on top of the head that are called spiracles and resemble those found in fossil forms of sarcopterygians. This includes close ancestral relatives of tetrapods, the extinct stem tetrapods.

The function of spiracles in Polypterus species has been a 100-year-old mistery. But now it has been discovered that Polypterus ventilates air mostly through its spiracles rather than the mouth.

And this discovery, published in Nature Communications in March, suggests spiracular air breathing may have been important strategy as fish evolved into land animals some 400 million years ago.

Professor John Long from Flinders University, a senior author in the paper, and his coworkers in the US write that similar to Polypterus, stem vertebrates were likely to be bimodal, breathing alternatively water or air. And they also lived in shallow freshwater habitats which often are low in oxygen. There spiracle respiration may have conferred an advantage as the fish requiring to breathe air did not have to lift its head above the water.

Polypterus keeps its eyes submerged while breathing air. But the researchers suggest that later stem tetrapods may have had their eyes above water, perhaps crocodilian-like stalking terrestrial prey at the water-land interface.

More information:www.flinders.edu.au; An extended article by Professor John Long in THE CONVERSATION can be found here

Ageless fixation

Scientists including from the University of Melbourne have overturned a long-held believe that older trees fix carbon less rapidly than younger ones.

In fact, the larger a tree gets, the more it seems to absorb (although with the caveat that with its death it may set much of the carbon free again).

Published in Nature in January and also covered in a Nature News story, the team of 38 international researchers derived their data from new and existing measurments of 673,046 trees across 403 species from tropical, subtropical and temperate regions.

Image: University of Melbourne

The surprising result: in 87% of covered species the rate of gained mass increased with tree mass, and in 97% of species the largest trees gained most of the mass each year. For trees 100cm in trunk diameter, the average rate of mass gain above ground was found to be nearly three times that of the same species at 50cm diameter.

Bigger trees increase the total amount of leaves more rapidly, which outpaces the decline in individual leave productivity. And there is more surface across which wood is deposited. The researchers founnd that this offets the more rapid growth of younger trees..."at the extreme, a single big tree can add the same amount of carbon to the forest within a year as is contained in an entire mid-sized tree."

The important implication of their results is that the rapid growth of large trees may play a disproportionately important role in climate change feedbacks. Thus they found that trees greater than 100cm in diameter made up only 6% of trees in some western USA old-growth forests, yet they contributed 33% of the yearly growth in total forest mass.

More information: http://newsroom.melbourne.edu

Charged hopes

All you need is water and air
Researchers from RMIT University have developed a concept battery utilising a novel metal hydride electrode that can conduct both protons and electrons.

Called a 'proton flow battery', it only requires a power source and water to charge it, and air for the production of electricity.

The system thus acts both as an electrolyser and a fuel cell.

During a charge inflowing water is split to obtain protons which directly combine with electrons and metal particles to form a solid-state metal hydride. The oxygen produced in the split of the water is set free.

Reversing the process, which just requires inflow of air, then releases the stored energy in form of electricity.

Sketch of the proton flow battery concept
Proton flow battery concept; sketch by Elwinmedia

The system is less complex and potentially more efficient than conventional hydrogen-based systems, as it does not require intermediate steps of hydrogen gas production, storage and recovery.

In a paper published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy in January, the researchers show that the energy efficiency of the proton flow battery could be as high as a lithium ion battery, while storing more energy per unit mass and volume.

The paper is the first to articulate and name the proton flow battery concept, and the first to include an experimental preliminary proof-of-concept.

The concept could combine some of the best features of a hydrogen fuel-cell based energy storage and a battery. However, while now been shown to be technically feasible, the authors acknowledge that additional research is still needed to enhance both its storage capacity and reversibility

More information: www.rmit.edu.au
... and longer lasting discharge
17 December 2014 - A paper in the December edition of Nature Communications describes an important advance in the efficient fabrication of polymer carbon nanoshperes.

This could be of great interest for a wide range of potential applications such as electrode materials for batteries, photonics, drug delivery and the treatment of water.

mesoporous carbon nanospheres
Mesoporous carbon nanospheres

Dr Jian Liu from Curtin University and researchers from Queensland and Adelaide universities as well as China report that their technology produces a high surface area porous carbon mateiral, which is spherical or hollow in shape. The synthesis can be fine tuned to deliver particles of a size ranging between 80 to 400 nanometres (nm) and pores of around 3.5 nm (by comparison, the diametre of a human hair is around 100,000 nanometres).

Producing spheres of below 500 nm has so far been a great challenge. By contrast, their technology is low cost, environmentally friendly and suitable for industrial production, the authors write.

Because of the very high surface area of nanospheres they are ideal adsorbents, a characteristic the researchers exploited to immobilise sulfur. The resulting composite material was then tested as a cathode in Lithium-Sulfur (Li-S) batteries, a common type of rechargeable battery found in portable electronics.

The authors found that these batteries have a high initial discharge capacity and good cyclability from which they conclude that composite nanospheres could be promising for a range of energy storage and conversion applications.

Dr Liu said in a press release from Curtin University that the technology could potentially transform renewable, emission-free electrical devices and vehicles across the globe.

More information: www.curtin.edu.au

Bright move

3 March 2014 - Optical tweezers have been around for a while. In fact, they were first reported in the 70s and since then are used to trap and manipulate small objects using a laser light.
According to a recent review article in Nature Nanotechnology, optical trapping has been successful at the subnanometre scale, where light-matter mechanical coupling enables cooling of atoms, ions and molecules, and the micrometre scale, where the momentum transfer resulting from light scattering can be used for the manipulation of microscopic objects such as cells. However, these techniques are difficult to apply at the intermediate nanoscale range.

While the technology found broad application both in biology and quantum optics at the subnanometre and the micrometre scale, the technology has been difficult to apply at the nanoscale for the manipulation of, for example, nanowires, nanotubes and graphene.

nanotweezer
Nanotweezer: the sketch illustrates a nanoparticle trapped in the bowtie aperture.
Sketch: Macquarie University

A study published in Nature Nanotechnology in March, details a new type of nano-tweezers, which uses plasmonics to trap specimen of just a few tens of nanometers and then diplace them in three dimensions. The invention by Spanish researchers and Macquarie University's Dr Mathieu Juan is based on a mobile optical fiber, which at its end is nano-engineered with a bowtie-like gold aperture.

A major advance of the 'near-field optical nanotweezer' technology is that it operates at very low intensities and thus is compatible with heat-sensitive objects such as biospecimens.

The new technology is also relatively manageable, as the optical fibre is used for both the trapping and monitoring of specimen. Therefore researchers could use the tweezer to manipulate nano-objects outside of the physics research lab, for example in a medical research context. Another potential area of application is materials science, for example to arrange solid-state nano-objects such as nanocrystals.

More information:www.mq.edu.au
... and atomic ejection

05 March 2014 - Light may also brighten up the prospects of creating future nano-scale diamond devices.

The power and precision of light-matter interactions has long been exploited with the use of intense laser beams for detailed cuts or drills at the small scale. But the push towards even higher resolutions for manipulations at the atomic level has been hampered by the very function of the laser beam, the localised transferal of heat onto material, as it readily dissipates to the surrounding area.

The interaction of ultraviolet laser beams with a diamond surface can be confined to the atomic scale for the targeted removal of single atoms.
Image: Chris Baldwin

There are examples for atom-scale manipulations, though, such as the use of sharp tips in scanning probe microscopy. However, these methods are not suited for many materials, such as silicon and carbon crystals, where the atoms are tightly arranged in a regular lattice and bound to each other through fixed chemical bonds, so called covalent bonds.

In a paper in the March edition of Nature Communications, Macquarie University researchers describe a discovery that pulsed beams of ultraviolet lasers can resonate with covalent bonds that hold together the carbon atoms in diamond crystals. And they show that it takes the energy of two photons for targeted breaks that remove single atoms from the diamond surface, etching nano-structures of around 20 nanometres into the diamond surface.

Importantly, the process does not generate significant local heat.

Associate Professor Richard Mildren and coworkers write that the finding of a coupling between the light field and localised bonds is of fundamental importance for developing optical tools that allow bond-specific manipulation in covalent materials. "This may provide a pathway forward for engineering diamond devices that benefit from increased resolution such as low-loss waveguides, quantum devices, high-speed electronics and high-density data storage".

More information: wwww.mq.edu.au
...and perplexing multiplexing

Multiplexing generally refers to methods by which a multitude of distinct messages or bits of information are simultaneously processed.

For example, in telecommunications the term is understood as a process where several message signals or data streams are combined and sent as one signal over a shared medium.

In many other areas of research and technology, multiplexing describes the simultaneous analysis of multiple targets in one sample. And for this type of analysis, optical methods have emerged as powerful tools with applications including data storage, security printing of banknotes, identity cards, trademark tags, high-throughput biotechnology assays and applications in the new field of personalised medicine.

nanoprobes with luminescence lifetime dimension
An artist's impression of the lifetime concept
Image: Macquarie University

Typically, these approaches require a matrix of optical codes that can be accurately identified at high speed. Researchers often use fluorescent markers because they can be easily detected and measured in intensity, but the number of fluorescent colour combinations that can be simultaneously distinguished in a sample is limited because of potential spectral overlaps.

Macquarie University researchers have invented a new concept that adds a temporal aspect to multiplexing. In a paper in Nature Photonics lead authors Yiqing Lu and Dr Dayong Jin and coworkers write that this lays the foundation for future libraries of nano-/microprobes that may carry more than 10,000 distinguishable codes based on combinations of colour, intensity and lifetime of signal. The new dimension is provided by luminescent nanotags or microcarriers which are based on populations of rare-earth doped nanocrystals ,so called 'T-Dots', that display a distinct lifetime of luminescent signal.

The researchers were able to precisely tune the luminescence decays in a range of micro to milliseconds. Thus coded in the time dimension, in addition to colours, the luminescence lifetimes (T) can be engineered and assigned to a single nanoparticle.

The technology is particularly promising for areas that require the detection of rare events in complex environments, such as biological systems, with potential applications ranging from non-invasive cancer diagnostic kits, rapid pathogen screening tests for acute infections to the invisible coding of authentic pharmaceuticals.

More information: www.mq.edu.au

Money makes the world go right

Just in case you wondered or needed confirmation, having earthly possessions does seem to change your view on the world.

A Warwick Economic Research Paper released in February covers a longitudinal study which explored changes in the voting behaviour of thousands of UK citizens after they won up to around £200,000 in the lottery ($370,000).

Money and voting

The finding: winning even a few thousand pounds in the lottery had a measurable effect on 'right-wingness', and the effect was far stronger for males than females.

University of Melbourne Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee co-authored the paper, which still lacks data on individuals winning greater amounts. But he already draws the conclusion that based on the empirical evidence voting choices are made out of self-interest.

And his coworker, Professor Andrew Oswald from the University of Warwick noted in a university statement that "in the voting booth, monetary self-interest casts a long shadow, despite people’s protestations that there are intellectual reasons for voting for low tax rates."

Tenderly explosive beginning

27 February 2014 - At the beginning of the universe, supernova explosions that led to the second generation of stars were of surprisingly low-energy and resulted from first generation of stars prior that were smaller than hitherto assumed.

A five year search for ancient stars with the ANU SkyMapper telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory has identified a star, which based on its apparent lack of iron is over 13 billion years old and may be the oldest known star to date.

Left: SMSS 0313-6708, around 6,000 km from Earth; right: ANU Skymapper at the Siding Spring Observatory
image of SMSS - Dr Stefan Keller, ANU; Skymapper - ANU

The work was led by scientists from the Australian National University and published in Nature in February.

Officially named SMSS 0313-6708, the star complements four other recently discovered stars of low-mass and extemely low 'metallicity' - a term that refers to a relative paucity in elements heavier than helium.

It is believed that the metallicity of a star indicates its age as shortly after the Big Bang the universe contained mainly hydrogen and helium. Heavier elements were then formed in a process referred to as 'supernova nucleosynthesis', in which the first stars evolved and eventually exploded as supernovas. Relatively young stars, such as the Sun, are mostly made up of hydrogen and helium, but also contain oxygen, carbon and nitrogen, as well as large amounts of iron.

By contrast, SMSS 0313-6708 was found to contain traces of lighter elements, including carbon, magenesium and calcium, but no detectable iron. The scientists revealed that its formation was seeded by a single supernova event, which originated from a primordial first-generation star with a mass just around 60 times that of the Sun.

Because of the relatively low energy of the supernova event, almost all the heavier elements were consumed by a black hole that formed at the centre of the explosion.

This contradicts previous assumptions that the first generation stars were extemely massive, with masses hundreds of times that of the Sun, and died in violent supernova explosions that ejected large amounts of iron into the universe.

The now five known low-metallicity second-generation stars provide unique chemical signatures that reveal clues about the generation of stars that preceded them, including that their mass was between 10 and 70 times that of the Sun.

The study also suggests that calcium, previously thought to have formed alongside iron, is not made in supernova explosions but in a very hight temperature hydrogen-burning phase of initially metal-free first stars.

Hence, as Monash University's Professor Alexander Heger observed in a university statement, some of the calcium in our teeth can be traced back to the first stars, and is older than any piece of gold or iron.

More information: www.monash.edu.au

...and black beauty

28 February 2014 - In related research, Australian researchers from ICRAR* and American astronomers have provided the first detailed empirical confirmation of a super-powered black hole.

In a paper in Science they describe a new small but extremely powerful black hole, named MQ1, which they discovered as part of a comprehensive study of the nearby galaxy M83.

MQ1 is a microquasar with a rotating black hole at its center that pulls mass from a nearby companion star. The researchers were able to determine that the mass of the black hole is less than 100 times the mass of the Sun. Yet the energy MQ1 exports would suggest a far bigger size, based on the so called Eddington limit, a rule that sets a certain cap on how much energy a black hole of a given mass can eject into its surroundings.

Image: sourced from an ICRAR media release. Credit J. Miller-Jones (ICRAR) using software created by R. Hynes.

Black holes, such as quasars, are among the most luminous objects in the universe, although this may appear counterintuitive since their mass is understood to be so dense that even light cannot escape.

But when a rapidly rotating black hole pulls in matter from its surrounding, a process astrophysicists refer to as accretion, the particles will not directly hit the centre of gravity. Instead, they feed into an extremely hot 'accretion disk' around the black hole. This chaotic mess of fast moving and colliding particles generates enormous heat and releases 'gravitational potential energy' in form of radiation.

The brightness of a black hole is constraint by the Eddington limit because the outward pressure of the radiation will eventually block the inflow of surrounding matter.

But some accreting black holes, such as the microquasar MQ1, also release energy through jets that shoot out plasma along the axis of the black hole's spin rotation (a paper by ICRAR researchers on these jets was published in Nature in November 2013.)

The MQ1 black hole is only around 100 kilometres wide but its extended jets were found to reach about 20 light years from either side of the black hole. And the researchers determined that for around 2 √— 104 years the mechanical power of the shooting out plasma averaged 3 √— 1040 erg per second, which is much higher than MQ1's calculated Eddington luminosity.

The authors write that the existence of such super-Eddington mechanical power is important for the modelling of jets. Their results would also imply that the influence of super-powered black holes on the evolution of their host galaxy were greater than previously thought.

More information: www.curtin.edu.au; *The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) is a joint venture between Curtin University and The University of Western Australia.

Malignant targets

Australia's strength in cancer research has recently been highlighted with a series of high-profile publications.

Together, the papers also show the spread of progress in this area, and the increasing importance placed on promoting the body's own defense capacity.


Regulated kill

24 March 2014 - The most recent study, published in Nature Immunology in March, identified a key protein on the surface of Natural Killer (NK) cells that inhibits the body's own capacity of controlling the spread of cancer.

Natural Killer cells play a crucial role in the early defence against infections and the battle against tumor growth and metastases.

NK-cell-tumour-cell interaction
Sketch: Elwinmedia

Their activity and function, which includes the release of the immune modulator interferon-gamma, is regulated through a series of receptors on the cell surface. Members of the immunoglobulin superfamily are pivotal in this process, of which two proteins, known as CD96 and CD226, were the focus of the research led by the Peter McCallum Cancer Centre and the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

The researchers found that CD96 inhibits the production of interferon-gamma and this counteracts the function of CD226, which is known to promote the production of interferon-gamma and thus the killing and control of a wide range of tumors.

So far, the research has been constrained to experiments in mice. This includes animals experimentally made deficient of CD96, which were found to be more resistant to induced carcinomas and metastases than mice expressing CD96.

But the authors conclude that the targeted blocking of CD96, which they describe as a "critical regulator of CD226-dependent antitumor functions", may open a pathway to stimulate the body's own defence against cancer.

More information: www.qimr.edu.au

... with deadly license

20 February 2014 - In a related development, a paper in Nature co-authored by Professor Wally Langdon (University of Western Australia) reports a new inhibitory pathway that could be targeted in order to 'awaken' NK cell's actitivity against cancer metastases.
TAM family - cancer scheme
The above scheme summarises the TAM - Cbl-b interaction and the actions of TAM inhibitors and the Vitamin K antagonist Warfarin.
The figure is a simplified adaptation from a sketch in doi:10.1038/nature12998

The surface of NK cells also contains a set of regulatory proteins that belong to the so called TAM family of tyrosine kinase receptors. These bear important signalling functions for a range of processes such as cell growth and survival and the release of inflammatory cytokines.

The international team of researchers developed a highly selective TAM kinase inhibitor, which administered to mice with experimentally induced cancer improved their ability to control the spread of metastases.

This research was motivated by work on an enzyme called Cbl-b, of which mutated forms have previously been implicated in cancer development. The authors discovered that mice, in which Cbl-b was either genetically deleted or rendered inactive, were able to spontaneously reject metastatic tumours.

Cbl-b is a known E3 ubiquitin ligase, a type of enzyme that tags proteins for their degradation. Its primary target in NK cells were found to be the TAM proteins Tyro3, Axl and Mer, and the researchers were able to show that the direct inhibition of the TAM receptors correlates with the deactivation of the E3 ligase in promoting anti-metastatic activity.

The work thus reveals a new pathway that regulates anti-metastatic activity of NK-cells which could lead to new cancer therapies based on drugs targeting the TAM receptors.

Importantly, mice treated with the TAM inhibitor did not show any signs of side effects such as inflammation or autoimmunity.

The study also solved a 50-year old puzzle about the potential anti-metastatic activity of warfarin, a commonly used bloodthinner that blocks the action of vitamin K. The study found that the mechanism of the anti-cancer activity may involve a direct interaction with TAM receptors and the authors suggest that the use of warfarin or similar vitamin K antagonists in cancer may be re-assessed.

More information www.news.uwa.edu.au

Programmed to die

04 February 2014 - While an essential requesite of animal development, programmed cell death or apoptosis is also a hallmark in cancer.

In the fruit fly Drosophila , a common model organism used in genetics and developmental biology, recent research uncovered a new signal pathway through which the hormone ecdysone controls the precisely timed activation of genes responsible for the removal of the insect's larval salivary glands. And the study by the South Australian Centre for Cancer Biology suggests that a similar hormone-dependent mechanism may also underly some human malignancies.

credit: University of South Australia

An important factor controlling the balance between cell survival and self-destruction are so called histone proteins, which are closely associated with our genome and regulate the activity of clusters of genes.

Histones are extremely conserved proteins in terms of their basic aminoacid sequence. However, certain sites in histones can be chemically modified, such as through 'methylations', and this alters their capacity to bind to DNA.

This 'epigenetic' control of gene activity is facilitated by complex enzymes, which, for example, transfer or remove methylations.

Published in Nature, the research revealed that in the fruit fly a complex enzyme UTX responds to the steroid hormone ecdyson by removing methylations from certain histone sites. In turn, this activates certain genes which, in a precisely timed series of events, leads to the removal of the insect's salivary glands through cellular degradation and apoptosis.

But this finding may be relevant beyond the fruit fly.

A version of UTX is also found in mammalians and is there known to be critical for mammalian embryonic development.

While none of these functions have so far been found to depend on hormones, in some malignancies, including prostate and breast cancers, hormones play a role and the UTX gene has been found to frequently carry mutations.

The authors thus speculate that some of these cancer may involve the UTX enzyme in a steroid hormone-dependent signal pathway.

More information: www.unisa.edu.au
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Spacious investments

13 March 2014 - The UK Government will invest more than £100 million (around $184 million) in the construction phase of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA).
Image produced by 6 ASKAP antennas
ASKAP antennas at the Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory.
Image: www.skatelescope.org

Making the announcement, the UK Science Minister David Willetts underscored the enormous amount of data that is expected to flow from the billion dollar global initiative to establish the world's largest and most sensitive radio telescopes.

According to estimates by IBM, SKA will produce a few Exabytes of data per day, and will require storage of between 300 and 1500 Petabytes of data each year. By comparison, the large Hadron collider at CERN produces around 15 Petabytes each year, which is 10-100 times less than is expected of SKA.

Australia is one of ten SKA member countries, with Western Australia and South Africa co-hosting the project. The Australian state will be home of two SKA Phase 1 telescopes which will be located in the Murchison region and comprise a low-frequency aperture array of 50 array stations, each equipped with 10,000 individual antennas, and a 96-dish survey telescope. Their construction is expected to commence in 2018, with a major precursor project, the Australian SKA Pathfinder, currently being in the commissioning phase.

ASKAP is one of three SKA precursor projects and its array of 36 antennas will be included in the 96-dish SKA survey telescope.

Image produced by 6 ASKAP antennas
First ASKAP continuum image obtained with 6 antennas
Image: www.skatelescope.org

The CSIRO, which constructs ASKAP, recently reported the first continuum image produced with six of the antennas. This was made possible by processing data using the ASKAP Central Processor, also known as Galaxy - a real time computer at the iVEC Pawsey Centre, which officially went live in February 2014.

The progress provides an engineering testbed in preparation of using all 36 antennas together.

More information: www.wa.gov.au

Iron gold

March 2014 - The good news story of Western Australia's resources boom has still some meat in it.

The continued strong demand for iron ore from China together with a weaker Australian dollar has seen the value of Western Australia's mineral and petroleum sector increase by 15% between 2012 and 2013, setting a new record of $113.8 billion.

The WA Government's Mineral and Petroleum Industry 2013 Review reports that iron ore accounted for $68 billion or 76% of all WA mineral sales in 2013, on the back of a record export volume of 556 tonnes iron ore, up 16% over the previous year.

Gold, the State's second most valuable mineral commodity, added another $8.7 billion or around 10% of total sales value. However, the value of gold exports decreased by around 7% from the previous year, as the 3% increase in production only partially offset a fall in the price of gold. In US dollar terms, gold was on average 16% cheaper than in the previous year.

The review confirms that new capital expenditure has peaked as major projects transition from the construction into the operational phase. Nevertheless, the "dominance of the resources sector in the nation's economy is expected to continue given the number of projects which have been expanded or developed, in particular iron ore and LNG".

Sovereign reputation

Meanwhile, Australia's reputation as a prime destination for resource investments has strengthened in 2013, despite the political controversy over the Mining Tax or the price on carbon policy.

According to the Fraser Institute Survey of Mining Companies 2013, Western Australia's resource sector is now the world's most attractive investment destination.

The Fraser Institute's 2013 edition of its annual survey of mining companies considered geologic and economic factors relevant to mineral exploration but also the overall policy attractiveness of 112 global jurisdictions.

The combined scores achieved in the composite 'Best Practices Mineral Potential Index' and the 'Policy Perception Index' (PPI) resulted in an overall score of the investment attractiveness of a region.

For the assessment of the PPI, policy factors were considered that include the administration of current regulations, environmental regulations, regulatory duplication, the legal system and taxation regime, uncertainty concerning protected areas and disputed land claims, infrastructure and others.

The Canadian Fraser Institute found that in the Policy Perception Index (PPI) category Australia improved its reputation in every State and Territory in 2013, with WA ranked 6th of 112 surveyed regions, followed by South Australia ranked 11th.

Fraser Institute Mining Survey 2013: Investment Attractiveness
Click image to enlarge

Victoria was the only jurisdiction that dropped in its PPI ranking to 33rd of 112 regions, down from 24th of 96 regions in 2012.

In the overall investment attractiveness, WA outclassed every other surveyed region, with the Northern Territory (17), South Australia (20) and Queensland (21) the next best placed Australian jurisdictions.

Seaming ahead

February/March 2014 - Santos Ltd has released a Preliminary Environmental Assessment (PEA) for its Narrabri Gas Project which, if going ahead, could be the State's largest CSG project.

It follows a Memorandum of Understanding the company signed with the NSW Government in February, and which designates the project as a 'strategic energy project' and details the broader conditions for the project's approval process.

Santos Narrabri coal seam gas project
Click image to enlarge.
The Santos Narrabri Gas Project includes:
  • up to 850 production wells;
  • an estimated $1.6 billion in royalty payments over the estimated 25 years of life of the project;
  • $160 million for a Regional Community Benefit Fund (if matched by the NSW Government); and
  • a pipeline to be constructed for the transport of gas to the NSW market.

The $2 billion project targets coal seam gas reserves in the Narrabri area north west of the State. According to Santos, it could potentially supply half of the State's natural gas needs and this would coincide with an expected increase in domestic demand for gas when Queensland is commencing the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG). At present, NSW receives more than 95% of its natural gas from interstate.

The project includes up to 850 production wells across 98,000 hectares southwest of Narrabri within in the Gunnedah Basin, which is prospective for both coal seam methane and conventional hydrocarbons. Around 70% of the development would be in the forests of the Pilliga, and the remainder on agricultural land. .

The company's PEA, which precedes a more detailed investigation of issues in an Environmental Impact Statement, lists a series of potential hazards. These include that relate to the Pilliga Forest being prone to bushfire.

And while there are not plans to use hydraulic fracture for the stimulation of gas production, the PEA does address potential hazards for the region's water reservoirs and the NSW Great Artesian Basin.

According to the PEA, the coal seam dewatering process is unlikely to pose a risk for the Basin and upper Quaternary aquifers, but there are still potential risks for the Namol catchment, which since over 100 years has supplied water for agricultural use.

Groundwater in the Namol catchment supports an irrigation industry worth in excess of $380 million, apart from supplying water to towns and industries in the area.

Activities such as drilling and installation of wells, the management of produced water, permeate and brine, as well as the dewatering of aquifers during operations could all impact on groundwater, including through leakage from poorly constructed gas wells, cross-contamination and subsidence.

The project could also have potential impacts on surface water, including through contamination due to chemical spill or fuel release as a result of accidents and leakages.

More information: www.santos.com

Better saved than sorry

The Australian Grains Genebank, a $6 million project for the storage of around 300 million plant seeds from around the world, has opened its doors in Horsham, Victoria.

The Victorian Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) each contributed around $3 million towards the centre's establishment and have pledged to support its operations with annually $600,000.

The AGG is led by Dr Sally Norton and amalgamates the Tamworth Australian Winter Cereals Collection, the Tropical Grains Germplasm Centre in Biloela and the Temperate Field Crops Centre in Horsham.

AGG seeds to Norway
From Horsham to Norway: Ten thousand seeds from the AGG were recently delivered to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway by former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fisher.
Image: Screenshot from AGG youtube video, and insert provided by the Crawford Fund

This provides a single nationally focused program through which Australian and international researchers can access grains genetic resources, including for the creation of new plant varieties.

With 2.7 kilometre of shelf space at -20 degrees Celsius the AGG has capacity to hold 200,000 packets of seed and more than 2,000 different crop species.

And the project also supports global initiatives that are aimed at preserving crop seeds for the future. Recently, ten thousand seed samples made their way from the AGG to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, where around 800,000 seed samples from around the world are stored as a kind of global insurance policy.

More information: www.premier.vic.gov.au

Busy in the South

27 February 2014 - In Round 3 of the $7.5 million Manufacturing Productivity Networks program the Victorian Government will co-invest $838,000 in nine business networks.

The grants are provided on a dollar for dollar basis and will support collaborative manufacturing projects involving a total of 175 businesses.

The program is part of the A More Competitive Manufacturing Industry strategy and includes two separate streams, which invest up to $50,000 over one year in the planning and up to $600,000 over three years in the implementation of significant projects.

More information: www.premier.vic.gov.au

Spring board to a healthy market

12 March 2014 - The Small Technologies Cluster's (STC) MedTech Boardroom Stimulator program is a new initiative through which the Victorian Government provides free mentoring from leading entrepreneurs to local businesses across the medical technologies (medtech) sector.

The assistance employs a virtual boardroom scenario, allowing participating companies to identify collaborative opportunities, refine strategy and brainstorm specific challenges.

More information: www.premier.vic.gov.au

Infectious generosity

19 February 2014 - NSW has a new public-private research fund targeting infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans.
Bat - image provided through the National Foundation of Medical Research and Innovation
Hendra virus and the Australian bat lyssavirus are examples for the around 50 diseases that are known to be transmitted from animals to humans in Australia, and which are a funding focus of a new public-private fund.

The initiative is a partnership between the NSW Department of Primary Industries and the National Foundation of Medical Research and Innovation (NFMRI), formerly known as the Sydney Hospital Foundation for Research.

Through the new joint initiative, $400,000 of joint funding will be available for research into new vaccines, medicines and new diagnosis tools. Successful projects will also have access to biosecurity expertise at the NSW DPI and the department's extensive networks of medical practitioners, scientists and industry leaders.

More information: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

Never look a gift horse...

12 March 2014 - After Adelaide is already well on track to become the first Australian capital city with free Wi-Fi access throughout its CBD, Melbourne may follow suit.

The Victorian Government has announced Expressions of Interests to deliver a similar free Public Wi-Fi pilot program in the centres of Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo.

The Government hopes that the experience of a reliable free Wi-Fi access will help lift productivity and draw more businesses and entrepreneurs into the State.

Expressions of Interest are open until Thursday 17 April 2014. The Government then expects to award contracts in mid-2014, as a first stage in a larger roll-out of public Wi-Fi.

www.premier.vic.gov.au

Food action in sight

12 March 2014 - The Victorian Government has released a Draft Recommendations Paper for its 10 year Agriculture Industry Action Plan, which is to be the first whole of government and industry strategy undertaken for the NSW sector.
Agricultural society NSW
A sector with tradition...

According to beef producer Lucinda Corrigan, head of an industry task force preparing the strategy, there is a growing urgency to adopt such an approach. It will need to address opportunities and challenges ahead of the sector, the community concerns around agricultural production systems as well as issues around food safety and security, resource use, climate change and animal welfare.

The Draft Recommendations is the next stage of public consultation, after an Issues Paper released in July 2013 received 44 submissions.

The NSW Agriculture sector is with more than $15 billion (2012) a significant contributor to the State economy and vital for its regional areas - around 30% of employment in rural communities involve primary industries services and activities.

Wheat is the most important crop commodity in the State, contributing $2.2 billion to gross agricultural product, followed by cattle and calves ($1.6 billion) and cotton ($1.3 billion).

With its 41 recommendations the taskforce broadly addresses issues including:

  • maintaining the sector's profitability, productivity and innovation in the face of declining terms of trade;
  • maximising the efficient use of human capital through a focus on workforce and skills;
  • reviewing the business and regulatory operating environment in NSW;
  • investigating new models for investment and ownership within the industry;
  • developing partnerships, supply chains and operating environment that can capitalise on potential market and export opportunities; and
  • improving long term market development by effectively connecting with community.
More information: www.dpi.nsw.gov.au

Indian airy tale

08 March 2014 - While Victoria's manufacturing sector is at present a safe bet for troubling news, there are also positive stories to tell.
Ecotech
Ecotech air monitoring
Screenshot from a company product video

During the Victorian Government's latest Super Trade Mission to India, Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips announced a new agreement under which India's technology distribution company Tesscorn will supply aerosol monitoring equipment manufactured by Ecotech Australia to Indian research bodies.

This extends the range of Ecotech products already offered by Tesscorn, which includes the Polar Nephelometers for the study of climate change.

At the end of last year, Ecotech's success in exporting environmental solutions was recognised at the 51st Australian Export Awards.

More information: www.premier.vic.gov.au

Unmanned avoidance

February 2014 - An onboard 'Detect and Avoid' (DAA) system for unmanned aircrafts, developed by Queensland researchers and industry partners, has delivered real time warnings that allowed a ground control station to manually avoid collisions.
Arcaa unmanned aircraft (youtube)
Click on image for a youtube video of the RESQU trial

Demonstrated in trials at an airfield north-west of Brisbane, it is believed to be a world-first in a competitive race for technology that could lead to the routine use of unmanned aircraft in controlled civilian airspace.

Current regulations do not allow such operations because of concerns about possible collisions with other aircrafts and safe landing operations. But with these technology advances, the tremendous potential of UA may soon become available for a wide range of civilian tasks, such as in disaster management the continuous mapping of floodwaters and fire-fronts, the assessment of damage to infrastructure and the location of disaster survivors.

The DAA research is part of the $7 million RESQU (RESilient QUensland) project by the Australian Research Centre for Aerospace Automation (ARCAA), a specialist research centre of the Queensland University of Technology, and its industry partners Boeing Research and Technology Australia and Insitu Pacific*.

RESQU follows on from the previous very successful $10 million Smart Skies Project, which explored new technologies for the efficient utilisation of both manned and unmanned aircraft.

With the RESQU undertaking, the collaborative research tackles a range of issues that currently limit the more widespread use of UAs. Thus, in addition to the DAA Systems, two other streams of research explore the critical barrier of appropriate safety regulations and an automated emergency landing system for UAs.

And in a fourth stream of research, the project will develop a sensing and platform automation for Miconia weed surveys.

More information: www.arcaa.net; *The RESQU project is supported by the Queensland Government, QUT, industry partners BR&T-A, Boeing subsidiary Insitu Pacific and the CSIRO
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Earthly delights

Australia's mining sector is in a process of transition, as new investments in projects are in decline while existing projects enter the production phase.

This is the overall message from the following report on recent developments, which also show that this does not equate to an end of the mining boom. Earnings from exported commodities are expected to increase driven by China's demand, especially for iron ore, and the commencing export of Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).

BREE forecast energy and resources earnings
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Our latest States roundup highlighted the strength of Western Australia's recource economics, with a survey by the Canadian Fraser Institute finding the State globally the most attractive region for resource investments in 2013.

Nationally, the Resources and Energy Quarterly - March Quarter 2014 report by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics forcasts that the value of Australia's mineral and energy commodity exports will increase to $199 million in 2013-14, up from $176 million in the previous year.

This is despite softening commodity prices putting some downward pressure on export earnings.

Further outward looking, the BREE report predicts that Australia's resources and energy commodity export earnings will increase by 8% each year from 2013-14, to a total of $284 billion in 2018-19. This will be driven by the substantial increase in production and export volumes of some commodities.

Notably, exports of LNG are set to increase by 22% each year between 2012-13 and 2018-19 to then reach 79 million tonnes, which will see the overall value of energy exports increase, in real terms, to reach $119 billion.

However, the value of resources exports is likely to peak in 2016-17 at around $136 billion as prices for iron ore are expected to further moderate, and despite a projected growth of iron ore exports by an average yearly rate of 8.2% to total 847 million tonnes in 2018-19.

Coal exports volumes are also projected to increase over the medium term.

The major factor underpinning the unabated growth in Australian resources and energy exports will be demand from China, which maintained an upward trajectory in 2013 despite a slowing in the economic growth rate. As shown earlier this year in the BREE-Westpac quaterly update on the Chinese resources sector, steel production increased by 9% to a record 775 million tonnes, reflected in a record 820 million tonnes in iron ore imports, and China is implementing policies to curb coal use, coal consumption nevertheless increased by 2.6% to 3.61 billion tonnes in 2013.

In times of the reapers...

While production and export earnings from existing mining projects are on the increase, the investments in new projects are on a downward trajectory.

ABS minerals exploration expenditure (inc. Dec 2013 quarter)
click image to enlarge

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on Australia's mineral and petroleum exploration activities showed for the December 2013 quarter a significant decline in investment. The quaterly trend estimate for total expenditure in mineral exploration was down 9.8% or $58 million to $536 million (seasonally adjusted: 12.5% to $533 million), which represents a 33.7% fall from the estimates for the same quarter in 2012.

Notably, the fall in investment was more pronounced, down 27.5% from the previous quarter, in projects that explore new deposits, while total expenditure in exploration of existing deposits fell only 6.2% less.

The trend estimate for total petroleum exploration also fell in the December 2013 quarter, by 3.1% or $33.4 million to $1.052 billion (seasonally adjusted it fell 10% or $112 million to $1.014 billion.

...its about wooing the sowers

The Australian Government has released a discussion paper* on its proposed Exploration Development Incentive, which is to primarily target junior exploration companies that want to access capital for the exploration of new mineral resources (Submissions closed 4 April 2014).

The Incentive, which the Government proposes for projects undertaken from 1 July 2014, would allow investors to deduct the expense of mining exporation against their taxable income. The proposed scheme is capped at $100 million over the forward estimates and designed to provide tax credit to Australian resident shareholders who invest in 'greenfields' exploration, that is the exploration of unexplored or incompletely explored areas, in Australia.

In another measure to spur the slowing exploration investment, on 08 April the Government announced the 2014 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release. It comprises 30 areas across four basins in Commonwealth waters off the Northern Territory, the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands, and Western Australia.

...going fishing (for oil)

23 October 2013 - The Australian Government expects a record investment of around $580 million over the next three years as a result of Round 2 of its 2012 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release (see also our previous story Hydrocarbonic investments).

Over a six year period the total investment could be up to $730 million, according to a statement released by Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

Around $540 million guaranteed investments stem from three proposals that target a new oil and gas exploration area offshore South Australia in the Great Australian Bight (see 'Tough Bight to chew on' in our previous story). The sites of exploration are approximately 200 to 300 kilometres west to south-west of Ceduna. The permits were awarded to Chevron Australia New Venture Pty Ltd (2) and a joint venture of Murphy Australia Oil Pty Ltd and Santos Offshore Pty Ltd (1).

A further two permits are offshore Western Australia and were awarded to a venture of Woodside Energy Limited and Mitsui E&P Australia Pty Ltd, and to Shell Development (Australia) Proprietary Limited.

Seven further areas released did not receive compliant bids, with one further bid still under consideration.

Of the 30 permits, 26 will be open for the common work program bidding process, in which applicants are selected on a 'best deserved' basis. These areas are located in the highly prospective Northern Carnarvon and Browse Basins and the under-explored Bonaparte Basin, and further include a large work program area in the frontier Eyre Sub-basin of the Bight Basin off the WA coast (Also read our previous story 'Tough Bight to chew on' in 'Hydrocarbonic investments'.

But for the first time since the 1980s, there are also four more mature exploration areas which are available for cash bidding, which means that applicants offer cash bids with the exploration rights to be won by the highest bidder.

All releases are supported by pre-competitive geological and geophysical data and analysis undertaken by Geoscience Australia.

Tough Bight to chew on

Story from June 2013: 'Hydrocarbonic investments'


The Great Australian Bight (GAB) is one of the lesser explored areas for petroleum, but has recently attracted renewed interest, especially after Geoscience Australia reported in 2007 that a survey in the GAB had identified areas with excellent source rock potential for black oil.

Petroleum exploration in the Bight Basin has a history of over 50 years but so far only 10 wells have been drilled, and this may reflect significant challenges. Nevertheless, it is considered as one of the most prospective underexplored frontiers in the world.

In 2011, BP acquired 4 exploration permits in the GAB, covering an acreage of some 24,000 square kilometres, which are some 300 kilometres offshore in water depth of up to 5,000 metres. In the following year the company completed a three-dimensional marine seismic survey and it is now in the process of planning for exploration wells. The company expects drilling to start in 2015-16, subject to respective approval, and this would bring the total investment by the company to $1.437 billion.

To this end the company has entered contractual arrangement for the use of a $755 million harsh environment semusubmersible drilling rig in the initial drilling operations.

3D Model of a Semisubmersible Drilling Rig.

photo: Hyundai Heavy Industries

The environmental concerns are significant, though, as part of the acreage stretches into the Great Australian Bight Marine Park, and the 4 oil exploration wells are to be in or adjacent to this zone. As BP details on its website, the conditions are extreme, because of the depth and the force of the waves building up from the Antarctic.

The company is also involved in a $20 million environmental study in the GAB (see story Taking a Bight.

BP is not alone seeking for oil in rough southern waters, with Bight Petroleum holding 2 exploration permits in the GAB. However, reflecting the considerable environmental concerns, at the end of May 2013 the Australian Government determined that a proposed 3-dimensional marine seismic survey across 3,000 square kilometres would have to go through a full federal environmental assessment process.

Nevertheless, there is heightened interest in the GAB and further 3 frontier areas in the GAB's Ceduna Sub-Basin were included in the 2012 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release.

If you drill, baby, drill up north...

The Queensland Government has also taking another step towards unlocking its black gold.
QLD petroleum acreage release 04 April 2014
Click image to enlarge

In April it announced the release of more than 16,400 square kilometres of land across six areas for petroleum and gas exploration.

The released areas cover under-explored land in the state's north-west and south-west, and are considered to be frontier areas with little or no previous exploration with the potential for both conventional and unconventional petroleum resources, and also oil resources as well.

More information: www.qld.gov.au
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Productively connected on the run

03 April 2014 - New research released by the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) revealed a link between Australia's mobile broadband connectedness and its productivity and overall economic growth.
Mobile connectedness and GDP (ACMA)
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Commissioned by ACMA and the Centre for International Economics, the Economic impacts of mobile broadband on the Australian economy, from 2006 to 2013 study surveyed 1,002 Australian businesses.

It found that in 2013 mobile broadband led to an estimated increase in Australia's economic activity of $33.8 billion, of which $26.5 billion was attributed to time savings for businesses using mobile broadband.

Mobile communications, which include mobile broadband, account for only 0.5% of the Australian economy. Yet, as the report highlights, they have profound impacts on the productivity of the broader economy, particularly in the current economic environment of slowing overall productivity growth. "Without mobile broadband, this means that Australia's productivity and economic growth would have been lower still and that the Australian economy would be $33.8 billion smaller in 2013."

However, the report also notes that mobile broadband development is strongly influenced by Government policy. Spectrum allocation is seen as critical by the industry and could potentially constrain or reduce the future economic value of mobile broadband.

Further key findings of the report include:

Over the next five years, mobile data use is expected to grow rapidly driven by the increasing uptake of 4th generation mobile broadband (4G). While 4G data traffic is expected to increase by 76% each year between 2013 and 2017, mobile data use is set to increase by 38% each year, from an estimated monthly average of 22.2 petabyte (PB) in 2013 to 81.1 PB in 2017.

More information: http://www.acma.gov.au
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Improving the rollout or putting the cart before the horse?

09 April 2014 -An updated Statement of Expectations issued by the Australian Government to NBN Co ahead of an independent cost-benefit-analysis has received mixed responses from media commentators.

The Statement gives the company the go-ahead for the use of an optimised multi-technology model in the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN). This was recommended in NBN Co's Strategic Review released in December 2013 (see story Strategic cable salad).

Through the flexible deployment of technology considered by NBN Co as best suited for a particular area to deliver optimised economic returns, it is claimed the project could save around $32 billion while still delivering at least 25 megabits per second to all premises and 50 megabits per second to 90% of fixed line premises.

The Government expects NBN Co to include existing hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) cable networks in the rollout, in addition to fibre-to-the-node, fibre-to-the-premise, fibre-to-the-basement, fixed wireless and satellite.

Public investment in the estimated $41 billion project will be capped at $29.5 billion, with the remainder to be funded by the private sector.

And further, NBN Co is to prioritise areas identified as poorly served by the Government's Broadband Availability and Quality Report to the extent commercially and operationally feasible.

Reactions in media reports have largely focussed on the timing of the announcement, ahead of the independent cost-benefit analysis for which the Government has appointed a Panel of Experts. The Panel, led by business man and former secretary of the Tasmanian Department of Premier and Cabinet, Michael Vertigan is not to report before mid-2014.

There is also a Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network underway, which tabled an interim report in March. It states that there are "significant concerns with the accuracy and reliability of the Strategic Review". And further: "The Committee concludes that the Strategic Review does not comprise a sufficient information base for the NBN Co Board or the Minister to adopt an alternative deployment path for the NBN." Predictably, this conclusion was rejected in a Dissenting Report" by Senators from the Coalition.

Obviously, the interpretation of these developments is a matter of political persuasion. However, in any case the Government's move to speed up the process has left it open for criticism.

Thus Renai LeMay writes in an article in the online publication Delimiter:

"I have only one question for Minister Turnbull today, and I suspect it is one of those that will forever go unanswered: How can the Minister possibly justify the Government's decision to go ahead with the 'Multi-Technology Mix' for its broadband project, when it has not completed a cost/benefit analysis into the project? And, if the Minister will allow me a relevant follow-up question: Does the Minister consider it incredibly hypocritical to go ahead without a cost/benefit analysis, having ranted on for three straight years in Opposition about how appalling it was for Labor to have done the same?"

However, the Financial Review cites Ovum research director David Kennedy saying the document's release was not premature. "I think this leaves NBN Co enough flexibility," he said. "There's nothing in the statement of expectations that is inconsistent with what the government has said in the last six months."

And according to a piece by Supratim Adhikari in the Business Spectator, the Government's decision to effectively lock NBN Co into pursuing a mix technology strategy puts the final nail in the coffin for Labor’s full-fibre initiative.

"Realistically, that option was taken of the table last year but the subsequent months have been one steeped in inertia and uncertainty both for NBN Co and the telco sector. The decision to hand down the final instructions to NBN Co without the benefit of a cost-benefit analysis looks to have been dictated by the desire to fill this policy vacuum."

Meanwhile, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull responded to crticism writing in his blog that the Statement of Expectations would give the NBN Co management a lot of flexibility in the choice of the best technology for a location. "The reason for providing the SoE now is simply so that the NBN Co has the formal approval from Government for continuing with its move to a multi technology approach."

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Blowing with the wind

In many countries wind energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source, although wind energy production is largely concentrated in Europe and the US. In highly densely populated Germany, as of December 2013 there were 23,645 wind energy projects installed on land providing 33.729 megawatt of energy. But the industry is also experiencing rapid growth in India and China.

In Australia, which has vast wind energy resources, primarily in the western, south-western, southern and south-eastern coastal regions of the country, the industry has also seen a significant expansion. As previously reported, the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) Energy in Australia 2013 report estimates that by mid century wind energy could produce around 21% of Australia's electricity.

However, there are concerns that in Victoria planning restrictions and health concerns may have impacted on the industry. While this has led to the stalling of some projects, the State's 420 megawatt Macarthur Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, just became fully operational (January 2013).

In South Australia wind power has surpassed 1,200 megawatt total installed capacity, contributing almost 30% to the state's electricity production. Already it is the nation's largest producer of wind power, accounting for more than 35% of the nation's total wind energy production. And in February another major project gained SA Government approval, the $1.5 billion, 600 megawatt CERES wind project on the state's Yorke Peninsula.

Wind Energy Generation Australia infographic Elwinmedia
Click image to explore an interactive infographic

But given the signficant ramifications for the industry, the concerns about the impact of wind turbines on health have to be addressed and it is the focus of an ongoing investigation by the NHMRC. On 25 February, the agency released a draft Information Paper: Evidence on Wind Farms and Human Health, which was based on an independent systematic review on the possible impact of wind farms on human health. Its major finding is that "the existing body of evidence relating to wind farms and health remains small and mostly of poor quality and further high quality research is needed."

In essence, this says that there is at present simply not enough information available to make any definite assessement of whether wind farms can pose health risks or not.

evidence blowing with the wind

The review was released as a background for the ongoing investigation, and the NHMRC has asked for further input to feed into its new guidelines (closing date for submissions was 11 April).

However, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) released a statement on 17 March, according to which the evidence does not "support" the view that wind farms cause adverse health effects.

CERES published the statement, which appears to preempt the final conclusion of the NHMRC inquiry, on its website in support of its commercial interests.

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Smoke screen or genuine reduction?

The release of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) White Paper on 24 April 2014 provided long awaited details about the core policy element of the Australian Government's Direct Action strategy (for a previous story on the ERF Green Paper see Emitted future).

Prior to the White Paper, the Climate Change Authority (CCA) published the final report of its Targets and Progress Review in February 2014. The report presents an alternative view on how Australia should proceed with its emissions reduction effort, while it is also providing factual context to the Government's new policy proposal.

And more recently, on 9 May 2014 the Government made its Emissions Reduction Fund Draft Legislation available for public comment. The main bill of this package is the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Amendment Bill 2014, which essentially expands the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) to allow crediting of emissions across the Australian economy.

Emissions abatement task, Australia
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Australia's abatement task that aims for an emissions reduction target of at least 5% below 2000 levels by 2020 has become significantly less daunting, mainly due to recent changes in the activity of Australia's emissions-intensive industries.

In fact, Australia's emissions intensity has been in a steady decline for several decades, on the back of structural changes in the economy, notably the increasing share of less energy intensive services industries. As the CAA report points out, Australia's emissions were broadly the same in 2012 as in 1990, despite a doubling in the size of the economy.

Nevertheless, as can be explored in more detail in the infographic, in the absence of effective emissions abatement policies Australia's emissions are expected to rise to 17% above 2000 levels by 2020. This is mainly driven by the expanded production of LNG and new coal mines.

The previous Government's carbon price mechanism was implemented to counteract this development by inducing lasting structural changes across the economy as industries were encouraged to adapt to the costs associated with emissions. It is now to be replaced with the Direct Action strategy, which is instead focussing on individual projects that remove CO2-e from the atmosphere over a limited time span. Thus projects will receive a reward (issued as credits) only for a single 'crediting period', which typically will be seven years. However, the Government says that over time funded activities are likely to become business as usual, and therefore will not require further support.

In his press release announcing the ERF draft legislation, Environment Minister Greg Hunt said that the 'carbon tax' was a massive policy failure, costing $7.6 billion in its first year of operation without meaningful reduction. Notably, though, the Government's ERF White Paper is based on an abatement task that has significantly benefited from the two years the carbon price mechanism and the CFI have been operating (see infographic and insert).

Australia's Emissions Projections 2012 document, which formed the basis of the previous Government's carbon price policy, forecast that the carbon price mechanism and the CFI would together drive a cumulative reduction of 755 million tonnes CO2-equivalent (Mt CO2-e) between 2013 to 2020. For Australia then to achieve its minimum target of reducing emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020, an 'abatement challenge' of 155 Mt CO2-e would have to be met in 2020. Under the carbon price mechanism this was to be achieved through a mix of domestic abatement and abatement sourced overseas.

However, in 2013 new modelling underpining the CCA's Targets and Progress Review suggests that because of a drop in the activity in emissions-intensive sectors of the economy the target could be reached through the cumulative reduction of 591 Mt CO2-e over the period 2013-2020, and the abatement of 131 Mt CO2-e in the year 2020.

The Government's ERF White Paper further eased the cumulative abatement task to 421 Mt CO2-e by taking into account the impact of two years under the carbon price mechanism and the Carbon Farming Initiative as well as surplus reductions achieved in the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol*. The required abatement for the year 2020 would still remain 131 Mt CO2.

*The Kyoto Protocol allows countries which in the first commitment period over-achieve in meeting their Kyoto target to credit this against the target for the second commitment period. Australia's Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, released in 2013, estimated a carry over surplus of 121 Mt CO2-e. This has since been revised up to 131 Mt CO2-e, reducing the cumulative reduction challenge between 2013 and 2020 to 421 Mt CO2-e.

The Government says it is firmly committed to the 5% target reduction, and will achieve this without an extra new taxation regime. And in contrast to the carbon price mechanism, its Direct Action, with the ERF its core policy, will achieve the emissions target solely through domestic reductions.

Click the interactive infographic to explore

In the ERF White Paper, the Governmet has pledged to extend its original committment of $1.55 billion to up to $2.55 billion that could be used to write contracts.

While this pledge was confirmed in the Budget 2014-15 papers, the actually committed nallocation of funds to the Clean Energy Regulator, the body that administers the ERF, total only $1.15 billion over the forward estimates ($75.5 million in 2014-15; $299.8 million in 2015-16; $354.5 million in 2016-17; and $416.9 million in 2017-18).

The budget papers state, however, that costs for the administration of the Fund will be met from within existing resources of the Department of the Environment and the Clean Energy Regulator.
Timeline for implementation of the Emissions Reduction Fund
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The ERF is comprised of three major elements:

  • Crediting emissions reductions - Community members can undertake activities that lead to emissions reduction that would not otherwise have occurred and receive from the Government Australian Carbon Credit Units for the reduced emissions. A new Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee will replace the current Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee under the Carbon Farming Initiative to provide expert advice on suitable methods for the verification and creditation of the reductions.
  • Purchasing emissions reductions - Emissions reductions will be purchased through a reversed auction process in which successful bidders can enter contracts with the Government for future payments against the delivery of emissions reductions. Administered by the Clean Energy Regulator, auctions for ERF contracts are proposed for the second half of 2014 and will then run quarterly. Prior to the first auction, a commercial consultant will test the market to ensure the conditions of the contracts are appropriate.
  • Safeguarding emissions reductions - Around 130 business with emissions of 100,000 tonnes of CO2 or more will be subject to a safeguard mechanism that will set absolute emissions baselines based on existing data and will safeguard the value of funds spent under the ERF. It will come into effect on 1 July 2015.

Under the proposed CFI Act, the Clean Energy Regulator will be responsible for registering projects and issuing Australian carbon credit units for verified emissions projects. The process of registering projects will be similar to the current CFI.

The units will be issued for each tonne of CO2-e reduced or stored in the land, whereby the emissions reductions have to be 'additional' to what would have occured if the project had not taken place. This requirement is already part of the existing CFI legislation, which includes a test to ensure credited activities are beyond 'common practice' . However, this test will be removed and replaced with the basic requirement that the projects are new - that is their start dates after the ERF implementation - and are unlikely to occur as a result of other government programmes.

The proposed bill includes the example of expanding the capture of methane in a coal mine. This could now be defined as 'new abatement' by reference against historic levels of methane capture.

The amendments will remove a requirement in the current CFI legislation that projects must not involve native forests or materials obtained from their clearing. Instead, their will be a general requirement that a method for reducing emissions should have no adverse environmental, social or economical impacts.

The current distinction between Kyoto and non-Kyoto projects, the latter of which are not considered in the achievement of Australia's climate change targets, will also be removed. While in the first commitment period of the Kyoto protocol these included increasing soil carbon, reducing harvesting in native forests and revegetation, it has since lost much of its relevance as non-Kyoto projects now only include the management of wetland areas and that of feral animals.

A crucial element of the ERF will be how to determine genuine and additional emissions through the use of estimation methods.

There is a clear emphasis on creating a faster and more efficient process in the implementation of a new emissions estimation method, as according to the Government the current process under the CFI has not enabled the timely development of widely-applicable methods for the most prospective emissions reduction activities. One of the changes would be a reduced public consultation period, from currently 40 days down to 28 days. Under the amended CFI legislation, the Minister would also be able to delegate his decision to the secretary of the Department or senior executive service level officers.

A new Emissions Reduction Fund Assurance Committee (ERFAC) consisting of nine members (including an unlimited number from the CSIRO) is to replace the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee (DOIC). However, while currently the Minister's decision is bound to the endorsement of a method by the DOIC, he now only has to take regard to the advice of the new ERFAC on its suitability. This includes advice on a new method meeting certain 'offsets integrity standards', including that it is supported by scientific evidence.

Taking a last stand

In its Targets and Progress Review report the CCA, which the Government is determined to scrap as part of its carbon tax repeal bills, strongly recommends that Australia should extend its committment for emissions reductions from the current minimum of 5% to 15% below 2000 levels by 2020. Taking it even further, it says carryover Kyoto Units should be used to raise the effective target to around 19%.

The CCA report makes the case that based on all evidence available the 5% target is inadequate if Australia wants to contribute its fair share in the global effort that aims to keep average average global temperatures below 2 degrees Celcius. Its thrust is that it will become an improbable large task for future generations, as Australia's 5% target is already out of step with developments around the world.

The CCA refers to 2020 targets of countries such as the United States (17% below 2005 levels), the UK (34% below 1990 levels), and Norway (40% below 1990 levels). An Australian target of 15% below 2000 levels by 2020, plus carryover Kyoto Units would be more in line with the targets in these countries.

The cost of meeting this target would be manageable, the CCA argues. According to its modelling, this could be achieved with a minor impact on economic growth. A 15% plus carryover Kyoto Units would, using a mix of domestic and international reductions as intended under current legislation, slow annual growth in average per person income by just 0.02%, compared with meeting the 5% target.

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From clever back to lucky

or say it with Shakespeare: "Put out the light, then put out the light"

General government net debt
Click the image to explore a detailed infographic on Australia's general government debt (net and gross) compared to other countries, and how it has developed over time.
The Australian Government has handed down its first budget which is to fix a budget 'emergency' that has so far not been recognised by any of the major international rating agencies. Despite the promise of a targeted fund for medical research, for which funding is at present up to a hostile Senate, Science and innovation in this country will be hit hard, with significant cuts across areas of research, education and training.

We provide here a budget wrap up on R&D and also explore in more detail a major claim underlying the budget: the existence of a budget emergency.

To this end we base our analysis on global data from the 2014 World Economic Outlook recently released by the International Monetary Fund.

The Government says that in a business as usual scenario Australia would accumulate Government net debt of over $600 billion over the next decade.

However, this would still equate to just around 20% of GDP (assuming the economy grows at close to trend over the same period).

As can be explored in more detail in our infographic, Australia has at present undoubtedly a very low Government debt to GDP ratio compared to other nations, including most member countries in the OECD.

However, according to the IMF, this is also not likely to change over the foreseeable future.

Economic context: According to the Budget papers, the international conditions are actually expected to improve, with a pickup in activity in advanced economies. China's growth is also forecast to be solid, and risks in general are more balance than they were just a few years ago. And while there are still legacy issues from the financial crisis, Australia's major trading partners are expected to grow above trend (4%) at 4.75% over the next three years.

Over the next four years the underlying cash deficit will reach $60 billion, down from the $125 billion projected in the 2013 MYEFO. Economic growth is forecast to be slightly below trend as falling resources investments are having an impact on the economy at least until 2015-16, although this is partly offset by higher resources export volumes and an expected increase in household spending.

In 2014‑15, net debt for the Australian Government general government sector is estimated to be $226 billion (13.9 per cent of GDP), which is lower than the 2013‑14 MYEFO estimate of $231 billion (14.2 per cent of GDP). By the end of the forward estimates, net debt as a percentage of GDP is expected to reach 14.0 per cent.

The budget forecasts that commodity export volumes will rise but that weak export prices will see a return to a modest trade balance deficit over the forecast horizon. And as the resources sector transitions into the exports phase of the mining boom, Australia's net income deficit is expected to widen due to the high degree of foreign ownership in Australia's resources sector (in absence of a minerals rent tax that could bring additional returns to the economy).

And as the data reveal, most developed countries entered the GFC in a phase of falling or stable debt in a time of positive global economic conditions but then shifted into a phase of increasing debt in the wake of falling tax revenue and increasing Government expenditure.

Another narrative of the Budget is to "redirect spending to productive investment". In support of this the Government refers to the establishment of a $20 billion Medical Research Fund and the deregulation of the Higher Education System. However, the message becomes confusing in light of significant cuts made elsewhere in the nation's innovation system, which go far beyond the expected closure of 'green' programs addressing climate change (which potentially is the one of the greatest threats to public health in future).

Cartoon Mark Eliott
Cartoon by Mark Eliott

It includes cuts across ARC programs plus an additional efficiency dividend from the agency of 3.25% ($74.9 million). There are reductions in the institutional funding of the CSIRO, ANSTO and the AIMS worth together $146.8 million. Savings of $124.7 million will come from reduced funding for Clean Technology programmes and the CRC programme. And far less widely known is the closure of a whole package of programmes that supported industry innovation, for savings worth a total of $845.6 million. Programmes such as the Australian Industry Participation programme, Commercialisation Australia, Enterprise Solutions, the Innovation Investment Fund, Industry Innovation Councils, Enterprise Connect, Industry Innovation Precincts, and the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Small Business and Building Innovative Capability programmes are now to be replaced by a single new Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Programme funded with $484.2 million.

CSIRO's time of pain:
As a result of the Government's funding cut totalling $115 million over the next four years and a continuing decline in external earnings, the CSIRO will significantly reduce its research program, with heavy job losses and multiple site closures. This is according to a statement by the CSIRO Staff Association released on 26 May. The cuts are detailed in an Annual Direction Statement released by outgoing chief executive officer Megan Clarke. In a letter to CSIRO staff she wrote that these changes would "be painful for our teams and our people who have dedicated themselves to the future of Australia as well as to their families". CSIRO plans to either scale back or altogether exit activities across a range of research areas. These include: ...read full story

The Government intends to save a further $1 billion from the closure of ten skills and training programmes. Instead it will establish a new Industry Skills Fund (ISF) from January 2015, funded with $476 million over four years. The Research Training Scheme will also be reduced and higher education providers allowed to charge students for undertaking higher degrees by research, including doctoral and masters degrees. This will save $173.7 million over three years but is unlikely to reduce the lack of access to skills,a recognised barrier to industry productivity improvements.

Selected budget items relevant to innovation in more detail:


General
Higher Education
Industry Innovation Health and Medical Research
Environment
Agriculture
Communications
More information: www.budget.gov.au
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CSIRO's time of pain:

As a result of the Government's funding cut totalling $115 million over the next four years and a continuing decline in external earnings, the CSIRO will significantly reduce its research program, with heavy job losses and multiple site closures. This is according to a statement by the CSIRO Staff Association released on 26 May. The cuts are detailed in an Annual Direction Statement released by outgoing chief executive officer Megan Clarke. In a letter to CSIRO staff she wrote that these changes would "be painful for our teams and our people who have dedicated themselves to the future of Australia as well as to their families". CSIRO plans to either scale back or altogether exit activities across a range of research areas. These include:

CSIRO has already lost more than 400 staff since last July, with another 300 full time positions previously announced to go as a result of the organisation's restructure. Now another 420 staff will have to go by the end of June 2015. And further 80 positions are forecast to be cut by June 2018 if CSIRO’s external earnings continue to decline as predicted.

In line with the recent Commission of Audit, the Annual Direction Statement reveals that CSIRO is struggling to repair, maintain and operate the organisation’s large and diverse property portfolio, with a $175 million maintenance shortfall.

CSIRO plans to close eight of its sites, of which some are due to consolidations and relocations of current projects underway including:

Megan Clarke has welcomed the continued funding for the Australia-China Science and Research Fund ($10m over four years) and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS) in 2015-16, and the continued investment in the Future Fellowships scheme. "We will await the progress of the new Medical Research Future Fund and the mechanisms for funding particularly in relation to CSIRO’s work in food and nutrition, e-health, biomedical manufacturing and vaccines and therapeutics for viruses coming from animals which are important areas for our Flagships and integrated health strategy."

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Stay away from bleeding hearts

Cyber security is becoming a pressing issue for Australian online users, and is a focus of the Australian Government's 2014 Stay Smart Online Week launched on 2 June 2014. But as a report released by the CSIRO in May highlights, the challenge is emerging across all sectors of society as we increasingly rely on digital services, including public services such as patient health records and taxation data.

While Australia's cyber-security capabilities were recently ranked second in the Asia-Pacific region, the Enabling Australia's Digital Future: Cyber Security Trends and Implications report reveals that our security capabilities are challenged in keeping up with technological developments. As a result we could become more vulnerable to threats such as the recent Heatbleed incident.

2014 Stay Smart Online Week: The initiative is a partnership between all levels of government and around 1,700 private and community sector organisations to provide Internet users with simple steps they can take to protect their personal and financial information online.

According to a statement released by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, research by the Stay Smart Online 2014 initiative found that many Australians lack competence in the use of Internet-enabled mobile devices.

The research found that:

  • Australian Internet users are more concerned about deleting their browsing history (74%) than changing their passwords every six months (49%);
  • 72% of Australians use Wi-Fi services in locations such as cafes, shopping centres and airports; only two in five mobile users always read 'permission requests' before downloading an app to their tablet or smart phone;
  • young Internet users are twice as likely as the average Internet user to consider Internet speed more important than security of the connection;
  • one in four families with young children report they still have little or no knowledge about protecting themselves online;
  • one in five older Australians believe they have been a victim of an online scam or identify theft; and
  • the proportion of Australians securing or locking their smart phones increased by more than 10% since 2013.

The CSIRO report identified significant emerging vulnerabilities.

For example, by 2025 our electricity grid is expected to be highly automated with 'smart' digital meters in widespread use. The report explores the scenario of a cyber attack from inside through a 'not-so-trusted insider' causing major power outages across the country during a heatwave. The fallout of such an incident would be complex and potentially cost billions of dollars and include fatalities.

Snapshot of cybercrime in Australia:
  • Non-government estimates put the cost of cybercrime in Australia as high as $2 billion annually, and according to Defence estimates 5.4 million Australians were victims of cyber crime in 2012.
  • Antivirus vendor Trend Micro estimated that Australia had the fifth highest level of reported infections worldwide in 2008.
  • CERT Australia, the national computer emergency response team, reported close to 7,300 cyber incidents in 2012. The following year, incidents increased, with approximately 8,500 reported by mid-August.

The advance of the digital healthcare systems is also yet to be matched by improved security and compliance processes. It is estimated that fraud from practitioners and cybercrime rings will cost the system around $16 billion by 2023. This would equate to around 10% of Australia's total healthcare spending.

The report focussed on energy, healthcare and government, but cyber crime will increasingly be an issue across all sectors of society.

According to the report's authors, the challenge ahead is not just technological. What is needed is a "cultural shift, extending cyber security responsibility out to every organisation, every government, and every individual".

Business, public-sector organisations and the broader public are urged to act now, including by embracing more open disclosure and working together when a breach occurs. Other key considerations are:

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A peak in sight

The enormous growth in mobile service delivery through wireless communications requires available radiofrequency spectrum, for which demand could almost triple by 2020.
Ngara technology platform (CSIRO)
Click to enlarge; Ngara technology - how it works

But the radiofrequency spectrum has practical limits and is hence a limited resource. Consequently, there is the possibility that we are heading toward a 'spectrum crunch', and the challenge will have to be met through advances in technology development and expanded infrastructure.

This is according to a new CSIRO report which canvasses a 'wireless' future with new digital services that are likely to have a pervasive impact on almost every aspect of our life. And the agency promotes its own Ngara technology platform as a tool to prevent potential spectrum bottlenecks in rural and remote Australia.

The Ngara technology platform was developed to deliver high-performance connectivity to rural and remote Australia, where constraints in both the network's 'backhaul' and 'access' technologies* limit capacity.

Ngara can be used to improve the efficiency of both the backhaul and the access component of the network.

*
A networks backhaul transports the main data traffic between places and is in remote and regional areas often based on microwave technologies, while access technologies connect users with the network.

The adoption of wireless is particularly strong in Australia with 2013 OECD data revealing that Australia has the highest rate of wireless broadband subscriptions per capita in the world. In June 2013, 7.5 million Australians accessed the Internet via their mobile phones, an increase of 510% within 5 years, according to data by the Australian Communications and Media Authority,.

But the authors of the A world without wires report argue that Australia needs to rapidly expand its infrastructure to prepare for future "game-changing" applications and social developments.

This is will also be necessary to prevent the digital divide between urban and regional/remote areas of the country to grow even further.

The report foreshadows the eventual replacement of digital TV and telephony services with Internet-based, personalised streaming services. Technologies that improve almost every aspect of our daily lives could soon be omnipresent, and digital service delivery the norm for government and business.

Yet according to the report it is wireless positioning systems that are set to revolutionise our way of life, for which the adoption of driverless cars in the transport grid is a prominent example.

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Emerging non-fixation issues

The current plan for a National Broadband Network includes around 8% or 1 million premises for which fixed line broadband technology is not an economically viable option. Instead these premises will be serviced through fixed wireless technology or two satellites that are currently under construction.

By no means these are confined to remote or even regional Australia, but often are at the edge of cities, metro fringe areas and the outskirts of country towns.

In May, NBN Co released its redacted review of the progress made in the non-fixed line footprint, and identified substantial issues with the approach taken by the company.

Authored by the new NBN Co board and independently assessed by The Boston Consulting Group, the review found that the fixed wireless program is currently running behind target. The new NBN Co board is also critical of the company's "functional siloed organisation" which it says has hampered effective decision making. It also believes that the timeline for the satellite program is too optimistic, with a delay of up to 6 months likely which would push the launch of the satellites out to early 2016.

The review also found that the $3.5 billion allocated in the NBN Co's latest 2012-15 Corporate Plan for the non-fixed line footprint will not be sufficient to provide access to 100% of Australian premises. The funds for the construction of 1,400 fixed wireless towers, the launch of 2 satellites and the installation of end-user premises equipment were based on an estimated take-up rate of 22% to 25%, with around 230,000 premises connected in non-fixed line areas. However, the review estimates that the take-up rate will be 2-3 times higher, with connections to 440,000 to 620,000 premises required. While the Corporate Plan did allow for some additional capacity, this would still mean a shortfall of around 200,000 premises that NBN Co would not be able to service.

The review also notes that around 80,000 of these premises will be in the urban-fringe areas where Optus currently holds the 2.3GHz and 3.4Gz spectrum rights. This is the same spectrum NBN Co uses to service regional areas. But the company has so far not been able to secure an alternative spectrum for the urban-fringe areas, potentially leaving it with a substantial spectrum gap.

The review proposes four different scenarios to overcome the shortfall. Thes include to ramp up the number of base stations (1), extending where feasible the current Government's preferred Fibre-To-The-Node (FTTN) fixed line option to the non-fixed line footprint (2), the construction and launch of an additional satellite (3) and an additional satellite implemented in a partnership with an external party(4).

The preferred option for the non-fixed line footprint, scenario 2, could include a mix of technologies in 2021 with 57% serviced with fixed wireless, 40% with statellite and 3% with FTTN. While this would come at an additional cost of $1-1.3 billion this would be in line with the NBN Co's 2013 Strategic Review and not have a significant impact on the overall estimated peak funding of $41 billion.

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Explorative responses

According to the Canadian Fraser Institute 2013 survey of global business leaders, Australia is already one of the most attractive destinations for investments in the world, with WA even taking out the top spot (see story Sovereign reputation'.

But the Australian Government is continuing to "restore investor confidence in Australia's economic workhorse" with the release of its interim response to the 22 recommendations of the Productivity Commission (PC) Inquiry Report into Mineral and Energy Resource Exploration.

The inquiry dates back to September 2012, when the PC was tasked to investigate reform options that could address non-financial barriers to mineral and energy exploration projects, such as in the government approval process.

Exploration red tape
For a full list of PC recommendations and the Government's interim response click here

Of the 22 recommendations, the Australian Government has already implemented six through previous processes. In its interim response it agreed to a further five while noting the remainder.

Several recommendations aimed at deregulating the industry and removing uneccessary red tape are directly or indirectly addressed with the Government's 'one-stop-shop' for environmental assessments and approvals, which is to be finalised by the end of 2014 (for details see story One for all).

The Government has also recently announced a new Exploration Development Incentive (see story 'Wooing the sowers" in 'Earthly delights') which is to specifically help the exploration activities of small and mid-sized mining companies (reminiscent of the R&D Tax Incentive scheme).

Other PC recommendations the Government has agreed to include that explorers compensate land holders for reasonable legal and other costs incurred in negotiating a land access agreement, including when an explorer withdraws from negotiations before finalising an agreement. Governments should also ensure that when uncertainty surrounds the environmental impacts of exploration, environmental approval decisions are evidence based and regulatory settings evolve with the best available knowledge.

More information www.industry.gov.au
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Offshore manna

Nine new exploration permits potentially attracting more than $372 million in investment over the next six years have been awarded as part of Round 1 the Australian Government's 2013 Offshore Petroleum Exploration Acreage Release.
Click image to explore the awarded permits in an infographic

As can be explored in more detail in our infographic, all but one of the awarded permits are located in the Carnarvon, Browse and Bonaparte Basins offshore from Western Australia (including one within the Territory of Ashmore and Cartier Islands). It underscores the regions potential for petroleum discoveries. The one exception, a permit located offshore Victoria in the Otway Basin, was awarded to Origin Energy Resources.

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Digitised sanity

The nation's progress with the establishment of a Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) is still marred by the complexity of the task, and some shortcomings in its implementation.

Yet, it is a very worthwhile effort to pursue, according to an Australian Government commissioned review of the project.

While the PCEHR review found overall strong support for the implementation of the system, some experts in the field have publicly called on the Government to scrap the project entirely.

Thus, David Glance, the director of the Centre for Software Practice at the University of Western Australia, wrote in The Conversation that while the idea of shareable information through an Internet-based electronic heatlth record "is a good one", the PCEHR has a fundamental problem: it relies on time-poor GPs to ensure that the data is complete, accurate, timely and relevant. But, the GP does not have control over what happens to the record, writes Mr Glance.

...find the article here

In just six weeks a three member team led by Richard Royle, the executive director of the UnitingCare Health Group, prepared the review and submitted a report to the Australian Government in December last year. The report including 38 recommendations was released to the public on 19 May 2014, alongside of transitional funding of $146.6 million over 12 months which were allocated in the federal budget to keep the project alive until a decision over its future has been made.

The PCEHR is widely seen as a core element of a broad range of health related activities using information and communications technology. These are generally referred to as 'eHealth' and also include gateway websites, such as the Government's Healthdirect website, and virtual communities - Internet based social networks supporting and informing members on health issues (for a broader review of eHealth click here).

Booze&Company estimates for digitizing healthcare benefits
Booze&Company estimates of benefits resulting from digitizing the healthcare sector

Acknowledging the spread of potential activities, the report canvasses an ecosystem of eHealth, the creation of which will require an understanding of the current fragmentation of the industry, the specialisation of private organisations, and the need for policies that are conducive for increased industry investment and engagement. 

The potential benefits of a functional eHealth system are significant. Management consulting firm Booz and Company (now Strategy&) estimated in 2013 that up to $7 billion in direct costs could be saved each year by digitizing the healthcare sector, apart from the expected substantial improvements in customer experience. This is broadly backed by the international experience, which shows that data aggregation and management can greatly benefit the healthcare system.

However, the firm's analysis, which is referred to in the review's report, also brought to light the persistent concerns among industry with Australia's approach to eHealth, such as the lack of strategic direction, the poor understanding of the potential benefits from eHealth, a lack of stakeholder engagement and the poor execution of eHealth initiatives.

Key recommendations of the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record Review

The electronic consumer patient
  • Rename the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) to My Health Record (MyHR).
  • Restructure the approach to governance, dissolve NEHTA and replace with the Australian Commission for Electronic Health (ACeH) reporting directly to the Standing Council on Health (SCoH).
  • Transition to an ‘opt-out’ model for all Australians on their MyHR to be effective from a target date of 1st January 2015. This recommendation is subject to the completion of the minimum composite of records (recommendation 21) and the establishment of clear standards for compliance for clinical users via the Privacy and Security Committee.
  • Develop and conduct an education campaign for consumers and clinicians about the impact of the change to an opt-out process and the strength of security and privacy in the system.
  • Immediately update the MyHR strategy to actively enable decentralisation of information across multiple data repositories, with information being linked using the Healthcare Identifier (HI).
  • Reset the policy standards and frameworks necessary to enable interoperability, in a decentralised model, plus commercial models that ensure providers can generate an acceptable return on the investments made in shared infrastructure.
For a full list of the 38 recommendations click here.

Progress towards a more digitized healthcare system has been made, though.

Since 2008, Australia has a National eHealth Strategy for the establishment of core foundational elements in support of eHealth services across Australia (an updated 2013 National eHealth Strategy has been commissioned by the Council of Australian Governments).

And the PCEHR review found broad agreement among stakeholders that there is now a solid foundation of national eHealth infrastructure. This includes the Healthcare Identifier (HI), the National Authentication Service for Health (NASH), the Secure Messaging Delivery (SMD) standard, and the National Product Catalogue (NPC). 

The submissions to the review revealed overwhelming support for an electronic health record as a critical component of Australia's future eHealth ecosystem. However, there is little love among stakeholders for the centralised approach adopted by the agency overseeing the PCEHR implementation, NEHTA. The review panel is especially critical of its strategy to create a single data repository, as it does not make sufficient use of systems developed by the private sector, such as the repositories created by the Pathology and Diagnostic Imaging industry, which enable storage sharing and viewing of tests and/or records. Hence the report includes a set of recommendations that target a more decentralised approach that enables information from third party repositories to be linked through the HI.

On the whole, the governance process is perceived as being too bureaucratic and as not effectively balancing the needs of government and private sector organisations.

Given these concerns and the reservations industry holds against NEHTA, the review panel recommends to restructure the approach to governance and to dissolve NEHTA. The agency is to be replaced with the Australian Commission for Electronic Health (ACeH) reporting directly to the Standing Council on Health (SCoH)

There are also issues with the current 'opt-in' model for the PCEHR, including a lack of focus on those who could most benefit from an electronic health record, such as the chronically ill and people in remote areas. Consequently, the panel recommends to transition to an 'opt-in' model for all Australians, while conducting an education campaign that informs clinicians and consumers about the process and the strength of security and privacy in the system. The panel proposes to make the 'opt-out' model. This should be conditional on a minimum composite of records, which initially are to include data on demgraphics, current medications and adverse events, discharge summaries and clinical measurements. This, the panel argues, would increase the value proposition for clinicians to regularly turn to the electronic records.

Other key concerns with the PCEHR include a lack of integration between current systems, a single sign on and ease of navigation remain obstacles. The review mentions also a persistent divide between clinicians who are concerned with data accuracy under a patient controlled model and consumers who identify the personally controlled nature of the electronic record as fundamental.

More Information: www.health.gov.au
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To ehealth or not to ehealth?

Not only since the recent federal budget is reality sinking in that while increasing life expectancies and comfortable life styles are welcome results of social progress, they are going to present headaches for Governments because of ballooning healthcare costs.

However, This is assuming that there is no significant change in the way healthcare is administered.

The expectation is that the emerging health information technologies (HIT), such as personal e-health records, will significantly reduce the incidence of human errors and increase efficiency in the administration of healthcare.

But this hope is not uniformly shared, with scepticism especially entrenched among health professionals.

Chronic diseases are already a formidable economic challenge. Thus the bill for the care of the chronically ill reached $64 billion in 2008, half of the total health expenditure in that year. Between 2004 and 2008 the percentage of Australian aged 65+ having three or more chronic diseases rose from 23% to more than 80%, and the combined costs of chronic diseases and an ageing population could well exceed $200 billion by the mid of this century.

By then, overall government health expenditure is projected to be about half of all government taxation revenue.

For example, a 2013 survey by Deloitte suggests that the move from paper to electronic means has been slow in the US and there are still reservations regarding the potential benefits of HIT technologies. Thus, 71% of physicians surveyed believed that the promise of reduced costs resulting from increased use of HIT was inflated and that it will cost more, not less. And 6 out of 10 physicians believed that the hospital-physician relationship would suffer as physician privileges are put at risk due to compliance with hospital standards for meaningful use.

Similar points were raised in a 2013 conference paper by reserearchers from Griffith Business School. The literature review of journal articles on HIT adoption in Australian hospitals found that there is very little research done on the systematic benefits of HIT in hospitals. And getting health professional on side may be the real challenge. Thus the authors refer to a study which investigated the role of executive leadership in adoption of HIT. Their doubts about the value of HIT was found to have a significant inhibiting effect – "they were not convinced of the business case for HIT in their hospital and this doubt impaired adoption".

However, the push towards eHealth is strong, in Australia and elsewhere. Thus a report released by the CSIRO in March strongly argues that emerging digital technologies could not only help address the upcoming economic challenge, but at the same time deliver improvements to service quality and availability, especially in rural and remote settings.

"Much of the data on which these advances rely is already available to clinicians and administrators, or will be soon," the report authors found.

Our hospitals are at present the major drain on resources, accounting for around 40% of health expenditure. And hospital expenditure is growing by almost 6% each year.

New advanced modelling and analytics technologies, for which CSIRO's Patient Admission Prediction Tool is an already advanced example, could assist managers to more efficiently allocate hospital resources by predicting flows of patients and clinical staff. And the increasing adoption of telehealth options, such as the in-home patient monitoring of patients at risk using real-time video and data streaming, promise to reduce the strain on hospital capacity and capital resources.

The report points to local and international trials of telehealth tools for chronic disease management, such as 'guided self-monitoring' tools, which they say could reduce emergency department admissions by between 20%-60%.

In Australia, these new technologies may be of particular importance for improving healthcare delivery in rural and remote communities, where they also could be used to address issues such as staff training and timely access to health services.

Australia has been slower in embracing the potential of HITs than some other comparable nations such as Canada, the UK and the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the train is now rolling, not only to provide better health solutions and information services for the bush, but also in pursuit of new commercial opportunities.

Recent examples include the launch of a telehealth project in Miles, QLD late last year. The project is run by the University of Queensland's Centre for Online Health in a collaboration with gas company QGC Pty Limited (formerly Queensland Gas Company). The company has invested $1.3 million to expand telehealth services in the Western Downs to reduce the need for travel through a range of new telehealth services.

Earlier last year, the Australian Government's Australian Indigenous Clinical InfoNet online resource went live, establishing a platform for information on relevant chronic diseases (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, kidney disease and chronic respiratory disease) in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The CSIRO is currently conducting two eHealth trial projects under the Broadband-enabled Telehealth Pilots Program.

The $5.47 million Home Monitoring of Chronic Disease for Aged Care project involves six health organisations and two companies, iiNET and TeleMedCare (TeleMedCare home-monitoring products were a focus of an ARDR opinion piece by Professor Branko Celler, published in 2008). The research will investigate whether home monitoring of chronically ill and elderly patients can reduce hospitalisations and improve health outcomes, quality of care and reduce costs to the community and the health system.

The $1.96 million Satellite Broadband-enabled Indigenous Tele-Eye Care project is currently testing a low-cost eye screening system called Remote-i for the remote delivery of specialist eye care to indigenous and older Australians living in rural and remote areas. It is one of the first of its kind, studying clinical outcomes and technical performance over satellite broadband.

And in March this year, the University of Newcastle unveiled a new Global eHealth Research and Innovation Cluster which aims to accelerate the development of new health technologies and achieve their commercialisation within five years. The cluster has a collaborative, multidisciplinary research approach bringing together not only a broad range of professional expertise across a wide range of fields, but is reaching out to Government, industry and community partners.

Virtual reality clinical training, web-based weight loss programs and gaming technology brain training are examples of innovations that are already under development at the university.

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Supercritical power

03 June 2014 - A collaborative research project between the CSIRO and solar energy firm Abengoa Solar has reported the highest level of 'supercritical steam' ever produced using solar energy.
CSIRO solar steam production
Scheme of a supercritical solar thermal power plant.
Image: CSIRO

The Advanced Solar Steam Receiver Project achieved a steam pressure of 23.5 megapascals at temperatures of up to 570 degrees Celcius using the two solar thermal test plants at the CSIRO Energy Centre in Newcastle.

The power plants feature a total of 600 mirrors (heliostats) directed at solar receivers, and by employing a fully automated control system that predicts how the heat is delivered from every mirror the researchers were able to maximise the heat transfer without overheating or fatiguing the receiver.

CSIRO Newcastle thermal power plant
Image: CSIRO

According to CSIRO, their record could lead the way to greater efficiency of solar power plants. And given that at present such supercritical steam driving electricity generating turbines are a domain of the most advanced fossil fuel burning plants, the goal post of solar thermal energy becoming cost competitive appears now to be in sight.

However, the research partners acknowledge that the commercialisation of the technology is still a long way off.

...and a sunny baseload promise

The $5.7 million project, to which the Australian Renewable Energy Agency contributed $2.8 million, is part of a larger ARENA co-funded research collaboration between CSIRO and its Spain-based commercial partner. The ultimate goal of this research is the cost competitive production of baseload electricity through solar power.
Abengoa's molten salt tower technology
Click image to enlarge - Abengoa uses molten salt as heat transfer fluid to provide a thermal storage system for baseload electricity production. For nighttime operation, the thermal energy stored in the hot tank is used to generate steam as the energy demand requires, and the salt is subsequently stored in a cold tank, ready to start the cycle again in daytime operation.
Scheme: modified from a depiction by Abengoa Solar describing its baseload molten salt tower technology used in a 100 MWe demonstration plant in Spain.

As announced by ARENA in May, the partners will construct a 20 megawatt electrical (MWe) solar thermal power station in Perenjori, a region in south-western Western Australia that has very high solar irradiation resource.

The project will use Abengoa's molten salt tower technology, which is based on a heat transfer fluid made up of sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate. As shown in the figure, the system can store solar energy harnessed at day time and then drive steam turbines at night time.

According to ARENA, the tower technology shows higher potential for cost reductions than alternative solar thermal options, including parabolic trough and linear fresnel. "This is because they allow higher temperatures, resulting in higher efficiency and lower storage costs".

The project will also be the first large-scale commercial application of CSIRO's heliostat technology developed in Newcastle by employing a heliostat field made up of over 200,000 m2 reflectors.

Through the integration with the local electricity network, the power station could potentially provide up to 100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year - enough to cover the needs around 15,000 homes.

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Industrious hubs

12 June - The Australian Government announced that seven new Research Hubs will be created through grants totalling almost $24 million over the life of the projects.

The funding is provided under the ARC administered Industrial Transformation Research Program scheme, a legacy program of the former Gillard Government and established as a component of the ARC Linkage Program. The program also includes the Industrial Transformation Training Centres scheme, for which, however, so far no funding round has been advertised for 2014.

The motivation behind the Research Hubs scheme was to encourage collaborative R&D projects that target issues relevant to industry, and bridge the persistent gulf between publicly funded research and private enterprise. There was also the expectation that the scheme would attract significant investment from the international business community.

According to the ARC, in the latest round of the scheme (Round 2 for funding commencing in 2013) projects list 26 industry partner organisations, including multinational companies such as BHP Billiton Iron Ore Pty. However, the overall cash and in-kind support from international collaborators is small, accounting for less than 4% of the over $36 million partner organisations have indicated to contribute to the approved projects.

Four out of seven new Research Hubs will target the resource industry, including the ARC Research Hub for Advanced Technologies for Australian Iron Ore at the University of Newcastle
Image: University of Newcastle

Of the three Strategic Research Priority Areas that guide the scheme, 'Lifting productivity and economic growth' was targeted by 12 out of 15 funding proposals and will now be the focus of 6 of the 7 approved Research Hubs. Only one project will address 'Managing our food and water assets', while the area 'Promoting population health and wellbeing' did not attract any funding.

With grants totalling around $7 million for two Resarch Hubs, the University of Adelaide is the top recipient of grants in this funding round, in which four out of the seven approved projects that address issues concerning the resource sector. The remaining projects target the food and agricultural industries (2) and the manufacturing industries (1).

The projects were approved at an overall success rate of almost 47% and comprise:

More information: www.arc.gov.au
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Collaborative splurge

27 June - A new round of grants under the ARC Linkage Projects scheme will provide a total of $88.2 million for 251 collaborative research projects.

However, the success rate for the approved Linkage Projects, which are to commence in 2014, was only 35.9%, down from the 39% in the previous year. And with fewer proposals considered on the outset (699 proposals the 2014 round versus 785 in the previous year), the number of approved proposals has dropped by 18% from the 2013 round, and overall funding for the Linkage Projects has reduced by more than 13%.

The University of New South Wales was the most successful administering organisation with 30 approved grants for projects worth a total of almost $32.5 million*. It was followed by the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne, which each had 24 projects approved, worth approximately $24.2 million* and $22.42 million*, respectively.

Linkage Projects 2014 infographic
Click image to explore the interactive infographic

The approved projects will involve 415 partner organisations, and leverage a total of around $170 million in cash and in-kind contributions (almost 2$ for ever dollar funded throught the ARC).

Close to 17% of these contributions stem from collaborating international organisations. However, it is notable that 48% of collaborators were from the US and 25% from the UK, which is significantly more than could be expected on the basis of their comparative research strength. For example, Germany and the UK make a similar contribution to global research publication output, yet Germany accounted for just 10% of collaborators. Hence, cultural linkages may still be a major facilitator in forming research partnerships.

Nevertheless, 19% of research partner organisations are now from China, which does reflect its growing importance for Australia.

More information: www.arc.gov.au
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Born to be wide

...while even the sky has a limit

10 June 2014 - Somewhat overshadowed by the suprise decision of Germany to pull out of the Square Kilometre Array Project (see insert), the CSIRO reported promising test results from its Australian SKA Pathfinder (ASKAP) telescope.

Run, Lola, run...?

Earlier in June the German Government informed the SKA director-general of its intention to end the country's SKA membership by June 2015.

The decision shocked the SKA community, but is it a sign of doubts in the value of this massive international undertaking? The SKA Organisation's take is that Germany is responding to difficult economic times. True, resources are still scarce, they always are, but Germany is actually experiencing very good economic times, and has increased investments in other areas of science.

Germany's withdrawal will undoubtedly hurt the project, with the US also being haphazard in its support. But the German Goverment has also dealt a substantial blow to its own research community, with up to 400 scientists believed to be affected.

Indeed, German research organisations could altogether be excluded from using the infrastructure, due to a recent decision by the SKA consortium that restricts access to the infrastructure to financially contributing countries. Ironically, Germany supported this decision, which at the time was primarily directed at the US and its reluctance to provide financial support.

Leaving SKA will also make it difficult, if not impossible, for German enterprises to benefit from SKA contracts.

So why the decision?

According to the German news magazine Der Spiegel, it is simply a matter of priorities, with the German Government taking the view that there are too many other major infrastructure projects closer to home, which hence promise better returns. High up on the list are the European XFEL, an international research facility which is currently constructed in Northern Germany and will generate extremely intense X-ray flashes from 2017. And the Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (FAIR), a new international accelerator facility for the research with antiprotons and ions, is also located in Germany to house some 3000 scientists from all over the world.

Whatever the reasons, the question that now lingers is who will be next?

The radio telescope, which is in its commissioning phase, is constructed as one of two precursors of SKA, and will eventually form a key component of the project. It comprises an array of 36 antennas, each 12 metres in diameter, which were assembled in June 2012 to work together as a single instrument. 

And ASKAP is equipped with a novel phased array feed receiver that creates separate (simultaneous) beams to provide a wide-field-of view of the sky. The novel technology developed by the CSIRO is described as resembling a chequerboard. Placed at the focal point of the dish it forms multiple 'beams' from the sky which allow researchers to view a greater area of the sky than is possible with a traditional radio telescope.

Click image to enlarge - 12h image of an ASKAP test field.

 The test was carried out with 6 of the 36 antennas scanning nine overlapping regions or 'beams' together covering an area of around 50 times the size of the full moon. The beams were captured simultaneously through the phased array feed technology and assembled to a single image entirely made up from radio waves.

According to CSIRO, the test confirmed the power of the phased array feed technology, which its says is "ground breaking" and potentially could find use in applications outside of radio astronomy.

As the telescope tracks radio sources, the phased array feed is kept in a fixed orientation to the sky. This is made possible through the special axis of rotation built into each ASKAP antenna, and eliminates artefacts from bright sources at the edges of each beam as observed with conventional telescopes.

ASKAP is still in its early phase of commissioning, but already was able to produce the image twice as fast as any comparable telescope in the Southern Hemisphere. When completed it is expected to do this 25 times faster still, making it then the world's premier survey telescope for centimetre-wavelength radio astronomy.

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All you need is IP

IP Australia's second update* on the state of our intellectual property system reports that the number of Australian patent applications continues to grow strongly, up by 13% in 2013. Demand for design rights grew by 7%, plant breeder's rights by 9%, while trade mark filings remained fairly steady.

In fact, globally patent filings reached unprecedented levels in 2012, but the trend is not necessarily reflecting more research productivity, instead it is likely to be a result of the increasingly global nature of commerce which motivates inventors to seek additional filings of the same invention in multiple countries.

In Australia's case the heightened patenting activity in 2013 was also to a significant part driven by the former Government's IP Laws Amendment (Raising the Bar) Act 2012. The reform, which came into full effect on 15 April 2013 and raised the requirement for receiving a patent, was preceded by a rush of applicants to get their patent applications and examinations requests filed under the old system. IP Australia recorded nine times the monthly average in April 2013, and consequently an increase in the number of direct filings with IP Australia in excess of 24% year-on-year, more than five times the average yearly growth in direct filings recorded over the past decade.

By contrast, filings with the international Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), ususally the more preferred route of acquiring a standard patent, showed a more modest yearly growth of 8.1%.

business total investments and investments in intangibles as a percentage of value added
Click image to explore the infographic - Business investment in intangibles

The report does not only present a detailed account of Australia's IP activity but also includes a broader reflection on the role of IP for productivity and economic growth.

Australia's overall investment as a percentage of business value added, which in economics describes the total sales revenue minus external input costs in a given period, is high by international standards. But Australian businesses are far less competitive in their investments into so called 'intangibles', wich include IP and, according to an OECD definition, also the economic value of design, branding and firm-specific human capital. Based on the OECD definition, Australia's investment in IP was 7.9% of of business value adde , around half that spent in other OECD countries including the US (see infographics).

Yet, intagible investments are significant drivers of productivity, accounting for around 20% of productivity growth in the US and the EU.

Around 90% of the 29,717 patent applications filed in 2013 stemmed from non-residents. Half of these (13,161) were from US residents, which highlights the very tight commercial relationship between the two countries. By comparison, only 6.5% of non-resident applications were from Japan (1,751), the second most common origin of foreign applicants.

Conversely, about three times as many Australian residents sought patents overseas than at home, with around 60% targeting the US, the European Patent Office and China. The US alone accounted for almost half (42.9%) of patents filed abroad in 2012, more than Australians filed at home.

However, this is not unusual given that the US is the world's largest economy.

Nevertheless, there is a continuing global shift of IP activity towards Asia, following the regions rapid economic expansion in recent times. Thus in 1995, Asia's share of international patent applications was only 8% but has since risen to around 40%, with China now being the biggest source of global patent applications.

While Australian innovators are filing more patents in Asia now compared to the 1990s, the quantity of filings in Asia has stayed relatively constant since 2004.

This contrasts Trade Mark filings, where China became the top destination for Australian applications in 2011. In 2012, almost half of all Trade Mark filings abroad were in just three jurisdictions: China (18.3%), New Zealand (15.4%) and the US (13.5%).

While patent applications directly filed with IP Australia are on the rise, the number of patents granted by IP Australia fell in 2013 by 3.5% to just 17,112. And only 7% granted patents were requested by Australian residents despite their 10% share in applications. A reason for this may be that compared to resident applications a higher proportion of non-resident applications are filed by organisations rather than individuals, and these tend to have a higher chance of success.

Standard patents are in high demand, while provisional filings, which allow applicants to claim an early priority date, continued a decade long negative trend with applications decreasing by 10.6% between 2012 and 2013. Applications for innovation patents, which are currently under review by the Advisory Council on Intellectual Property, also decreased by 10% in 2013, ending a seven year period of positive growth.

Stated protection

In 2013, Western Australia led the growth in the number of patent applications, up 39.7%, driven by the mining industry.

As a result, in that state the most popular of the eight International Patent Classifications were 'fixed construction' (25.3%), which includes patent applications related to earth or rock drilling. Across Australia, however, most Australian resident patent applications fell under the 'human necessities' section (25.9%), followed by 'performing operations and transporting' (17%), 'physics' (16.8%) and then 'fixed construction' (16.1%).

On a per capita basis (per million residents), the most applications were from residents in the ACT (209) followed by NSW (153), Western Australia (140) and Victoria (134). Residents in South Australia (104) and Tasmania (43) are far less engaged in IP, which may reflect the comparatively more difficult economic situation in these states.

More information: wwww.ipaustralia.gov.au; *see also our story Better safe than sorry covering the first report in the new series.
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Northern dreaming

The Australian Government's Green Paper On Developing Northern Australia, released in June, envisions significant opportunities for an economically already thriving region of Australia, with the resources industry at the core of its economic expansion.

The Green Paper is part of a process towards a broader policy framework for the region's ongoing economic development, which the Government plans to detail in a White Paper within the next 12 months. To this end, it has also formed a National Strategic Partnership with the governments of Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory.

The six possible policy directions canvassed in the Green Paper
Figure modified from Green Paper On Developing Northern Australia

In line with the former Government's Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, much of the renewed focus on Australia's North is based on the expectation that the economies in the Asian region will continue to rapidly expand and increase their demand for Australian products, notably from mining and energy but also agriculture, tourism, education and health services industries.

The projections for the region are indeed impressive. By 2050, Asia could account for half of global output. And while energy demand in major advanced economies is expected to remain fairly steady, emerging economies in Asia will drive up global energy demand by around a third by 2035. China and India will become the world's largest importers of oil and coal, respectively.

Against this likely backdrop, Northern Australia's prospects are bright. Not only has it a competitive export advantage over Australia's southern states because of its proximity to Asia, but it also includes one of the few developed tropical economies in the world.

Northern Australian employment by industry (2001-2011)
Click image to enlarge - Northern Australian employment by industry in 2001 and 2011; arrows indicate the notable changes in Mining and Agriculture, forestry and fishing.
Figure modified from Green Paper On Developing Northern Australia

The Tropics feature a unique set of economic opportunities and challenges, and as the 'tropical economy' develops, demand for the expertise of Australia's northern universities around tropical medicine, infrastructure, land and water management is set to grow. (For example, James Cook University is currently collaborating in the development of a state of the Tropics report, which will assess critical issues facing the global tropical region and the resulting opportunities).

Innovation and technology also target other characteristics that are unique or particularly relevant to the region. These include conservation and climate change issues, Indigenous knowledge, and creative industries.

There are a range of agricultural opportunities, such as a new aquaculture industry and the expansion of established industries such as cattle and sugar. The crododile meat and skin industry is also expected to enjoy growing demand. And the outlook for non-traditional crops, such as chia and sandalwood, and the commercial production of dragon fruit, farmed prawns and poppies is also promising.

But while such opportunities could broaden economic activities, the Green Paper makes it clear that this is unlikely to change the overall reliance on natural resources.

Indeed, the dominance of the mining sector has even increased as other industry sectors have not kept pace. In fact, the tourism industry is in decline with numbers of visitors down by 15% from 2005 levels. Yet the industry across the country grew by 18% over the period.

And the data presented shows that as employment in Mining doubled in the decade to 2011, it halved in Agriculture, forestry and fishing (see figure).

Northern Australia's current economic expansion relies on its natural resources, which include world class deposits of iron ore, uranium, base metals, bauxite and oil and gas.

The region contains around 35% of Australia's coal reserves, which are the world's largest economic demonstrated resource of recoverable coal.

All of Australia's known manganese ore and diamonds are in the north, along with almost all of Australia's phosphate rock. There are also over 70% of Australia's known resources of iron ore, lead and zinc, as well as significant deposits of silver, bauxite, tungsten and molybdenum.

Gas continues to drive capital expenditure, and the level of investment is now twice that of the rest of Australia, with six LNG projects on the way. These include the Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG Projects in Western Australia, the Ichthys LNG project in the Northern Territory and Shell's Prelude floating LNG project. The north also has significant tight and shale gas resources that could eventually be more productive than Australia's current oil and gas projects.

The region accounts for 55% of Australia's exports value, with exported goods totalling $121 billion in 2012-2013. Of these, 84% were coal, gas, petroleum and crude materials including iron ore.

According to Access Economics, northern Australia will account for around 42% of Australia's economy by 2040, up from currently 35%, but high growth tends to be concentrated in certain mining regions.

The Green Paper also makes the case that to realise the economic potential of northern Australia the region will have to attract substantial private investment in the face of significant barriers and risks that concern environmental, economic and social issues.

Encompassing a vast area of around three million square kilometres north of the Tropic of Capricorn, northern Australia is populated with around 1 million people and spans a diverse set of communities and industries across parts of Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

Urban centres such as Darwin, Townsville and Cairns are already expanding rapidly - in fact, Darwin grew by more than 190% over the past 40 years, faster than any other Australian capital city - and infrastructure bottlenecks are emerging. For example, the Queensland Government has warned that without additional water storage Cairns is about to face a shortfall of around 20,000 megalitres by 2055.

There are often issues with the high costs of infrastructure and service delivery, the competition for skilled labour, the still sparse population, and also regulatory and approval processes that some businesses claim are often unnecessarily costly, lengthy and inefficient. The Paper also cites concerns that current labour market arrangements limit business growth by imposing higher costs.

The challenges hampering development in the north may not be unique to the region but they often are more complex and acute, the Paper points out.

The fragmented energy network system supplying the north might be a case in point. There are five energy networks, whereby those in the Northern Territory and northern Queensland are government owned, while in northern Western Australia ownership is mixed. Off grid systems opperate outside these networks in towns and communities, and these are either managed by the jurisdiction's energy service provider or are privately supplied and contracted.

But water and the climate are undoubtedly the most critical issues.

The extended wet seasons with average temperatures above 33 degrees Celcius and featuring frequent tropical cyclones are projected to get even more challenging. Over the last century, Australia's north has warmed between 0.7 and 0.8 degrees and this trend is set to continue, with CSIRO research projecting that the number of days above 35 degrees will increase, as will the frequency of intense cyclones as well as coastal inundation events due to sea level rise and storm surges.

More than 60% of Australia's total rain falls in the north, but it is largely concentrated along the far northern coastal areas. The average annual rainfall ranges from 300 mm to over 1,000 mm across the region, with around 60% of the rain coming down in the lower reaches of the river basins, close to the sea, where it is hard to capture. Less than 3% of northern Australia's rain falls inland, according to the CSIRO.

Compounding these challenges are the very high evaporation rates across the region, which over large parts of the year can exceed rainfall rates. Together with other factors unique to the region it is not surprising that in the past a number of large scale irrigation ventures have failed (the Paper cites a sorghum and maize cropping project in Lakeland Downs in the early '70s and the Territory Rice project in the late '50s).

While the Government has ambitious plans for the North - broadly laid out in the Coalition's pre-election 2030 Vision for Developing Northern Australia - it says it aims to achieve them mainly through low cost or no cost actions that promote a more efficient use of existing funding arrangements and maximise private sector investment.

Canvassed policy options include:

Clearly, the development of incentives to increase migration from interstate to the north is part of the plan and practical options will be explored in a White Paper. But while policy options such as special taxation arrangements are discussed in some detail, the Paper emphasises that any propsal in this direction would need to be carefully examined, including their impact on other parts of the country.

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Uni-fying affairs

Here you find stories covering recent developments in our universities. These and related stories can also be found in the dedicated 'university' page (see 'sections' in the ARDR menu at the top of the page.)

Space for the future

15 July - The Australian National University (ANU) has officially opened its new Advanced Instrumentation and Technology Centre (AITC), which features the only facilities in Australia dedicated to the engineering of space equipment right from the design stage through to being launch-pad ready.

The Australian space sector is now generating around $1.6 billion in revenue and employing over 4,000 scientists, engineers, policy makers and support personel. And the expanding sector has many small and medium sized businesses for which the AITC could become a major hub, which will provide businesses with the opportunity to come together and take on larger projects.

The Giant Magellan Telescope will be the world's largest and most powerful telescope when it is completed in 2020. ANU is leading Australia's involvement in the GMT delivering a Telescope Integral-Field Spectrograph and adaptive-optics solutions for the project.

The infrastructure has already attracted two major contracts, including a $5 million design contract for one of the first instruments to be installed on the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), the GMT Integral Field Spectrometer.

A second contract worth $6.4 million covers the development of a space junk tracking system for the Korean Astronomy and Space Science Institute.

Silicon Carbide Valley in Queensland?

silicon carbide crystal
Silicon carbide (SiC) is a compound of silicon and carbon that occurs in nature as the extremely rare mineral moissanite (shown in the photo). Synthetic silicon carbide is used in high endurance applications such as car brakes and car clutches but also in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and high-temperature/high-voltage semiconductor electronics.
Image: Wikipedia

Griffith University has announced that Chinese high-tech company SICC Materials Co Ltd committed $1 million over 10 years to the university's Queensland Micro and Nanotechnology Centre (QMNC), which is developing platform technologies for the affordable production of silicon carbide devices for industry.

The research includes the development of silicon carbide on silicon substrates which are unique in the world, and are made possible through a large silicon wafer fabrication processing capability that is part of the centre's Queensland Microtechnology Facility.

The partners also agreed to ongoing information sharing, staff exchanges and the creation of the Griffith University and SICC Joint Research and Development Centre.

There is the hope that this could kick-start the establishment of a new silicon carbide industry in southeast Queensland with many potential applications that include better quality and cheaper lighting and more efficient engine combustion. Silicon carbide is also bio-compatible and may therefore find use in medical bio-sensing.

Elaborating on this vision at the agreement's signing ceremony, Griffith's vice-chancellor Professor Ian O'Connor highlighted the desirable properties that silicon carbide devices could offer for high power, high frequency applications, including significantly superior electrical, mechanical and thermal properties compared to standard silicon devices.

I'll have it with isosmaltulose, thanks

3 June - A joint project by the University of Queensland and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) aims to identify elite sweet sorghum lines with high and stable sugar production and to develop these into plants that can be cultivated on a large scale.

Because of its lower glycaemic and insulin indices the consumption of sorghum isosmaltulose instead of conventional sugar could have significant health benefits, such as a reduction of tooth decay and improvements in the management of diabetes.

There may also be environmental benefits as sorghum is adapted to the hot semi-arid tropics and produces sugar at levels equivalent to sugarcane but in a shorter time frame and with lower water usage. The crop's use could therefore lead to more efficient farming and environmental management.

Sorghum crop

The project has received one of only two available grants from the Queensland-Chinese Academy of Sciences (Q-CAS) Collaborative Science initiative, which supports important scientific and technical research collaborations that aim to deliver future economic, social and environmental benefits for Queensland and China.

Sweet deviation

Griffith University's Institute for Glycomics, one of only six facilities in the world focussing on the role of glycans and carbohydrates (sugars) in disease prevention and cure, will diverge from its normal target to assist the Australian sugar industry.

Supported by a $1.1 million research grant, the institute will collaborate with Sugar Research Australia to improve the management of aspects of raw sugar quality.

Marine refurbishment

14 May - The University of Western Australia has announced that Perth's Watermans Bay Marine Centre will be refurbished at a cost of $11 million for the establishment of the Indian Ocean's first seawater facility for broad marine research.

The facility will be part of the Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre (IOMRC) project, which is set to become the largest marine research capability in the Indian Ocean Rim. Its flagship project, the $62 million Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, in currently under construction at the UWA's Crawley campus.

Indian Ocean Rim
The Indian Ocean Rim is part of the world's third largest ocean and includes 26 countries.
Image: Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS)

At its completion in 2016, it will house 240 scientists with expertise in the areas of oceanography, marine ecology, fisheries, geochemistry, governance, marine technologies and engineering. Their overarching mission will be to study the sustainable use of resources, environmental protection and climate change in one of the world's largest and least explored marine environments.

Four leading Australian marine research organisations are involved in the IOMRC - the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the CSIRO, the Department of Fisheries WA and UWA's Oceans Institute - whith the Australian Government contributing $34 million to the project through its Education Investment Fund.

More information: www.uwa.edu.au

Mindfully online

An estimated 45% of Australians aged 16-85 suffer from mental health-related conditions such as depression, anxiety or substance use disorder. For these patients, e-health services could provide effective support through telephone, mobile phone, computer and online applications.
e-mental health

A $6.5 million initiative led by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) will now aim to increase the number of users of e-mental health services by at least 20% by the middle of 2016. This is not to replace existing psychological services, but to expand access to mental health support, including through the training of more than 15,000 practitioners in the use of e-mental health services.

Aside of QUT, the project will also involve the Menzies School of Health Research, the University of Sydney, the Australian National University and the Black Dog Institute.

Tracked interventions

June 2014 - RMIT University has recently launched a multidisciplinary Health Sciences Research Hub , which will focus on the physical and psychological results of treatments following clinical interventions.
after the treatment

The facility will bring together practitioners in Chinese medicine, manual therapies, nursing and psychology in order to critically assess the effectiveness of clinical interventions and to conduct laboratory-based and clinical research across a broad spectrum of health areas, primarily targeting chronic diseases.

The spectrum of clinical tools that will be available to researchers include electroencephalography (EEG) and neurosensory testing; blood and vascular analysis; spirometry and measurement of exhaled gases; musculoskeletal, balance and gait analysis; pain analysis; cognitive testing; face recognition and eye tracking; and polysomnography and sleep analysis.

Carbonic strength

21 May - Deakin University has officially opened its new carbon fibre research facility, which it says is one of only a few of its kind in the world.
Carbon fibre research facility in Geelong
Deakin's Carbon fibre research facility in Geelong
Image: Deakin University

The $34 million Carbon Nexus Facility in Geelong features a pilot scale carbon fibre line capable of producing up to 55 tonnes of aerospace grade carbon fibre each year and a smaller single-tow research line.

As part of the $103 million Australian Future Fibres Research and Innovation Centre (AFFRIC), it will house over 20 researchers and technicians who will explore the fundamental science underlying the development of industry-relevant low-cost and high-performing carbon fibre materials.

Exceptionally strong and light, these new materials are increasingly replacing traditionally used materials, such as steel and aluminium, across a wide range of industries including the aerospace and the automotive industry.

Deakin's industry partner in the project is the not-for-profit Victorian Centre for Advanced Materials Manufacturing (VCAMM)

MOOC frenzy

The emergence of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) with global reach and sometimes thousands of participants is far from universally appreciated. However, the possibility of providing access to students with diverse background and irrespective of their location, only restricted by the availability of the Internet and a computer, opens up an entirely new world of teaching.

Its a brave new world of teaching, and possibly a tool for democratising education, "according to a feature article on the topic published in the NY Times in 2012.

Total number of MOOCs around the world June 2013 and June 2014.
The graph is based on data by the MOOCs directory wwww.mooc.co

But while the debate about the pro and cons of this new form of teaching continues, the numbers of MOOCs made available by higher education providers is on a stellar rise (see figure), also in Australia.

One of the most advanced platforms for MOOCs is the edX platform, an online not-for-profit learning initiative founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in May 2012, with further members now including the University of Texas System, the University of California at Berkeley, Wellesley College, Georgetown University and the University of Tokyo.

In June, the University of Adelaide announced that it had joined the edX club as a full contributing member with four MOOCs in development under the name of AdelaideX.

According to Professor Pascale Quester, the university's deputy vice-chancellor and vice-president, edX has many attractions including that it also can enhance the experience of on-campus students.

"In some cases, it will enable us to dedicate even more time to classroom interaction as part of our small group discovery experience...", he said in a university statement.

Meanwhile, Monash University has its first MOOC underway with 11,000 students registered in its Creative Coding course. Launched in June, the multidisciplinary course is covering information technology and art and design, and offers training in practical programming concepts and skills without that prior knowledge of programming is required.

Balancing act

18 July - The complex challenges of balanced land use will be the focus of a $1 million new collaborative initiative between the University of Newcastle and the NSW Government.

The International Centre for Balanced Land Use will be based at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources (NIER), the university's national hub for energy and resources research.

The initiative comes on the back of significant industry and government investments for NIER, which include $30 million for technologies that target the abatement of methane emissions from coal mining and $3.2 million for a research hub in advanced technologies for Australian iron ore.

Three-dimensional outlook

3D printing is in vogue. Articles such as recently published in the Wall Street Journal (How 3-D printing will change our lives) and the tech focused ZDNet herald a 3D printed future closing in on us, with the expectation that in the not too distant future it may become a mainstream technology akin to computers and the Internet (Affordable 3D printing: New materials, new horizons).

In July, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the technology could have the potential of reviving Australia's ailing manufacturing industry, but more investment was urgently needed, even if the Government decided to fund a new Cooperative Research Centre with a focus on 'additive manufacturing' processes involving 3D printing. The resulting windfall of around $40 million for the sector would still fall way short of what is needed to make Australia's manufacturing industry globally competitive.

However, recent developments demonstrate that the Australian university landscape is in hot pursuit of realising the potential of the new technology.

In July, the University of Adelaide announced that a metal and ceramics 3D printer was installed at its Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing (IPAS), which would also be accessible to industry and other research organisations - a first in the State.

IPAS 3D printed object
Object printed by the 3d metal and ceramic printer
photo by Elizaveta Klantsataya

According to IPAS director Professor Tanya Monro, the technology will not only allow manufacturers to prototype products directly from designs in just hours, but also could be used to improve manufactured parts in ways not possible through traditional manufacturing processes.

Professor Tanya Monro announced in August that she will leave IPAS to take up the position as deputy vice-chancellor (Research) at the University of South Australia

An example for this is IPAS researchers have published in the journal Optical Materials Express. In the paper they describe how printed dies can be used to extrude improved glass products for the fabrication of optical fibres.

The first business to take advantage of the new 3D printing capability will be global mining technology company Maptek, which plans to manufacture the optical chassis of their 3D laser scanner product I-Site, a device used for mining surveys.

RMIT University has also jumped on board of the 3D printing train, most recently through a new partnership with China's Chongqing University of Arts and Sciences that aims to establish a new collaborative centre focussed on 3D metal printing R&D.

The centre will be located at Chongquing, China's third largest producer of motor vehicles and the of motorcycles. It will complement the Centre for Additive Manufacturing, which was launched at RMIT's new Advanced Manufacturing Precinct (AMP) in June 2011.

An entirely different example of 3D printing is the emerging bio-printing technology, which allows researchers to fabricate scaffolds of tissue that can be used for research or medical purposes.

Bio-printing at BWH
Click on the image to access a video from the Boston Hospital & Medical Centre demonstrating the bioprinting process.
Image: Video screenshot

In July, the University of Sydney announced that its researchers had made a "giant leap towards the goal of 'bio-printing' transplantable tissues and organs for people affected by major diseases and trauma injuries.

In collaboration with researchers from Harvard, Stanford and MIT, the researchers bio-printed artificial vascular networks mimicking the body's circulatory system.

They then covered the 3D printed structure with a cell-rich protein-based material and applied light to solidify it. After removing the bio-printed fibres, the network of tiny channels coated with human endothelial cells self organised to form stable blood capillaries in less than a week.

The work of the researchers suggests that bio-printing can fabricate large 3D micro-vascular channels capable of supporting life with enough precision to match individual patients needs.

Ultimately,this may overcome a major challenge that has so far frustrated the engineering of larger tissues and organs, how to create the complex network of blood vessels and capillaries required for the supply of each tissue cell with oxygen.

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Big picture dollars

image
2 July 2014 - The Australian Academy of Science will develop strategic decadal plans for Australia's chemistry, agricultural science, and earth sciences to ensure the nation's success in these key disciplines.

The project is supported through the ARC Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects scheme, which will also fund a project by the Australian Academy of the Humanities to map the humanities in the Asia region, where it will also identify opportunities for collaboration and knowledge exchange. The ARC funding provided to the projects totals $834,160.

More information: http://ministers.education.gov.au/pyne/
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From small things...

junior explorer
2 July 2014 - The Australian Government has released operational details for its new Exploration Development Incentive (EDI), which is to be effective from July 2014.

The paper was released while the legislation is still in its final stages.

The proposed scheme is intended to boost 'greenfields' mineral exploration projects, which now have reached a 10 year low. This type of exploration includes activities such as geological mapping, geophysical surveys, and systematic search for areas containing minerals.

Under the proposal, small mineral exploration companies will be able to issue exploration credits to shareholders, which Australian residents can claim as a refundable tax offset.

To restrict the scheme to junior explorers, only companies with no taxable income (in the year they participate in the EDI), and which also have not yet started resources production (including their affiliates)0 will be eligible.

The Government has capped the costs of the scheme at $100 million over three years ($25 million in 2014‐15, $35 million in 2015‐16, and $40 million in 2016‐17).

More information: www.industry.gov.au
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NASA has currently more than a dozen Earth science spacecraft/instruments in orbit studying all aspects of the Earth system (oceans, land, atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere), with several more planned for launch in the next few years.
image: NASA



Great Australian Bight coastline and the Southern Surveyor image courtesy CSIRO; the map right-top: Wikipedia



Australia is one of 17 global biodiversity hotspots which include: Australia, The Congo, Madagascar, South Africa, China, India, Indonesia Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, United States and Venezuela.
map: Australian Government Department of Environment; image: CSIRO, Marie Davies



Labour productivity, capital productivity and MFP growth in mining, Canada, the United States, and Australia, average annual growth rates (%), 1989-1990 to 2006-07

graph: BREE report: Productivity in the Australian Mining Sector, March 2013;
original source: Bradley, C. and Sharpe, A., 2009, A Detailed Analysis of
the Productivity Performance of Mining in Canada, Centre for the Study of Living Standards,
prepared for the Micro-Economic Policy Analysis Branch of Industry Canada, September.



Shown are the geographic extent of the Great Artesian Basin and, in the enlarged image of the basin, its ground surface topography with areas of potential groundwater recharge. This image also shows the four reporting regions of the Assessment. In the right image is shown a three-dimensional illustration of vertical leakage of groundwater via faults and polygonal faulting. Images: extracted from the report Water resource assessment for the Great Artesian Basin, December 2012".

Newly synthesized flu viruses (blue) remain bound to the cell (red) by one type of spike on its surface binding to sugar receptors (green.)


The neuraminidase spike (NA) removes the receptors, allowing the virus to spread to infect new cells.


The drugs (yellow) specifically match the shape of the neuraminidase pocket to bind.


By binding in the neuraminidase this prevents it from removing the receptors.


Inhibited virus remains bound to the cell as it can't remove the sugars - all blocked by yellow drugs.


Cells of the immune system clear away trapped flu viruses.

Agricultural production and yields vary widely across Australia, reflecting the different geographical and climatic conditions; map sourced from Feeding the Future report, released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in December 2012.

CETO Power (top) and Freshwater (bottom) technology; CETO units are fully submerged and permanently anchored to the sea floor meaning that there is no visual impact as the units are out of sight. This also assists in making them safe from the extreme forces that can be present during storms.




Australia's and China's share in global grains production and trade


Australian use of the Internet

Graphs: Elwinmedia based on data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics




The state of resources and energy projects as of April 2013 and how it may unfold over the next 5 years. Image based on data from the BREE report April 2013 - Resources and energy major projects.

==>Publicly Announced Stage projects are either at a very early stage of planning , have paused in progressing their feasibility studies or have an unclear development path; Feasability Stage projects have completed an initial feasibility study and the results support further development; Commited Stage projects have completed commercial, engineering and environmental studies, received all required regulatory approvals and finalised the financing for the project.




Real household price indices, OECD eonomies, 2012

graph: BREE Energy in Australia report 2013



The graphs show the trend estimate of the expenditure on petroleum exploration in selected states and the Northern Territory based on data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics published in June 2013.

graphs: Elwinmedia



Areas currently covered by Australia's petroleum exploration permits

image: modified from interactive maps provided by NEATS


According to the figure by the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association (APPEA), Australia's trade balance in petroleum products is negative since 2003-04


Tasmanian forest agreement - forest reserves map.

source: www.environment.gov.au


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Model of a small modular rector by US firm NuScale.
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OECD framework of measuring wellbeing and progress.

source: OECD


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On the left is shown the temperature profile of First Solar and conventional silicon based modules as published in a paper in Photovoltaics International. The right image depicts the CDE technology, which combines waste cadmium (generated as a by-product of zinc refining) with tellurium (a by-product of copper refining) into cadmium telluride (CdTe), a highly stable compound. In module manufacturing, an extremely thin layer of CdTe is deposited and bonded to the surface of one sheet of glass and encapsulated by another sheet of glass, creating the complete module which is sealed with a laminate material.

image: First Solar


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You can interactively explore infographics by tapping on graph sections or bars. Tapping on the bottom of graphs loads toolbars which allow you to sort in ascending or descending order, to view primary data etc.

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Clinical trials stem cell therapies
The figure published in the journal Regenerative Medicine by US researchers shows the proportion of industry and publicly funded novel stem cell clinical trials worldwide since 1992.

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The image shows the PS10 solar power tower' concentrating solar thermal plant near the city of Seville, Spain , and a diagram of CSP technology
image source: University of Technology Sydney; diagram of CSP technology: modified original courtesy Greenpeace

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graph from the Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report














































































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graph from the Broadband Availability and Quality: Summary Report














































































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According to Department of the Environment estimates (detailed in Australia’s Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, 2013), Australia faces a cumulative emissions reduction task of around 431 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (MtCO2-e) from 2014 to 2020, or 131 MtCO2-e in 2020 alone.
graph: Department of the Environment, Australia’s Abatement Task and 2013 Emissions Projections, 2013. Note: The Kyoto Protocol allows over-achievements in the first commitment period be credited in the second commitment period as ‘carry over’ surplus Kyoto units.














































































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Less lower-cloud cover in warming climate In a warming climate, increased lower tropospheric mixing transports more moisture out of the boundary layer, which reduces lower-cloud cover
sketch modified and adapted from Spread in model climate sensitivity traced to atmospheric convective mixing by Steven C. Sherwood and coworkers (Nature 505, 37–42 (02 January 2014) doi:10.1038/nature12829














































































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IPO cycles and global mean temperature The image shows temperature measurements over the last century in relation to cycles of the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation cycles (IPO). Note that steep temperature increases were observed during negative IPO cycles, while temperatures tend to plateau in positive IPO cycles.
image: Professor Matthew England, sourced from a presentation at the Australian Science Media Centre














































































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Trade winds trend

In a series of figures the strength and direction (arrows in above figure) of trade winds and their influence on sea surface temperature and surface air temperature across the Pacific region are shown
figures: Matthew England as published in Nature Climate Change. The images were sourced from a background briefing at the Australian Science Media Centre.




Trend in sea surface height in the Pacific






Trend of surface air temperatures across the Pacific






























































































































































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Ag share in Australian exports
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ABARES framework of agricultural productivity determinants ABARES framework of agricultural productivity determinants
image modified from figure in ABARES Australian agricultural productivity growth report (2014)

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Click image to enlarge - image shows Polypterus and (insert) the position of a spiracle.
image sourced from wikipedia (insert: John Long)

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Fraser Institute 2013 Mining company survey: Investment attractiveness
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Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis in nordic permafrost
Left: Thawing permafrost near Abisko in northern Sweden. Right: the new microbe with the proposed name Methanoflorens stordalenmirensis represents a new family within the order Methanocellales. image: Wikipedia
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BREE forecast energy and resources earnings
Australia’s resources and energy export earnings as forecast by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics (BREE) in its March 2014 quarterly report. Graph: BREE - Resources and Energy Quarterly March Quarter 2014
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QLD petroleum acreage release 04 April 2014
Six areas made available by the QLD Government for petroleum and gas exploration through a non-cash competitive tender process.
Image and more information: QLD Department of Natural Resources and Mines
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ABS exploration expenditure (inc March quarter 2013)
MINERAL EXPLORATION, Seasonally adjusted and trend; image and data Australian Bureau of Statistics
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Economic impact of mobile broadband according to the ACMA report The economic impacts of mobile broadband on the Australian economy, from 2006 to 2013
The image is derived from the report

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Emissions abatement task, Australia
The Australian Government remains committed to an emission reduction of 5% below the levels of 2000 by 2020. In February 2014, the Climate Change Authority, which the Government now seeks to abolish, released a new assessment of the abatement task Australia needs to achieve in order to reach this goal (top panel).

It found that the required emissions reduction that Australia needs to achieve between 2013 and 2020 could be substantially less than previously assumed. The Australia's Emissions Projections 2012 document, which formed the basis of the previous Government's carbon price mechanism, projected a total of 755 million tonnes CO2 that would have to be abated over the period 2013-2020, with a further reduction of 155Mt CO2 then needed in the year 2020. According to the new CCA figures, the task will now only be a cumulative 593Mt kCO2 between 2013 and 2020, and a further 131Mt 2 in 2020.

While this assessment also forms the basis of the Government's Emissions Reduction Fund White Paper (bottom panel), the Government's projections used in the ERF White Paper include the impact of two years of carbon price and the Carbon Farming Initiative, as well as carryover surplus Kyoto Units. This reduces Australia's task to only 421Mt CO2 between 2013 and 2020.


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Timeline for the implementation of the Emissions Reduction Fund
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Cartoon: Mark Eliott
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Ngara technology
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image: CSIRO
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Molten salt tower technology
Abengoa uses molten salt as heat transfer fluid to provide a thermal storage system for baseload electricity production. For nighttime operation, the thermal energy stored in the hot tank is used to generate steam as the energy demand requires, and the salt is subsequently stored in a cold tank, ready to start the cycle again in daytime operation.
Scheme: modified from a depiction by Abengoa Solar describing its baseload molten salt tower technology used in a 100 MWe demonstration plant in Spain.

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12h image of an ASKAP test field.
Image: CSIRO

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Northern Australian employment by industry in 2001 and 2011; arrows indicate the notable changes in Mining and Agriculture, forestry and fishing.
Figure modified from Green Paper On Developing Northern Australia

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Six policy directions canvassed in the Green Paper for developing northern Australia
Scheme sourced from the Green Paper for Developing Northern Australia

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