VC's Update – Federal Budget and bucking horses

19 May 2023

Hello everyone,  

The year seems to be flying by. As the leaves fall, and the days shorten, it is clear that winter is upon us. This morning's hard frost didn't seem to concern the kangaroos on the farm, but the horses sure were frisky and bucking around the paddock with a lot of vigour. 

Last week the Federal Government handed down its first full budget since last year's election. Many of our economists have graded the effort - see The Conversation article, and it must feel like school again for the Treasurer and Secretary given both undertook PhDs at ANU. There were no major announcements in education, which is not surprising as we have the Australian Universities Accord process still underway. Things that are of indirect interest include: 

  • $91m over two years to establish the Australian Centre for Disease Control as a new agency within the Health portfolio. 

  • 4,000 additional Commonwealth-supported places to support AUKUS-related skills needs.  

  • $3.4 billion over 10 years to establish the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator that will invest in cutting edge research to gain a technological advantage for the Australian Defence Force.      

There were also changes to student visa conditions announced prior to the Budget, including an extra two years of post-study work rights for students with eligible qualifications, and the reinstatement of the working hours cap (increased from 40 to 48 hours per fortnight), both from July this year.   

Last week, I was pleased to attend the launch of the Australian Policy Handbook: a practical guide to the policymaking process (7th edition) here at ANU (co-hosted by the Public Service Research Group (UNSW Canberra) and our Crawford School of Public Policy). Secretary to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and one of the co-authors Professor Glyn Davis was in conversation with CAP Dean Professor Helen Sullivan about the latest edition. Glyn launched the book on behalf of the other co-authors Dr Sarah Ball (who was there on the night), Professor Catherine Althaus, Peter Bridgman and David Threlfall. The public service has a crucial role to play in shaping the future of Australia, and it will be great to see the latest edition of the Handbook serve as a valuable resource for our students and researchers as they seek to understand the challenges and opportunities facing the APS. I also got the opportunity to congratulate Dr Gordon de Brouwer who has recently been appointed as APS Commissioner. Having worked with Gordon here at ANU, I think he will make immense contributions to the APS in his new role, and I know we all look forward to working with him to support the Commonwealth as it undergoes significant reform. 

The seventh Ralph Slatyer lecture was delivered by Professor Jennifer Martin last week. I have worked with Jenny on a number of science-related initiatives over the past decade, and I really enjoyed catching up with her again. Professor Martin is an Honorary Professor at the University of Queensland and Adjunct Professor at Griffith University, and won the 2023 Ralph Slatyer Medal for her pioneering research in protein crystallography - a branch of structural biology that seeks to understand how biological machines operate. She gave an excellent talk that even an Astronomer could understand. The Ralph Slatyer medal and lecture is to recognise outstanding research in the field of biology in honour of one of Australia's most distinguished scientists and former Research School of Biology Director, Professor Ralph Slatyer.  

Earlier this week, ANU (led by the First Nations Portfolio and Professor Peter Yu) held a National First Nations Water roundtable over two days, co-convened with the Indigenous Land and Seas Corporation and the National Native Title Council. This is a series of conversations we are having this year about how we can shape modern Australia so that it recognises First Nations rights and thereby empowers Indigenous Australia to create a more prosperous and just Australia.   

Now onto other things that kept me busy this week. On Monday, I was on ABC's "the Drum" for the first time in what was a relatively sedate affair where I mainly talked about Australia's research future and the Accord. On Wednesday, I attended a great Meet the Author event with Professor John Blaxland and Clare Birgin on what turned from being an official to an unofficial history of Australian signals intelligence, and on the same day participated on a panel about data security within government institutions. We celebrated in CECC yesterday evening with Professor Andrew Blakers' QEII Engineering Prize for the development PERC Solar Cells - the invention that is powering the renewable energy transformation. To end the week, this evening, in CASS, we launch Distinguished Professor Philip Pettit's latest book, The State, and celebrate his brilliant career (thus far!).  

Enjoy your weekend. I am pressing wine and putting it into barrel this weekend. Look for tinges of purple in my fingers on Monday.