Touted as a ‘jobs budget’ to help revive and stimulate the national economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is plenty there ($10 billion over 10 years) for future infrastructure to help build Australia back from the economic shock experienced over the past 15 months.
What has been almost totally overlooked, however, is one of the nation’s most important building blocks, our higher education sector. As a nation, we cannot have a strong workforce and a strong economy without a strong university sector.
Our universities, the engine room of Australia’s research system, have such a crucial part to play in Australia’s post COVID economic recovery. Disappointingly, there’s very little good news in this budget for our universities given the immense pressure they are facing – and for research, which has been at the fore in responding both to the pandemic and the devastating bushfires of 18 months ago.
The budget has also done little to address some of the big diplomatic and cultural challenges currently facing our region. While our borders are still shut to the world due to COVID, there is little in the budget to help us better understand our cultural and societal links with our neighbours. Over the past 50 years, one of Australia’s greatest strengths has been its understanding of our place in the region and the enormous benefits that this provides, economically, culturally and socially. So much more can be, and needs to be done, to foster greater inter-cultural understanding, especially given the current political climate. Australia’s efforts in building back better from recession cannot end at our borders. It needs a truly global effort.
One of the important lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic has been the importance of investment in multicultural and multilingual communications. The Academy called for greater attention to the need for multilingual emergency communications and digital connectivity, and welcomes the budget announcement of $31.4 million over four years to provide additional language services to Australians who speak a language other than English.
The Academy is pleased to see a range of measures to support the creative and cultural sector, including for our National Collecting Institutions ($79.9 million over four years), the Indigenous Visual Art Industry ($28.1 million over five years), and the Digital Economy Strategy ($1.2 billion over six years) including the creation of a National AI Centre and four AI and Digital Capability Centres ($53.8 million over four years).
It is vital the Government invests in multi-disciplinary capability across the humanities and sciences to truly deliver on its industry, workforce and skills agenda. Nor can we tackle the social and cultural challenge of climate change without bringing the best minds to the table. The Academy stands ready to play its part in supporting all of these future-facing projects.