1.1 Review by the Chief Executive Officer - Australian Research Council Annual Report 2017-18

1.2 Highlights of 2017–18

Policy environment

Science and Research Priorities

In May 2015 the Australian Government identified nine Science and Research Priorities: food, soil and water, transport, cybersecurity, energy, resources, advanced manufacturing, environmental change and health. The ARC supports the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priorities, and corresponding Practical Research Challenges, by funding the highest quality research and research training under the National Competitive Grants Program, aimed at building Australia’s capacity in these areas.

National Innovation and Science Agenda

In December 2015 the Australian Government released its National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), which is aimed at improving commercial returns from research.

The ARC is responsible for implementing two NISA measures: a continuous application process under the Linkage Projects scheme, which was implemented on 1 July 2016; and the establishment of an Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment to be conducted concurrently with Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) in 2018.

Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation

On 30 January 2018 Innovation and Science Australia released its strategic plan, Australia 2030: Prosperity through Innovation (the 2030 Plan). The 2030 Plan makes recommendations to the Australian Government framed around five strategic imperatives, one of which is to ‘Improve research and development effectiveness by increasing translation and commercialisation of research’.

In May 2018 the Australian Government indicated strong endorsement for the 2030 Plan. In the 2018–19 Australian Government Budget, a number of these recommendations were implemented through investment in research and development, including long-term support for national research infrastructure, genomics research, coral reef research and women in science.

The ARC is providing funding through the Supporting Responses to Commonwealth Science Council Priorities scheme for research to inform the artificial intelligence roadmap and ethics framework which were recommended in the 2030 Plan.

National Science Statement

The National Science Statement, released in March 2017, sets out the Australian Government’s enduring science objectives and principles. It also positions the Australian Government to respond to the science elements of the 2030 Plan in a considered and targeted manner. This statement will continue to provide guidance for the Australian Government’s other science-related policies and initiatives into the future.

Inquiry into Funding Australia’s Research

On 9 May 2018 the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Employment, Education and Training launched an inquiry into the efficiency, effectiveness and coherence of Australian Government funding for research. It is focusing on federally funded research agencies, their funding mechanisms and collaborative university research. The ARC provided a submission to the inquiry.

Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan

The Australian Government’s 2016 Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan called for a revitalisation of Antarctic science through the implementation of a coordinated Antarctic science funding model. To progress this, the Department of the Environment and Energy commissioned the Clarke Review to examine the governance arrangements supporting the Australian Antarctic Science Program, and to provide advice on a new governance model. This review made nine recommendations centred on institutionalising long-term collaborative science, ensuring coherent science leadership, integrating strategy and planning, and streamlining administration.

The ARC’s Special Research Initiatives (SRI) scheme provides funding for new and emerging fields of research and builds capacity in strategically important areas. The ARC currently funds several SRIs in a wide range of research areas.

As part of its response to the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan, the Australian Government announced $56 million of funding over seven years to support the work of Antarctic researchers in Australian universities through the ARC’s SRI: Excellence in Antarctic Science. The program is designed to examine the strategic, economic, scientific and environmental significance of Antarctica to Australia. It will foster collaboration between Australian researchers, industry and international stakeholders.

ARC activities

July 2017

Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, the then Minister for Education and Training (Senator Birmingham), announced $1.2 million for two research projects under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme. The two projects involve significant partnerships between higher education researchers and other parts of the national innovation system, including industry.

October 2017

Senator Birmingham announced $4.3 million for 10 research projects under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme to promote research partnerships between key stakeholders in research and innovation, including higher education institutions, government, business, industry and end-users.

The ARC appointed 47 new members to the ARC College of Experts to replace outgoing members in 2018. These nominations are approved by the ARC CEO for appointments of one to three years on a rotational basis. Its members are experts of international standing drawn from the Australian research community, including higher education, industry and public sector research organisations.

November 2017

Senator Birmingham released the findings of the 2017 Engagement and Impact pilot and announced the measures for the first full 2018 EI assessment.

Senator Birmingham launched the ARC Training Centre in Alloy Innovation for Mining Efficiency led by Deakin University.

Senator Birmingham announced funding of: $225.6 million for 594 projects under the Discovery Projects scheme; $70.9 million for 197 projects under the Discovery Early Career Researcher Award scheme; $7.2 million for 13 projects under the Discovery Indigenous scheme; $28.6 million for 50 projects under the Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme; and $1.1 million for five projects under the Linkage Learned Academies Special Projects scheme.

December 2017

Senator Birmingham announced $6.9 million for 16 research projects under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme. University researchers are collaborating with industry to undertake new research projects designed to deliver tangible outcomes to Australia.

The Australian Government announced a $13 million research program to tackle per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the environment, to be administered by the ARC through the SRI scheme.

February 2018

Senator Birmingham made two announcements under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme; $9.2 million to fund 22 research projects and $1.9 million for six research projects that provide support for universities to collaborate with other parts of the innovation system.

March 2018

Professor Sue Thomas, ARC CEO, announced the appointment of eight Research Evaluation Committee (REC) chairs for the 2018 round of ERA.

April 2018

Professor Sue Thomas, ARC CEO, announced the appointment of five Assessment Panel chairs for the inaugural round of the EI assessment.

May 2018

Professor Sue Thomas, ARC CEO, announced the appointment of 140 distinguished researchers as members of 2018 the ERA RECs.

Senator Birmingham announced $3.4 million for 10 research projects under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme. Together with their research partners, university-based researchers are developing practical solutions to ‘real world’ industry and community challenges.

The Australian Government announced two research projects, worth $417,941, awarded to the Australian Council of Learned Academies to advance Australia’s knowledge and expertise in the emerging areas of Artificial Intelligence and the Internet of Things, through the Supporting Responses to Commonwealth Science Council Priorities scheme.

June 2018

The ARC, the National Health and Medical Research Council, and Universities Australia jointly announced the release of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018 and Guide to Managing and Investigating Potential Breaches of the Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, 2018, to safeguard the quality and integrity of Australian research.

Senator Birmingham announced $26.5 million for 66 research projects under the Linkage Projects 2017 scheme to provide support for universities to collaborate with other parts of the innovation system including industry and community organisations.

Professor Sue Thomas, ARC CEO, announced a joint review of the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification to start in 2018. The review will be carried out by the ARC, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Stats NZ, and the New Zealand Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to ensure the research classifications reflect current practice and remain responsive to change in the sector.

Breakthrough technique developed to make ultra-thin metal oxides

A slug-like shaped blob of silvery liquid metal with clear atom thick trail.
This image of a liquid metal ‘slug’ and its clear atom-thick ‘trail’ shows the breakthrough in action. When dissolved in a liquid metal core, certain metals leave behind this clear layer of their oxide, which is no thicker than a few atoms and can be peeled away by touching or rolling. Image credit: RMIT University.
Researchers have developed a breakthrough method for creating ultra-thin metal oxide sheets, which have wide applications in today’s electronic and optical devices. This process has implications for catalysis, which is the basis of the modern chemical industry, with the potential to reshape how medicines, fertilisers and plastics are made.

Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh; Dr Torben Daeneke

ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technology at RMIT University

ARC Centres of Excellence

Shark-deterrent surfboards

A Great White shark leaping out of the sea, biting a wooden seal-shaped decoy.
White shark (Carcharodon carcharias) attacking a control seal-shaped decoy without the new counter-illumination technology attached. Image credit: Associate Professor Nathan Hart, Macquarie University.
Macquarie University researchers are developing a radical shark-deterrent surfboard. Extensive field tests of the LED system in waters with white sharks were found to be highly effective in preventing the sharks from attacking. When the light system was attached, the research found that sharks didn’t attack; when it was not attached, they didn’t hesitate.

Associate Professor Nathan Hart

Macquarie University

Linkage Projects

Virtual plant cell explores the inner world of a plant

A young girl wearing red jumper, with viewer goggles strapped over her eyes watching a virtual reality video
The Virtual Plant Cell uses virtual reality technology to engage the community in plant science and connect audiences to plant energy biology research. Image credit: Plant Energy Biology. Photographer: James Campbell.

To engage the wider community, the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology has created a number of targeted education, training and outreach programs, aimed at schools, farmers, teachers, universities, science museums, field days, careers festivals and even pubs.

Professor Harvey Millar

ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at The University of Western Australia

ARC Centres of Excellence

Exploring vision in animals

Blue-ringed octopus with rough, golden skin and luminescent blue rings swimming through pitch black water.
The blue-ringed octopus (Hapalochlaena sp.) is predated by stomatopod crustaceans (mantis shrimp). All octopus, including blue-ringed octopuses, are colour blind, while mantis shrimps possess four times as many colour channels as humans. The blue-ring’s colours evolved to warn other species that can see the colour contrast of their rings. Image credit: Roy Caldwell.

Researchers have advanced our understanding of how animals see and use colour and colour patterns to sense the world, and how their colour vision has evolved. From this, we can also learn about how this might apply to humans.

Professor Justin Marshall

Queensland Brain Institute based at The University of Queensland

Australian Laureate Fellowships

Researchers helping raspberry farmers to improve yield and quality

14 bright red, ripe raspberries held by a human hand, and a large box of raspberries in the background.
Raspberries. Image credit: Dr Romina Rader, University of New England.

Insect pollinators significantly contribute to the world’s biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services within agricultural systems. This work is being conducted in collaboration with commercial raspberry growers at Costa Group and the results of these studies are helping farmers to find the sweet spot where honeybees and wild pollinator visits can maximize raspberry fruit yield.

Dr Romina Rader

University of New England

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

Low cost precision agriculture for Aussie farmers

Aerial drone with four legs and four propellers flying over a green wheat field, with a line of trees on the horizon
Aerial drone flying over wheat field. Image credit: The University of South Australia.

Developed by The University of South Australia with the Plant Accelerator at The University of Adelaide and LongReach Plant Breeders, the drone senses a vegetation index—signifying the crop health, moisture and nutrient content, making it easier and more efficient for farmers to manage agricultural land and for breeders to generate new varieties.

Associate Professor Delphine Fleury

ARC Industrial Transformation Research Hub for Wheat in a Hot and Dry Climate, based at The University of Adelaide

Industrial Transformation Research Hubs

Songlines —tracking the seven sisters

Several Aboriginal women sitting on sandy red earth, working together on one large circular painting that features many brightly coloured circular designs.
Songlines are the ways of passing on knowledge from Nation to Nation right across the continent. Minyari artists camp (front from left) May Wokka Chapman, Thelma Judson, Mulyatingki Marney, Karen Rogers, Ngalangka Nola Taylor, Nancy Martu Jakulyukulyu (back) Renelle Simpson, Rachael Handley. National Museum of Australia Photo: Rebecca Dagnall.

The Songlines exhibition tracks the epic story of the Seven Sisters, through sections of five Indigenous songlines that traverse the Western and Central Desert of Australia. The first exhibition of its kind, Songlines is attempting to tell—in an exhibition space—an Indigenous narrative, using Indigenous ways of passing on knowledge, in a highly interactive and immersive way.

Professor Howard Morphy

The Australian National University

Linkage Projects