Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR) Grants – New Programs and Reprioritisation in 2023

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DISR

The Australian Department of Industry, Science and Resources (DISR) historically invests the largest amount of grant funding into innovative projects across Australia each year. DISR awarded close to $800million of the $1.5 billion in open-competitive grant funding awarded since December 2022, so it’s crucial to understand their funding priorities outlined in the budget.

The 2023-24 Federal Budget funding distribution for the Department focusses on creating productive, sustainable, and high-value jobs for Australia. It revolves around targeted investments and a reshuffling of spending to drive industry growth, support innovation, and facilitate Australia’s transition to net zero emissions. Let’s examine the grants and funding initiatives that have been introduced to achieve these goals over the next financial year.

KEY FUNDING INITIATIVES OF DISR: 

  • National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) Corporation: $61.4 million in funding will support the establishment and operation of the NRF Corporation. Once up and running, the NRF will manage the $15 billion fund, which aims to diversify and transform Australian industries through investment in priority areas.
  • Industry Growth Program: To assist small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and startups in commercialising their ideas and expanding their businesses, the government has set aside $392.4 million for the Industry Growth Program, which is currently under consultation (have your say here)
  • National Centre for Asia Capability: $14.9 million for the ‘National Centre for Asia Capability’. This centre aims to help Australian businesses engage with Asian markets.
  • Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre: $14.8 million to establish the ‘Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre’. Its purpose is to support businesses in manufacturing, commercialising, and adopting new renewable energy technologies.
  • Critical Technologies and Artificial Intelligence: The budget includes investments in critical technologies and artificial intelligence, such as: (1) The Critical Technologies Challenge Program ($40.2 million) driving greater awareness and uptake of quantum technologies in Australia by creating stronger ties between quantum researchers, companies, industry, and other parts of society, and; (2) The Responsible AI Adopt Program ($41.2 million) supporting the responsible deployment of AI in the national economy. This includes setting the National Artificial Intelligence Centre on a more sustainable footing to support the Responsible AI Network.
  • Resources Sector Support: To accelerate the growth of Australia’s critical minerals sector, the government has committed $57.1 million to develop strategic and commercial partnerships that will build resilient supply chains. Additionally, the Critical Minerals Office will receive
    $23.4 million to continue coordinating activities in this sector.
  • Future Gas Strategy: $6.7 million has been dedicated to developing a Future Gas Strategy, which aims to ensure a balance between security, affordability, and decarbonisation in the oil and gas sector.
  • Radioactive Waste Management: The Australian Radioactive Waste Agency (ARWA) will receive $437.1 million over six years to responsibly manage and dispose of radioactive waste

REALIGNED SPENDING FOR DISR:

In order to prioritise the government’s key objectives, there has been a redistribution of spending, including:

  • Reducing funding for the Global Science and Technology Diplomacy Fund
  • Returning uncommitted funding from the Patent Box
  • Closing and repurposing funding from the Entrepreneurs’ Programme and Digital Careers Program
  • Reshaping funding from technology, space, and industry programs, and
  • Redirecting uncommitted funding from the Strategic Basins Plans program, Gas Well Trials, Resources and METS Market  Access and Preparedness Program.

In 2023-24, DISR aims to drive industry growth, support innovation, and promote sustainability in Australia. Through grants and funding programs, the Department is focused on diversifying industries, assisting small businesses and startups, advancing technology, and responsibly managing resources by making strategic investments and reallocating funds.

The Department is known for its significant investments in innovative projects and allocates a substantial portion of all open-competitive grant funding in Australia. However, it is disappointing that we are yet to see more clarity around the NRF for two consecutive budget cycles. Funding initiatives such as the NRF and Industry Growth Program are promising for the grants landscape, but we’ve seen a lot of grant programs axed in this budget cycle. The realignment of spending raises questions about the prioritisation of certain programs, potentially leaving gaps in support for emerging industries or over-leveraging investment in the natural resources sector (mining, gas, etc.).

As we delve headlong into an uncertain future, particularly with the advent of powerful (and potentially scary/dangerous) technology such as AI and Quantum Technology, it is essential that industry and government alike are focussed on the long-term impacts if DISR’s investment cadence, ensuring a balanced and strategic approach to funding distribution.