In December 2016, the Abbott Government announced it would spend $11.8 billion over four years to develop “a new national science agenda”.
The funding would include a $500 million grant to the Australian Science Foundation to support the development of a new National Science Strategy.
It also included a $25 million research and development funding initiative for Australia’s first quantum computer.
In its submission to the Federal Budget, the Australian Academy of Science argued the funding was “essential” to ensuring the country “continues to advance and grow the scientific research it does” and that the “science agenda will contribute to Australia’s ability to lead the world”.
But the $11-billion budget was quickly challenged by the Abbott Opposition, with the former Prime Minister’s office saying the funding is “fraudulently inflated”.
As a result, the funding has been slashed from $14.9 billion to $9.6 billion over the next four years, with $2.6 million of that cut going to the University of Technology, Sydney, to help fund the “quantum computer”.
In January 2018, a Senate committee was told the government’s plan to fund “new” scientific research was a “joke” and the “government is spending millions of dollars on a hoax”.
This was confirmed in a briefing by the Department of Science and Innovation in August 2018, when the Department’s chief executive, Dr Andrew Stokes, told a Senate inquiry the funding proposal was a “$5 billion over-budget hoax”.
Dr Stokes said the $5 billion was the equivalent of a “significant chunk” of the “funding that has been spent on the development and implementation of the Abbott science agenda over the past decade”.
Professor George King, former president of the Australian Scientific and Technical Research Organisation, told the inquiry that the Government had “littered up a large number of projects and initiatives with no apparent evidence that they were likely to be of any use in the development or deployment of the quantum computer”.
Dr King said the government should be spending more time and money on “real science” instead of “fake science”.
“The Abbott Government has spent a lot of money to try and make science more accessible and affordable and to make science relevant to Australians, and this money is wasted,” he said.
The Abbott government is currently in the midst of an investigation into the scientific integrity of a $3.6-billion contract awarded to the Queensland University of Science, Technology and Innovation (QUTI) to build a “Quantum Ensemble”, which will be used to “determine the quantum entanglement of light in a quantum state”.
QUTII was set up to build the quantum computers used in the US and Russia to solve “big problems” like quantum cryptography and superconductivity.
However, the Federal Government’s funding of the project has sparked controversy as it has come at the expense of the country’s ability “to build an affordable quantum computer and meet its international and domestic scientific and technological obligations”, according to Professor King.
QutII’s contract was awarded to QUTI in 2016, but it is understood QUTII’s contracts with other universities have been extended to 2019.
During the inquiry, the Department was told QUT I had a “substantial” and “ongoing” gap in its quantum computing program.
“We have identified a substantial shortfall in QUT’s quantum computing capabilities and have undertaken a significant and ongoing programme of research and assessment to improve these capabilities,” it said in a statement.
But Professor King told the Senate inquiry QUT II’s contract is not “the real science” and has been “focussed on a number of issues”.
It was also revealed the Government was planning to spend $2 billion over two years on a $50 million “quantological computing project” to “address the challenges of quantum computing”.
A spokesman for the Department said QUT has been awarded a contract to develop the “Q2 Quantum Ensemble” and to “improve the performance of the QUT Ensemble”.
However he said Qut I “is currently being funded through the University Grants Scheme”.