The Government's latest Budget includes $250 million earmarked for science and innovation initiatives.

Among the packages are $81.9 million over four years to the Endeavour Fund, $52.5m for research institutes through the Performance-Based Research Fund (PBRF), $19.5m to enhance earthquake, tsunami and volcano monitoring capability and $21m for Antarctic science and $9.6m for New Zealand's presence in Antarctica, including developing a plan to redevelop Scott Base.

Five leading figures in the sector shared their views on this year's offerings with the New Zealand Science Media Centre.

Professor Shaun Hendy, director of Te Punaha Matatini and Professor of Physics at the University of Auckland.

This seems like a fairly steady-as-you-go budget for science and innovation with Government investing more in some of its large funding programmes, particularly those that support economic growth.

We had already heard about the extra $75m increase over four years for R&D grants for business - boosting innovation in the business sector is a good thing for the economy, but it is still debatable as to whether the Callaghan grants represent the best way to do this.

A couple of recent studies of these grants by Motu and the Productivity Commission found only weak evidence that the grants have led to increased innovation in the businesses that receive them.

Advertisement

Callaghan Innovation has also developed a poor reputation for their administration of these grants, and will need to lift ts game if we are to get value from them.

I was also interested to see funding to support a plan to attract multinationals to do R&D here in New Zealand.

International evidence suggests that multinational R&D has significant benefit for local firms in the host country, but New Zealand has always struggled to attract this type of activity.

The decisions that multinationals make of where to locate their R&D depend strongly on factors such as market access and the health of the local innovation ecosystem.

In my opinion, the key to attracting multinational R&D to New Zealand is to make sure our innovation system is humming and not hurting.

It is pleasing to see the Government follow through on increased funding for natural hazards monitoring, in spite of Gerry Brownlee's meltdown last year following the inadequate response to the tsunami that followed the Kaikoura earthquake.

No one can say it is an easy job being the Minister who has to face up to natural disasters, but Brownlee's tendency to shoot the messenger was not helpful in that role.

Good on the public, then, for getting behind GeoNet to ensure that the country has effective 24/7 hazards monitoring.

Finally - and sadly it seems I have to bring this up every year - I am still waiting to see a reinvestment in post-doctoral fellowships by this Government.

A simple mistake in policy advice led to the Government's fellowships scheme being axed in 2012.

Mistakes do happen, especially in a policy domain that tends to lack good sources of data, but the failure to investigate and mitigate the consequences of this error has potentially had a damaging impact on the careers of hundreds of young scientists.

Dr Craig Stevens, president, New Zealand Association of Scientists

It's a mild budget from the perspective of science.

It is positive to see the boosts spread across the full spectrum of science so that PBRF [performance-based research fund] supports some basic research, Endeavour Funding gets a boost in the middle and industry activity is supported through Callaghan Innovation.

There is still some way to go to get anywhere near the sorts of investment in science seen in other countries where, for example, we spend roughly half of that spent per capita in Australia.

The increases in the Budget directed towards science will enable some activity to grow at a rate above inflation.

There does seem to be a swing towards directed research, with no new support for the Marsden Fund.

The Marsden Fund was given a real boost last year and we hope that this levelling of support is due to that, and not in response to the recent MBIE review of the Marsden Fund which concluded, incorrectly in the view of the NZAS, that the Marsden Fund needed to align more with Government strategies.

While the PBRF received a welcome boost, it is important to recognise that PBRF supports a much wider spectrum of work and administration than science, and indeed innovation.

Increased support for environmental science is positive.

Support for Antarctic science, including Scott Base redevelopment, marine protected areas and natural hazards are all positive signs that science is about a wider set of issues beyond direct economic results.

The Endeavour Fund received a substantial boost over the next four years which should see several new mission-led projects possible.

The actual amount of funding is only part of the picture.

The association calls for improved processes so that more of the taxpayer's money goes into actual science and that we do something about the morale-destroying success rates for ideas.

It also would like to see more clarity in how money channelled through Callaghan Innovation benefits the nation.

With growing challenges like climate, health, housing, diversity, environment, education and more besides, the New Zealand Association of Scientists believes that in the long term we will need to be smarter as a nation about how we meet these challenges.

Anthony Scott, chief executive, Science New Zealand

The Antarctic is a canary in the mine for climate change.

So the increase in Antarctic research will ensure we better understand this vital region which has such impact on our climate and economy.

It also enables New Zealand to continue its significant contribution to global efforts to understand climate change and to define actions to adapt or mitigate.

Hazards monitoring is vital to our communities and our economy.

We live in one of the most dynamic zones in the world.

We need to ensure that events are quickly understood and information conveyed.

The new money will improve preparedness and response to the full range of New Zealand's varied natural hazards, from earthquakes to volcanoes, tsunami and landslides.

The increase in the Endeavour Fund, the nation's contestable fund is very welcome.
The Endeavour Fund enables New Zealand's brightest and most innovative scientists to test their ideas in areas which benefit New Zealand.

New Zealand's wealth and well-being depends upon science research which protects the environment, our current economic base, and opens new areas of opportunity.

The Growth Grants increase will further assist New Zealand's businesses to grow their R&D investment and capability.

Attracting multinational companies will enhance the national innovation ecosystem and bring or keep top people and the supporting infrastructure in New Zealand.

Professor John Raine, Pro Vice-Chancellor Research and Innovation, Auckland University of Technology.

It's disappointing for the science and technology research sector overall.

A good boost for the Endeavour Fund, but silent unfortunately on any additional investment in the Strategic Science Investment Fund, which is what supports new platforms of science and technology R&D.

There is a massive need for New Zealand to invest in data science and data technologies if we are to participate in the AI technology wave, and create new NZ industries, rather than simply being adopters of overseas technology right down the line.

If we are to grow our high-tech economy rapidly, underpinning Government investment focused on R&D by supporting sunrise industry sectors is vital.

The Government falls down in addressing the high-tech sector.

Publicly, it expresses the desire for us to be a high-tech country, but we are nowhere near the level of funding to achieve that.

Dr Andrea Byrom, director, New Zealand Biological Heritage National Science Challenge

On the face of it, this is a pretty good budget for science - almost $256m of new funding over the next four years.

Of particular interest is $81.9m for the MBIE Endeavour Fund, and $52.5m for PBRF, as well as a number of other initiatives.

My only concern with the Endeavour fund is that the shift to "open contestable" from strategically targeted investment has placed a major transaction cost on the science system with no shortage of proposals being put up in any given year, and an eventual success rate somewhere around the 5 to 7 per cent mark.

So we are still playing catch-up with a historically low spend on R&D relative to other OECD countries, and any new funding is keenly sought after. Nevertheless, it's good to see a new allocation here.

Of particular relevance to the NZ's Biological Heritage National Science Challenge are the allocations to both biosecurity and conservation, particularly the Battle for Our Birds.

On Biosecurity 2025, we look forward to working with the Ministry for Primary Industries to deliver high-impact science alongside this operational spend as Biosecurity 2025 gets underway.

On the Conservation spend, it's great to see the Government continuing to make use of the credible scientific evidence that underpins the Battle for Our Birds.

Whilst any new spend here is largely operational, increasingly we find that research teams are working closely with DoC scientists to glean maximum information out of large-scale predator control efforts, an approach that will stand us in good stead as we work towards Predator-Free 2050.