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Tuesday, 11 February 2014 17:15

Victorian government slashes NICTA Featured


The Victorian government is continuing its agenda of tough cuts and savings, this time at the expense of the Victorian branch of NICTA, Australia's IT and Communications research organisation.

As first reported by Crikey and Fairfax almost half of the staff at the Victorian NICTA branch were made redundant yesterday after the state government withdrew millions of dollars in promised funding, seemingly because the centre is too New South Wales-centric.

According to Fairfax NICTA management told staff at the Parkville laboratory the cuts would take effect immediately, and 30 full-time staff members will be out of a job.

The report also stated the state government has withdrawn up to $8 million from the $10 million promised over two years.

As we've previously reported NICTA researchers work on a number of projects including a bionic eye, and computer software that allows DNA analysis using cheap computers.

An email sent to NICTA staff by CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte on 22 January revealed NICTA was told by the Coalition state government of the plan to scale back funding for the agency in mid-January.

"On Wednesday, 15 January, we received a communication from the Victorian state government indicating that they would substantially reduce their funding contribution to NICTA VRL for the next two years. While this is not good news, there has been a growing expectation that something like this may happen, due in part to the economic outlook and priorities for the Victorian state government," the centre's chief Hugh Durrant-Whyte told staff.

"Consequently, we will be restructuring and refocusing NICTA's activities in Victoria. In future, NICTA VRL will need to be approximately half the current size, and will have a profile focused significantly more on external engagements with industry in Victoria and internationally.

"NICTA will work with the Victorian government on specific projects of interest. I regret to say that there will need to be a significant number of redundancies at VRL as part of this reduction in size and the refocusing of activities. We will work with everyone concerned to make this as painless as possible."

Durrant-Whyte said NICTA will continue to have “a big lab in Victoria”, with no plans to close the lab.

“On the contrary, we’re going to refocus it and will have a significant lab in Victoria,” Professor Durrant-Whyte told The Australian.

Victorian Technology Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said that the decision to reduce funding to NICTA was due to the organisation's increased focus on work in New South Wales.

"Since 2004 the Victorian Government has provided funding of more than AU$40m to [NICTA]. NICTA is headquartered in New South Wales, and over that period NICTA’s activities have become increasingly Sydney-focused. New South Wales leverages AU$5 for each AU$1 it invested in NICTA, compared to Victoria leveraging only AU$1.50 for each AU$1 invested," he said in a statement.

"It is important that investments in research programs by the Victorian Government deliver benefits in Victoria. The Victorian Government will continue to fund NICTA at a reduced level over the next two years, and has not ruled out considering new funding arrangements with NICTA if they deliver benefits to Victoria."

The Coalition federal government has also faced criticism in the science community for not appointing a Minister for Science, and for cutting back renewable energy initiatives.

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