CRCs are supposed to come and go, but some stay and stay

The Cooperative Research Centre working on bushfires runs out of money in a couple of years. The case for it continuing is already on the agenda

In one form or another the centre has been around for a while. The Bushfire CRC closed in 2014 after two terms, 2003-2010 and 2010-2014. It was replaced (from 2013) by the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre, which has eight-year funding.

There is already interest in ensuring it gets more.  “One organisation trying to understand how we can better respond to unprecedented fires is the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre. … But ten years on from Black Saturday, Richard Thornton, CEO of the organisation, confirmed the Federal Government had not guaranteed its funding past 2021.” ABC Radio’s Background Briefing reports.

There’s a reason for an end-date for CRCs. The Cooperative Research Centre Programme is time-limited (CRCs ten-year max, project-focused CRC Ps, three years). “Limiting the duration of funding, and not allowing extensions, will make it clear that the focus should be on delivering tangible outcomes from the CRC or CRC-P within the funding period,” David Miles’ 2015 review of the programme explained.

But in the past Labor and coalition governments have been flexible about closing CRCs with broad popular appeal and/or strong local support.

The Hobart-based Antarctic research CRC is getting on for 30 years old, being established in 1991 as the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Environment CRC.  Funding was continued in 1997 for the CRC for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, and in 2003 and 2010 as the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems CRC.

And a CRC for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, had four-terms, under different names from 1996 until this year, the last being the Lowitja Institute (2014-19). While it is no longer a CRC, the Institute is now funded by the Department of Health.

The case for continuing bushfire research is obvious – the need is enduring, the challenge eternal, but CRCs are designed to achieve defined goals and then close, with other organisations applying their research. Even so, it will be a brave minister indeed who denies another term to a bushfire research centre.


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