When I first decided to write an article about science policy in Australia, I really had no idea how complex it would be, with science and research spread over a range of portfolio’s including: Innovation, industry and science; Health and ageing; Climate action, environment and heritage; and, Agriculture and food security. In fact, one could argue that the blanket term “science” could cover items in almost every single portfolio. With this in mind I will try and cover the leader, and individual ministers views towards science (based on speeches and current policy positions), as well as try and cover any specific science agenda as described in official party statements. Throughout, I have tried to provide as many links to further information as possible for those who might be interested, consider this a short introduction to Liberal Party Science Policies.
Current Policy: In a recent #asktony Twitter Q&A, I asked Tony Abbott where I could find the Liberal Parties science policy, the reply I got linked to a Dec 2011 interview transcript (see here) discussing the Coalition’s support for a science education fund and a promise that there was more to come. I’m still waiting…….
The current Liberal party policy for Innovation, Industry and Science can be found here. This policy document was written in 2010, and I can only assume that it represents the current views of the party as it lists costings running into the 2012/13 financial year. There are 15 key points laid out in this document and they give some insight into the agenda of the Liberal party in relation to science. One of the most interesting points listed in this document is number 9 “Enhance Australia’s venture capital market”. I really believe that Australia has enormous potential when it comes to the biotech sector, which is heavily under-represented in total venture capital investment. Our country does extremely well in the biotech industry, despite a real lack of investment. In fact, in a recent article in Scientific American (click here) Australia was ranked as the tenth most innovative country with regards to biotechnology. So, if the Liberal party is serious about enhancing the VC market, then I applaud them. However, at the moment it appears that any enhancement will be limited to a review of the Innovation Investment Fund.
A second key point from the Innovation, Industry and Science Policy document is point 14 “expand the Research Training Scheme”. This tends to be something both of the major parties focus on, and increasing the number of PhD/masters research students is obviously an important goal. Just as important is providing the funds, infrastructure and career paths for all of these graduating students. It is this next step that requires a lot more thought, and action.
Leader: The Hon Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott has a number of very strong (and very clear) opinions about some of the most widely discussed scientific issues facing both Australia and the world, namely climate change and embryonic stem-cell research. Mr. Abbott has repeatedly stated that he does not believe that human behaviour is responsible for climate change, and he is against embryonic stem-cell research, believing that it is a “slippery slope towards human cloning”. Mr. Abbott’s religious upbringing and beliefs have been discussed in great detail, and I don’t want to harp on them here. Instead, I want to know whether a Tony Abbott lead Coalition government would be good for science, and that really comes down to who he takes advice from.
Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry and Science: Mrs Sophie Mirabella
Sophie Mirabella has received a lot of news recently regarding her reaction to Simon Sheikh’s collapse on Q&A, and the news generated this event far outweighs any news coming from her office regarding science policy. A quick scan of both her website (here) and twitter feeds (here) shows that she has a good handle on industry and manufacturing, but also indicates a clear absence of any science related news. In fact, the best I could find were a number of articles criticising the carbon-tax and ETS (which, despite her criticisms, Mirabella was unable to vote against after being removed from the house for 24hrs, see here). I would really like to see what the opposition MP for science would like to propose to tackle climate change, possibly the single most important factor regarding the future of industry and manufacturing. I would also like to hear more about the Coalition’s proposed R&D tax credit program, how the Coalition will promote science and research (is expanding the RTS still a priority?), are there any other plans to promote private-public research interactions. In short, instead of just hearing about what the government has done wrong, I want to know how the Coalition plans to do things differently, and what the benefit for science is likely to be.
Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing: The Hon Peter Dutton
I think that it is worth noting that in April of last year, in response to the rumour of cuts to medical research funding, Peter Dutton was quoted as saying “If they [ALP] took away a dollar, it would be a terrible outcome for medical research … for the health of our nation as well.” Dutton and the Liberal party also proposed a $212 million dollar increase for medical research (see here and here). After the way Dutton (and in fact the whole Liberal party) went after the government on this matter, it would be very hard for them to rationalize any cuts to medical research. However, all this said, both Dutton and the Coalition were very quiet on medical research following the 2012 budget. I did try and avoid focusing on science budget policy, but it is really slim pickings in regards to Coalition science policy statements.
I found it frustrating that I had to dig through a number of different Liberal party websites before I could really get much in the way of details in regards to science and research policies. I like that the Liberal party has proposed to enhance the VC market and public-private interactions, but I am disappointed that these ideas are in a document that is almost three years old, and have not been referred to once by the current minister for science. To me, this does not bode well, and indicates that science may either just continue along as it currently is, or will in fact go backwards. This is worrying as now (more than ever) is the time to invest in science.
OVERALL RATING – C+ Some good ideas, but (as yet) no follow-up.