Following an underwhelming federal budget for science that has failed to repair the damage from government cuts, attention will turn to Labor and the Greens to offer policy detail and an alternative vision for public sector research.
Since his election Opposition Leader, Bill Shorten has indicated that a future Labor Government would make science and research a priority. Shorten even went so far as to claim shadow portfolio responsibility for science following the decision to drop the ministry altogether in the first Abbott cabinet.
Cuts to the CSIRO are “deeply disturbing… there is no country that ever cut the scientific budget and improved the country,” Shorten said in March 2014.
“The CSIRO is doing amazing stuff,” Shorten told reporters last December following the departure of former CSIRO Chief Megan Clark. “So there’s no doubt in my mind that we have to invest more in science,” he said.
Only last month Shorten criticised the fact that “1 in 5 employees at the CSIRO have lost their jobs” and described the “path to the future for (Australian) jobs depends in large part upon proper funding of science, research and innovation.”
Labor has yet to release the detail on how science and research will be promoted under a Shorten Government. However with the Opposition Leader promising more policy in 2015, the pressure will be on Bill Shorten to come out strongly in support of science when he delivers the budget in reply speech.
Newly elected Greens Leader Richard Di Natale becomes the first leader of a Parliamentary Party since Bob Brown – also a Doctor of Medicine – to hail from a science background.
Before his election to the Senate, Di Natale worked as a General Practitioner, public health Registrar and spent time at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at Melbourne University.
Prior to taking over the leadership from Christine Milne, Di Natale spoke out in support of CSIRO and criticised the Abbott Government’s funding cuts.
“The anti-science agenda of this government is not restricted to climate change… now we hear that the CSIRO is to be gutted and with it the hopes and careers of countless Australian scientists, who may well go overseas. We can add to our export list the collective wisdom and investment of these great Australian minds, ” Di Natale said.
Greens MP for Melbourne and Science and Research spokesperson Adam Bandt recently spoke out in support of the Staff Association campaign to protect CSIRO jobs and working conditions.
Bandt called for the Federal Government offer a “fair pay deal” to CSIRO staff and restore $111 million cut from the agency’s funding in last year’s budget.
“If Tony Abbott can give our defence personnel a real pay rise without asking them to lose conditions, he can do the same for our scientists,” Bandt told reporters earlier this month.
While the Greens won’t have a large set piece reply to this year’s federal budget, as with Labor there will be increasing pressure on Australia’s third largest political party to offer more detail on their science policies including CSIRO.
The Senate’s inquiry into Australia’s Innovation System – being conducted by the Economic References committee – has received reporting date extension until 10 August.
In partnership with CPSU, the Staff Association provided a submission to the inquiry and has spent the past twelve months promoting the importance of public sector science through face to face meetings with parliamentarians including key independents on the Senate crossbenches.
The submission contends that funding for publicly funded research agencies should increase overall and grow at least in proportion to overall national economic activity. The submission also supports the development of a strategic approach to science policy as advocated by Australia’s Chief Scientist Ian Chubb.
While the inquiry has already featured two days of in-face testimony, it is anticipated that the committee will set more dates for public hearings in June or July.