The more 'consultative approach' needed in Australia's new coalition government could be good for science in the country

Karen Harries-Rees/Melbourne, Australia

Science in Australia could benefit from the more consultative approach that the newly elected minority Labour government will need to adopt.

Both Labour and the opposition Liberal/National coalition won 72 seats in the election on 21 August. Following more than two weeks of negotiation, Julia Gillard’s Labour party has won the support of three independents and the Greens, giving it the 76 seats it needs to govern. The opposition has 74 seats.  

As a result, the government will need to work with both the Greens and the independents to develop policy. This could be positive for science, says Anna-Maria Arabia, chief executive officer of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (Fasts). ’The evidence base will play a far greater role than it has in the past,’ she says. ’I think when you have independents who are driven by the substance of the issues rather than the views of a major political party, they are more likely to consult the evidence base. As a science community we need to be prepared to step up to the mark and provide that evidence base.’ 


Source: © Associated Press

Labour’s Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female leader, has formed a government with support from the Greens and three independents

In the lead up to the election, Labour launched its Science for Australia’s Future policy, with a centrepiece of A$21 million (?12.4 million) for Inspiring Australia, a national science communication strategy.  

Inspiring Australia  will also provide four-year funding for Australia’s national science agency CSIRO, instead of the current three-year funding, support National Science Week, the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science and the Australian Museum’s Eureka Prizes, and support media training for scientists and traineeships for future science communicators.   

The Labour party also committed to lifting Australia’s engagement in international science and further develop the country’s strategic international scientific relationships. 

’While Australia produces 3 per cent of the research knowledge, which given the population is a great output, we can’t ignore the fact that we rely on rest of the world to gain access to the other 97 per cent. That relies on strong international collaboration and Australia having a reputation for world class research and being a leader in international collaboration,’ says Arabia. 

The Australian Academy of Science welcomed the commitments within Labour’s policy, but is disappointed that the government has not pledged the funding to make them happen. ’This is a matter of urgency for the academy and the entire scientific community of Australia. If we do not get this funding, international links will be broken which will be very hard to re-establish,’ says Bob Williamson, secretary for science policy at the organisation. 

The International Science Linkages programme, which supports international collaboration, is due to end next year. The Australian Academy of Science hopes the government will move quickly to reinstate the programme, following recommendations from a parliamentary committee before the election. 

Development of a research workforce strategy was also under way before the election. This looks likely to progress with support from both major parties. The strategy aims to develop a strong and productive research workforce over the decade to 2020. ’The issue of workforce development is perhaps the single most important issue facing Australian science,’ says Williamson. The academy welcomes the strategy’s development but cautions that previous strategies have yielded useful but short term initiatives that were not linked strategically with an attempt to secure career continuity for young researchers.