Australia's Chief Scientist Takes A Stand Against A Lack Of Federal Government Strategy

Ian Chubb. Image: Flinders University

Ian Chubb, Australia’s chief scientist, has taken to the prestigious international journal Science to protest budget cuts and what he calls the federal governments “lack of a strategy” on science.

“Science isn’t like a toothbrush,” Professor Chubb writes in an editorial article in the journal, a publication for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“You can’t buy it when you get there if you forgot to pack one. To build both capacity and capability, we need strategic investment supported by good planning and long-term commitment.

“It troubles me that Australia remains the only country among the members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) without a science or technology strategy.”

The May federal budget cut science-related budgets across projects and departments including the CSIRO which faces a $111.4 million funding cut over four years and the loss of up to 500 jobs.

At that time, Professor Chubb said he was disappointed at the cuts and that he looked forward to working with the government to develop an action plan for science that will position Australia to advantage.

In the Science journal article, he says Australia often claims to “punch above our weight” but in reality the research effort could and ought to be better.

School participation in science and mathematics, particularly at senior levels, has fallen.

“The level of collaboration between our researchers and our businesses is one of the poorest in the OECD,” he says.

“If we are serious in our wish for a fair and prosperous Australia, in a better and happier world, then we will look to science to sustain us.”

Professor Chubb, who was appointed chief scientist in May 2011, says his role is to advise the federal government on science policy and advocate a better understanding of science in industry and the community.

“Like the rest of Australia’s scientific community, I was disappointed by cuts in our recent federal budget,” he says.

“My real concern, however, is the lack of a strategy that would help us maximize the value of the science resources we do have.

“This is not a new problem. It is one that has been allowed to persist for decades.”

This week, science advisory delegations from around the world convene in Auckland, New Zealand, to discuss the importance and challenges of providing policy science advice to governments.

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