BUDGET CUTS SCIENTIFICALLY NEGLIGENT

IT takes real nerve to present the Abbott Government's massive cuts to science, research and innovation funding as an achievement, but Industry and Science Minister Ian Macfarlane (Talking Point, Mercury, January 6) has once again shown he is not one to let facts get in the way of a good story.

In an article purportedly about the home-porting of the RV Investigator in Hobart, Mr Macfarlane showed a distinct lack of grace in failing to mention that construction of the vessel was funded by the former Labor government.

As innovation minister in that government, I was particularly proud to make the announcement, having spent many years pursuing various Howard government ministers about the desperate need to replace the decrepit RV Southern Surveyor Australia's only bluewater research vessel.


Contrary to claims often made by the current Government, Labor's funding not only supported the capital phase of the project, but fully funded its sea trials and expected first operating year.

Now that the Investigator has been delivered, the Coalition is again neglecting its responsibilities.

Its decision to fund the Investigator to spend only 180 days a year at sea, when it is capable of 300 days, is penny-pinching at its worst.

CSIRO has said that operating at full capacity (increasing the number of days at sea by two-thirds) would increase costs by only $6-7 million a year.

Given the $40 billion a year that Mr Macfarlane says marine industries contribute to the economy, it seems a small price to pay.

Sadly, however, this decision is typical of the Abbott Government's shortsighted approach.

The same Budget that skimped on funding for the RV Investigator also cut $115 million from the rest of CSIRO. This was just one of the many decisions that decimated science, research and innovation funding, reducing overall investment by more than $400 million in just 12 months, and by more than $3 billion overall not including the cuts to higher education.

These decisions included the demolition of programs that were successfully addressing the problems of commercialisation and collaboration Mr Macfarlane talks so much about. Enterprise Connect, for example, linked small and medium-sized businesses to new ideas and technologies, helping them to innovate, improve their productivity and enter new markets. Now it is gone, meaning more than 16,000 businesses will miss out on this support over the next four years.

Commercialisation Australia helped Australian companies to bridge the "valley of death" between research and commercial outcomes, turning Australian ideas into Australian products. Today, it no longer exists.

The Co-operative Research Centres program is world-renowned for its success in bringing researchers and industry together. Yet its funding was cut by $80 million and its future placed in limbo by a review predicated on a Commission of Audit recommendation to abolish it.

National ICT Australia, which uses basic research to solve real-world problems for industry and trains 300 PhD students a year, will have no Commonwealth funding after June 2016.

In place of these proven programs, which were understood and valued by industry and researchers, Mr Macfarlane has created a hodgepodge of cheap imitations, with no coherence and laughable funding levels.

By both his actions and his words, he has shown once again that only Labor truly understands the importance of science, research and innovation for Australia's future.


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