WHAT WE COULD LEARN FROM OBAMA'S APPROACH TO SCIENCE

At this watershed moment in American political history, it is timely to consider the legacy of outgoing President Barack Obama in science and innovation.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is the chief source of advice to the President on science matters. The OSTP published its Cabinet Exit Memo on 5 January, manifesting a vibrant, ambitious and optimistic vision – in stark contrast to the unimaginative, stale and duplicitous approach of our own Government.

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WHAT WE COULD LEARN FROM OBAMA'S APPROACH TO SCIENCE

At this watershed moment in American political history, it is timely to consider the legacy of outgoing President Barack Obama in science and innovation.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is the chief source of advice to the President on science matters. The OSTP published its Cabinet Exit Memo on 5 January, manifesting a vibrant, ambitious and optimistic vision – in stark contrast to the unimaginative, stale and duplicitous approach of our own Government.

Building on President Obama's 2009 pledge to restore science to its rightful place, the Administration sought to improve scientific talent within government, strengthen scientific integrity, enacted a historic increase in research and development funding, prioritised broad participation in STEM education, launched new science initiatives in health, expanded broadband access, fostered a space industry sector and supported manufacturing innovation and jobs. 

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Birmingham, Morrison show hostility to humanities research

The terms of reference of the Watt review into research policy clearly articulate the government’s narrow intent and reveal its impoverished understanding of research.

 

It is an approach that is already manifest with regard to CSIRO.

 

Put simply, the Liberals’ preference is for publicly funded research that turns a quick private dollar.

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A Political Way Forward, Without Bowing To The Bigotry

Sometimes the significance of political events eludes many whose daily duty it is to report them, however accurate their accounts may be in detail. We are living at such a time.

The federal election resulted in the discomfiting of the Turnbull Government as its majority shrank to the barest of margins, and in the return of One Nation to the electoral limelight.

The first of these things has mostly been analysed in terms of the diminished personal authority of the Prime Minister, and the second as an unwelcome accident of the double dissolution – the revival of a circus that is both nasty and diverting but probably won’t be around for long.

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WATT RESEARCH REVIEW MARRED BY LIBERALS’ COMMERCIAL FOCUS

There is an old saying in politics that governments never undertake a review unless they already know what it will deliver. On the evidence, it is perfectly clear that the Watt review of research policy and funding arrange­ments was commissioned on that basis. The government’s complete endorsement of every recommendation is a bit of a giveaway.

 

No doubt there were vigorous debates within the panel, but they never had a chance: the terms of reference denied its members the opportunity to give full expression to their depth and range of experience, instead closely guiding the review’s energies along a narrow path. In the end, they had little choice but to deliver a proposed reconfiguration of the research system that aligns perfectly with the government’s ideology.

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GUTTING SCIENCE: MALCOLM TURNBULL HAS THE POWER TO REVERSE THE CUTS AND STOP THE EXODUS

Despite his bruising election experience, it appears that the Prime Minister has still not heard the message that buzzwords and a wide smile are no substitute for real innovation policy. ‘Disruption’ may sound exciting when you have more money in the bank than you could possibly spend in a lifetime, but most Australians rightly greet it with caution, with one eye on the security of their jobs and the working future of their children.

 

Yet Malcolm Turnbull has declared business as usual, intending to submit his damaging budget and regressive program to the Parliament without revision. If he found the old Senate inconvenient, when it acted to defend the jobs and prospects of millions of Australians, he is going to find the new configuration even less receptive to a battering ram approach.

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CUT THE IDEOLOGY AND CONSULT

If the Turnbull Government is to be believed, the starting point for debate on the future of university funding is the need to achieve savings set out in the 2016 Budget papers. But why should Australians, and universities, accept this?

It is true that spending on higher education has expanded rapidly since the introduction of the demand driven system. But that does not necessarily mean that it is fiscally unsustainable.

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GET SET FOR TURNBULL'S $100,000 UNI DEGREES

The Parliamentary Budget Office’s (PBO) report on the future cost of the Higher Education Loans Program (HELP) highlights the contradiction at the heart of the Liberal Government’s plan to deregulate university fees.

The Government tries to argue that cutting subsidies for undergraduate places by 20 per cent and allowing universities to charge whatever fees they want is necessary because higher education has become too great a burden on the Commonwealth Budget.

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CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE CSIRO: WHEN SCIENTISTS ARE SENT ON MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

CSIRO's chief executive, Dr Larry Marshall, cited the agency's "finite resources" in defending job losses that are projected to all but shut down CSIRO's climate research. But a valid argument about efficient use of resources cannot justify obliterating one of the world's leading climate research hubs just when the world needs it most.

It's true that resources are limited. After all, CSIRO suffered a $115 million funding cut in the 2014 federal budget. Then it was required to absorb the national ICT research agency, NICTA, which was de-funded by Malcolm Turnbull as communication minister. In last year's innovation statement, Data61, the successor to NICTA within CSIRO, scraped back less than half its previous funding, equivalent to a cut of $24 million a year.

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MALCOLM TURNBULL’S INNOVATION AGENDA IS MISSING KEY WORDS AND POLICIES

Malcolm Turnbull has discovered a new font. The Abbott-Turnbull Government has discovered some new words. This much we can tell from the new innovation agenda.

But this week’s Mid-year Economic and Fiscal Outlook will expose the myth of the Government’s innovation agenda, which is really just a whole lot of hokey-pokey: putting a bit in, putting back a bit of what was taken out and shaking around the rest.

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