Parliament needs independent science advice

This is Science Week, when Australia celebrates the work and achievements of its scientists.

The Morrison Government’s preparation for Science Week, however, was to deny Parliament access to independent scientific advice and support.

Last week – the same week that the IPCC delivered a dire health check for the planet – Coalition and One Nation senators voted down a motion to investigate the establishment of a Parliamentary Office of Science.


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TRUST IS THE FIRST CASUALTY IN TIME OF PLAGUE

Who are the people who marched in Melbourne and Sydney at the weekend, chanting about freedom and demanding an end to lockdowns?

One answer is obvious. They are people whose idea of freedom seems to mean being free to put the lives of others at risk by dismantling controls on the transmission of covid-19.

And yes, they behaved selfishly and irresponsibly, as the state premiers and – belatedly rather more reluctantly – the prime minister have said.

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HUMANITIES UNDER THREAT FROM CHORUS OF PHILISTINES

Although the government likes to talk about investing in higher education for the post-pandemic recovery, it is doing the opposite. Labor and the Coalition used to argue about the scale of Commonwealth funding for universities while accepting a Faustian pact – that the surplus revenue from international student fees could be used to subsidise research.

But the loss of those fees during the pandemic has accelerated the affect of the government’s legislative changes, forcing universities to make drastic cuts.

Although the government likes to talk about investing in higher education for Australia’s post-pandemic recovery, it is doing the opposite.


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TEQSA has not offered evidence for Avondale’s university status

The roll call of Australian universities has gotten longer. On 1 July, the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency (TEQSA) and the Education Minister, Alan Tudge, announced that the former Avondale University College is now an “Australian university”.

Three other institutions, the National Institute of Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), and Moore Theological College, also acquired new classifications: they are now “university colleges”.

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WE’VE GOT YOU ON FILE: AUSTRALIA’S MCCARTHYIST MOMENT

Some people think that McCarthyism – casting doubt, without evidence, on the loyalties of people in public life – was dead and buried with the Cold War.

We might wish it were so, but the label fits the way Australia’s most important research-funding institution has been brow-beaten into putting supposed national-security concerns ahead of academic excellence.


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THE PATENT BOX: NOT AN INNOVATIVE IDEA

Q: Who could believe that that a 20-year-old idea with a record of failure overseas, and which has been opposed by Australia’s Chief Economist, holds the key to economic recovery?

A: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who in his Budget speech announced the introduction of a patent box – a reduced rate of tax on the income companies earn from patents.

According to the Treasurer, the patent box will create incentives for manufacturers to invest in R&D, even though it is applied at the end of the innovation process, not at the outset.

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BASIC RESEARCH IS WHERE APPLIED RESEARCH SUCCESS STARTS

Everything old is new again, at least in the Morrison Government’s attitude to research funding.

Last week the Education Minister, Alan Tudge, gave a speech in which he declared that the Government wanted “academics to become entrepreneurs, taking their ideas from the lab to the market. We want them to be properly rewarded for their breakthroughs and their engagement with business …”

The minister’s remarks spruiked a $5.8 million scoping study for a University Research Commercialisation Scheme, which is expected to be announced in the Budget in May.

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Don’t let democracy die

It may sound too obvious to need stating, but in this time of crisis some of Australia’s leaders are ignoring it: without Parliament, parliamentary democracy cannot function.

It is Parliament that scrutinises and evaluates the actions of the executive government, holding the Government to account and protecting the liberties of citizens.

That is why the Senate’s Scrutiny of Delegated Legislation committee, which reviews all laws made by regulation – i.e. by action of the executive government – has resolved to continue its work during this time when sittings of Parliament may be suspended for an extended period of time.

Throughout the history of the Commonwealth – until now – Parliament continued to sit, no matter what crisis confronted the nation, whether war, natural disaster or social and economic calamity.

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NO FUTURE IN TALKING DOWN TO THOSE WHO LACK A VOICE

The findings of Labor's inquiry into its federal election defeat will be handed to the ALP National Executive tomorrow, but we already know several things that help explain the result and the challenges ahead for the party.

Those challenges run much deeper than the explanations favoured by commentators who attribute Labor's loss to supposedly unpopular tax policies or the failings of individuals.

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An Academic Iron Curtain?

The Balkanisation of international research is not in Australia’s interest, argues Kim Carr

In these times of heightened anxiety about China’s global influence, Australia’s scientists and researchers all too often endure the smear that they are collaborating with a foreign power. The accusation, made by hawks within the defence and security establishments, conflates several things that are not the same: concern at the activity of international students on Australian campuses; the need to uphold quality assurance standards in higher education institutions; the need to protect our cybersecurity; and the importance of genuine international research collaboration. The hawks – and those in the media who uncritically report their remarks – ought to know that these are all different things. 

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