Today the Abbott Government has announced the sixth research review in two years.

This government is long on reviews but short on answers or action.

The announcement is riddled with clichés and raises a number of questions:

  • Where is the industry representation on this review?

  • Where is the evidence of the problem that this review is supposed to address?

  • What is the relationship between university research funding and private sector R&D?

  • What role has the Chief Scientist, among other experts, had in devising the review’s terms of reference?

It is disappointing that neither the terms of reference nor the Minister’s announcement mentions the importance of basic research as the foundation of the generation of new knowledge.

The balance between basic and applied research has been lost.

Without new knowledge there can be no ideas to translate into broader economic, commercial or social returns.

It is equally disappointing that there is no whole-of-government focus, no discernible input from industry, and no interaction with science and innovation policy.

Nor does the Minister’s announcement mention adequate funding.

As the sixth review into research policy, it will need to tie into the work of five other reviews:

  • Boosting Commercial Returns from Research;

  • Research Infrastructure review;

  • Review of the Cooperative Research Centre;

  • Commonwealth National Science Priorities; and  

  • Review of Australia’s Research Training system.

There is a very real risk that the incoherence at the heart of this government’s higher education agenda, as epitomised by its unfair and unnecessary campaign of $100,000 degrees and university deregulation, has now infected research policy.

The Liberals have already ripped hundreds of millions of dollars from university research, while Christopher Pyne’s most substantial intervention has been to hold research infrastructure, jobs and mid-career research fellowships hostage to his plan to Americanise our universities.

I hope that the ad hoc expert committee announced today will be capable not only of finding a way through the incoherence in university policy, but also faithfully representing the diverse range of views within the research sector.

Research is a vital enterprise upon which our national prosperity rests.

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