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Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Page: 5196


Senator BILYK (2:52 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Can the minister please inform the Senate of the progress of National Science Week and its contribution to science communication in Australia? What is the scale of the festival and what level of Commonwealth support does it enjoy? How is the Commonwealth funding used and why is the Australian government making science awareness a priority? How does the government’s support for National Science Week relate to its science initiatives and its broader strategy to modernise the Australian economy and achieve better social and environmental outcomes by investing in science?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank the senator for her question. National Science Week is a celebration of the contribution that science makes to the community and the contribution the community makes to science. This year’s festival boasts some 800 events and is expected to attract over one million participants right across the country. The Australian government is proud to be investing $1.2 million in National Science Week this year. That money is being used to support strategic events around the country, the work of state and territory coordinating committees in developing programs and school based activities through the Australian Science Teachers Association. It is essential that we build an awareness and acceptance of science if we want to make Australia more productive and more prosperous. However, I would have thought that in recent days, given the debate I have heard in this chamber, there was a complete antipathy to the principles of scientific inquiry on the other side. We will need a scientifically literate citizenry who can make informed decisions about scientific questions and make effective use of technologies and scientific outputs, a citizenry who are ready to support scientific endeavour. It is a pity we could not get the Liberal Party to be more engaged on these questions.

The Australian government demonstrated its support for science in the May budget, which included $1.1 billion for a new Super Science initiative and an extra $703 million for university research, much of which will support work in scientific disciplines. The Super Science initiative will concentrate on Australia’s strength in space science and astronomy and in marine and climate science.

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! I remind senators that exchanges across the chamber are disorderly. It makes it very difficult to hear the answer being given.


Senator BILYK —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate what other measures the government is taking to increase community awareness of science, including through the Super Science initiative? How does Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, fit into the government’s science communication strategy? What initiatives has the government taken to raise awareness of specific branches of science including space science and astronomy and marine and climate science? What further action is the government taking in the field of science education?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Science has enormous power to improve our lives. It is unfortunate that those opposite are such deniers of the importance of science but it is, of course, a fact that the government recognises—

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Exchanges across the chamber are disorderly, as I have already pointed out. Senator Carr, address your comments to the chair.


Senator CARR —It is an unfortunate fact that we have heard in recent days a denial of scientific principles in the allegations made by those opposite about the issues of climate change. There is a fundamentalist objection to the principles of science. This government has sought an inquiry based approach to the teaching of science and renewable energy in years 9 and 10 in schools. We have heard nothing in terms of support from the other side. The Super Science initiatives that we have proposed include an extra $11.3 million for Questacon, new support for space education and marine and climate science components. (Time expired)


Senator BILYK —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate the significance of space science and astronomy to National Science Week and what the government is doing to develop Australia’s capability in these fields, both within the Super Science initiative and more broadly? In particular, what steps has the government taken to secure Australian participation in the international collaborations that now drive the development of major infrastructure for optical and radioastronomy? What are the practical benefits of space science and astronomy and what is the government’s commitment to maximise—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Bilyk, cease! I will call you when there is quiet in the chamber. I cannot hear the question. I am entitled to hear the question, as is the minister. Senator Bilyk, continue the question.


Senator BILYK —What are the practical benefits of space science and astronomy and what is the government’s commitment to maximise these benefits for Australia?


Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —Space is central to this year’s National Science Week. The Super Science Initiative includes $160 million to consolidate Australia’s leadership in this field.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, resume your seat.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, resume.


Senator CARR —In addition to this funding, the government last month allocated $88 million to buy Australia a 10 per cent share in the international giant Magellan telescope. We also continue to prosecute Australia’s case to host the Square Kilometre Array telescope. Space science and astronomy have given us technologies that are used every day, whether to treat diseases or understand climate change.

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Carr, resume your seat. When there is silence, we will proceed. Senator Carr.


Senator CARR —National Science Week’s Hello from Earth! project demonstrates the interest people have in space and how they can use this to promote science across the board. Senator Abetz, these are genuine emails! These are genuine messages, Senator Abetz. To the 19,000 people— (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! There needs to be order.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, can I speak on behalf of all of those of us from outer space and ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.