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Dismantling the juggernaut:science and technology beyond the corporate state

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Speech by Dr David Kemp MR, Shadow Minister for Education

Annual General Meeting,

Federation of Scientific and Technological Societies

Canberra, 15 November 1991



Thank you for the honour of addressing this annual general meeting of FASTS.

Let me open my remarks with the admission that I share your concern about the plight of science and technology in Australia today. You, who work and teach in the field, are clearly not an in-group with the Labor Government. You are not among the mates who are showered with access and privilege.

It is these "mates" of the Labor Government who have the pull, the influence, the clout in modern day Australia.

This collection of powerful organised interest groups who are recognised as Labor's "mates" has been correctly identified by your executive director, Dr Widdup, as a bureaucratic juggernaut.

Quite simply, as Dr Widdup has written, if you are not part of it you will be crushed by it. The alternative is to dismantle the monster.

This juggernaut is known to political scientists as the corporate state, and it is by no means an attractive entity.

In fact, the greatest threat we have in Australia is the creeping insidiousness of this corporate state which, under Labor, has elevated organised interest groups to a powerful position with direct access to the political decision-making process.

It is explained, of course, as "participation" and "consultation", but in effect it is a gigantic conspiracy against the individual, further eroding his or her rights in making the individual clearly subordinate to organised interests. Political power, in such an arrangement, vests not with individuals as voters, but with the privileged representatives of various organisations.

There is a deceptive attraction, especially to social engineers, in the notion of the corporate state which sees society as an organisation with collective goals to be pursued by its managers. Inherent in this view is the concept of determining how various interest groups should fit in with the "common purposes" of society.

In theory, it facilitates swift and enforceable decision-making which avoids the protracted and "untidy" process of parliamentary democracy. In practice, it serves to entrench privilege, promote inefficiency, erode personal liberty and stifle economic growth.

Those who cling to the Tweedledum and Tweedledee notion about the two main political forces in Australia (that is, that they basically stand for the same thing and there is really little difference between them) fail to see the fallacy of their belief. Labor is not only the captive of interest groups, it is the very creature of interest

groups (i.e., the trade unions and their fellow travellers) while the Liberals explicitly reject the idea of privilege for any interest groups.

The whole notion rests on the profoundly fallacious idea that the national interest


is precisely the sum of the interests of trade unionists, farmers, employers, small business and so on. It is producer-oriented to the extent that it ignores entirely the fact that everyone is also a consumer. It is a system that seeks to obliterate the individual as a component of "the system".

This system also threatens to obliterate not just individuals, but also professional associations such as FASTS which are clearly not of the inner circle.

It is a sad fact of life for Australia that this rigid thinking has permeated not only many areas of social and economic life in Australia, but also the areas of higher education and its pinnacle, .scientific research.

It is not an exaggeration to say that a state of crisis exists at the pinnacle of higher education. Australia's scientific research expertise is acknowledged as equal to the world's best, but the Australian Academy of Science — not a body to make rash judgements — warned in July that much of what we rightly value highly is in dire peril.

Governments by their nature are notoriously slow in responding to events. The Academy, in its discussion paper Australian Science: Decline and Fall? noted the long maturation period of qualified scientists and warned:

...there is a strong risk that the scientific population will be close to extinction level before the government acknowledges the importance and severity of the...problem.

In other words, our best scientific resource is an acutely endangered species.

Poor working conditions, upheaval in the higher education institutions by such things as forced amalgamations, greater bureaucratic and political interference in the universities and declining real salaries have forced many of our best researchers


And we are not doing anywhere near enough to find qualified replacements at home. The Blandy Report into the academic labour market noted the looming shortfall of academics of around 18,000 by the end of this decade. In the cutting edge of scientific research involving science, mathematics and computing alone, Australian universities will need a minimum of 6,800 new academics.

In the words of the Academy of Science: "Thus, the general image is of declining standards, inadequate numbers and the danger of an irreversible dissipation of our scientific base."

In a comparison known as the Relative European Funding Index in which Australian research funding is compared to a norm in Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, we find Australia lagging badly in physical sciences and


engineering and moderately lagging in maths and computer science — indicative that these are low priority areas. The disturbing feature in this is that the physical sciences category includes the comparatively well-funded areas of astronomy and space science.

Where we are ahead is in the environmental sciences and social science and psychology — but it should be noted that environmental science includes atmospheric physics, earth sciences and oceanography.

The conclusion of the Academy of Science is this:

"Currently we are inadequately funding the academic research base. This is not the path to the clever country: it is the road to the Banana Republic."

By way of international comparison — ultimately the only meaningful measure — we are falling behind and falling fast.

The Australian Council for Educational Research found that according to international testing criteria Australian science students were performing in 1990 just as well as they had in 1970. But much of the world had moved on and those countries now ranking behind Australia are largely developing countries. In other

words, while we held our own at home, much of the world passed us by in the vital arena of international competition.

That's at the school level — but similar developments are reflected further up the ladder.

The rundown in our academic institutions has resulted, as I've already mentioned, in a serious brain drain, a fact that must be addressed if we are serious about becoming clever. The research area, vital for Australia's economic survival, has suffered badly from this. It has also suffered from a series of ad hoc research policies, a bit by bit, piecemeal approach to something that should be accorded high national priority.

The Australian Science and Technology Council, in its 1990 report Setting Directions for Australian Research, pointed to the prevailing short-term perspective for decision-making in Australia in contrast to other countries which set their broad guidelines for periods which vary from three to five years, with an additional "distant perspective."

The Japanese, for example, undertake very long-term studies with a 30-year perspective which feed into their medium- and short-term considerations.

Technological innovation is taking place at a rapidly accelerating rate and we need a highly skilled and flexible workforce to take advantage of new technology. This is an area of vital and immediate concern to all Australians, but particularly to business and those involved in making decisions about education.


Let me make this quite clear: we see education, science and technology as being inextricably linked to Australia's prospects of being restored to international economic prominence. We will support this, not by imposing government controls, but by relaxing them and allowing excellence to flourish without Big Brother casting his unwelcome shadow over areas which are best left in control of those who work there.

Although the Commonwealth has only limited powers in relation to the nation's schools, the Coalition on entering government is pledged to set in train a number of reforms aimed at revitalising schooling, and raising both the status and the quality of teaching.

We fully recognise the importance of professional development for teachers. There is a particular call for professional programs in areas where significant changes have occurred, such as technology, mathematics and science teaching.

Professor Michael Porter in his influential book, The Competitive Advantage of Nations, notes that national competitive advantage is present in countries whose education and training systems have a number of distinct characteristics:

* High education standards;

* A strong emphasis upon vocational preparation for youth;

* National respect for teaching as a profession;

* High quality alternatives to universities;

* Close links between education institutions and employers; and

* Heavy investment by firms in on-the-job training,

Sad to say, we do not measure up to these criteria.

The 1991 World Competitiveness Report compiled by the International Institute for Management, Development and the World Economic Forum, ranked Australia 16th out of 23 industrialised nations in terms of the attractiveness of its competitive environment for investment and aggressiveness of its enterprises in world competition.

As Australia was ranked 13th in 1990 and 10th in 1989, the trend is clearly downward.

Quite clearly, this along with other indicators point to a problem of attitude and direction that is not being addressed.

Again, if I may quote Professor Michael Porter:


The overarching principle in addressing science and technology should be to create an innovation policy and not just a science and technology policy. Science and technology cannot be decoupled from its commercial application in seeking to enhance national advantage.

Australia needs to bring about a fundamental change in its commercial structure, attitudes and performance in order to restore economic viability.

The entire thrust of all aspects of economic reform must centre on the need to become internationally competitive — and this is a central feature of the entire program of reform being proposed by the Liberal and National Parties.

A key element, therefore, in the Coalition's approach to science and technology is to create an economic and political environment in which Australian industry can become more competitive through innovation and efficiency.

The goal of the Coalition's policy is to ensure that the best use is made of science and technology in achieving the national goals of improved quality of life for all Australians, continued economic growth and national security.

Australia possesses no shortage of innovative ideas which can improve industry performance, build new markets or add value to commodity exports.

However, the persistent failure of the economy to create wealth from its own scientific and technological resources is largely the result of cost structures which impede industry development and restrict the availability of venture capital support, and bureaucratic restrictions which stifle innovation.

The object of the Coalition's Industry and Economic policies is to achieve international levels of performance across all Australian industries and to develop a stronger capacity to translate knowledge into technology with industry


A commitment - by both the public and private sectors - to Australia's scientific and technological research effort is critical if the nation is to address such vital and immediate concerns as the competitiveness of the domestic economy and the present and future state of the environment.

Generally, the Australian community possesses the creative and intellectual resources necessary to seize leadership in many areas of scientific and technological activity and apply these to a range of economic and social concerns.

Research and development and new technology will play a greater role in the phasing out of old industries, the strengthening of growth of existing efficient industries, and the generation of new ones.

Australia's deservedly high reputation as a nation with scientific expertise has been


won in an environment if not hostile then at least apathetic. This was observed five years ago by the OECD in its Reviews of National Science and Technology Policy: Australia and I quote:

We were struck by what seemed to be a widespread Australian view of technology as in some sense external to national life...The somewhat remote Australian attitude to technology seemed to us to lead to a consistent undervaluation...of national technological achievements and possibilities.

Australia, in marked contrast to other OECD nations, has not developed an innovative culture within which scientific developments and technological applications are readily turned to as vehicles for ongoing change.

This has had a number of unfortunate consequences:

• The scientific and technological community, because it has been unable to establish large scale support from and significant, long-term interaction with the private sector has become heavily dependent upon public resources to sustain its momentum.

• The education sector as a whole is increasingly incapable of providing the resources or generating the course structures essential to sustaining the supply of talented graduates and post-graduates into the Sciences.

• Because of the dependency on public funds alone and the consequences of centralist Education and labour market policies, career paths, job mobility, research opportunities, research and laboratory conditions and levels of remuneration for scientists and engineers has come to compare poorly with that of other professions or with their counterparts overseas.

• Because of the above, the talents of a generation of gifted young Australians has been lost to the nation's scientific and technological research community.

Given the scope of these interrelated problems, the task for the Coalition Parties is to create an innovative culture in Australia.

In order to develop an innovative culture in Australia, the Liberal and National Parties' will pursue a series of main policy objectives which can be characterised thus:

• To create incentives for the widespread use of technology within Australia in accordance with best practice so that businesses and other can become more efficient and effective through the use of technology to meet their needs.

• To stimulate the provision of education and training to meet the needs of


technology users and suppliers for suitably skilled manpower.

• To improve the efficient functioning of the Science and Technology market and to encourage its development by liberalising the technology market along with other markets, supporting the development of international standards, and promoting open markets internationally .

• To support basic research in Higher Education institutions, and to provide further incentives for links between these institutions and industry to promote interaction and the corroboration of research results.

• And to make the fullest possible cost-effective use of technology within government to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of public administration, and to achieve the business objectives of each government department.

A key element in the strategy for science and technology outlined here is the commitment that the government contribution to research, development, education and training should be responsive to the success of the various sectors and industries in meeting the challenge of international competition.

This responsiveness can result not from political decisions to favour one industry or one sector over another with special programs or benefits, but from building into the organisational and funding arrangements for research, development, education and

training incentives and opportunities to recognise market success.

This strategy is designed to protect the autonomy of managers and scientists, scholars and teachers, while encouraging relations which will be to the mutual advantage of industry on the one hand, and research and education on the other.

There has been concern expressed that the Coalition, with its repeated emphasis on market forces, is proposing when in government to opt out, to embrace a laissez- faire approach. Let me nail this one here and now. We are not. We recognise that there are public goods that markets cannot adequately provide, and education is prominent among them. So, too, is basic research and I can affirm our unwavering

support for basic research.

It is worth reflecting on that there are really only two roads to go down in terms of allocating resources: the centrally-directed one that exists at the moment or one that is flexible and allows the interplay of market forces to operate.

It is characteristic of those nations which possess significant competitive advantages that educational resources are closely aligned with areas of industrial strength.

Such linkages enable specialised investment by a private sector confident that the educational processes are leading to internationally competitive levels of achievement.



Linkages of this kind, whether they be with regional industries or specific firms, also constitute the vital first steps towards greater long-term private sector interaction with public research and development bodies.

The corporate state experiment in Australia has been disastrous in higher education in eroding the traditional autonomy of institutions, stifling initiative, strangling diversity and laying the foundations for a predictable, grey mediocrity all controlled by predictable, grey bureaucrats in Canberra.

It is a process which we are determined to reverse.

The autonomy to be returned to the tertiary sector under the Coalition's Higher Education Policy will allow universities to build their teaching and research profiles in ways which are more responsive to opportunities for ongoing private sector investment.

Overseas universities have frequently become the focus of high level, specialised, industry-related research efforts which have accrued genuine national advantages.

Such advantages are not simply tangible market returns for investee firms, but also comprise the longer term benefits of exposing students to, and involving them in, state-of-the-art scientific and technological problems within a commercially relevant research environment.

Such processes are critical to breaking down existing barriers between public sector research communities and the private sector.

They are also essential to Australia if it is to position itself to capture more effectively the benefits of the community's investments in research and development activities.

Australia's university sector is a major contributor to the national research effort. It has also established for itself an international reputation for a high level of research skills and significant strengths in a number areas of fundamental research.

The capacity of the universities to maintain this reputation, however, is currently jeopardised.

Under the current uniform arrangements determining the allocation of research resources and the forced amalgamation policies implemented by the Labor Government and growing bureaucratisation and centralisation, the funding base for basic research has been widened to such a point where its future level of

international competitiveness is threatened.

The Coalition contends that the university sector ought to be the focus of the nation's basic science research effort.

In the context of the Coalition's Higher Education policies, the tertiary research and


teaching sector will be removed from centralised administration and bureaucratic interference in its resource allocation decisions.

The flexibility and autonomy granted to universities under the Coalition's Higher Education policies will allow them to develop their own research priorities on the bases of their respective strengths and particular "missions" within the context of professional standards of peer review.

The voluntary establishment of such priorities for research within universities will then serve to consolidate the quality of their basic science research capabilities and preserve its competitiveness.

Where universities wish to exercise their autonomy to seek greater interaction with the private sector in order to develop their own distinctive research profiles they will be free to do so.

Given the commitment to the autonomy of the tertiary sector, the Coalition will not seek to predetermine the research directions within the universities.

The funding of the basic research effort, instead, should secure independence to institutions in determining their own distinctive research profiles subject to the processes of external peer review.

Universities will be encouraged to pursue the commercial implications of research findings or market the body of expertise they establish in the process of conducting their research.

Under Coalition policies, grants allocations by the Australian Research Council (ARC) will emphasise the structural needs of the research effort in respect of training or organisation of resources, not pre-specified fields or sub-fields of study.

Where specific support under the Coalition's Science and Technology policy is to be provided, it will be so on the basis of the development of broad disciplinary areas which are subject to institutions' own internal priority setting processes.

Generally speaking, The Coalition's policy directions in respect of scientific research and teaching within the tertiary sector, then, will be directed to:

• reconstructing the standing of the core Science disciplines and thereby ensuring the continuity of the relevant research skills;

• allowing universities to pursue more intensive research programs in close cooperation with industry;

• making provision for a competitively-driven research and teaching environment, and; *

• creating an internationally competitive and high quality basic research



The particular contribution of the universities is to the basic and longer-term research effort. There is no sharp dividing line between basic and strategic research, but it is important that the longer-term objectives and character of this research not be sacrificed to policies which place excessive emphasis on short-term gains.

I would like to conclude my remarks with a reference to a significant development in the past week which, I am sure, will stand as a landmark of scientific achievement. I refer to the successful experiment six days ago in Britain in generating energy from controlled nuclear fusion.

Not only has the development heralded the advent of exciting new horizons in the quest for plentiful, cheap and safe energy, it is also a signal lesson in setting research sights on medium to long-term goals and in avoiding the fickle waters of fad and fashion.

Had, for example, the world's scientists heeded the knee-jerk calls for abandonment of nuclear energy in the wake of, first, Three Mile Island, and latterly, Chernobyl, then the prospect of nuclear fusion as a power source would no longer have existed.

It dramatically underscores the need for scientific research to be elevated above the hubbub of day to day politics and distractions.

National goals in science and research are one thing, but political intrusion, with the necessarily short time frame of politics, is invariably self-defeating and corrosively subversive of the scientific process and the quest for knowledge.

No doubt there will be lobbying against efforts to harness this exciting new development, but we must hope that sense will prevail and that scientists will be given the resources necessary to pursue this research which is unlikely to benefit our generation or even our children's, but is one for which a future energy-hungry world will thank our age.

While these exciting scientific developments are happening in a hemisphere far from our own, there are lessons to be learned, especially in regard to the time-frame for research.

We in Australia are not unused to political intrusion into such matters. As the Australian Academy of Science noted in response to the Prime Minister's announcement of the Co-operative Research Centres scheme, it "appears as a

palliative to other government policies which have sapped the strength of the scientific community over the last decade and have severely affected its ability to respond to the call for the Clever Country." Similarly, The Labor Government's absurd stance on uranium mining and the farce over Coronation Hill further highlight the damage of which government is capable.

In all our national endeavours, not just the scientific ones, we should take a leaf