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Labor's better plan for science.



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Kim Beazley - Labor's Better Plan For Science http://www.alp.org.au//media/1001/kbmssci311001.html Thursday, 01 November 2001

ALP News Statements

Labor's Better Plan For Science Kim Beazley - Leader of the Opposition

Media Statement - 31 October 2001

Science, technology and engineering can improve the quality of life and well being of all Australians. Labor stands for revitalising and strengthening Australia's science, technology and engineering base and recognises it as a fundamental cornerstone of our economic and social growth.

Only Labor, through the development of the visionary Knowledge Nation agenda, understands that fundamental changes have occurred in the global economy and in Australian society and that:

science, technology and engineering are key economic drivers, fundamental to advancing Australia as a Knowledge Nation, which is prosperous and supports a high standard of living throughout the community;

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there is a clear link between national investment in science, technology, and research, and long-term economic growth; ●

Australia needs to position itself so that it can be competitive in the global knowledge economy; ● knowledge has become a valuable commodity in itself and the growth of knowledge intensive industries provides increasing levels of high skill, high wage employment; ●

many of the jobs in knowledge intensive, clean industries we would want for the next generation will only exist in this country if the basic investment in scientific research and education takes place over the next five to ten years; and

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public and private sector investment in research and development will translate into economic growth and jobs for the next generation of Australians as well as providing immediate improvements to our quality of life.

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While Labor's policies are about achieving this end, our social policies will take account of the significant impact of technological change on people and communities. Labor recognises that public support is vital for sustainable scientific advancement.

While the traditional industries of agriculture, mining and basic manufacturing, - whose success depends heavily on the knowledge base which supports them - will always make a substantial contribution to our

economic base, significant improvements to our relative standard of living will only be achieved by our ability to innovate and add value through science, technology and engineering.

Australia must therefore capture a reasonable proportion of the intellectual property in those sectors in which we have a comparative advantage.

Labor understands that innovation is the force that drives the positive cycle of research, investment, job creation and the formation of new wealth to fund further research. Private sector firms depend on an appropriate level of public investment in basic research to provide the pool of qualified people and ideas which underpin that innovation.

This requires a commitment from government to adequate funding for basic research, the infrastructure which supports it in universities and the resourcing of research grant funding bodies to ensure that opportunities are available for young people to advance their science based research careers. Science, technology and engineering allow us to tap our greatest inexhaustible resource - the knowledge, creativity and skilsl of the Australian people - to build a secure economic and social base for the 21st Century.

Labor is committed to a Knowledge Nation path. This visionary path will give us the options to confidently meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world, where economic security will come through the ability to generate, transform and apply intellectual property.

Labor's Key Knowledge Nation Science Policies

Major Boost for CSIRO's Basic Research

Labor will provide $125 million as a major boost to the national basic research effort by establishing a research grant fund specifically for CSIRO to ensure our premier public sector science agency is able to support the exciting new ideas of its scientists with appropriate funding.

CSIRO is a unique research institution whose origins go back to the establishment of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in 1926. It is one of the world's largest and most diverse scientific research organisations. In strategic research, it has a unique role and capability - it is our primary national organisation mandated for this purpose.

It is of grave concern that the Howard Government has cut funding in real terms for CSIRO and the lack of discretionary funding is stifling leading edge research.

The direct pressure the Government has put on CSIRO through the Budget process has left it with no alternative but to reduce costs by reducing staffing levels. The loss of approximately 1,100 staff since the Howard Government took office is a severe blow to the ability of CSIRO to deliver the innovation which Australian industry needs to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

The establishment of a grant fund to support basic research projects within CSIRO will boost our fundamental research capability and further underpin the science, engineering and technology base of our national innovation system. It will remove the straight-jacket that now limits the scope of CSIRO research and create the foundation for new industries and job opportunities in the years to come.

A National focus for Mathematical Sciences

Labor will provide $8 million to establish a National Institute for Mathematical Sciences.

A review of advanced mathematical sciences in Australia by the National Committee for Mathematics & Mathematical Sciences in 1996, and a study by the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS) in 2000, both found that the mathematical sciences in Australia are in very serious decline.

Labor believes that the mathematical sciences need a national focus and a structure that enables multiple centres of excellence to coordinate and collaborate, not compete. A National Institute for Mathematical Sciences would have three key functions, industrial and applied mathematics, mathematics education, and support for research including short courses. The exact form of the Institute will be determined in consultation with professional mathematicians.

Full time position of Chief Scientist

Labor will create a full-time position of Chief Scientist.

One of the first actions of the Howard Government was to downgrade the position from full-time to part-time. This reflects more than anything the lack of commitment of the Howard Government to science. The creation of a full-time position will enhance the ability of the Chief Scientist to focus and coordinate national science policy in accordance with the framework established by the Minister and the Government.

It will provide opportunity for greater interaction with organisations such as the Academy of Science, the Academy of Technological Sciences, the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (FASTS), CSIRO, Research Institutes, Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) and Universities.

Knowledge Nation Committee of the Parliament

Labor will establish a Knowledge Nation Committee of the Parliament to focus on the economic benefits of science and technology as well as social, ethical and legal issues. Ethical and social considerations are of primary importance in the shift to a knowledge economy. Labor's social policy objectives will take into account the significant impact of technological change on people and communities and recognise the imperative that public support is a vital component of sustainable scientific advancement.

Given the rapid pace of change that is involved, and the opaque nature of many technical developments, Australians can only retain confidence in science and the people promoting science if the political system leads the ethical, legal and moral debate, which must accompany many of these developments.

Much of the science and technology that forms the basis of the knowledge economy also raises serious ethical issues for many people. Biotechnology and the debate that surrounds genetic engineering, cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells is just the first example of what will be a flood of ethical and privacy concerns. The privacy concerns surrounding the decoding of the human genome are also substantial.

Parliament must be at the forefront of these debates to ensure that Australians are well informed about the fundamental issues. Many of these issues will require international agreements and Australia must demonstrate our credentials by taking a leading role in developing relevant domestic law to control the

flow of personal information, to protect privacy and to ensure that scientific developments do not proceed too far ahead of public opinion.

Government must also acknowledge its role as a leading edge consumer of technology and its obligation to ensure the public debate is relevant and well informed by accurate scientific information. A Knowledge Nation Committee of the Parliament will focus public attention on these social and legal issues as well as the economic and health benefits of these new innovations in science and technology.

Costing

  2001-02 2002-03 2003-04 2004-05 Total

CSIRO - Basic Research Fund 15.0 30.0 30.0 50.0 125.0

Institute for Mathematical Sciences 2.0 2.0 2.0 2.0 8.0

Full-time Chief Scientist 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.1 0.4

Knowledge Nation Committee of Parliament 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

TOTAL 17.1 32.1 32.1 52.1 133.4

Authorised by Geoff Walsh, 19 National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600.