Young at Heart: Science has been cast aside

CATRIONA Jackson, the CEO of Science and Technology Australia, said recently that, “Science and technology is central to everything government does, from industry to health, to creating the sort of jobs that are key to ensuring a prosperous future for the country. It seems inconceivable that we do not have a Cabinet Minister who is responsible for the sciences.” 

When our minerals are gone, what will we trade? We must become a clever country using brain, not brawn, to be successful in maintaining our comfortable lives.

That requires our scientists and engineers, the technology buffs in our society to be encouraged, financially rewarded and valued in our society. These people don’t earn million dollar salary packages. In fact the scientists I know earn far less than many non-graduates. When it comes to innovation, creativity and a high level of intelligence, it will not be your AFL footballer or super-fit tennis player who will help save this country, despite the millions they might earn. It will be the back-room boys in the fields of science and technology who will rescue us from turning into a Third World country.

First and foremost, this highly trained and well qualified group of people needs to have a Minister of Science who will represent them in government. For the first time since a Minister for Science was appointed in 1931, we no longer have one representing science and technology.  

What are we to do when our own government leaders are in denial over the importance of scientific and technological research to Australia and the world?

The CSIRO is arguably our country’s foremost research institute. It is to lose 700 jobs in the coming year, on top of 477 lost last year. This is the result of government cuts in funding... and we call ourselves the ‘‘clever’’ country? Some of the research areas that will have staff cut are neuroscience, colorectal cancer, liquid fuels, renewable energy, carbon capture and storage, information technology and manufacturing research (The Age, 2014).

We are now up against fast-growing competitors – China and India – and we cannot run on ideology and political slogans alone. We need to use the brains we have.

Science, technology and the emerging technologies will be vital to our economy in the coming years. After all, Australia developed the solar cell, bionic ear and now the bionic eye. In Bendigo we have some clever original technologies designed by scientists and engineers within our own community. Keech Castings and the Australian Turntable Company are two prime examples of highly innovative companies designing cutting-edge new technologies. This is where jobs for the next generation will develop.

These industries will be so important for the future but we are not investing in them. The implicit message from the government is that science and research are not seen as a high priority. Innovation is a powerful economic driver and is underpinned by scientific research. Investment will follow if investors see a government that has a vision for the future which includes science and technology as one of its core businesses.

At present there is no vision for the future which will drive innovation and give Australians a central vision, a broader future on which to build Australia’s prosperity.

Australians are not stupid. The three most highly trusted people in Australia in 2013 were medico/scientists – Charlie Teo, neurosurgeon; Fiona Woods, burns specialist; and Ian Frazer, immunologist and cancer vaccine researcher.

And still the government thinks scientists don’t rate highly enough to have their own representative in Cabinet.

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