Opinion- 24 December 2007


pdf file-available from Australasian Science



Cathy Foley, President

Australian Institute of Physics

Cathy Foley* Asks: What Does It Mean for Physics to Have a New Labor Government in Australia?

November 24, 2007 saw Australia elect a new government giving Kevin Rudd 3 years to make an impact on Australia. During the election campaign, science did not figure highly on the daily media reports but the Australian Labor Party (ALP) released in April a 10 point plan for science research:


New Directions for innovation, competitiveness and productivity
New Directions paper and a ten point plan for innovation in Australia

Some key highlights are: a Rudd Labor government has committed itself to doubling the amount invested in R&D in Australia "over time". It has listened and plans to act on a major hole in the Australian career path for mid- career researchers with the $175 million Future Fellowships program.

In the New Directions paper there are indeed 10 very clear points articulating the vision for science and technology R&D in Australia but as yet little detail has been released.

The Australian Institute of Physics has some questions we would like to see answered to clarify the government's plans and position:


  1. What are the plans for post 2010 when currently funded major research programs such as Centres of Excellence, Backing Australia's Ability and Federation Fellowships, come to an end?

  2. What are your plans for the RQF? The plan to abolish it with a streamlined transparent, internationally verifiable system appropriate to each discipline sounds good. Details are always the difficult bit. Who do you plan to consult with as suggested in your press release of 15/11/07?

  3. How does the Rudd Labor Government plan to address the lost productivity due to the huge cost (about $70M per year) of the preparation and reviewing of the ~80% unsuccessful applications because only 20% or so of ARC projects are funded?1

  4. How is the Rudd Labor Government planning to capitalize on the 2007 Productivity Commission's report on publicly funded research which found that there were significant returns on every research dollar spent?

  5. Will there be a second National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) round for the next 3 capability areas as outlined in the former Howard Coalition Government's investment plan?2 If not, how does the Rudd Labor Government plan to invest in scientific research infrastructure?

  6. What is the future of the Cooperate Research Centres) CRC program?

  7. Are there plans to revisit the Australian National Research Priorities?

  8. What are the plans to address the short fall in science and engineering trained Australians which is responsible for the serious skill shortage as revealed by the Department of Education, Science and Training's (DEST) Audit of Science, Engineering and Technology Skill?3 What incentives are planned to encourage young Australians to undertake majors in science and engineering?

  9. What are the plans to address the science and maths high school teacher shortage? How can we raise the status of teaching as a profession and give greater recognition to the important role of our teachers in the future of Australia?

  10. How can we upgrade the science laboratories in public schools to make them safe and engaging in order to attract students to undertake science in their final years at high school?

  11. Australia wants to position itself as a smart country with the best R&D. How can we prevent the erosion of the S&T bases when the student to staff ratio at Australian universities has risen from 13 in 1990 to over 20 in 2005?4

  12. To ensure the health of enabling sciences what are the plans to adequately fund these areas in our universities and government research laboratories?

  13. Will the Rudd government support the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) bid?

  14. How will the separation of education from the science and innovation portfolio work for science and technology?

  15. How does the education revolution apply to university funding?

  16. Now that Australia has signed the Kyoto protocol and committed to limiting its greenhouse gas emissions to 5% below 1990 levels for the period 2008-20125, what processes will be put in place to implement this goal?

* Catherine Foley is President of the Australian Institute of Physics.

1. http://www.arc.gov.au/pdf/ARC07_summaryoutcomes.pdf

2. http://www.ncris.dest.gov.au/capabilities/

3. http://www.dest.gov.au/NR/rdonlyres/AFD7055F-ED87-47CB-82DD-3BED108CBB7C/13065/SETSAsummaryreport.pdf

4. http://www.universitiesaustralia.edu.au/documents/publications/stats/Student-teacher-ratio-1990-2007.pdf

5. http://www.aph.gov.au/library/intguide/SCI/kyoto.htm