Research scores in election countdown

Research scores in election countdown

15th February, 2013

  • Andrew Trounson and John Ross
  • February 15, 2013 12:00AM

Greens MP Adam Bandt is seeking to make protecting research a political issue.  Source: The Australian

RESEARCH has scored a win in the countdown to the election after parliament yesterday backed a Greens call to insulate science and medical research from funding cuts.

Greens MP Adam Bandt, whose seat of Melbourne is home to many research institutes, said that given the support for his motion the Greens may consider legislation to enforce it.

The motion, brought by Mr Bandt and seconded by the Liberal Party’s Kelly O’Dwyer, was passed on “voices” yesterday with the lack of opposition signalling no need for a vote. Tabled in October last year, it is effectively a rebuke to Mr Swan’s $500 million delay to promised research funding in last year mid year economic statement.

But Science and research minister Chris Bowen criticised the motion for not recognising the Government’s commitment to research, noting that last year the government had maintained grant levels for both the Australian Research Council and National Health and Medical Research Council.

“We have maintained a record level of investment in science and research despite global economic challenges,” a spokeswoman said.

Only last week the government announced $47 million in funding over eight years to continue the work of the bushfire Cooperative Research Centre.

Mr Bandt said his motion was more than symbolic because it demonstrated that the government would struggle to pass any bill to cut research funding.

He didn’t rule out further action, including legislation to quarantine research funding. But he said the “first and best option” would be for the government to comply with the motion.

At a time when both major parties have flagged a tight fiscal environment, the move will put pressure on them to be seen to be protecting science research in the lead-up to the September election.

The Coalition has promised not to cut medical research funding. But in a broad policy document released earlier this month it said it would “review and restructure” research funding to ensure money was spent efficiently.

Universities Australia welcomed parliament’s endorsement of the motion, but is concerned that other research such as in the humanities and social sciences wasn’t explicitly included. Chief executive Belinda Robinson said opposition leader Tony Abbott’s promise to maintain medical research funding was welcome but still posed the question of whether other research could become “fair game.”

“This motion is strongly supported by UA and we will be calling on both sides to support a sustainable funding model for research,” she said, adding that funding levels for the ARC and NHMRC should at least be maintained.

The Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes welcomed what it said was bipartisan support for medical research given the government had so far insulated medical research from cuts and Mr Abbott had committed to continue to do so. In early 2011 Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to rule out cuts to medical research funding after rumours of cuts sparked demonstrations by researchers.

“It is symbolic, but the motion was passed and we think that will bring some pressure to bear on any consideration that medical research funding might be on the chopping block,” AAMRI president Brendan Crabb said.

Professor Crabb said the government deserved “considerable credit” for maintaining medical research, but urged it to demonstrate that the commitment was ongoing. He said “stronger words” from government would remove any lingering uncertainty for the sector.

Bob Williamson, head of policy with the Australian Academy of Science, said Australia’s future depended upon strong scientific research. “This issue should unite every member of parliament, whatever their political views,” he said.

But Mr Bandt said that as his motion had originally been tabled last October, it obliged the government to wind back the $500m delay to research funding announced that month.

“The government has just seen science and research as a honey pot they can keep coming back to every time they need to balance the budget,” he said. “A job in science and research should be worth as much as a job in car manufacturing. Labor’s yet to understand [it] is as essential to our prosperity as other sectors of the economy.”

 

Read the original article from Andrew Trounsan here.