I recently learned a few things about the desert. You think you know about its vastness, but it is another thing to actually see it. When the sun goes down it’s bloody cold. And on a cloudless night the sky is simply breathtaking.

Science: Australia's conservatives don't have a formula.

Last month I had the privilege of witnessing the re-entry of the Hayabusa spacecraft into the Earth’s atmosphere. Standing on the side of the Stuart Highway about 170 km north of Woomera, I was with a couple of dozen others – government representatives, media and hard-core stargazers – who had made the pilgrimage to witness the finish of the longest return space journey ever.

At precisely 11.23 pm a star appeared, grew brighter, developed a trail and then spectacularly exploded across the sky, lighting up the ground around us. Reminiscent of the final moments in Return of the Jedi, it is a scene I will never forget.

The role Australia played in the Hayabusa journey is the latest chapter in a proud history of space involvement which stretches back to the Apollo Program and beyond. Indeed, at its height in the sixties, Woomera was the globe’s second busiest rocket launch pad behind Cape Canaveral.

Today, the Woomera Test Range is the largest land-based testing facility in the world. If you want to bring a spacecraft back to earth and land it on dry ground, then Woomera is your place. This unique capacity is why the Japanese chose to use the Woomera Test Range as the recovery base for Hayabusa. It is also why Woomera is experiencing a renaissance for defence and space purposes alike.

Despite this history, under the former Coalition Government our involvement in the space industry stagnated. Like its attitude to science and technology in general, space activities did not fit into the Liberal Party’s vision of a cut-price Australia. When the name of the game is cutting wages in pursuit of a low-value economy, why would you bother shooting for the stars? The Liberal Party continues to take a backwards view.

The Gillard Labor Government does understand the value of the Woomera asset, as we do the value of being involved in the space industry. The establishment of an Australian Space Policy Unit is part of a renewed effort by our country to play a role in space activities and, in the process, play a role in the future.

Along with the establishment of the Australian Space Policy Unit and the Australian Space Research Program, the Gillard Labor Government is also committed to great astronomical ventures such as the Australian Astronomical Observatory, the Giant Magellan Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope.

Space and astronomy are one of three areas of national significance which are being funded under the $1.1 billion Super Science Initiative. The others are marine and climate science, and technologies supporting future industries. The idea is to provide a significant boost to our scientific endeavours in areas where we have existing strengths and in areas where it is imperative to our national interest that we be world leaders.

In turn, the Super Science Initiative is just one part of our reinvigoration of Australian science and research. Be it the Education Infrastructure Fund, an increase in CSIRO funding or the National Enabling Technologies Strategy, Australia under the Gillard Labor Government is having a scientific rebirth. Labor has increased Commonwealth spending on research and innovation by 34 per cent since 2007.

The Gillard Government has invested heavily in science because we know its value in moving Australia forward. We know that science and innovation represent the next quantum leap in the productivity of Australia’s economy. We know that Australia is unlikely ever to make low-value goods at the world’s cheapest prices – nor is that the business Australia should be in. The future of our industry is in doing things here that cannot be done elsewhere. The future is in climbing the technological ladder: a ladder that is made of science.

There is no better example of this than our investment in space and astronomy.

By contrast, the Liberal-National Coalition has never had a real interest in science and technology. Under the former Coalition Government, Australian Government support for innovation and research fell by a quarter as a share of GDP. Australian science was left to wither on the vine. Projects that rely on government support, which big science necessarily does, have never sat well with a conservative party hell-bent on cutting services and looking backwards.

Tony Abbott has already said that instead of building a national broadband network to modernise our economy and help regional communities grow, he will down tools.

So a lesser known battleground is now looming in the upcoming election: the commitment to science, technology and innovation. It may not make the front page of the paper but it will be vitally important to the future of our country.

And the frame of this contest is simple. At the next election, a vote for the Gillard Labor Government is a vote for science. It’s a vote to move forward.

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42 comments

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    • With eyes wide open... says:

      05:58am | 19/07/10

      A vote to move forward hahahaha….a vote for Toyota don’t you mean.  Couldn’t even come up with an original campaign slogan.  Under the same period of time the space program stagnated around the world not just under a coalition government. The money was apparently needed down here. That bloody John Howard has done it again.  Our people are living in the streets and you want to shoot us off to the stars. We borrow at 100 million a day now so I wonder how much more we can borrow for flights of fancy. Stop gazing at the stars and have a good look at how much money you waste daily now. There is science and there is science….will you be working on updating the zodiac charts next?

    • Adam Diver says:

      08:11am | 19/07/10

      I agree, I am sure someone from a scientific background would encourage an increase in funding. But you don’t have to worry about paying welfare, infrastructure, lowering taxes, defence, health, education etc etc. Every dollar that is funded for science is taken from another possibly more important area from society.

      But apart from an obvious bias of a lobby group, I do not like the misrepresentation of facts. “Under the former Coalition Government, Australian Government support for innovation and research fell by a quarter as a share of GDP” - One can assume that the dollar amount invested had actually increased under the coalition government, but not at the same rate as GDP. As a scientist you should know better.

    • steve parker says:

      06:51am | 19/07/10

      Sure - everyone with their mortgage, suffering depresion, working 60 hours a week, trying to get to their kids sport, getting support for their aged parents is going to give a stuff.Broadband will be out of date before it is laid out.

      Also, who wrote this “The Gillard Government has invested heavily in science because we know its value in moving Australia forward.” Also,

      It sounds like Labor Party drivel - if I hear that moving forward comment again I’m ging to throw up.

    • Geoff says:

      12:05pm | 19/07/10

      Fair shake of the sauce bottle Steve!, what about the Working Families? Aren’t they entitled to keep moving foreward?

    • Vote out the incumbents says:

      06:37pm | 19/07/10

      Labor cut CSIRO jobs shortly after coming to power.  Thanks!

    • Eric says:

      06:58am | 19/07/10

      The phrase “Gillard Labor Government” or “Gillard government” appears six times in this short article.

      It’s amusing to reflect that, if the election had been called a mere four weeks ago, we’d be reading the same piece with “Rudd Labor Government” in all those spaces.

      I wonder if party members keep pre-prepared press releases with blank spaces for inserting the current prime minister’s name, extolling the virtues of said PM’s brilliant leadership and their loyalty to same?

    • Nigel Catchlove says:

      07:00am | 19/07/10

      A vote for Labor is a vote for a $414 million reduction in funding to the premier scientific research organisation in Australia - the CSIRO.
      A vote for Labor is a vote for 130 redundancies as the organisation sheds part of its workforce to meet the budget cuts. (Bureaucrats face sack as razor cuts Sid Marris From: The Australian March 29, 2008)
      A vote for Labor is a vote to continue the widely reported uncertainty at the organisation that resulted in the reporting of up to 500 staff to be cut as a result of future ALP forced cuts. (CSIRO workers fear 500 jobs will be cut Cathy Alexander The Age May 5, 2010)
      The shortlist of sites for the square kilometer array was determined in 2006, before the Rudd Government came to power, so claiming commitment to the SKA project as a Rudd sorry, Gillard government initiative is a bit rich but not atypical of the ALP’s commitment to rewrite history in a way that suits them.  The commitment to the Giant Magellan Telescope is a Rudd Government initiontive and you should be rightly proud of that but please don’t try to fool us all - it won’t work.
      A vote for the ex-Rudd Government is a vote for the continued economic vandalism that has occured over the past 2 1/2 years.

    • L. says:

      07:25am | 19/07/10

      “So a lesser known battleground is now looming in the upcoming election: the commitment to science, technology and innovation.”

      Yes…and at the forefront is the Internet filter.

      I’ll take my Internet freedom over the NBN any time. Wireless will eventually catch up. Once the Internet filter is put in place by the Gillard Labor gov, we will have it forever.

    • Teddie says:

      08:05am | 19/07/10

      The internet filter is not science; it is not even reason - it is not good innovation.  It is just politics and appeal to a mind-set that ignores other forms of distribution of mateiral.

    • L. says:

      08:41am | 19/07/10

      The Internet filter may not be science in the popular sense…but it most definately is ‘technology’, and will not ‘move Australia forward’ one iota.

    • Rob r Charteris says:

      09:10am | 19/07/10

      Julia Gillard was the one to put the internet filter on the back burner, it won’t see the light of day. It was Rudd’s idea to capture ideological conservative vote

    • L. says:

      09:23am | 19/07/10

      “Julia Gillard was the one to put the internet filter on the back burner..”

      Rubbish. She has simply removed it as an election issue. If she was serious about the filter ‘not seeing the light of day’ as you say, she would pubicly dump it altogether.

    • Rob r Charteris says:

      12:47pm | 19/07/10

      L. says:09:23am; Actually… it’s going to be reassessed via a committee then it will be dumped ;  ) if your still worried write to your local member and voice your concerns, that’s what they’re there for

    • L. says:

      01:09pm | 19/07/10

      “Actually… it’s going to be reassessed via a committee then it will be dumped”

      No…you don’t know that. If it were to be dumped, then simply dump it. But the ALP won’t…why is that? Because it’s party policy, thats why, and has been since the Beazley yrs….Oh, that and because the ALP have done their deals with the ACL / Family First etc.

    • Teddie says:

      07:46am | 19/07/10

      While science is not the be-all, support for science and it’s approaches in various fields - and understanding their nuances - is far better than non-science.

    • James D says:

      08:18am | 19/07/10

      Labor has my vote, with or without the science added. Tony Abbott is a self confessed liar, and I do not believe him for one moment that he will not slowly bring back work choices, once he is elected he will simply change his mind as he has done over many many issues in the past.

    • Tails says:

      10:23am | 19/07/10

      HAHAHAHAHAHA…ah, you’re priceless. My favourite bit was when you said “he will change his mind as he has done over many many issues in the past.” as if that’s unique. Briliant. Rolled gold comedy.

    • Rob r Charteris says:

      08:21am | 19/07/10

      On’ya Richard for pointing out the ALP support for the Australian Space Research Program. I’m sure if the conservatives were in control we would be heading back to the stone age. Abbott would prefer for us to be back as hunter gatherers, easier for him to control and it wont go against his theory of imaginary friends.

    • Andrew says:

      08:35am | 19/07/10

      Mr Marles is clearly a Labor voter. Fair enough. That does not however give him the right to abuse and misrepresent statistics in order to make his case. If he did this in the lab, published the results and got caught out he would be kicked out - and rightly so.
      There is a long standing myth that Labor gives more support to science, health, social welfare, education etc.  The statistics show otherwise but they can always be manipulated. Remember, “There are lies, damned lies and (political) statistics

    • Rob says:

      11:31am | 19/07/10

      “Mr Marles is clearly a Labor voter”

      Actually, he is an ALP Federal member of parliament. Abusing and mis-representing statistics is part of the job description.

    • the apologist says:

      08:42am | 19/07/10

      One of the main reasons that the Liberal party is more ‘hands-off’ in areas like this is because it’s got enough presence of mind to realise that society doesn’t equal government. There are actually other sectors in society that will progress society in these areas without government funding (there’s a foriegn concept for you to think about!). You mention that Australia needs to provide services and expand into areas where it will have a competitive advantage. Rest assured, if there are natural advantages to be had (and more importantly money to be made), there are people astute enough to realise this and progress the nation - it’s called ‘market forces’ and they are much more efficient than where government generally ‘thinks’ progress and investments should be made (good failure example = the Managed Investment Scheme debacle). All this Liberal = backwards, Labour = progress is mere political claptrap.

    • Charles says:

      09:08am | 19/07/10

      Mr Marles is obviously not a person familar with the science world (nor the economic one either apparently), in his haste to pur more money into the science sector.

      Putting aside normal human responses to unearned/undeserved riches, what makes him think that there will be any beneficial outcome from pouring this cornucopia of resources into science?

      The reality is that scientists, like most other sections of society, will waste these resources as eagerly and assiduously as anybody else.  Furthermore, to desciribe the coalitions drop in funding compared to GDP, is to manipulate the numbers to an unfair degree.

      During this period the economy grew at a very rapid rate and GDP took some healthy leaps forward (this was a coaliton government after all).  However, it was not for them to waste that revenue on madcap government schemes, they gave it back to the nation’s taxpayers.

      If the organisation you were working for decided to increase your income by 25% because of the good job you were doing, would you then go home and give the house cleaner a 25% rise?  Because, if you adhere to the principles you are putting forward in your article, that is what you are saying you should do.

      Likewise, science performs a role in the economy that does not make it the main bread-winner or wealth creator, therefore, it is acceptable in a growing GDP that its share will fall relative to the total.

      To do otherwise is to encourage inefficiencies and distortions, much like the ALP have, and so this concept of over-rewarding underachievers should be discarded where possible in order to maintain some equilibrium in society and the economy.

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      10:33am | 19/07/10

      Translation: Liberals want to reward corporate fat cats before rewarding scientists. Note the comparison of scientists to house cleaners and the description of scientists as underachievers. The Liberals don’t like science as it interferes too much with business and religion. Which is why Australian scientists, inventors and innovators go overseas for funding and set up. The history of Australian science and technology is littered with lost opportunities….

    • a.heley says:

      09:28am | 19/07/10

      Written and Authorised by the ALP!

    • Sancho says:

      10:45am | 19/07/10

      Any article regarding science is out of place in a publication that has readers so ignorant they genuinely believe “broadband will be out of date before it is laid out.”

      Yeah, let’s stop building roads and raliways, too, because in a few years we’ll all have jetpacks.

    • Eric says:

      06:08pm | 19/07/10

      Sancho, ever heard of ISDN?

      It was Telstra’s great digital infrastructure project of the eighties. And guess what ...? Out of date before it was laid out.

      Digital technology moves much faster than automotive technology. Or even jet technology.

    • geophysics says:

      10:53am | 19/07/10

      Labor increased spending on research and innovation by 34 per cent since 2007 which is great because the much of this extra funding fills in the infrastructure hole left by a decade of Howard Government neglect. And it is not clear at all that the Opposition see the link between research and productivity growth. So vote Labor I say.

      There is one damning criticism against the rudd/gillard government and that is that science is largely overlooked by the lawyers when it comes to policy decisions and development. Take Population Minister Burke’s announcement last week of advisory panels, a couple of dozen “experts” - none are scientists! - amazing and appalling - how are union officials and business knobs going to assess what sustainable carrying capacities are? The greatest lie of the rudd government was its commitment to “evidence based policy”!

    • thatmosis says:

      10:59am | 19/07/10

      Wow, what a great Party Political Piece and what utter crap. Joolia Gillrudd would say and do anything to stay in power and the fact that she wont own up to her complicity in the failed policies that have cost not only Tax Payers Money but also lives , liveyhoods and homes points to the fact. Her Puppet Masters gave her a good makeover and a bottle of red dye, or is that blood, to cover the grey but they cant hide the past under layers of makeup. This Government has failed the Australian people time and time again and will continue to do so as long as the sheeple keep voting for these losers.

    • Gregg says:

      11:03am | 19/07/10

      What an ALP election blurb!
      In turn, the Super Science Initiative is to now give us a Sientific Super Moving Forward I suppose we’re to believe and all because of the Gillard government three weeks old!
      And with no longer a Building the Education Revolution irresponsibly managed under Gillard’s watch but an Education Infrastructure Fund,
      Tony Abbott has already said that instead of building a national broadband network to modernise our economy and help regional communities grow, he will down tools.
      On Conroys own admission the NBN does not need a business plan, no justification and construction costs so rubbery we’re expected to believe it will modernise our economy!
      And what of all the new technology including use of satellites that could well make cable laying a science of the stone age.
      That article would have to be the greatest sham of election material ever attempted.

    • james french says:

      11:14am | 19/07/10

      Marles should have prefaced his remarks by indicating it was a political ad.
      When will labor stop bending the truth?  We know you are lying.  Oh, moving forward.

    • 6c legs says:

      01:37pm | 19/07/10

      The world has already suffered through ONE George W Bush - it, and science sure doesn’t need another one!!!

      (one who depending on who the radio audience is, changes the script on Work Choices… one minute it’s “dead buried cremated*” the next he’s talking about “tweaks”)

      *how one cremates something once it’s been buried is a mystery to me

    • Curious says:

      02:06pm | 19/07/10

      I didn’t know George W Bush was running for election in Australia.

      What other interesting facts do you have for us?

    • James A says:

      02:25pm | 19/07/10

      A vote for science??  How about the social science of economics the single most important science that a government needs qualifications in?

      ALP grade - F minus.

      Rudd ALP presided over the largest deficit in Australia’s history.

      Rudd/Gillard/Swan the worst economic managers of an Australian economy ever.  Fact.

    • Dave says:

      04:21pm | 19/07/10

      Presiding over the largest deficit in Australia’s history while simultaneously keeping Australia out of recession. If you think that that is an F minus then I’m glad you weren’t my economics teacher.

      The Great Depression demonstrated that the best way that a government can react to a major slowdown in the economy is by lowering interest rates (which stimulates investment and private consumption) and boosting government spending. Since the only reliable way to head off the recession was with a massive stimulus package the government had to go into deficit.

      The other choice was to allow Australia to go on the path predicted by the IMF. Before the stimulus Australia was predicted by the IMF to go into recession and have an unemployment rate of 8.5%. After the stimulus we didn’t enter recession and we currently have an unemployment rate of 5.1%. It was entirely due to the stimulus. Before the stimulus we were predicted to go into recession, after the stimulus we didn’t. That’s something that the Coalition have never been able to answer so instead they focus on the ‘debt and deficit’ side and argue that the best way to handle an economic recession was to cut government spending. Uh what…like they did in the Great Depression?

      Maybe if you’re lucky the world will enter another recessionary period and Julie “wait and see” Bishop will be in power, that way those 700,000 Australians who kept their jobs due the stimulus last time will lose them thanks to the Coalition refusing to act until it’s too late.

      So if you think that Tony “economics bores me” Abbott, Joe “Andrew will answer all your questions” Hockey, and Julie “wait and see/dumped from Treasurer” Bishop will be better handlers of the economy than the people who helped the country avoid a recession that almost every other western economy world wide entered, then go ahead and vote 1 Liberal on election day.

    • L. says:

      05:06pm | 19/07/10

      “Presiding over the largest deficit in Australia’s history while simultaneously keeping Australia out of recession. “

      Dave theres an old saying which I think sums up how bad Rudd and Co were as econimic managers.

      “Anyone can build a bridge that stands up….but it takes an engineer to build a bridge that ‘just’ stands up”.

      What that means is that anyone can build a bridge, but it takes a true expert to do so in the most efficient manner.

      Did Rudd and Co “build a bridge” (see us through the GFC)  in the most efficient manner..?

      Personally, I think not.

    • Press says:

      05:50pm | 19/07/10

      Presiding over the largest GDP in Australia’s history, in fact.  $1.2 trillion.

      You need to keep these really big numbers in perspective.

      At $40 bn, the deficit is just 3% of GDP and nothing special, in proportion now or in historical terms.

      If you want to be honest about big budget $ values, either learn to use proportions or how to make “constant dollar” comparisons.

      Otherwise you’re just spinning.

    • Dr McKay says:

      03:25pm | 19/07/10

      So sad, we used to puch above our weight in science (think the radar we developed to detect the Stealth Bomber, cost a fraction of the Bomber and made it pretty useless.
      WIFI patents have just netted a massive windfall too.  Why shouldn’t we try to lead in innovation?  The settlers who came here and survived in the early days of colonisation had to be innovative to survive.  It used to be something we were proud of, what has gone wrong???

    • Shane From Melbourne says:

      05:31pm | 19/07/10

      Easy money in sheep and mining to put it simply.

    • DD Ball says:

      05:54pm | 19/07/10

      Don’t confuse the placing of cash into pork barrels with supporting science or having a science program. You give the conservatives no credit for anything but claim everything for the ALP, when there is no evidence that such a demarcation is valid. I have heard some fools from the CSIRO claim that the world will end if some conservative is elected, but the world hasn’t ended yet, and the truth is that the ALP do not deserve to be applauded for their efforts. I love science. I love Astronomy. I want Australia to have a space elevator. I want Australia to be a clever country. But Australia will not achieve that if money is poured into political hacks to divert funds from research.

    • Terry Wright says:

      08:34pm | 19/07/10

      If science is so important to Labor, why is their drug policy based on theology, moral panic and myths? If ever there was a need for science, research and evidence, it’s with our antiquated drug policy.

      The Greens are the only political party that have an evidence based drug strategy. In 2010, there is simply no excuse for any political party to overlook the massive amount of research presented to them each month.

    • Sirro says:

      01:02am | 20/07/10

      Gee thanks Richard for a great contribution over the past three years.

      Im so glad you and Mark Arbib, Chris Bowen, Penny Wong, Peter Garrett and all those other valuable members of Labor’s front bench actually turned up for work. You’ve just made sooooooo much difference to the lives of every Australian.

      Perhaps next time your whole three years in power could be actually about doing something for the country rather than just doing your best at organising your re-election and coming up with stupid one line media grabs. No please move forward into oppositon.

      Oh sorry, i forgot . Thanks Maxine.

    • Pete says:

      01:00pm | 20/07/10

      I take issue with the comment:
      “By contrast, the Liberal-National Coalition has never had a real interest in science and technology”
      Follow this link to see the total Commonwealth Government funding to the National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
      http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/file/grants/dataset/research_funding_facts_book.pdf

      Between 2000-01 and 06-07, total research expenditure increased from $178.9m to $495.9m. New funding commitments increased from $189.7m to $748.7m over the same time period (see figure 2). There is a huge need for more quality medical research that remains unmet by both major political parties, but to claim that the previous Government “has never had a real interest” is wrong in the case of the NHMRC.

 

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