Why a vote for Labor is a vote for science
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.
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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