Last updated May 16, 2017 at 5:32 pm
The government has just released the National Science Statement, with experts in Australian science generally being positive about the Statement. Science Minister Arthur Sinodinos launched this during his National Press Club address as part of Science Meets Parliament 2017.
“The government’s vision is for an Australian society engaged in and enriched by science.”
There’s a lot to take in regarding all 24 pages of the National Science Statement *HERE*.
With policy jargon and arguably long-winded titles that put PhD thesis titles to shame, it can be hard to navigate exactly what’s being stated. There’s a lot of buzzwords and at times it sounds like it is repeating itself. By the way, the word ‘innovation’ is mentioned 73 times.
In reality, the National Science Statement is just that. It’s statements without action. The actions of the government, i.e. where they put their money, were outlined previously in 2015’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (read our NISA breakdown here).
What the Statement does announce is that there is a plan for a 2030 Strategic Plan to be released later this year. Of which, the government will respond and announce follow-up actions to this. The independent advisory body Innovation and Science Australia (ISA) have been tasked by the government to create the 2030 Strategic Plan.
It’s perhaps likely that this National Science Statement is biding some time in a period of inaction (it’s been over a year since the NISA announcement) and is a 24-page save-the-date for the 2030 Strategic Plan. It was a good opportunity to announce something by the Science Minister during Science Meets Parliament (21-22 March 2017) who took on this portfolio just two months ago in late January 2017. Science Meets Parliament, organised by Science & Technology Australia, is an annual event where researchers get a chance to have one-on-one meetings with a politician in Canberra.
The Science Statement I released today sets out our long-term vision for Oz: a society fully engaged with & enriched by science. #NPC
— Arthur Sinodinos AO (@A_Sinodinos) March 22, 2017
But, the National Science Statement is a nice reassurance to not only scientists but the general public that science is very much at the forefront of the government’s agenda.
So, if organisations and scientists are for the statement, it’s worth knowing about it.
Let’s break down the National Science Statement to what’s in each section and what’s worth paying attention to.
1. The past: a legacy of success
In three paragraphs, it talks about Australia’s proud science history.
2. The present: Australia’s science system
This section talks $$$. It’s all about how research and development (R&D) brings in money from across business, universities and private non-profit. It says how science is important for society because it brings in a lot of money.
It summarises the investment of cold hard cash by the government, which by the way is $10.1 billion in 2016-17. It also reports on how Australia ranks 15th out of 36 countries in terms of overall investment in R&D as a percentage of GDP (gross domestic product aka total dollar value of goods and services).
The Statement very carefully doesn’t overpromise on wanting to move up in this rank but rather making “smart investments”, stating that social returns i.e. benefit to society and the public are highly valued rather than financial returns.
It highlights the strengths and weaknesses of the Australian system.
The ISA Review found that researcher-to-business collaboration is a weakness of the Australian system. Thus, improving collaboration is a main focus. More of that translation, commercialisation and innovation idea that the government heavily pushes.
Worryingly, the number of students taking up STEM subjects is declining as well as scientific literacy and maths performance. To meet the future workforce skills demand, the government also wants to improve this.
3. The government’s vision
This section really is the crux of the statement. It outlines what the government wants to align itself with in regards to science and its goals.
This is where the four broad objectives are outlined. It makes a crucial statement that “policy making should be informed by the performance of the system against these objectives”.
- Engaging all Australians with science
- Building our scientific capability and skills
- Producing new research, knowledge and technologies
- Improving and enriching Australians’ lives through science and research
4. The role of government
Obviously, the role of government is also about policy – and there’s a whole section on its formulation and coordination. It shouts out to the National Science and Research Priorities, the Chief Scientist and independent bodies like the Commonwealth Science Council and Innovation and Science Australia, which already assist with science policies.
The government will take up three roles of supporting, participating and enabling science.
Supporting by means of directly investing funding and resources, participating by producing using and sharing research, and enabling by having policies that shape the science system.
There’s also a lengthy section on the principles for developing policies. For the most part it is a regurgitation of the government’s four objectives.
One of the interesting principles not to be missed is about addressing inequality (gender, Indigenous Australians, rural and regional) in science education, participation and employment – which until this point had not been mentioned and we’re on page 16!
It also mentions that government will seek advice from experts in their respective fields to assist with making policy. Extremely pertinent that this was announced on day 2 of Science Meets Parliament.
5. Areas of government focus
The section basically says that despite everything, there will always be certain areas the government will deem important, including:
- Research support and infrastructure
- Skills and talent
- Science engagement
- Collaboration and translation
- International science engagement
These areas are wide-reaching and still quite vague. It kind of says everything is important in order to achieve our vision of a science-engaged Australia.
6. The future: upcoming science, research and innovation initiatives
The Statement ends with current (or soon-to-be) “strategic science-related initiatives” in place, or basically what is the government currently doing for science in Australia. This is actually a nice summary to see what exists.
So that’s it. That’s the key points from the National Science Statement.
We look forward to seeing the 2030 Strategic Plan and we’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out!
— sciencegovau (@ScienceGovAu) March 22, 2017