Let’s face it: leadership debates are always pretty boring. Last night’s one, however, could be declared the exception to the rule. Labor leader hopefuls Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten last night opined about Australia’s commitment to science, and whether our great nation will ever have its own space agency.
The two leaders both shamed the incoming government for not having a bespoke Science Minister in a nation that plays host to the massive Square Kilometre Array project, as well as some of the greatest innovations known to tech and science from the CSIRO and others.
Shorten said that Australia has a key place in the world, searching the galaxy for habitable planets, adding that the passion for science starts early:
With the SKA, it’s a massive telescope. We’re part of a massive consortium and it’s also in South Africa. I believe in the next five years to ten years, it will be possible to test for environmental circumstances on planets far, far away to see if they have the same set of circumstances which [occur] on Earth to determine if there could be life on other planets.
Now how that process goes, how those experiments and research goes, remains to be seen but how exciting would it be to tell our young people: ‘you can be part of an opportunity to see the most massive and significant developments in human knowledge’. This is the way Labor needs to talk about science. One of the practical things I’d do, is start paying our secondary school maths and science teachers and indeed all our teachers and I’d pay them more. The reason I say that is that we have to develop career paths for our teachers, so if you want slightly better pay, you don’t have to stop being in a classroom to get the better pay. Children will fall in love with the passions of their life at school.
Albanese went on the front foot, shaming the Coalition for its lack of commitment to science:
I think one of the worst elements of the decision of the incoming government not to have a science minister is the message that it sends to young people. At a time whereby governments, parents and the community really stress to all of our kids that ‘you’ve gotta be engaged in science’. [No science minister] sends a terrible message.
What both candidates agreed on, however, is that the Australian government has failed at offering great commercialisation opportunities for Aussie scientists, leading them to go elsewhere to publish their work.
Shorten said of Aussie scientists:
We need to encourage our research[ers] to collaborate with the private sector. I believe in Australia we need to support our researchers not just to print and publish papers, but to participate in the innovation and the applied applications of them which will see Australia become the science-based innovation nation of the future.
Albo echoed Shorten:
We have such an extraordinary history of breakthroughs in health, in breakthroughs in clean energy, in breakthroughs right across the scientific field. What sometimes we haven’t done very well is to take advantage of those opportunities through commercialisation.
Many of the breakthroughs in terms of IT and the internet and at places like Woolongong University playing a role there. Breakthroughs in the field of solar energy at places like the University of New South Wales and the Australian National University. Quite often what has happened, is that we have had the innovation here and we haven’t given the support to the scientists, so they have gone overseas to commercialise those opportunities. We need to do better than that.
Both potential leaders stopped short of saying that Australia should have its own bespoke space agency, however.
You can watch the full debate on ABC iView. [iView]