Vote 1 Science

Actually, we’re not going to say that you absolutely must put science and research policies first at this Saturday’s federal election – there are plenty of big issues going on. But it’s important to know what priority the parties put on science and knowledge, as well as what it means for economic progress beyond mining booms.

Our own political reporter, Stu Burns, contacted the major parties, but the response was, shall we say, limited. Fortunately, Science and Technology Australia conducts a similar exercise every federal election, and they’ve gotten some answers – go to their website for the full Science and Technology Australia questionnaire.

The gist is that only the Greens have put out a fully costed (i.e., with dollars and everything) science and research policy. Their main target is to increase research funding to 3% of GDP by 2020.

(We’re currently at around 2.2%, which is pretty much the OECD average – but they recommend at least 2.4%.)

That’s a fairly long term target, and the amounts the Greens have put forward in their policy don’t add up to anywhere near the 3%, but they’re a step in that direction.

Of the other two, the ALP points to everything they’ve done over the past 6 years, as well as a handful of funding commitments they’ve made, mostly in the area of medical research.

Now, this is a sensitive issue. Two years ago, talk of cuts to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) led to the rare sight of scientists marching in the street, and later that year the government announced the McKeon Review of Health and Medical Research (www.mckeonreview.org.au).

Scientists in white lab coats, marching in the street to protest cuts to medical research
Scientists in white lab coats, marching in the street to protest cuts to medical research (The Australian, 13 April 2011)

Apart from the obvious benefits to patients, medical research is also an area where Australia performs quite well, including winning Nobel Prizes. So it’s a good field to develop. Plus, with increasing health costs – and each new drug apparently costing pharmaceutical companies $5 billion to develop – governments need to play a bigger role if medicine is to continue to innovate.

So it’s no surprise then that all three parties have said they’d follow recommendations of the McKeon Review. (Also, the Coalition did eventually respond to Stu by sending their health policy, so clearly they make the connection. And they do have a policy specifically on medical research.)

But generally, as with many of their other policies, they mostly just commit to review the situation if they get in. So nothing terribly specific, or binding.

The other interesting thing that all the parties say is that they’re committed to science and evidence-based policies in general. Make of that what you will… Climate change, anyone?

You can hear our full discussion of these policies in our podcast for 5 September 2013.

UPDATE – The ALP’s Senator Kim Carr has released a last minute science and research policy (PDF 312 KB). It mentions a few fields beyond medical research – doesn’t drastically alter the overall position though.

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