Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Science After the Election

By Simon Grose

Who is likely to be responsible for science after the Federal election, and are they qualified to represent it?

With Labor trailing chronically in the opinion polls before an election in which it must actually increase its vote to retain power, the science and innovation sector should be preparing to deal with a new team in Canberra.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has made a point of making no changes in his shadow executive. Assuming that continuity is maintained, along with the Coalition’s portfolio distribution, Sophie Mirabella would become Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (IISR) if Mr Abbott becomes PM.

Mirabella would thus be the nation’s 24th Industry Minister (the first woman to hold that post) and 32nd Science Minister (the second woman after current Liberal Deputy Leader, Julie Bishop).

Mirabella has qualifications in law and commerce, has held the regional Victorian seat of Indi since 2001, but has no previous executive experience in government. While filling the space as a pugnacious and populist Opposition spokesperson, particularly in the troubled area of industry policy, she has provided no evidence that she would bring a coherent or effective policy approach to the role of Minister.

Brett Mason, a Liberal Senator from Queensland and currently Shadow Minister for Universities and Research, is a lawyer who has lectured in criminology. He was Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing in the last year of the former Coalition government and would be in a position to become a key representative for the research sector in the new government.

As Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Industry and Science, Tasmanian Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck would pick up the crumbs as the last Coalition front bencher in the Coalition’s IISR scope. A builder before entering politics, he has served in government as a Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and Finance and Administration.

Given that the current government has five ministers and one parliamentary secretary with a role in the IISR portfolio, there is potential for the Coalition to add to its team in government.

Someone like Senator Arthur Sinodinos, currently Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition and chair of the Coalition's Deregulation Taskforce, would be a worthy candidate. As a chief of staff to former PM John Howard, he has a wealth of government experience. His mix of smooth charm and hard cunning would be particularly useful in the crater-ridden political minefield of industry policy.

Whoever has the IISR reins if a Coalition government is elected will definitely face fierce budgetary limitations and probably be expecting at least two terms in power. From the top down, the government will be aiming to get the major fiscal surgery done in the first 2 years so the patient is in recovery by the third election year.

Good luck to them and all who seek their favour.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (sciencemedia.com.au).