Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

National Commission of Audit’s recommendations for scientific research

The National Commission of Audit has suggested a major overhaul of the way scientific research is carried out in Australia, including greater government control over the work undertaken by CSIRO and abolishing the Cooperative Research Centre Association.

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The Hon Tony Staley is Chairman of the CRC Association

“I can't for a minute believe that Government will take on this recommendation.

Cooperative Research Centres have very clearly given the Australian taxpayers outstanding value for money.

It is very interesting that the Commissioners have commented in making this recommendation that the ARC should take on longer funding periods. That's one of the features that has made CRCs so successful - seven years of funding to let researchers get on with the job.

The ARC could provide longer funding periods but they can't provide the other major success factor of CRCs - the cultural drive from industry to convert research into innovation.

I really believe Ministers Macfarlane, Pyne, Dutton and many others including the Prime Minister have a good appreciation of how much the CRCs have delivered. The Commission of Audit clearly haven't worked at the level of detail to know that directing the money through a granting agency like the ARC would fundamentally change the nature of the Program.”

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Catriona Jackson is CEO of Science and Technology Australia

“Because science and technology is part of almost every area of human endeavour, many of today’s recommendations could touch on the sector. But a number are directly relevant and warrant very careful consideration.

Scientists will be keeping a very close eye on a range of very briefly considered and discussed recommendations to restructure and consolidate research programs, funding and grants schemes. When considering such change, the primary consideration must be whether the changes improve the situation for science and research or damage it.

Among those of immediate note, the report recommends that the legislative basis for the CSIRO be changed, bringing it into closer alignment with the way other public service agencies are governed.

If adopted, this would have the potential to constitute a serious infringement on the independence of Australian scientific research.

The Audit report recommends: ‘Allowing for more government oversight of the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation [CSIRO] to ensure that resources are being directed to areas of greatest priority.’

Scientists understand government has a legitimate role in setting research priorities for CSIRO and other research bodies.

However the entire Australian community will be very concerned if the government compromised the independence of CSIRO and their 6,000-plus scientists. Australian’s trust CSIRO science and the autonomy of the CSIRO and its board is central to that public trust.”

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Dr Ross Smith is President of Science and Technology Australia

“The recommended abolition of the Cooperative Research Centres program would endanger years of carefully built up and highly fruitful industry/university collaborations that have delivered significant returns for the whole community. Also co-operation between smaller regional universities and their research-intensive cousins would be at stake if the recommendation to abolish the Collaborative Research Network programme is adopted.

The Government has said it will not identify which of the Audit report’s 86 recommendations it will support, until the Federal Budget.

The upcoming Budget is the Australian community’s opportunity to see if the government will make a real commitment to securing an advanced economy that is the envy of the world.”

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Paul Martin is Deputy Head of the School of Law at the University of New England

“ Whilst it may appear that de-funding the CRC program and moving resources to the ARC Linkage program is merely consolidation, in reality this means a shift from funding long term programs in which the strategic goals of the researchers are focused around applied outcomes, towards technology funding where the outcome focus remains the responsibility of the industry partner. Whilst both are legitimate, they are radically different approaches.”

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