Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Democracy vs Science

By Simon Grose

The people have spoken – and given science a backhander.

There’s a lot of smart people involved in science in Australia. Shame there were none smart enough to game the Senate voting system and get a scientist’s bum on a red leather seat in Canberra.

The Research Australia Party (RAP), Science Australia Party (SAP), and Australians for Intelligent Government (I give AFIG) were just some of the catchy options. Too late now. After a bunch of opportunistic little parties scored a Senate seat, the voting system will be changed to make it much harder next time.

Worse, a browse through the manifestos of these parties reveals minimal regard for science in general, and negative regard for climate science in particular.

The closest the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party gets to a science policy is its one-sentence environment policy: “We support a balanced approach towards sustainability of the environment and the use of the environment, both for the survival of mankind and for the unimpeded recreational use of the environment”.

The Australian Sports Party doesn’t have policies, but it has a “philosophy to ensure simplicity for Australians by providing free sports and exercise areas that encourage participation”.

Family First has had Senator Steve Fielding in Canberra for 6 years. They reject carbon pricing “without first having a proper, independent enquiry eg a Royal Commission, which was prepared to listen to the many distinguished scientists who disagree with the current ‘climate change doctrine’”.

The Katter Australia Party “adopts the precautionary principle” to propose that “constraints on emissions should remain in place unless or until such time that it can be reliably and scientifically demonstrated that unconstrained carbon dioxide emissions are unlikely to result in costly climatic disturbances”.

The Liberal Democrats have the most developed policy list of the group, diametrically opposed to the Greens. They support nuclear power and the establishment of a uranium enrichment industry. They believe that the influence of increasing atmospheric CO2 is “too uncertain to warrant government action”, and that farmers should decide whether to grow GM crops subject to “a routine check to confirm that released varieties present no unacceptable health hazard”. They do not oppose the harvesting of whales for food provided the survival of the species is not threatened, would remove regulatory barriers to hunting of kangaroos, crocodiles and ducks, and would withdraw subsidies for recycling.

The Palmer United Party’s only policy related to science is a commitment to abolish carbon pricing.

If you’ve been disappointed in the past by the lack of ‘evidence–based policy’ from Canberra, prepare for more disappointment.

Winston Churchill once said: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter”. He also said “democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried”. He was right both times.

Simon Grose is a Director of Science Media (