Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

No, Prime Minister

By Simon Grose

Almost three decades of high-level engagement between the government and the research sector has reached a dead end.

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The Prime Minister’s Science Council was initiated in the 1980s by Bob Hawke and his Science Minister, Barry Jones, to bring together the top levels of the government and the research sector. It included Ministers with a research component in their portfolios while the research sector was represented by the heads of institutions and funding bodies (e.g. CSIRO, NHMRC, ARC, ANSTO) plus the presidents of the Academies.

It would meet around three times a year in the Cabinet Room and Hawke was pretty good at attending. Paul Keating was less interested as PM but the body was kept alive.

Under John Howard it grew to eventually become the Prime Minister’s Science Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC). Insiders now look back on that period as a high point. “PMSEIC worked fine under Howard, he never missed a meeting so Ministers all came,” one recalls. “Rudd never came so it fell in a hole.”

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was more likely to appear for a short while and then slip away to deal with whatever turmoil was brewing on the day.

Under Tony Abbott the concept has died. He never convened a meeting of PMSEIC and in October he and Minister Ian Macfarlane, who has responsibility for science, announced that it would be replaced by the Commonwealth Science Council. It would meet twice a year with the PM chairing one of those meetings.

The...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.