Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Of Science and Snake Oil

By Simon Grose

Marking this year’s Budget speech and the responses it provoked for their “science” content turns up a rare spread of results.

Greens MP Adam Bandt had a simple Pockleyesque barb to lead his response to the Budget speech by Treasurer Joe Hockey: “It continues the anti-science bias of the Abbott government. The word ‘science’ was not mentioned once in the Treasurer’s speech.”

On that metric, Bill Shorten’s Budget-in-Reply speech set a new record with no less than a dozen mentions of “science”. As a bonus, even “technology”, “mathematics” and “engineering” scored mentions, plus “IT coding” no less.

Mr Bandt’s new leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, just got over the line with one mention of “science” in his go at the Budget.

Back at zero with Mr Hockey was Clive Palmer MP, although he did mention “university” a couple of times.

Despite its “science”deficit, Palmer’s speech was the most interesting of the lot. It was not delivered in Parliament but in the ballroom of the Hyatt Canberra. For the second year in a row he hired the big room to throw a free lunch for invited guests and give himself a pulpit.

The guest list was of interest in itself, particularly a brace of trade union heavies including Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national assistant secretary Dave Noonan. Also there was Ben Oquist, the Australia Institute’s director of strategy and former senior adviser to Greens leaders Bob Brown and Christine Milne.

Palmer and the industrial and progressive Left would not appear to share much common ground, but it seems they are surveying possibilities for connecting corridors. Perhaps it’s a “my enemy’s enemies are my friends” kinda thing.

Palmer’s chutzpah and superlative sales skills were on spectacular show. Less than

2 years after leading a party with himself as a new MP in the House, three new Senators plus a deal with Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir, his party’s presence has shrunk to just him in the House and one Senator. Yet he is still willing to boldly declaim: “Palmer United will inject an extra $20 billion into the education system in our first 3 years of government”.

What else? “We can reduce personal income tax by 15% for all Australians… the first $10,000 paid on a home loan each year should be tax deductible… we can increase the old age pension by 20% or $150 per fortnight… Australia needs an additional $80 billion in funding for health in the next 3 years…”

There was more, but no steak knives. Government would somehow tax less and spend more.

Witnessing this tombola of a Queenslander channelling Ronald Reagan on tax policy and Rachel Siewert on welfare policy to mix it all into a plausible brew that an otherwise worldly audience seemed to politely swallow was indeed a highlight of Budget week.

Not science, alchemy.

Simon Grose is Editor of Canberra IQ (canberraiq.com.au).