Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Chief Questions for Science Advice

By Robin Batterham

It’s time to review how government receives its scientific advice following the resignation of Chief Scientist Penny Sackett.

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Governments must look to the wealth of scientific and technological skills available to them to help develop evidence-based policies on important economic and social objectives. These include population strategy, food production, low-carbon energy supplies, water management and national productivity – as well as the implications for risk management and remediation around national emergencies, which often flow from extreme climate events.

The resignation in February of Prof Penny Sackett, the Chief Scientist for Australia, had one upside – it brought into strong national focus the role and function of science and technology in formulating national policy. It also provides an opportunity to review the role of the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC).To varying degrees, PMSEIC has epitomised a model that can bring together world-class experts and departmental and ministerial policy-makers on matters of real concern to the government and the people of Australia. Whether PMSEIC and the role of the Chief Scientist continue in the present form – or the opportunity is taken to improve the model – the fundamental point is that all Australians benefit from a functional body that links un­biased, apolitical experts into the powerhouse of policy development.

The US and UK models are worth inspection. The UK model is notable for the fact...

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

Professor Robin Batterham is President of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) and a former Chief Scientist.