News & Views item - February 2010



Science Minister Speaks at RMIT, Releases Inspiring Australia: A National Strategy for Engagement with the Sciences. (February 8, 2010)

This past Friday the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr spoke at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) to representatives of the Australian Technology Network of Universities.


Senator Carr opened with:


It is impossible to overstate how important universities are to our innovation system.
They are engines of invention and discovery.
They create new knowledge and they produce people with the skills to apply that knowledge in the real world.
They are places where new industries, products and services are born.
They are increasingly vital hubs in the industry networks and clusters of the knowledge economy.
If we neglect our universities, the whole innovation system suffers. No nation can compete internationally without an internationally competitive university system.

If we neglect our universities, the whole innovation system suffers. No nation can compete internationally without an internationally competitive university system.


He followed this preamble with a rehash of how he (the government) will mould the university sector by explaining to his audience: "That is precisely the kind of system this Government is building, with a sweeping program of investment and reform."


What followed was the mantra of:

Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency,
Excellence in Research for Australia,



And to make sure the message was being received and understood there is the Quid Pro Quo:

It is no secret that ERA will eventually be used to allocate funding.
Funding for indirect research costs from Sustainable Research Excellence in Universities is already conditional on universities participating in ERA and in this year’s trial of the new transparent costing methodology.
It is pleasing to see that all universities have agreed to these conditions.
I have also flagged that future funding from Sustainable Research Excellence in Universities Scheme will be linked to ERA outcomes.


It was a damn good thing that Science the Endless Frontier requested by US President Franklin Roosevelt of Vannevar Bush in November 1944 and delivered to President Truman in June 1945 was not received by Senator Carr.

In his covering letter Dr Bush wrote:


In a letter dated November 17, 1944, President Roosevelt requested my recommendations on the following points:


(1) What can be done, consistent with military security, and with the prior approval of the military authorities, to make known to the world as soon as possible the contributions which have been made during our war effort to scientific knowledge?

(2) With particular reference to the war of science against disease, what can be done now to organize a program for continuing in the future the work which has been done in medicine and related sciences?

(3) What can the Government do now and in the future to aid research activities by public and private organizations?

(4) Can an effective program be proposed for discovering and developing scientific talent in American youth so that the continuing future of scientific research in this country may be assured on a level comparable to what has been done during the war?


It is clear from President Roosevelt's letter that in speaking of science that he had in mind the natural sciences, including biology and medicine, and I have so interpreted his questions. Progress in other fields, such as the social sciences and the humanities, is likewise important; but the program for science presented in my report warrants immediate attention.

In seeking answers to President Roosevelt's questions I have had the assistance of distinguished committees specially qualified to advise in respect to these subjects. The committees have given these matters the serious attention they deserve; indeed, they have regarded this as an opportunity to participate in shaping the policy of the country with reference to scientific research. They have had many meetings and have submitted formal reports. I have been in close touch with the work of the committees and with their members throughout. I have examined all of the data they assembled and the suggestions they submitted on the points raised in President Roosevelt's letter.

Although the report which I submit herewith is my own, the facts, conclusions, and recommendations are based on the findings of the committees which have studied these questions. Since my report is necessarily brief, I am including as appendices the full reports of the committees.

A single mechanism for implementing the recommendations of the several committees is essential. In proposing such a mechanism I have departed somewhat from the specific recommendations of the committees, but I have since been assured that the plan I am proposing is fully acceptable to the committee members.

The pioneer spirit is still vigorous within this nation. Science offers a largely unexplored hinterland for the pioneer who has the tools for his task. The rewards of such exploration both for the Nation and the individual are great. Scientific progress is one essential key to our security as a nation, to our better health, to more jobs, to a higher standard of living, and to our cultural progress.

Respectfully yours,
    (s) V. Bush, Director


The National Science Foundation was one of the most important results of Science the Endless Frontier and the the modern American Research University is another. To suggest that the micromanagement being visited on Australian universities by our federal government, whether controlled by the Coalition or Labor, though in fairness Labor's approach is more benign as regards funding, is a supremely devised blunt instrument of destruction.


And with that it is something of a cruel joke for Senator Carr's Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research to release today the 120 page report, delivered to the Minister on December 14, 2009, Inspiring Australia: A National Strategy for Engagement with the Sciences.


DIISR informs us that:

This report's key findings are that:

This 'Inspiring Australia' strategy aims to build a strong, open relationship between science and society, underpinned by effective communication of science and its benefits.