Australia’s anti-science government

A little while ago I wrote a post titled Should politicians choose what research to fund? This was based on news from America that a Republican Representative was attempting to install a set of criteria chosen by politicians for funding research. One of the criteria was that research must be of the utmost importance to society at large. The reason I’m writing about this again now is because Australia’s new Prime Minister is about to do a similar thing. Last week he announced that he was going to cut funding for what he decides is “wasteful” research.

One of the examples I gave for why I think this is a very, very bad idea is that of G H Hardy, a 20th century British mathematician whose work at the time had no practical applications, but which now forms the foundation of modern cryptography. Hardy’s work in pure mathematics enables us to buy and sell things over the web, a crucial component of modern economies. One of the comments in my post (from MikeM) is a quote from Hardy about his work. Here’s what he said:

I have never done anything ‘useful’. No discovery of mine has made, or is likely to make, directly or indirectly, for good or ill, the least difference to the amenity of the world. I have helped to train other mathematicians, but mathematicians of the same kind as myself, and their work has been, so far at any rate as I have helped them to it, as useless as my own…

Hardy had no way of knowing at the time how important his work would become half a century later and indeed, he died long before he got to see his ideas in use.

Tony Abbott is now threatening to put government control on what research they think is good and worthy of funding.  Science and Technology Australia says Australian scientists are “profoundly concerned by (this) news” and that it will “interfere” with independence of research.

What confuses me more than anything about it is that Tony Abbott is supposedly a centre-right politician. I have never studied politics formally and nor am I personally of any political persuasion but it was my understanding that right-leaning politicians were all about small governments and minimal regulation. These things to me seem at odds with allowing politicians to choose what research to fund which to my mind requires a more controlling government.

I think if Tony Abbott has his way on this issue, it will be bad news for science and bad news for Australia. It will also mean for me personally, a conscious decision not to return to Australia as I am married to a pure mathematician whose research is of no practical value but as far as I’m concerned, still important. Goodbye Australia and good luck with your anti-science government.

12 Replies to “Australia’s anti-science government”

  1. You are kidding yourself when you claim to be without any political persuasion, Rachel!

    1. I’m not sure how you can presume to know more about my voting history and preferences than I do but perhaps you can help me to understand something. How is it that one person can vote for the same political party for the course of their entire lives? Surely parties and their leaders change over this time and so they cannot always agree with the policies of the party. I have never understood this kind of devotion to one political party because I have never followed it myself.

      From what I have read, the policies of Labour and Liberal were not all that different in the lead up to this election. Both want to get rid of the boats, both will keep the gonski school funding and both will keep the national disability scheme. Where they diverge is that Liberal wants to do some wasteful spending on a poorly designed maternity leave scheme, an ineffective climate change program, an uninspiring broadband network and more government control of research funding. These things to my mind, are not typical right-wing policies.

      Graeme Phillipson sums up Abbott very well in this article about the broadband scheme he has planned for Australia:

      …Abbott, whose policy gyrations expose him as a rank opportunist driven more by statist Catholic social conservatism than free enterprise.

    2. Because Eve mistakenly thinks that anyone who accepts the science of climate change must be a consistent left-wing voter, I want my readers to know that it is possible to be both conservative and also in favour on conservation. There’s a recent article from Business Green about the Green Tories. Here’s a short cut and paste but the rest of the article is at

      It has been a breath of fresh air and a useful reminder that not all Conservatives have signed up to the reckless vision being relentlessly promoted by Lord Lawson and the Murdoch press – a vision whereby fracking miraculously saves the economy and climate change is either not really happening or left to look after itself. They may not have access to the media foghorm enjoyed by their less progressive colleagues, but there are some Tories who still understand the existential threat posed by climate change, the value of the green economy, and the relationship between conservation and Conservatism.

  2. Australia’s governing Liberal-National coalition is a strange beast.

    Liberals’ main conservative focus in recent years has been on things like destroying the funding base of university student unions, cutting the power of trade unions, opposing increases in the minimum wage and rebuilding a nation of families with a working father, a non-working mother and 2.4 privately schooled children. The National Party on the other hand are straight-out agrarian socialists who believe in privatising the gains and socialising the losses.

    I suspect a good deal of the support for Abbott comes from the Nationals.

    The closest we have I think to a conviction Conservative politician is Malcolm Turnbull, who lost leadership of the Liberal party ostensibly because he recognised the science of climate change. But Turnbull is suspect also by the right wing traditionalists because he is in favour of Australia becoming a republic and cutting ties with the British Throne.

    1. I actually have quite a bit of respect for Malcolm Turnbull not least because he has been advocating for a sovereign wealth fund for years and this is something that Australia sorely needs. The fact that he accepts the science of climate change and has done so for many years, perhaps always, tells me that he’s not influenced by ideology and so is capable of thinking for himself. I don’t know much about him other than these things but I do know he’s been lumbered with a very dated broadband scheme which will only end up costing the country greatly in the long term and probably look poorly on Turnbull. Whether or not it was his idea, I don’t know.

  3. Try left wing greenie, Rachel, and don’t presume to know how anyone else votes either. Your blog writings make it pretty clear to all but the blind as to your political persuasion. As to the latest election results, get over it, and don’t worry, you don’t have to live here!

    1. And as usual, Eve knows everything. Apparently I’m a left wing greenie which must be why I’m in favour of nuclear power and GM foods. I do like to ride my bike but then, so does Lance Armstrong. He must be a left wing greenie too.

  4. I didn’t think there was necessarily an association behind one’s views on climate change and how one voted either. Gosh, climate change is but one small part of one’s voting intentions, but sounds like your whole life’s purpose to me. For most of us, it’s a second/third tier issue. That’s what you need to accept.

    1. And climate change is but one objection I have with Tony Abbott. There really are so many others I hardly know where to begin. He thinks poor mothers should subsidise rich mothers, he wants to increase regulatory control of research (more regulatory control is not a very conservative policy), he wants to increase funding for roads while dropping funding for rail, he wants a cave-man broadband scheme for Australia, he’s pretty sexist as is evidenced by his comments about abortion being a mother’s convenience and housewives doing the ironing (see for more embarrassing Abbott statements).

      Then there was his comment that “The climate change argument is absolute crap” yet now he has publicly said climate change is real but there’s no apology or acknowledgement of his mistake nor any effort to do anything about it except for wasteful spending on something he admits will not work. I’m embarrassed that you all voted for him.

  5. thinking to continue my study in australia..but with the recent news..i dont even know if the universities will have enough an international student. I will pay around 120k aud solely for my fees..and plus living cost..i might end up spend more than 200k aud for 4 thinking to migrating to other country..aust and nz is into and us is too far and i love the idea i can get a big house if i migrate to aust or nz rather than uk..i want to be a researcher/educator/academician..and my tuition fees will be really cheap if i stay in nz but i dont know which one got good opportunity for intrest field will be renewable energy but abbott promise to axe renewable energy..same goes to other field like ccs..i can study anywhere in uk for ccs but sadly not in australia..

    1. Hi K,

      I’m sure there are lots of places in New Zealand you can study. My pick of places would be Dunedin where the University of Otago is. Dunedin is a student city in many ways and is very welcoming of international students. I’m not sure whether they have a course that you are interested in. I ran a quick search and found this –

      Other universities around the country are University of Auckland in Auckland, Victoria University in Wellington, Canterbury University in Christchurch, Waikato University in Hamilton and also Massey University which has campuses all over the country. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s