Australian Election An Excellent Reminder That Science Policies Don’t Drive Campaigns

Next month Australia will hold Parliamentary elections, either retaining current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd or tossing him out following a brief caretaker government.  Michael Whitehead has a summary of science and technology related policy statements from the Labor, Liberal and Green Parties, and out of the three, only the Greens have any significant detail.  This strikes me as quite consistent with the importance of science policies to the campaign strategies of parties in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada.  Having any science and technology policy statement linked to a campaign – like the Greens’ plan in the current Australian election season – is notable more for its existence than its content.

As for that content, I doubt anyone interested in seeing more money invested in research and development would find things to dislike.  Support for research infrastructure, open access, increasing participation for women, and an increase in investment all drive for the top-line goal – total research and development investment will equal 3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (it’s presently 2.2%).  The three percent target is the aspiration of many developed nations, including the United States.  Whether that’s the best means of assuring scientific and technological excellence is an open question.  Just for starters, does it make sense to tie research and development investment to the waxing and waning of the national economy?  Would the Greens be fine with a reduction in investment if the Australian GDP dropped?  Unlikely.

But hey, we’re just trying to win an election here.  Politics is for now.  Governance is for later, if parties get the opportunity at all.

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