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Research for the future

It’s heading into summer, so thoughts turn to Christmas shopping, whose place we’re all going to this Christmas and the sounds of balls being hit by racquets and bats. Yes, it’s tennis and cricket season again.

It’s a pretty good bet that the Liberal Party grassroots member surrounded by family and friends while watching sport this summer is wondering what the hell happened to ‘their’ party in 2018. While Turnbull wasn’t popular and a captive of the ultra-conservative Luddites of the party, he was managing to keep the ship of state afloat as well as tracking for a small loss or a come from behind narrow victory at the next election if the opinion polls are to be believed. And they deposed him for Morrison.

Morrison has experienced life outside politics — as well as being the State Director of the NSW Liberal Party, he ran Tourism Australia through the ill-fated ‘where the bloody hell are you’ era and has a background in advertising. That background is also his biggest handicap. He seems to think that the rest of us think in 30 second increments (the length of a ‘traditional’ ad on TV) and don’t remember the content of his ‘thought bubbles’ from one moment to the next.

Witness the ‘ghost bus’ tour of South and Central Queensland (surely some billboards would have been cheaper for a political party that apparently isn’t ‘flush with cash’) or the announcement just prior to the Wentworth by-election that moving our embassy in Israel was under active consideration. He lost Wentworth anyway and those that can work out these things suggest that announcements on the run such as this in the last week were detrimental to the Liberal Party’s campaign — as well to ongoing international relations. Crikey’s weekend email on November 17 opens with a summation of Morrison that is pretty apt:

Scott Morrison might love baseball caps, but he’s struggling to hit a home run. This week, we discussed Morrison’s headwear, his mounting attacks on the press, and his policy failures, at home and abroad.

Maybe Morrison is a symptom of Australia’s illness rather than a cause. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’. We flogged off wool and other commodities to the world, did it well, were pretty well rewarded for our efforts and had a good lifestyle as a result. During the 1970s it got harder and PM Hawke in the 1980s tried to turn the focus to being the ‘clever country’. To an extent it worked. We have a history of ‘punching above our weight’ when it comes to invention and complex manufacturing.

During the latter half of the 1990s and most of the ‘noughties’, the Howard Government oversaw a mining boom with revenue coming in faster than they could spend it. Rather than keep some of the revenue for the proverbial ‘rainy day’ by funding research and commercialisation or creating a sovereign fund as other countries in a similar position have done, Howard and Costello spent the proceeds on unsustainable tax incentives such as negative gearing that now are very difficult to remove, despite the obvious economic arguments for doing so.

Turnbull, after deposing Abbott, declared that Australia needed to become ‘agile, innovative and creative’ and ‘created’ an innovation fund with funding of tax concessions to the value of around $3billion to assist the commercialisation of worthy inventions. This was after years of cuts to organisations such as the CSIRO — a government body with the words ‘scientific’ and ‘research’ in its name.

Unfortunately, after Turnbull snuck back into power after the 2016 election, innovation became a dirty word. The innovation fund was jettisoned from the agenda and we began to live by the ‘Newspoll cycle’ — after all one of the reasons for Turnbull rolling Abbott was Abbott losing 30 Newpolls in a row.

But short-term thinking doesn’t commit to research or invent things. Very rarely does an inventor ‘nail’ the concept first time. Most of the time there is a process of developing prototypes that get closer to the desired results over a number of iterations. In a political system governed by two-week Newspolls or 30 second soundbites, that time-frame is waaay too long. Besides, not everything that deserves funding becomes a winner, so there is the probability that not every dollar invested will produce a return — another risk when you are living by fortnightly popularity polls.

Peter Hartcher recently observed in Fairfax media

And this week the Morrison government announced $134 million in extra funding for regional university places, but guess where the money came from? University research grants.

Hartcher goes on to note that five years ago, the Australian government and companies were spending 2.11% of the country’s GDP on research and development — it’s down to 1.88%. The worldwide average is 2.4%. Hartcher claims that the ALP has a target of 3%, which would put us ‘in the same league as Japan and Germany.’

So Morrison is no better than Turnbull, Abbott (who cut the CSIRO’s budget without mercy) or Howard. They are either so intellectually lazy that they can’t see the benefit of funding research, development and commercialisation for the future, or the Luddites who always have been fearful of research and innovation are really in control of conservative governments. Either way, the Liberal Party member ‘kicking back’ while watching the summer sport should be concerned.

What do you think?

This article by 2353 was originally published on The Political Sword.

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  1. New England Cocky

    No R&D no future.

  2. Peter F

    CSIRO developed the 90%+ recyclable battery (Ultra battery) now manufactured in America and available from you local installer as part of your solar/battery system under the name ‘Ecoult”.

  3. Stephegb

    I find it difficult to think of a product that wasn’t first discovered or invented without public money grants to organisations and or institutes.

  4. Matters Not


    Australia ‘rode on the sheep’s back’ … We flogged off … rewarded for our efforts

    Plenty of WEs and OURs to be found in the public discourse but to what extent is it misleading? Yesterday while shopping for meat, an older man pointed out the price of Lamb Chops and queried why it was so high – now well outside his price range. For this man, lamb was off the menu and had been for months. Fact is farmers are reluctant to supply the local market while the export prices are so elevated.

    The profits are very healthy indeed – but realistically whose profits are they? Who is the main beneficiary – Australia or the individual farmer? Extrapolate that to the TPP (or equivalent). Will the Free Trade Agreement with Indonesia raise the cost of a rump steak at the local butchery? Accordingly, what’s really in it for the average punter?

    Yes I know when individuals become very rich (due in part to government efforts) the wider population benefits via trickle down – assuming of course that taxes are paid.

    All for R&D, helping athletes reach potential and the like but perhaps more attention should be paid to the benefits (or lack of) returned to the wider society.

    Then again, read the stupidity of closing down R&D.

    That research facility is no more.

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