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Time to invest in the real entrepreneurs: Our scientists

The government and their business backers are constantly telling us that we must support and promote entrepreneurs.

Both our Prime Minister and his deputy have handed over government funds to very dubious entrepreneurs in their ministerial capacities – Malcolm as Environment Minister with his rain-making scheme and Julie as Science Minister with her magic little blue pill scam to cut fuel consumption and reduce emissions.

Julie was also instrumental in firstly employing Bjorn Lomberg, and then in giving him $4 million to set up a ‘research’ centre. Last I heard, he was still looking for a research body who was willing to be associated with him.

Entrepreneurs need investors and some are so adept at selling themselves that we believe their idea without questioning too closely its viability. But one thing is always true – the motive for any entrepreneur is profit. They use marketing to sell their pitch.

One thing that this government fails to realise is that we have the smartest, most innovative entrepreneurs in the world in our scientists who are motivated not by personal financial gain, but by success in discovery.

An independent assessment by Acil Allen Consulting published in December 2014 concluded that “the whole of CSIRO portfolio is delivering an expected return that supports an expected benefit-cost ratio of at least 5:1, and arguably substantially more.”

The CSIRO invented wi-fi, plastic banknotes, the Hendra virus vaccine, extended wear contact lenses, Aerogard, and a host of other things that have enhanced our lives and the government’s coffers as well as helping industries’ productivity.

This government has cut at least $420 million from five key science and research agencies:

  • The Australian Research Council (ARC) ($74.9m)
  • CSIRO ($114.8m)
  • The Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) ($120m)
  • Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) ($27.6m)
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) ($7.8m)
  • Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs) program ($80m)

$845.6m of Industry support and innovation programs that link business with scientific research will be cut over 5 years including:

  • Australian Industry Participation
  • Commercialisation Australia
  • Enterprise Solutions
  • Innovation Investment Fund
  • Enterprise Connect
  • Industry Innovation Precincts
  • Textile, Clothing and Footwear Small Business and Building Innovative Capability
  • Clean Technology Innovation Program
  • Green Car Innovation Fund
  • Establishment of an ICT-enabled research laboratory
  • Low Emissions Technology Demonstration Fund
  • National Low Emission Coal Initiative.

Whilst the government has aspirations to build a $20 billion medical research fund, scientists are justifiably concerned about how it will be administered and who grants will go to if there are no scientists left here by the time they hatch this nest egg.

Research is a major driver of economic growth. Advanced physical and mathematical sciences are responsible for 11% of Australia’s economic activity, underpinning 760,000 jobs. Future prosperity will rely on the decisions made now.

In Monday night’s press conference, Turnbull promised to “[Lay] out what the issues are, [get] the facts straight […] and [make] the case for that path forward”.

Imagine if the money given in fossil fuel subsidies was instead given to our students and teachers and to our researchers and scientists. We might actually have a chance of becoming the smart country we could be.

Our scientists are the real entrepreneurs, the real productivity drivers, the ones who can cut the health budget and grow the economy in a sustainable way, and we should be investing in them rather than tinkering about giving business subsidies and tax breaks and cutting penalty rates and the minimum wage.

But you won’t hear that from the industry lobby groups.

 

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37 comments

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  1. totaram

    Kaye Lee:

    You have really done it this time! Please send a copy of this to the Governor of the RBA and Malcolm the Turdball. Who knows, it may actually spark some interest? At least, it will let them know that what they are on about is not what we really need. Considering that Malcolm is not really about STEM and all that, after his disastrous Fraudband caper, but still he should know that we know better and we are watching. Tick, tock….

  2. silkworm

    What remains to be seen is whether Turnbull can stand up to the anti-science wing of the party.

  3. donwreford

    I am not convinced on how important our scientists and engineers are? I am well aware this is a unfavorable view, what I am getting at is many are working on militaristic projects namely the best way of killing people? as example many laboratory science work are involved with cruel experiments on animals, their are many other examples of science that are working towards evil ends.

  4. Kaye Lee

    I understand your concerns donwreford. There can be no argument about scientific discoveries sometimes being used for evil purposes and that animals have suffered for scientific research.

    As with all things, there must be ethical oversight and I think scientists have gone further down that road than most, particularly politicians.

  5. jim

    Great post, I find it hard to believe the Abbot government sacked this man also Dr. Thang;https://app.griffith.edu.au/news/2014/10/03/noble-journey-from-refugee-to-nobel-contender/. I really don’t care what Turnbull will do to science as the LNP deserve no second chance after the damage they have done thus far.And I believe the $20 Billion “research center”was to manned by big pharma USA “scientists”for big pharma USA patents dollars. Thanks for posting Kaye.

  6. kerri

    Abbott espoused gleefully that Malcolm “practically invented it (the internet)”. In Abbott’s simplistic style, and mind, Malcolm having recognised the worth of investing in a technology that opens the future, means Malcolm understands the technology. Hence he should be the NBN boss! Malcolm is an investor! He is not a technoligician as the NBN mixed media, bulls*!t has shown. If Malcolm were investing in internet and broadband to fulfil his needs, you can guarantee it would be fibre to the home and top of the line! Malcolm is as much a selfish, greedy, self interested Luddite as was Abbott. He just explains it with a pleasant smile and a quick wit! What Turnbull has in charm Abbott could only match with fists. I seriously doubt Turnbull would do what we all know he should regarding science and technology. As has already been demonstrated by his attitude to the NBN. Meanwhile Abbott continues to be baffled by anyone who can make heaps of money and as such continues to worship the wealthy.

  7. jim

    And for the LIEbrials supporters here from the Monthly, Speaking of boat people, it’s hard to think of a better illustration of Australia’s priorities than Dr San Thang, a man who could have been invented by GetUp! A former Vietnamese refugee, Thang was made redundant from CSIRO the same month he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His redundancy was a direct result of $115 million in funding cuts, that saw his not-so-esteemed colleagues forced to wash glassware and fill photocopiers. His own reward for the nomination was an unpaid honorary fellowship. Good job, San. You’re fired.https://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/richard-cooke/2015/22/2015/1432263346/quite-contrary

  8. miriamenglish

    Bravo Kaye. Well said.

    Will our hopeless politicians listen? The LNP festers with luddites. Sadly I think Labor does too.

    You may have touched a nerve with your mention of the 5:1 return on investment. That was a good choice, as I think money is the only language understood by the fools in power.

    I wouldn’t hold my breath though. For a party supposedly interested in money and investment, they seem to have great difficulty in seeing how money spent on our kids is not a waste, but an investment. They also appear to be unable to see the slide into unprofitability of coal and the rise to global importance of renewable energy sources and energy efficiency. For people who love money above everything else they are remarkably blind to it and surprisingly happy to throw it away.

  9. Kaye Lee

    The 5:1 is conservative.

    The CSIRO have selectively bred prawns to be disease resistant and to give a 39% higher yield. They also developed a food based on organic plant waste rather than fish food which decreases the impact on fish stocks.

    Few organisations have the multidisciplinary capability to cost effectively apply genetics, disease and nutrition capabilities to change an industry.

  10. Kaye Lee

    The Australian Animal Health Laboratory (AAHL) provides insurance value, in relation to a potential outbreak of foot and mouth disease, equal to $431 million per annum, as well as broader disease mitigation and outbreak response mechanisms for diseases that affect industries worth over $14 billion per annum. 

    CSIRO’s cotton varieties research has delivered net benefits in terms of increased cotton productivity of $149.3 million over the period 2006/7 to 2013/14 and is forecast to deliver additional benefits of $379.5 million over the next decade.

    CSIRO’s longwall automation technology has resulted in a 5 per cent increase in the productivity of longwall underground coal mining and is expected to deliver net benefits of $785.6 million between 2001/2 and 2024/25. 

    CSIRO’s HVAC energy management system, OptiCOOL, has yielded energy savings of 10-30 per cent in commercial buildings and is expected to deliver net benefits of $79.7 million between 2014/15 and 2024/25. 

    CSIRO’s prawn breeding and prawn breed research is expected to deliver net benefits, in terms of increase productivity of prawn production, equal to $882.8 million over the period 2004/5 to 2023/24. 

    CSIRO’s integrated water resources assessments have delivered benefits of between $685 million and $1.24 billion, although this represents quantification of only a small portion of impacts. Actual benefits are likely to be higher than this estimate.

  11. Matters Not

    Yes the CSIRO developed Novaq (prawn food) which caused huge excitement around the world, as many thought a fish-free food was impossible. Another supposed ‘impossibility’ confined to the historical/scientific scrap heap.

    At a deeper and more significant level, given it is ‘probable’ that we live in a ‘finite’ universe, (including a finite world), and therefore ‘infinite’ growth is a logical impossibility given the ‘finites’ I have referred to (and conceding that) how can we seriously affirm that we have reached the limits of the ‘combinations’ that are possible which might make our current understandings re ‘growth’ somewhat laughable.

    Just askin…

  12. eli nes

    now you are talking – pretty well the only liberal work menzies did 49-65 was give a massive boost to the CSIRO. it is 50 years since the pommiephile retired so time for another boost.

  13. Möbius Ecko

    “If Malcolm were investing in internet and broadband to fulfil his needs, you can guarantee it would be fibre to the home and top of the line!”

    Indeed kerri. Turnbull invests in FTTH in France. http://tinyurl.com/8ba7xfm

  14. Möbius Ecko

    Kaye Lee your examples of what the CSIRO has achieved, as admirable as they are, are also indicative of a sad decimation of that organisation wrought upon it by Howard.

    In every one you mention the money made or saved by things the CSIRO discovered or invented, and whilst you’re at don’t forget wireless networking amongst them.

    But that’s the problem, the “money” made or saved. Howard cut the CSIRO and implemented an edict that only those things that could make money or potentially make money were allowed to go ahead for research. Up until that time the CSIRO had done many great things, life and environmental saving, globally beneficial, but not necessarily profitable. That side of the CSIRO gone under Howard and probably will never come back under any government.

  15. Winston

    Not sure if I can remember Turnballs policies or what he stands for maybe someone else can articulate that for me.And sorry if this is not on current article topic.I think Turnball will want to increase the GST to 15% and he is going to be mining and other big business friend isn’t he? And I can’t see him stopping the greatest scandal of all. That being the cost and lack of affordable housing.

  16. Kaye Lee

    It’s hard to believe that the Coalition take Direct Action seriously when they cut $162.9m from the Carbon Capture and Storage Flagships program.

  17. stephentardrew

    It is difficult to document the vast range of scientific enterprise at academic institutions including the international reputation of the CSIRO. It is fine taking the major discoveries however as usual Australia punches well above its weight scientifically and the returns and rewards are legion. There are many international cross institutional research programs in physics, cosmology, medicine, biochemistry, agronomy and on and on it goes. It is a vast enterprise of excellence and expertise that must have continuity and consistency to forge ahead. What appear to be fairly abstract and nonproductive projects can make unexpected discoveries that can have substantial rewards. Science is about discovery and taking chances often exploring projects for years until a breakthrough happens. Many really do not understand the incredible levels of complexity and diverse skill required by a single team to produce useful discoveries. Our scientists should be held in high regard because without them the future would be bleak. Everything you touch is a scientific and engineering discovery that someone invented and marketed.

    Time to invest in and support our science community. They actually have very strict ethical and technical guidelines and a high level of accountability including review by their peers. In actual fact military projects are a small percentage of a broad range of projects.

  18. Neil of Sydney

    Dr San Thang, a man who could have been invented by GetUp! A former Vietnamese refugee, Thang was made redundant from CSIRO the same month he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His redundancy was a direct result of $115 million in funding cuts,

    These funding cuts were ALP funding cuts.

    Howard cut the CSIRO and implemented an edict that only those things that could make money or potentially make money were allowed to go ahead for research.

    I call BS on that. Australian research in general is more applied than other Western countries but i find it hard to believe that an Australian PM tells the CSIRO how to spend its money.

  19. Matters Not

    Kneel I usually let your comments go through to the keeper and advise others to do just that but in this instance I will engage (because the ‘issue’ of confronting ‘stupidity suits me). You say:

    Australian research in general is more applied than other Western countries

    Possibly that’s true (no link provided) but I think you advance the notion (as always) that ‘application’ is in itself is a ‘strength’ as opposed to theoretical explorations, without immediate application, is somehow a weakness. And therefore ‘exploration’ shouldn’t be funded.

    Kneel are you aware that there’s been any number of scientific discoveries which weren’t seen to have immediate ‘application’ after ‘discovery’. Try, Penicillin, the Microwave, Velcro, Teflon, Vulcanized Rubber, Radioactivity and for the mentally challenged, there was Coca Cola. (At this point I won’t mention the ‘accidental ‘technological’ advances.)

    Kneel which one of the above do you now think can you now do without? Penicillin perhaps? Or its derivatives?

    Not that I am expecting an intelligent response.

    Because it’s always the fault of Labor. Hilarious as always.

    The mantra was once ‘dumb as ‘dog shit’ It’s now dumb as Kneel

  20. Michael Taylor

    Beautifully put, MN. Just beautiful.

  21. Möbius Ecko

    + Matters Not.

  22. Kaye Lee

    “These funding cuts were ALP funding cuts.”

    He was nominated in September 2014 and still employed by the CSIRO at the time.

    http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/csiro-scientists-graeme-moad-san-thang-and-ezio-rizzardo-named-as-nobel-prize-contenders-20140925-10lsai.html

    From 2002…

    In a bid to increase external earnings, CSIRO researchers now seek solutions that have more to do with corporate survival than the national interest. For instance, the CSIRO lobbies for genetic engineering technology, with its promise of intellectual property and revenue streams. By contrast, the CSIRO is not joining a bid for an organic farming cooperative research centre. The pickings were deemed too lean compared with genetically modified crops.

    The promise of massive increases in external earnings might have landed Garrett the job, but the strategy could shift the CSIRO from being a powerhouse for public-good research towards just another consulting firm.

    Unfortunately, the Howard Government is increasingly hostile to alternative opinions. Our public service has the hallmarks of a political service.

    In this general climate of intimidation, it is not surprising that we see no public debate from within the CSIRO about its changing nature and declining fortunes.

    http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/07/03/1025667005987.html

  23. corvus boreus

    Since Hawke cut CSIRO funding by almost 1/3 in 1983, each successive administration has imposed new ‘efficiency dividends’ on our national scientific R&D institute.
    The projected Abbott cuts (approx $115 million over 4 years) were at similar per-annum levels to the Gillard 2012-13 cuts ($23 million for the year), just implemented over a sustained period (and coinciding with other major cuts to scientific research and abolition of the Science ministerial portfolio).
    Turnbull, in his 5 days in power, has neither reversed nor increased the Abbott cuts to the CSIRO or other scientific institutions, nor made any announcements regarding the reinstatement of a specific Science minister.
    Shorten (with the passion and commitment I have come to expect from him) is on record as saying he would ‘like’ to increase CSIRO funding, but would have to look at the books first.
    Devaluing science is a bipartisan activity.

  24. miriamenglish

    Politicians, both left and right, don’t have any understanding of science. Astoundingly, they don’t seem to realise that our entire civilisation depends utterly upon it. Those in the thrall of politics, like those mesmerised by religion appear to be the natural enemies of science and knowledge, generally. They certainly love their little secrets, rituals, conformity, and obfuscation. Perhaps this is why leaders of both are called ministers.

    But then, how could it be otherwise?

    I often defend fashion models when people deride them after they’ve said stupid things. Why, I wonder, would anybody expect a fashion model to have a wide knowledge of the world? They spend most of their time becoming expert at what they do. Would we expect a botanist to understand how black holes might evaporate through Hawking radiation? Or an astrophysicist to understand the importance of the difference in photosynthesis between flowering plants and grasses? Of course not. It’s the same with theologians and politicians. They spend their lives learning what might generally be called anti-knowledge. (I should modify that statement — I really mean most theologians and most politicians. There will always be honorable exceptions like Barry Jones and Joan Chittister.) We can’t really expect much of politicians and religious leaders, as I think most of them become what they are for the most base and selfish motives, and because they don’t have any real knowledge about the world.

    What I don’t understand is why we entrust anything to them at all if they show unwillingness to listen to the genuine experts in how the world operates. Politicians and theologians are generally ignorant people whose knowledge seems to center on ways to convince people of unlikely things via emotional trickery and word games. They learn the finer uses of blackmail and how to use people against one another. In short they are experts at running cons. They inhabit a fake machiavellian world where a lie becomes the truth if you repeat it enough or yell it loud enough or are able to charm enough people into believing it. But that isn’t the real world. In reality a lie always remains a lie regardless of how many people believe it, and how passionately they do.

    Unless they display willingness to listen to the genuine experts on how the actual world operates then they deserve absolutely no trust at all.

  25. Neil of Sydney

    Kneel are you aware that there’s been any number of scientific discoveries which weren’t seen to have immediate ‘application’ after ‘discovery

    Yes but Australian research is more applied than other countries. That is just the way it is.

    And Dr Thang lost his job as a result of ALP funding cuts.

    http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/nobel-prize-contender-san-thang-cut-from-csiro-20141201-11xvaf.html

    Last financial year CSIRO cut 513 positions in response to a Labor government-enforced efficiency drive, a recruitment freeze implemented by the Abbott government and falling external revenue.

    A CSIRO spokesman confirmed Dr Thang had been made redundant as part of these changes

  26. miriamenglish

    You have my deep pity Neil. You are an unmitigated idiot. Yes, Labor cut funds from CSIRO, several people said as much above. The LNP are an even worse evil. The LNP pretend to be the friends of business, but through deep and continuing cuts to not only basic research, but to applied research too, they have destroyed much of our innovative science. The LNP, and Labor are, together, suffocating Australia. Unfortunately the LNP add social divisiveness and destruction of our social fabric. And all that nitwits like you can think to do is to squeak that Labor does it too. You truly are an idiot, Neil.

  27. corvus boreus

    miriamenglish,
    NoS definitely seems incapable of registering new information outside it’s own mindset.
    That is the hallmark of the truly stupid or demented.

    Gillard cuts to CSIRO 2012-13; $23 million, resulting in 513 positions lost.
    Abbott cuts to CSIRO 2014-15; $27 million, resulting in around 500 positions lost and 8 facilities closed with similar cuts promised for the next 3 years.

  28. Neil of Sydney

    You truly are an idiot, Neil.

    I was responding to the false statements above in particular this one by Jim at 9.27PM

    Great post, I find it hard to believe the Abbot government sacked this man also Dr. Thang;.

    Dr Thang was sacked by Gillard govt cuts not the Abbott govt.

    Last financial year CSIRO cut 513 positions in response to a Labor government-enforced efficiency drive, a recruitment freeze implemented by the Abbott government and falling external revenue.

    A CSIRO spokesman confirmed Dr Thang had been made redundant as part of these changes

  29. miriamenglish

    What on Earth do they think they will achieve with constant cutting of science and education? Production of more “Neil of Sydney”s perhaps…? (I wish I was joking.)

  30. Pingback: Time to invest in the real entrepreneurs, our scientists – » The Australian Independent Media Network | olddogthoughts

  31. Kaye Lee

    Christopher Pyne, of phonics, direct instruction and Judeo-Christian heritage fame, will now be in charge of science and innovation. Expect alchemy to make a resurgence.

  32. corvus boreus

    miriamenglish,
    I think the dominant socio-political agenda regarding science and education (and overall) is to replace intellectual curiosity and rigor with strength of opinion (absorbed through osmosis), and define all debate in terms of absolute dichotomous opposites.
    Remove the critical principles underpinning the study of science (or history), and discourage consideration of the nuances within and between opposing definitions, and you can get people to persist in believing all kinds of patently ridiculous crap.
    God has a penis and despises homosexuality. It says so in the only book wurth reedin.

  33. Douglas Evans

    Over nearly three decades working in the tertiary education sector I saw the disastrous impact of market driven ideological funding cuts by governments of both persuasions. Kaye Lee reminds us that the same madness has infected the funding of science and technology. The remarkable thing is that even after three decades of bipartisan cuts to science and higher education (these began at least as long ago as the Hawke era) we still manage to produce remarkable scientific and technological innovations. Tragically, these are developed (creating wealth and jobs) elsewhere. Our governments don’t just try to choke our capacity to innovate by starving the scientists of funds. Because of their (selectively applied) belief in the sanctity of ‘the market’ they also do their best to ensure that the benefits of any innovation that against the odds occurs are exported. High profile case in point being Dr Zengrong Shi, who set up Suntech Power, at one point the world’s second largest PV company, in China. Dr Shi studied and developed his ideas at the world renowned Photo Voltaic research centre at University New South Wales and tried for some time to establish his company here. As I recall Dr Shi was effectively driven out of Australia by government lack of interest in the potential of his innovations.

  34. Kaye Lee

    Labor is making a pledge for more university funding and cheaper courses its first challenge to the Turnbull Government.

    Opposition Leader Bill Shorten will release a policy today to boost university funding by nearly $4 billion — although offsetting savings measures mean the policy would cost $2.5 billion over four years.

    In contrast to the Government’s plan for deregulating fees, the Labor plan focuses on more spending and tighter rules.

    It promises to invest $9,000 more per student on average over the next decade in a so-called “student funding guarantee”.

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-21/labor-makes-pledge-for-more-university-funding/6790474

    Good opening parry

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