Govt rejects new Office of Science and Technology


Denham Sadler
National Affairs Editor

The Coalition has knocked back a proposal to investigate the establishment of a Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology which would provide independent advice to policymakers.

Labor and the Greens moved a motion for the Economics References Committee to launch an inquiry into the current state of scientific advice to the Parliament, with a particular focus on the potential to establish a new office modelled on the UK’s Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, on Tuesday evening.

But the motion was voted down by the Coalition senators along with One Nation, despite the establishment of such an office being a recommendation from a recent bipartisan committee report.

Jane Hume
Digital economy minister Jane Hume

The motion was defeated 19-17 in the Senate, with the Coalition and One Nation voting against it, while the Greens, Labor and crossbench senator Rex Patrick offered their support.

Liberal Senator Jane Hume said the new office would have duplicated existing functions, and the government already receives scientific advice.

“The proposal to create a new body would see more taxpayer money spent on more bureaucracy, duplicate existing functions and see no gain in the effectiveness and efficacy of scientific advice,” Senator Hume said.

Labor Senator Kim Carr said the office would help to restore the public’s trust in the Parliament.

“The establishment of a formal relationship between the nation’s scientists and the Parliament is important to restore trust and for the reestablishment of confidence in the Parliamentary system itself,” Senator Carr said.

Looking into such a new body would have been “incredibly important”, Greens Senator Janet Rice said.

“We believe that it is essential that policymaking is informed by high-quality research and scientific expertise,” Senator Rice said.

“This is a really important question and one we really think is worth examining.”

The Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology would have functioned similarly to the Parliamentary Budget Office, which was launched by the Gillard government in 2012 to “inform the Parliament by providing independent and non-partisan analysis of the budget cycle, fiscal policy and the financial implications of proposals”.

It would be modelled on the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST), which has been an in-house source of independent, balanced and accessible analysis of public policy for nearly three decades.

POST aims to “help bridge the gap between research and policy”, providing short briefing notes, longer reports, advice to both houses of government and investigating future issues. The POST board consists of politicians from a range of parties along with scientists and engineers.

This board helps to guide the subjects investigated by POST by a team of advisors.

The Australian version would have provided “independent, impartial science advice, evidence and data to the Parliament and all members and Senators”, according to the Labor and Greens motion.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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