Science must be our policy centre

James Riley
Editorial Director

Labor’s R&D target of three per cent of GDP in the coming decade requires science to be “back at the centre of government,” says shadow industry minister Kim Carr, together with changes in approach to culture and training.

He argues science is the best path to a diverse economic base that is “more resistant to the cycles of boom and bust.”

“No country is able to build a sustainable long-term prosperity simply on cheap labour, on proprietary capital or natural resources,” Senator Carr told

Kim Carr: Research will drive a more stable and diverse Australian economy

“The smartest countries in the OECD have understood for a long time that the drivers of long-term economic growth are innovation, technological progress, and new ideas.”

“Our performance has fallen in private sector R&D performance by about 30 per cent. We were at 2.1 [per cent of GDP spent on R&D]. We’re now at 1.8 per cent. And we simply can’t afford to allow Australia to lose the competitive advantage that we had.”

Senator Carr argues that a Labor plan to review Australia’s research capabilities by Ian Chubb, the former Australian Government chief scientist, will “argue the case publicly for why and how” and will build a picture of all research investment across public and private sectors.

He would not be drawn on any specific industries he felt were key targets for further R&D investment, but did say that the current series of announcements from Labor focused around innovation were “demonstration projects of what can be done,” with more to follow should Labor win government.

“There’s so many areas where we could be developing new technologies and new growth. Energy is just one. But also in water, and in ICT, in space technology, and in recycling of materials,” Senator Carr said.

“The whole point of the application of new science and technology is to deal with major social problems,” he said.

“And an economy greater in complexity around what it produces and what it sells may actually be more resistant to the cycles of boom and bust. So this actually is enormous social benefit.”

Labor election announcements in the innovation sector include a national AI centre in Melbourne, a boost to CSIRO climate science funding, and a new blockchain academy in Perth.

“All of these are down payments on what’s got to be the future direction for Australian research and innovation policy. And that’s about building the connections between our universities, our science agencies, and our big industries.”

Senator Carr added that a stable and secure policy is required to give people the confidence to invest.

“We have enormous potential in this country and we have the right government policies to unleash it. We’re optimistic about the future and you don’t achieve that by cutting. Or by cringing in the face of challenges,” Senator Carr said.

“Basically the government is talking as if they have no agenda, only hostility to the Labor. There’s no plan for the future. So the government is acting as if it was an opposition and the opposition is the one with the plans for the future.”

“Science has to be back at the centre of government. We’ve got to provide a policy framework that respects science and reverse the war on science we’ve seen from the current government. You don’t have to look much further than their attitude to climate change to demonstrate that.”

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