A bipartisan apathy to science in Australia

A bipartisan apathy to science in Australia

July 25, 2022

Credit:Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

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SCIENCE AND RESEARCH

A bipartisan apathy to science in Australia

Ben Schneiders’ article – ‴⁣⁣Gig economy’ failing our scientists” (The Age, 25/7) – is long overdue. The denizens of the science ecosystem have long been aware of the parlous state of science in this country. Over the past 15 years, I have informally sought views of colleagues, successful senior scientists, on science as a career. No one, not a single one, said yes.

This signifies a deep-seated demoralisation and I have attempted to convey this to our politicians, and the reasons for scientists’ negativity. I also attempted to convey the long-term consequences of white-anting research, this being based on my experience in elite research institutes in Germany, where 12 years of maladministration took more than four decades to put right.

Earlier this year, I wrote again of my concerns to 12 senior Coalition MPs whose portfolios had some relationship to science and technology. And anticipating a change of government, I also wrote to 13 senior opposition MPs.

How many replies did I receive? Just one, from the office of Mark Butler. This lack of political interest tells us a lot about why Australian science is in its current state.
Donald Newgreen, Brunswick West

Forced to give up the work they loved passionately

It was so disappointing when my son, after more than 25years in science in the past decade, plus as a research fellow with a top university, was made redundant when COVID-19 raised its head. The redundancy package was really dismal, with definitely no recognition for his length of service and results achieved.

I watched as his important research centre spent more and more time having to scramble and apply for grants while less and less was available over the science research sector, instead of being able to spend time on valuable research.

My son was the last of his group of friends, all honours students and then PhDs, to leave science that had once been their dream, with the others choosing different paths over the years.

I grieve because he used to enjoy his work – researching, mentoring medical specialists and other students, and collaborating with overseas scientists etc. He still is unsure of what new direction he will take.
Judy Eastwood, Muckleford

Australia loses when we mistreat our scientists

Your article is a reflection of a conservative government’s priorities over the past years. The way we treat our scientific community is a disgrace, especially in not increasing funding for the vital projects as outlined. The subjects, when successful, would save the government millions of dollars on the health budget.

Why would scientists have to reapply for funding on a one-year time frame? Even sporting contracts have longer time frames.

I hope the new government will change the situation, inject more funding and increase the time to reapply, and hopefully the scientists will not have to work significant unpaid overtime now outlined and will be more respected.
Shirley Videion, Hampton

‘Feudal system’ of applying for some research grants

Your article on the tenuous lives of our brightest scientists shines a light on the university gig economy. A further inequality lies with the antiquated Australian Research Council grants, which place high value on the “track record” of chief investigators (read those who have previously received ARC grants).

Unlike the National Health and Medical Research Council grants, ARC chief investigators cannot draw their salary and must rely on being in continuing positions at their university.

Given the university gig economy where few researchers are in continuing positions, it means that social scientists can never “get ahead” to lead their own grants and must rely on the minority of privileged, senior academics in continuing positions. It is a feudal system, which the ARC needs to urgently address.
Cathy Humphreys, professor of social work, University of Melbourne

THE FORUM

Higher education in crisis

The university system is like an old 1960s car, hanging in there because it was once well-built, cobbled together with rubber bands and tape, worked on constantly by the mechanics (academics and researchers) but way past its use-by date.

As someone who passionately works at a major university, my experience is that universities are obsessed with property acquisition over people, wage and time theft is rampant, academic boards are ignored, and university councils are stacked with too many people who have never worked in higher education.

Victoria’s Higher Education Minister Gayle Tierney is missing in action, and there is too big a disconnect and disrespect between those at the top in the highly paid chancellery and the workers who keep them going. COVID-19 and its challenges added new stress.

The public is indifferent yet the global university sector underpins our civilised lives and whether we have a future on this planet.

Conservative governments wage ideological wars against us and Labor governments never get around to long-term reform. I hope it is different this time and that federal Education Minister Jason Clare makes meaningful reforms. They are too important to fail.
Dr Judith Glover, Collingwood

Footballers matter more

I have a digestive disorder exacerbated by stress (nerves?). I am appalled that eminent scientists from the laudable Florey Institute (including one who is researching the role of the nervous system in digestive disorders), and the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute have to beg for their supper and are left dangling. It would not happen if they played football.
Jane Ross, San Remo

Murder of a great man

Myanmar has executed four democracy activists. I had the privilege to work with one of them, Jimmy (Kyaw Min Yu), after his release from prison in Myanmar a decade ago.

I will remember Jimmy as a man devoted to democracy who sacrificed everything for Myanmar, and his death should be recorded as a murder for which the junta will one day have to answer. Another sad day for democracy in that beautiful country.
James O’Keefe, East Melbourne

Fears have proved true

I note the hand-wringing from the music impresarios over the dampening of the Splendour in the Grass festival. On the other hand I remain unmoved, being painfully aware of the festival’s genesis and the damage caused.

The original entrepreneurs purchased the land in the face of strong environmental and social opposition. Not only was the ridge chosen the last wildlife corridor remaining between the high country and the coast, it is also flood-prone and, as has been proven, highly disruptive to the social amenity of locals.

Of course these impediments were quickly obliterated by the usual combination of “helpful consultants”, state government lobbying and fellow travellers on the Byron Shire Council. How do I know this? I was an opposing councillor at the time and, sadly, most of our fears have been realised.
Tom Tabart, Drysdale

Clean up our city

The City of Melbourne has announced plans to transform the city’s “desolate spaces” and “urban blight” into “trendy hotspots” (The Age, 25/7). But the council does not need to look under railway lines and motorways to find suitable locations for these transformations.

Parts of City Road’s footpaths look like they could be in a Third World country. And the council’s plans to improve them have languished for years gathering dust in some cellar in the Town Hall while funds have been diverted to other trendy hotspots such as a doggy park.
Peter Price, Southbank

Our insurance policy

Your editorial calling to shut down the new quarantine facility (Sunday Age, 24/7) could well have been written by a short-sighted politician looking to cut spending.

Much commentary about our national COVID response has lamented the lack of planning and foresight for an eventual pandemic, resulting in our jumbled, knee-jerk reaction when it did arrive.
Surely if we have learnt anything during this past 2 years, it is that we need to invest in facilities and programs which can be quickly stood up in the event of another crisis.

We hope we will not need the quarantine facility but if we do, we will be much better off for its existence. Sure, find some other temporary use for it but keep it on hand, just in case. How good would it have been if we still had an infectious diseases hospital?
Margaret Ludowyk, Brunswick

Owning up to our role

Robert Scheffer (Letters, 25/7) is correct. In our everyday lives, we all contribute to habitat destruction and loss of species biodiversity.

The hysterical spraying of insecticides whenever a lone spider appears in our homes, our obsession with paved surfaces and minuscule, manicured garden plots, our aversion to a few leaves on our paths, all lead to the loss of vital insect species which play an essential role, and without whom our own species would not survive. Endangered species depend on our backyards for their survival.
Rosenna Hossack, Edithvale

Call for calm compromise

Re “Greens vow to fight Labor on future coal, gas projects (Sunday Age, 24/7). The Greens’ lack of political savvy is disheartening. The art of politics is the art of compromise, and hard-line attitudes and inflexibility will make it hard to achieve a sensible result. They should instead engage in private and sensible debate with Labor to find a compromise or a forward thinking, well-timed plan.

Opposition parties and independents may try to wield the big stick but they do not have to bear the responsibility of the final decision that rests with the government. Never has there been more need for a bipartisan approach to the grave issues facing not only Australia but the world. The Greens need to change their approach.
Rod Mackenzie, Marshall

The wrong candidates

We all benefit when there is a strong opposition to bring the government to account. The latest selection of the Liberal candidates for state preselection (The Age, 25/7) give no confidence this will take place. How did they find a sceptic of ambitious climate change targets?
Alister Ferguson, Canterbury

Close the borders now

When we have no meat and no milk for your cafe lattes, will people only then realise more needs to be done to protect Australian borders from the devastating foot and mouth disease from Bali? I grew up in a country town. People’s lives depend on this protection, please.
Juliette Kent, North Melbourne

In Sarah we trust

Sarah Ferguson, the new host of the ABC’s 7.30, is now in her rightful place – commensurate with the depth and range of her knowledge, and time for her warmth to show. All is right with the world.
Judy McKenzie, Hampton

Seeking other investments

Re Malcolm McDonald’s comment (Letters, 23/7) on the low level of interest rates set by the Reserve Bank. It seems this action has become a setting for the big four banks, and others also, in their reluctance to offer anything substantial in the shorter terms to term-deposit customers.

The ASX exchange traded funds are starting to look more enticing than ever.
Raymond Wilson, Avondale Heights

Put climate physics first

An indicator of the priorities of our society is that vital decisions to do with the functioning of our economic system have been removed from the political sphere and trusted to the expert members of the Reserve Bank.

It is strange, therefore, that at a time of impending environmental collapse we are content that the critical targets and directions on climate action remain strongly restrained by the rhetoric from warring political factions, biased business groups and self-seeking media moguls. It is time for climate physics to be the urgent priority, empowered through a renewed Climate Council.
Peter McCarthy, Mentone

The haves and have-nots

Re “Home comforts create new class divide” (Comment, 25/7). Roshena Campbell is correct that “we are not all in this together”.

But rather than proceeding between those whose jobs can or cannot be done by Zoom, Dan Andrews’ dichotomy arises between public servants who “received compensation” to stay at home and those in the real economy, many of whom lost their jobs or large measures of income, whether they can Zoom or not.
Douglas Shirrefs, Yea

Why turn back boats?

It was great to see The Age highlighting the “cynical and hypocritical politics” of the Morrison government, in calling for an end to the “performative cruelty” that has characterised refugee policy for more than a decade (Editorial, 25/7).

However, I question the contention that we “must maintain the essential policy of turning back boats”. What about the inherent dangers (both at sea and upon return to shore) of sending people back? What about Australia’s international obligations and the inherent right to seek protection from harm and persecution?

It is time for the new Labor government to formulate fair and compassionate policy in this area. My hope is that policymakers put aside the tired and questionable “stop the boats” mantra and devise effective ways for people to seek asylum and gain enduring protection for their families.
Maryanne Barclay, Frankston South

Hard work, but what fun

Well, David Astle, what a smarty pants. Your latest crossword (Puzzles, 22/7) was one of your worst. It took ages and a lot of patience to complete, right into the evening. Thanks for a bit of fun.
Allan Thomas, Nunawading

AND ANOTHER THING

Credit:Illustration: Matt Golding

Politics

“A public servant with nothing to gain” (25/7) may have had a lot to lose if an untrustworthy government had been elected. Perhaps his job.
John Archer, Benalla

If the United States continues on its path of dismantling democracy, we had better get ready for big numbers of American refugees. Will we “stop the jumbos”?
John Hoey, Hampton

The Victorian Liberals’ latest preselections (25/7): the irrational vying to be the unelectable
Rex Niven, Eltham

Tim Smith has gone rogue, but does his old ally Matthew Guy have the will to confront it?
Andrew McFarland, Templestowe

Well done, Megan Herbert (25/7), for your snapshot of the political “game” – corrupt behaviour rewarded, sensible policy derided.
Jon Smith, Leongatha

AFL

Where is the Richmond army?
Peter O’Brien, Newport

The nine lives of Collingwood.
William Hennessy, Clifton Hill

Collingwood on both the front and back pages of Monday’s paper. Really? Spare us.
Jenny Latimer, Bentleigh

Furthermore

Splendour in the slush.
Tris Raouf, Hadfield

I’ve been told there is a movement in Europe to replace the terms “motherland” and “fatherland” with “birthing parent land”.
Graham Bridge, Morwell

Isn’t it time we dialled back the unprecedented overuse of the adjective “unprecedented”?
John Paine, Kew East

Thanks for masking.
Margaret Lothian, Middle Park

Do we have to wait until a parliament, somewhere, has a few COVID-19 deaths? Introduce mask mandates indoors, now.
Mick Webster, Chiltern

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