Open Letter to the Australian Political Parties

We have a curious situation in Australia. Members of society who commit offences can still be seen as “heroes” and end up in sporting Halls of Fame. All is forgiven in the name of sporting entertainment. And these individuals earn hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

If you walk up to the average Australian, and ask the name of the captain of Australia’s cricket team – you’d be odds on if you were to wager that they would know the answer. Ask those same individuals to name an Australian Nobel Laureate, however, and the number of correct responses would drop dramatically. (For the record, Elizabeth Blackburn (2009), Barry Marshall (2005), Robin Warren (2005) and Peter C Doherty (1996) were the most recent). Even if one were to put aside internationally recognised awards just for a moment – think of all the doctors, teachers, scientists and researchers who make a difference to your life. The medicines and procedures used to save your grandparents in hospital – the Wi-Fi you are using to log onto the internet – the electricity used to light and heat or cool your home. All of this is available to us thanks to science and research. People who do this for a living are the real heroes.

In the meantime, our educational institutions, such as universities are suffering[1], and the quality of education and quality of graduates is anecdotally not what it used to be, as a result.

The general public don’t seem to be as well versed in the sciences as they ought to – a prime example of this is the denial of climate change in this country (under the incorrect guise of scepticism), from some corners. Of course, there is a huge vested interest in some of the deniers, but a large proportion of the deniers actually do not seem to fathom the scientific method, which would seem to be the only way to believe their claims.

Barack Obama said “At such a difficult moment (referring to the Global Financial Crisis in April 2009), there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science, that support for research is somehow a luxury. I fundamentally disagree. Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before.”[2]

Let’s quickly delve into some facts about education, science, and research in Australia:

  • An Australian university graduate pays, on average, twice as much tax as other Australians[3]
  • The US, UK, China, India, Australia and Denmark governments all recognise the link between science, research, and economic prosperity[4],[5]
  • Public Funding for Education in Australia has been cut[6]
  • If we spent $37b each year for 10yrs on sustainable resources, our energy would be free forever[7]

So here are some questions that I, and my listeners, pose to the parties in the current election campaign. I seek responses by the end of the day on Thursday 19th of August, and I will publish a podcast referring to the answers on Friday 20th of August, to be heard by 15,000 listeners, who have a keen interest in the answers. Parties invited to respond and who do not do so will be marked as “Did not respond” when published.

The Questions:

  1. What is your view on the importance of science in society?
  2. The defence budget for 2010-2011 is almost 27 billion dollars. How can we justify spending that much on ‘defence’, yet spend trivial amounts on research into renewable energy sources?
  3. According to the CIA World Factbook, we are #85 in the world in terms of the amount of government money we put towards education in total. We spend 4.5% of our GDP on education. Science is obviously a much smaller subset, but we fall behind countries such as New Zealand (6.2%) , UK (5.6%), US (5.3%), Norway (7.2%), Sweden (7.1%) and even places such as Barbados (6.9%), Botswana (8.7%), Cuba (9.1%) and Yemen (9.6%). And many countries that contribute about the same or less as a percentage of GDP actually put in far more real funds in terms of amounts into education. How do you think this affects us in the education, science and research community, and what should be done about it?
  4. What would you do to rectify the sense that most people in this country have about a lack of support for pure science and research, without overheads such as the “Research Quality Framework” and “Backing Australia’s Ability” policy, which seem to not have provided the benefits which were claimed when they were announced?
  5. What is your view on fundamental research, which has no immediate economic benefit, such the work of Einstein, for which commercial benefits weren’t available until the following century, but would not have been realised without his groundbreaking work?
  6. What do you think should be done to promote science and science communication to the public?
  7. Why do you think so few politicians seem to have a basic understanding of science? How should we redress this issue?

    Questions from Listeners:

  8. What is your position on increasing funding for science research?
  9. How will you stop the “brain drain”?
  10. Why is it so expensive to educate our children in state schools?
  11. How will you promote science in school as an ‘achievement’ instead of just promoting sports as being the ‘winners’ ?
  12. What is your view on what the government should be doing to promote Australia’s science research and where it stands in comparison to other well known industries such as agriculture, mining, and manufacturing. (eg. WiFi is a result of Australian research)
  13. What sort of a National standard is the Federal Government looking at with regards to education? What sort of a budget are they thinking of putting towards Science, not just in Primary Schools and High Schools, but in Tertiary schools? Why do they continually withdraw funding for Science programs; when science is essential in other scholastic areas?

We are not looking for slabs of quotes from party policy, but summaries and opinions. It should not take more than about half an hour to respond to the first section. I look forward to your replies. They can be addressed to mail at brainsmatter dot com.

I have emailed every single politician with an email address listed on the Senate ticket. Parties contacted include:

Australian Labor Party
Liberal Party of Australia
Australian Greens
Family First
Socialist Equity Party
Senator Online
Democratic Labor Party of Australia
Australian Democrats
Shooters and Fishers
Australian Sex Party
The Climate Sceptics
Socialist Alliance
Citizens Electoral Council
Building Australia
One Nation
The Nationals
Christian Democratic Party
Secular Party of Australia
Carers Alliance
Liberal Democrats

In addition to this, I have also contacted, via online means:


Julia Gillard
Kevin Rudd


Tony Abbott
Joe Hockey
Greg Hunt


Bob Brown
Sarah Hanson-Young
Andrew Bartlett

If you know of a politician please send them the link to this page. It would be a shame for there to be so much airtime on pointless topics such as boats, in comparison to important things such as science education.

[1] Universities Must Fight For their Future (
[2] US President Barack Obama, 2009 Address to the US National Academy of Sciences
[3] Karl Kruszelnicki, Brains Matter interview, 8 August 2010
[4] Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Science and Innovation White Paper (
[5] Human Capital Theory and Education Policy in Australia, (
[6] Julia Gillard speech, “Creating a Productive, Prosperous, Modern Australia” (
[7] Quote from Karl Kruszelnicki, (


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