A Letter to the Prime Minister

Dear Mr Turnbull,

The state of our nation’s politics may be in some turmoil, but I’m sure science enthusiasts around the country rejoiced at the news of your recent Prime Ministership. Australian science has suffered a generation of funding cuts, though hopefully this situation will improve under the leadership of someone who at least appreciates the role that science and technology has in our future.

The decline of Australian scientific innovation is undeniable, and much of it is due to the lack of support, and hence encouragement of younger generations, towards scientific education and industry. The nation’s innovative research group, NICTA, lasted just over a decade after it was forced to merge with CSIRO due to a massive decline in funding. The nation’s chief scientific organisation has also not been immune, with over $115 million slashed in the 2014 budget over the next four years. Six research centres were closed last year as a result, not just costing hundreds of jobs, but also severely damaging the future of science in this county.

It is delusional to think that Australia will continue to thrive economically and socially, if such cuts to funding continue. Powerful nations, both historically and in modern times, have one thing in common – they are pioneers of technology and innovation, and as such do not rely on others to ensure their living standards. Australia is already geographically isolated from the rest of the developed world – it would be unjust if we let our nation become scientifically and technologically isolated as well. More importantly, the rewards of scientific endeavour are often felt many years in the future. Scientific support is a critical investment for now and the future – but I’m sure, unlike other politicians, that you understand and have witnessed firsthand the importance of a good investment.

I attended a speech you gave in June last year during an international communications and networks conference in Sydney. You were still the Minister for Communications and your position on the NBN was made perfectly clear. Your criticism of the Labor party’s NBN proposal based heavily on optical technology might have struck a nerve with some, in particular the attack on Prof. Rod Tucker’s opinions, arguably Australia’s leading optical broadband communications expert. Ironically, or perhaps cleverly planned, he was in attendance during your tirade, and was actually the keynote speaker to follow you. Though it seems your opinions have changed somewhat since then, I hope that those who disagreed with you can see that you now take such technologies seriously and recognise their importance.

Mere recognition of science and technology’s role is not enough, as action must be taken. Of course, it would be an easy fix to simply inject more funding into our universities and create more research centres. But just as paramount is the encouragement of students and children to actively engage in scientific education. It is in our current culture for brilliant students to study law or medicine, but I hope that in the future scientific disciplines will be held in equal regard.

I am not an avid follower of politics, and am certainly not qualified to voice opinions on how science should be managed on a national level. Though as a student of science and technology, I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of science in all aspects of our nation’s development. I had always believed that you displayed the right qualities and experience to lead our nation one day, and now that you do, I am hopeful that Australia will seize the opportunity to truly make an impact in our future advancement. One that is not driven by bureaucracy and empty promises, but by innovation, calculated decisions and an active pursuit of scientific application.

A supporter of science