Coalition replaces Commonwealth Science Council as Labor promises science inquiry

The National Science and Technology Council has been created by the Australian government as the Commonwealth Science Council is tossed overboard.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor on

The Australian Coalition government has announced that it would replace the existing Commonwealth Science Council with a new National Science and Technology Council to be the peak advisory body on science and technology to the ministry.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement that the council will provide independent advice, and that the government recognises the importance of science, research, and technology in "improving the competitiveness of Australian businesses and driving new jobs".

"The Council will identify Research Challenge projects and oversee horizon-scanning reports into long-term science and technology priorities, providing expert advice on issues such as health, emerging technologies, and education," the statement read.

Free PDF: Australia's 2018 Budget: How the federal government is funding and adopting tech

"These changes will enable a stronger voice for science and technology in the national conversation, ensuring deeper engagement with government and industry in the policy process."

Morrison will chair the council, with Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews as deputy chair, and six other "scientific experts" to follow. Australia's chief scientist will remain as executive officer, and the CEO of CSIRO will become an ex officio member.

Last month, the government found itself in a freshly laid stinking mess when it was revealed in Senate Estimates that former Education Minister Simon Birmingham had vetoed a number of research projects, drawing heavy fire from the university sector.

From the Opposition, a prospective Shorten Labor government will conduct a "root-and-branch" inquiry into science and research, and create a charter with the scientists and researchers.

Labor said it would create a Prime Ministers Science and Innovation Council to identify national priorities in science and research, and would increase spending as a percentage of GDP.

"A Shorten Labor government is committed to reversing the decline in Australia's research and development performance that has taken place in the past five years," Labor said.

Additionally, Labor would legislate that ministers would need to table the reasons for vetoing any funding within 15 sitting days.

In the May Budget, the government earmarked AU$2.4 billion for technology and science over the next 12 years.

The government said it would invest AU$29.9 million over four years in AI and machine learning, which it said would support business innovation across digital health, digital agriculture, cybersecurity, energy, and mining.

"A Technology Roadmap, a Standards Framework. and a national AI Ethics Framework will help identify opportunities in AI and machine learning for Australia and support the responsible development of these technologies," the Budget papers explained.

"This measure will also support Cooperative Research Centre projects, PhD scholarships, and school-related learning to increase knowledge and develop the skills needed for AI and machine learning."

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