It’s not usual, especially in the wake of such a divisive budget, to see a Liberal Party MP breaking ranks and questioning policy. So Dennis Jensen coming out and describing the budget cuts to research coupled with a medical research fund as ‘incoherent’ is refreshing to say the least. I guess it comes as no great surprise to find that Mr Jensen was a scientist before he entered politics so he actually understands what he’s talking about in this field.
Jensen actually bluntly says that he sees no evidence of improvement in science policy and states that ‘the reverse would appear to be the case’ (which, by the way, aptly demonstrates that he is picking up political-speak nicely). He moves back to refreshingly blunt with statements like:
There appears to be a lack of understanding about how science works. Many advances, including in the medical field, are not a result of directed research. But as a matter of more fundamental research that was not directed. X-rays and CAT scans for cancer came from fundamental physics looking at atomic structure. … They are the result of work driven by the quest for knowledge and understanding that had fortuitous benefits.
Jensen lays the lack of understanding about how science works at the door of the decision not to have a dedicated Science Minister, and to the lack of coordination and coherency that flows from that decision.
Jensen is entirely correct here. You can’t effectively direct science research. In fact it’s ironic that a Party that believes in the free market and in relaxing restrictions on business sees increasing restrictions and direction as a way to achieve any sort of sensible outcome in scientific research. He’s also correct that the Liberal Government’s science policy is demonstrably incoherent. That said, while I’m an advocate for us having a Science Minister, I’m not so certain that it would have made a huge difference in the context of this budget where so many decisions have clearly been made for political rather than rational reasons: Why is the Government creating a medical research fund – because it provides apparent balance to the Medicare co-payments.
Jensen has a manifesto aimed at his own Government for ‘Saving science from destruction in Australia‘. While I can’t say I agree with all of it, especially some of his views on education, there’s a whole lot more good sense in there than I’ve heard from anyone else in Government on the subject of science.