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Making your senate vote count for the future of research

Picture of two ballot boxes

Image source: AEC

As election day looms, that unwieldy senate ballot paper – featuring a raft of new, obscure micro parties – poses the biggest challenge for anyone wary of supporting parties and policies they don’t agree with. There are some handy general guides out there already, including those from The Guardian, SBS, Buzzfeed and the ABC’s specific guides for Western Australia and Queensland.

But when it comes to research and innovation, what do we know of party policies? They’re rarely top of the policy agenda for the broader population at election time. But they could make a big difference to the lives and careers of those of us working in the sector.

By now, you may be familiar with the standout promises (or lack thereof) from the big three. In a nutshell:

  • the Liberal Party (and Nationals) has said little, but set the scene with the recent Budget, which paints a continuation of the current research funding environment and approach

  • Labor has committed to a full review of research in Australia and increasing research and development funding to 3% of GDP

  • the Greens target an even bigger funding increase to 4% of GDP

Check out Science and Technology Australia’s handy one page assessment of party policy for more detail of the three parties’ responses to STA priorities. The Australasian Council of Deans of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities has published a similar research and higher education party policy analysis, including another four parties for good measure. (There are more links to comparisons undertaken by other organisations at the bottom of this article too.)

What about the rest though? Read on for statements by the minor and micro parties standing for senate on their views about approaches to research and innovation. We’ve tried to keep it big picture, so haven’t detailed any specific policies about research in specific disciplines.

Below that, we’ve also explored what a range of research-related bodies have asked for in their pre-election statements, for your interest. We’ve included links to these so you can continue to explore the broader issues that matter to your career, organisation and colleagues.

This isn’t an exhaustive survey or analysis, and new statements and policies are still being released, but we hope it’s a helpful starting point. If you know we’ve missed something important, get in touch so we can complete the picture.

Which micro parties have something significant to say about research?

Australian Democrats (NSW, SA, Vic)

Only under the heading of Energy do we get a mention, where they commit to policies and legislation that would increase support for “innovation, research and development within the private, public and university sectors”.

Animal experimentation comes in for exploration here, with a collection of statements focused on ending the use of animals in experiments, “except where there are net benefits to the animals concerned”. Phasing out Australian Research Council (ARC)- and National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)-funded projects in this regard is outlined, as well as banning the use of stray dogs and cats in animal research.

Australian Workers Party (NSW, Qld, Vic)

Under Innovation, they “propose a renewed approach to R&D funding”, with the detail found under Education, in the area of R&D. They’d establish a Ministerial portfolio to specifically deal with R&D and Innovation in Australia, and a national R&D seed funding authority with adequate funding to progress worthwhile advancements into science, technology and health initiatives.

Centre Alliance (SA only)

Under the heading of Innovation, Technology, R&D is a commitment to an increase in funding “to align with other world leading countries”. Energy gets a special shout out once more, with “Australian taxpayer funded research into renewable energy and climate change … to be made more easily available to Australian industry to ensure our competitive advantage in these areas.”

Health Australia Party (NSW, Vic, WA)

Research is central to a lot of the demands here. The integrity and independence of research is a particular focus, including academic freedom to undertake and publish potentially controversial research and the need for “either properly funded research grants by Government or an independent third-party supervising body holding, dispersing and generally supervising the integrity of grants and all studies undertaken (including failed studies)”. The importance of supporting research to assist in terms of industrial growth and clean energy also get a mention.

Liberal Democratic Party (NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic, WA)

The Lib Dems advocate “removing government funding for tertiary education institutions to undertake research, while approving of private funding for this”. They go on to state: “Government does not need to support higher education institutions to undertake research. The commercial benefits of research accrue to the researcher, particularly given the effect of intellectual property. Businesses that fund research receive tax concessions for doing so. Private philanthropy can support research that does not generate commercial benefits, particularly when taxes are reduced on potential donors.”

Pirate Party (NSW, Qld, Vic, WA)

Under Higher Education, they want to “restore academic control over course and research funding…”. They also commit to a national Science Plan with a raft of policies related to this, including re-purposing existing funding to directly support scientific research, and providing “$4 billion in additional annual funding to the Australian Research Council and other research bodies to support academic work in science and social science.”

Science Party (NSW only)

Their Science and Research policy calls for increased investment in science and technology research from $9.2 billion to $18.4 billion, while nuclear energy and space research get special mentions, as does open access to publicly funded research.

Sustainable Australia (ACT, NSW, Qld, SA, Tas, Vic, WA)

Under Education they outline the need for better investment in “university and institutional science and technology research and development to enhance Australia’s creativity, innovation and productivity”.

What does the research sector want?

A range of organisations in the research space have issued pre-election statements. Below are some of the common themes when it comes to research and innovation – unsurprisingly, most are focused around funding, and the need for a lot more of it.

  • More funding. Most call for 3% of GDP to go towards research and development, which would be a substantial increase from the current 1.88%.

  • Better support for ARC and NHMRC. Both are identified as needing better support and investment from government.

  • Research future funds. Full capitalisation and commitment to the Medical Research Future Fund is joined by a call for an equivalent fund for non-medical research to help support research translation in other areas too.

  • Infrastructure funding. Several organisations want to restore the Education Investment Fund or find an alternative to ensure appropriate funding for research infrastructure and equipment.

  • R&D Tax Incentive. Preserving the R&D Tax Incentive for industry and businesses to encourage innovation is a high priority for many.

  • Stability and security. Better forward planning, and more stable, long-term funding are stated priorities for some, while reversing the freeze on research block grants is a common refrain.

  • Process and integrity. Some highlight the need for better integrity and independence of grant funding decision-making, and review of the design and effectiveness of publicly-funded schemes.

There are a lot more priority areas beyond research too, so it’s worth checking out the links below for statements from any organisations relevant to you.

Links for further reading

Pre-election statements on research and related issues

Comparisons of research and related policies

National Tertiary Education Union: research policy; higher education policy

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