Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013


Australian Research Council

6:02 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There has been a lot about the Australian Research Council over time and, generally speaking, I think that they do a good job. The money that the Australian Research Council receive, used properly, can be a great benefit to Australia. Australia punches above its weight in research. We need to fund the research properly and, whilst private industry does contribute significantly to all forms of research, most research funding comes from governments, and principally from the federal government.

I have been concerned over the last five or six years about the number of grants from the Australian Research Council that go to climate change issues. I once did get on notice an answer to just exactly what percentage, or how many grants, went from the Australian Research Council to researchers dealing with climate change. From my interaction with them, it came to me that unless you indicated in your application for a research grant that you were doing something with climate change then you were unlikely to get a grant, with the result that if you applied for pure and applied research in areas that did not relate to climate change you were, as I say, unlikely to receive funding.

I went to the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Australian Institute of Marine Science where my colleague from North Queensland was officiating—thank you, Senator—and I was amazed at that time that as Senator McLucas was speaking and as the director was speaking that the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which used to do pure and applied science on corals and on cures of cancer and all the other different things that you can do with coral in the Great Barrier Reef, that it seemed that every project since the Labor government has been in power was about climate change. They might have thought climate change was important for the Australian Institute of Marine Science to do—and who am I to argue with that—but not nearly all the grants. Where were the grants for the research into how corals might help human beings with health problems, and there was at one stage excitement about some relief from cancer that might have come from that. Many scientists said to me that they gave up applying for grants because they wanted to look at things that were not related to climate change.

I also know that a number of scientists—and I have had personal interaction with some of them—who wanted to do research that did not follow the then government's view of climate change would never ever get a grant from the Australian Research Council. That seemed to me, if that were the case—and I accept what was told to me—that the Research Council was actually following a dictum from the then government about climate change and climate change research.

There is a body of opinion that does not accept the IPCC's on climate change. I am one of those who is an agnostic. I always confess that I know nothing about science but I do always acknowledge that there are eminent scientists who have a different view and some of them have applied for research grants but none of them have ever received one in recent years in Australia. I think that is appalling and I really think that the Australian Research Council needs to be more balanced in the way it does it and does not run to the ideological direction of the government of the day. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.