Exclusive: First Interview with new Science Minister Chris Bowen
Just days into his appointment as the Minister for Science and Research Professionals Australia caught up with Chris Bowen and fired off six quick questions to find out about his vision for science in Australia.
Wednesday, 6 February 2013
Q 1. How important do you think science and scientific research is to the Australian economy and the Australian way of life?
Minister Bowen: Scientific endeavour and translating scientific research into solutions to address the challenges we face is absolutely critical to Australia's future and indeed the future of the world.
Unfortunately no government can afford to fund every good idea, even though we'd like to. But I am absolutely determined to maintaining this Government's commitment to science and to ensure all Australians benefit from the immense opportunities and potential that science offers.
Q 2. In your view what are the biggest scientific achievements that Australian scientists have made in the past decade or so?
Minister Bowen: Australia should be proud of its vast list of scientific achievements. The Prime Minister's Prizes for Science and the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes provide just a small indication of how many achievements we can be proud of.
Just a few notable achievements that immediately come to mind are Australia's involvement in the discovery of the Higgs Boson using the Large Hadron Collider, development of the prototype Hendra virus vaccine, and recent significant new advances in the Bionic Ear.
Q 3. Were you a fan of science as a school kid or did you prefer other educational pursuits?
Minister Bowen: Even at an early age at school I leaned towards economics and politics. Although I did study advanced mathematics I always leaned towards the humanities. That said, I am looking forward to taking in and fostering the amazing work Australians are doing in science and research.
Q 4. What are the biggest challenges facing you in the science portfolio at the moment?
Minister Bowen: I have long believed that investment in science and research is critical to our nation's prosperity. One of the greatest challenges is to give our scientists and researchers the support they need, encourage and foster excellence and to work with them to capture the benefits of their work for the well-being of all Australians.
Q 5. Many of our members work at the Australian Synchrotron and are keen to find out whether the development of the facility will continue, particularly as recommended by the 2010 “Science Case”.
Minister Bowen: The Government recognises the importance of a world class synchrotron to Australia's research and innovation effort, as well as its value to Australian industry. The continued operation of the facility has been secured through a $100 million package outlined under a memorandum of understanding between the Commonwealth and Victorian government.
We will continue to work towards a long-term sustainable investment strategy for research infrastructure, including facilities such as the Synchrotron.
Q 6. Do you think the reputation of scientists among the Australian community has been damaged by recent political debates, particularly around the available evidence of climate change? What can be done to restore the respect scientists deserve?
Minister Bowen: I have no doubt that the Australian community has a great deal of respect for its scientists. We need give them space to carry out critical inquiry and to question each other supported by scientific evidence.
The Government has put in a range of measures to support the freedom of researchers and I will vigorously stand up for our scientists to ensure we debate science issues based on scientific evidence, and not be clouded political hyperbole.