Malcolm Turnbull’s extensive frontbench reshuffle has seen science left on the outer, with the portfolio shunted from Cabinet and assigned to a junior minister.But the Senator says PM is putting innovation “front and centre”
The move has dismayed Australia’s scientific community, which has been frustrated by a succession of changes to the important post.
With the former minister for science, Arthur Sinodinos, stepping down due to ill health, the Prime Minister dropped the role from Cabinet and allocated it to an Assistant Minister, ACT senator Zed Seselja.
“We would much prefer to have a minister sitting at the Cabinet table,” said Professor Emma Johnston, the president of Science and Technology Australia (STA), representing the nation’s scientific and research associations.
“Putting that science, that fundamental research, into an Assistant Minister’s portfolio demotes it, makes it less of a priority, and words matter.”
Senator Seselja will be assisting the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Michaelia Cash, and believes the arrangements show innovation is still central to the Coalition’s agenda.
“[Malcolm Turnbull] put it front and centre for the Government,” Senator Seselja said.
“We’ve got the new portfolio led by Michaelia Cash and Craig Laundy, which is really about jobs. Jobs and innovation.”
Multiple portfolio changes cause problems, STA says
It is only the second time since the 1930s there has not been a minister for science in cabinet, with Mr Turnbull’s predecessor Tony Abbott also dropping science from cabinet.
Compounding concerns is the rapid turnover of science ministers in recent years, with Senator Seselja the fourth in the past three years.
“Having multiple portfolio changes does cause problems,” Professor Johnston said.
“They’ve individually been very excited and talented people, but the instability does cause problems for the sector.
“Science and research are long-term programs. They pay off, but you need to invest in them and you need to invest in them securely.”
The Opposition spokesman for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Kim Carr, said the demotion puts science and research in the hands of “a third-rate junior”.
He said the science community needs an advocate at the Cabinet table and that shouldn’t be “turned on and off like a tap”.
STA want to see science at the heart of government decision-making.
“It’s paramount that anyone with the science portfolio is committed to evidence-based policy creation,” Professor Johnston said.
Senator Seselja is a conservative Liberal who was a vocal opponent of carbon pricing under the last Labor government.
But he said climate change policy would not fall under his purview.
“I’m not going to get into the absolute detail of that — it is beyond my portfolio,” he said.
“But I think the direction the Government is going in is absolutely the right one.”