[ASC-list] What will a new minister mean for science communication in Australia?

Bobby Cerini bobby.cerini at anu.edu.au
Wed Dec 14 11:47:08 UTC 2011


I just saw Nancy¹s message from a few days ago and had a few thoughts to
contribute

I¹m currently working with CSIRO on an exhibition about Australian
Synchrotron research. As many will already know, it¹s an impressive facility
­ although not yet as impressive as it may one day become. 8 beamlines are
now in operation, with a ninth on the way. Eventually, around 30 beamlines
could be in use ­ presuming that adequate funding can be raised for its
continued operation and development.

The problem currently is that the state-based funding for the Synchrotron¹s
day-to-day operations runs out in mid-2012. (We¹re talking basic operating
and staffing costs here, not the cost of new infrastructure). Until very
recently, Kim Carr was closely involved in the negotiations for federal
government funding. He appeared to know the costs and benefits of the
project very well, and was in the process of driving a fairly hard bargain
with the Victorian government.

With the changeover of minister, however, the relationship now has to be
re-built, and the case re-argued, potentially from scratch. The new minister
is an unknown quantity ­ potentially adversarial, juggling competing
priorities, and learning the portfolio whilst also appearing knowledgeable
and decisive. Lobbyists of all persuasions will suddenly be seeking an
audience to tell their stories and secure their projects. I should think
that this will up the ante for science communication considerably, just as
it has with previous ministerial changes.

Inevitably, senior scientists and administrators will be drawn into the
process of lobbying for ongoing funding. They may be asked to defend
questions such as: Why is this project so important? Who does it help? How
does it deliver on the National Research Priorities? Why is it more worthy
than other projects? They may be asked to contribute to briefing documents,
presentations, media appearances and etc etc. This pressure does not just
apply to the Synchrotron, but to every initiative that the Minister might
support, trim, or axe entirely. I would see Inspiring Australia as having to
compete equally for attention and funds in this environment, along with
every other science-based initiative that wants additional or ongoing
federal government support. Inevitably there will be some winners and some
losers.

Some might see this as an opportunity for science communication generally ­
it¹s a chance to renew the case for key initiatives. But it also has costs
in terms of lost productivity, heightened uncertainty and potential job
insecurity.


Bobby Cerini
Consultant in Science Communication & PhD Candidate

The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS)
A Centre for the National Commission of UNESCO

The Australian National University
Building 38A ­ Physics Link
Canberra, ACT 0200 
Australia
CRICOS provider 00120C

Telephone: 0415 032 701
Email: bobby.cerini at anu.edu.au
Web: http://cpas.anu.edu.au




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