Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter—Issue 13 September 2023

Science Policy and Diplomacy Issue 11 December 2022

The Science Policy and Diplomacy Newsletter of the Australian Academy of Science highlights important science policy discussions and events in Australia and around the globe. We report on the involvement of science in national and international policy and diplomacy, and the Academy’s contributions to these discussions.


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Foreword—Science, Policy and the Reef

Dr Beth Fulton FAA FTSE

This year has been an unprecedented one for the world’s oceans, and it is timely that the future of the Great Barrier Reef (the Reef) has received some focused attention. The Reef is a complex connection of ecosystems and sub-systems spanning land and water, which is important to many communities along its length and beyond.

The Reef is already undergoing major changes to its ecosystems at an unprecedented pace and scale. Climate change is expected to irreversibly reshape the Reef’s ecosystems by around mid-century, regardless of whether global emissions stabilise or not.

UNESCO continues to monitor climate change impacts on the Reef. The World Heritage Centre/IUCN Reactive Monitoring mission concluded that the “Outstanding Universal Value of the property is considerably impacted by climate factors, and that the resilience of the property to recover from climate change impacts is significantly compromised”. Nevertheless, the Reef remains off the ‘In danger’ list for another year. 

In April, I had the privilege of co-chairing the second of three multidisciplinary Reef Futures roundtables hosted by the Australian Academy of Science. These roundtables called on expertise from multiple disciplines to look at the future of the Reef. As co-chair, I led a discussion focused on interventions, adaptation, and restoration methods under plausible climate futures.

While existing interventions are crucial, scaling up the science is proving to be a challenge. Interventions and restoration science aim to buy time for reef ecosystems to build resilience to adapt to climate change. These include aquaculture, cryopreservation, assisted gene flow and translocation, amongst others. Currently, there is no single known intervention operating holistically and at scale for a sustainable and resilient Reef. However, there are opportunities to align research, development, management and Traditional Knowledges to create a holistic system that is greater than the sum of its parts.

The Academy’s Reef Futures Roundtables Report details the results of the three roundtables, with observations and identified opportunities to improve the health of the Reef. The report was used to provide advice to the Australian Minister for the Environment and Water, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, and the Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, the Hon Leanne Linard MP, from the Reef 2050 Independent Expert Panel.

Many research disciplines are grappling with the complexity of the Reef and its future, and the Reef Joint Field Management Program is the only formal governance agreement in place. While there are many research groups leading monitoring and modelling efforts related to the Reef, the focus has not been evenly distributed across all areas, and many unknowns still remain.

Central to many of the opportunities identified in the roundtables report is collaboration and interconnectedness. Protecting, adapting and restoring the Reef requires working across disciplines, coordinating efforts, weaving in Traditional Knowledges and thinking across multiple ecosystems. 

The first step towards achieving this is knowledge sharing. Two-way knowledge corridors between Traditional Owners, government, researchers and other groups are needed. Sharing knowledge is not as simple as could be hoped, as there are not even governance arrangements between research groups on data standards and open access. The report identifies an opportunity for relevant research organisations to form a consortium for sector-wide data standards and sharing arrangements.

Such an arrangement would only be a starting point, however. There is more that can be done and needs to be done for the Reef, but it must be done together—beyond silos.

Policy and diplomacy news

Research funding delivers significant and diverse benefits

The positive impact of investing in research has been demonstrated again.

An independent assessment of the Australian Research Council (ARC)’s National Competitive Grants Program has found that every A$1 of research that the ARC funds generates A$3.32 in economic output back into the Australian community. In addition, the report estimates that ARC-funded research from 2002-21 will increase the real income of Australians by A$152.5 billion and create 6,570 jobs per year across Australia.

As highlighted in a recent opinion piece by Professor Chennupati Jagadish, President of the Australian Academy of Science, greater R&D investment is essential to unlocking our potential as a nation.

“We must harness the opportunities delivered by science and technology—the fuel for job creation and industry growth. New jobs, new industries, new products, new opportunities. The possibilities are many—we just need the capacity, the will and the leadership,” wrote Professor Jagadish.

Latest ABS stats show national investment in R&D has fallen again

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that despite Australia’s reliance on science and research and development (R&D) to navigate a challenging economic landscape, overall national investment in R&D continues its 14-year decline. Read the Academy’s analysis and response here.

Undermining science undermines us all

“Australian science enjoys the overwhelming confidence of the public, but this is at risk from those who seek to twist the truth to suit their agenda,” Professor Chennupati Jagadish AC PresAA FREng FTSE says.

Read the full statement by the President of the Australian Academy of Science President here.

Major ARC reform will strengthen Australia's research capability

The Australian Academy of Science applauds the announcement by Federal Education Minister Jason Clare MP that he will accept all 10 recommendations of the review of the Australian Research Council Act (2001).

Academy position on the Voice to Parliament

The Council of the Academy of Science supports the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian Constitution and the establishment in the Constitution of a Voice to Parliament.

Read our full statement on the Voice to Parliament here.

Universities Accord Interim Report released

The interim report of the Universities Accord has been released. The report comes after extensive conversations on the state and direction of Australia's university system. The Academy provided input in April 2023 and our submission is available here.

Academy supports Openness Agreement on Animal Research and Teaching

The Academy is a proud supporter of the Australian Openness Agreement on Animal Research and Teaching in Australia. The agreement was created by the Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART) and is a public pledge to demonstrate commitment to greater transparency in animal research. It is hoped the agreement will lead to: more open communication with the broader community; shed more light on the pivotal role of animal research in improving our understanding of biology and diseases, and developing and testing treatments; and promote awareness of the reasons why animals are used, and the steps taken to ensure that the use of animals is ethical, humane and responsible and is underpinned by an obligation to respect animals.

Read more about the agreement.

ISC Mid-Term Members Meeting

Foreign Secretary Professor Frances Separovic was one of several attendees from the Academy.

The International Science Council (ISC) Governing Board called an extraordinary General Assembly of the ISC in May 2023 regarding draft amendments to the ISC Statues and Rules of Procedure. Foreign Secretary, Professor Frances Separovic, and Chief Executive, Anna-Maria Arabia, attended the ISC Mid-Term Members Meeting on behalf of the Academy. They were joined by Dr Petra Lundgren, who attended as Director of the ISC Regional Focal Point, Asia-Pacific, hosted at the Australian Academy of Science in Canberra.

The Academy was pleased to join other nations in sponsoring ISC members in low-income countries to attend the Mid-Term Members Meeting. The Academy sponsored Dr Surendra Prasad of the University of the South Pacific.

Science heard by law in Folbigg Inquiry

Science has been central in overturning Kathleen Folbigg’s convictions. This case highlights that there is a critical role for independent scientific advice in the justice system, particularly where there is complex and emerging science.

The Second Inquiry into Ms Folbigg’s convictions is believed to be one of the first times worldwide that a Learned Academy has acted as an independent scientific adviser during a public inquiry into an individual’s criminal convictions.

Read more.

Science policy and analysis at the Academy

The Academy brings together leading Australian experts to consider and advise the nation on scientific issues, providing authoritative information and advice on current science, technology and emerging research to inform discussion and assist evidence-based policy development and decision-making.

Academy releases Reef Future Roundtable Report

Our advice to the Independent Expert Panel for the Reef 2050 Plan on the Great Barrier Reef has been released. The advice finds that the Great Barrier Reef is likely to face impacts from climate change that could become irreversible around mid-century, regardless of whether global emissions stabilise. The report synthesises the deliberations of three roundtables assembled by the Australian Academy of Science.

Academy responds to June 2023 changes to Australian space programs

Australia’s future in space depends on a commitment to the underpinning science. Without science, we limit our options, becoming an importer of the knowledge and technology. The Academy acknowledges the Australian Government’s ongoing commitment to the future of the Australian Space Agency but is disappointed with the decision to cancel the National Space Mission for Earth Observation.

Read more.

Academy submissions

Setting, tracking and achieving Australia's emissions reduction targets

Our submission to the Climate Change Authority on setting, tracking and achieving Australia’s emissions reduction targets identifies five major actions relating to emission reduction that should be undertaken: emissions reduction; measuring Scope 3 emissions; commitment to greenhouse gas removal; adaptation and resilience building; and international collaboration and investment. To be consistent with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target must be 74% below 2005 levels, with net-zero emissions reached by 2035.

By taking these actions, Australia can contribute to a comprehensive and better global response to climate change, managing our own future and that of the planet. 

Read the submission here.

Supporting responsible AI

Our submission to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources discussion paper on supporting responsible AI emphasises that investment in AI is not optional—it is essential to safeguard the future of Australian research and sovereign capability.

Use of AI and AI tools in science is an opportunity to accelerate discoveries and boost economic growth. However, it is crucial for Australia to prepare itself, as waiting to observe the impact of AI on science is not a viable option.

The Department’s discussion paper builds on the recent Rapid Response Information Report on Generative AI commissioned by Australia’s National Science and Technology Council. The Academy was one of the Learned Academies that supported the development of the report.

Other recent Academy submissions

  • National Health and Climate Strategy: Submission to the Department of Health.
  • Inquiry into the capability and capacity of Australia’s defence industry: Submission to the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.
  • Improving alignment and coordination between the Medical Research Future Fund and the NHMRC’s Medical Research Endowment Account: Submission to the Department of Health.
  • National Robotics Strategy: Submission to  the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.
  • Review of Philanthropy: Submission to the Productivity Commission.
  • Inquiry into impacts and management of feral horses in the Australian Alps: Submission to the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee.
  • Diversity in STEM Review: Submission to the Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

Upcoming events

Symposium: Data for the People: Digital Government meets Open Science to Address Grand Challenge

14 September 2023

The Australian Academy of Science and Australian Research Data Commons will cohost the symposium Data for the People: Digital Government meets Open Science to Address Grand Challenges. Dr Simon Hodson, Executive Director of CODATA, will present on data in science for global challenges. The presentation will be followed a panel discussion featuring Australian data specialists examining how research and government can work together to make use of national data for the benefit of society.

More information

Global Knowledge Dialogue for Asia and the Pacific

6 October 2023

The Global Knowledge Dialogue for Asia and the Pacific will be held on 6 October in Malaysia, hosted by the International Science Council (ISC), the Academy of Sciences Malaysia and the ISC Regional Focal Point for Asia and the Pacific at the Australian Academy of Science. The event will see regional ISC members, along with ISC Fellows and representatives of ISC affiliated bodies, work towards providing a powerful and credible voice for science from Asia and the Pacific on the global stage.

One aim of the event is to provide a roadmap for the ISC Regional Focal point for Asia and the Pacific, and its upcoming initiatives. It will strengthen the voice of science in the region, and work towards developing actionable pathways that advance science as a global public good.

Find out more about this event.

Australian Academy of Science Symposium 2023: International scientific collaborations in a contested world

13 – 14 November 2023

The Australian Academy of Science will facilitate a national dialogue about how we can address national security concerns whilst enabling the benefits that open scientific collaboration offers Australia and the globe. Register here.

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Indigenous knowledges informing our modern world

10 October and 12 December 2023

2023 Academy public speaker series exploring the power of combining ideas from Indigenous knowledge holders, researchers, innovators and industry experts. Register here.

International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA) Global Conference 2024

6 – 9 May 2024, Kigali, Rwanda
More information

The International Network for Governmental Science Advice (INGSA)’s fifth Global Conference on issues of science advice to governments will take place in Kigali, Rwanda. Sign up to receive updates on the conference and opportunities to be involved. More information on themes and speakers will be released in due course.

The Australian Academy of Science occasionally partners with Australian Government departments and other science and research organisations to produce independent research reports and science advice, and facilitate international science linkages on their behalf. If you are interested in working with the Academy please contact us.

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