Comment—Recommendations of the Stocker Report

On 13 August 1997, the following comment was made on the recommendations of the Stocker Report.


Cross-portfolio advisory arrangements and national priorities

Prime Minister's Science and Engineering Council (PMSEC)

The Academy agrees that it is important that governments build up a broad and clear definition of the national goals for science and technology.

The Academy supports the proposal that PMSEC should take a strategic overview of the key issues in Australian science and technology. This needs to be done in the context of a sophisticated appreciation of the Australian economy. The Academy agrees that innovation needs to be asserted as a national goal for industry, otherwise the case for more science and technology will lack conviction. To be effective, links between our publicly-funded research and economic use of that research need a policy framework to support them. Government must set global over-arching priorities if science and technology are to thrive. That should be the role of Government, not researchers. Of course, priority setting will not work unless it recognises the role of researchers, their organisations and funders so that informed decisions about the best use of resources for research can be made.

Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council (ASTEC)

We believe that making ASTEC a Standing Committee of PMSEC will improve the linkages in the science advisory mechanisms. We believe that the suggested high level membership of ASTEC will improve its functioning and make it more relevant to decision-making at the highest levels.

There remains a need in the new structure to collect views from the bottom up. This would have been achieved by the National Research Council (NRC) model, and if the PMSEC-ASTEC structure proposed by the Stocker report is adopted, the NRC model will continue to be relevant.

We agree that ASTEC should continue as a Statutory Authority.

ASTEC should be in a position to provide early warning of what should be on the government's agenda.

In past years, ASTEC has produced some first rate reports. It should continue to do so and have adequate resources. ASTEC has been particularly effective when its reports were linked to PMSEC. While some reports have not had the influence that they deserve, the Chief Scientist, working through PMSEC, should be able to be a champion for these reports.

Coordination Committee on Science and Technology (CCST)

The Academy agrees that the CCST should have stronger formal links to the PMSEC-ASTEC structure. The CCST activities should become as well known as PMSEC's. The Committee should present the bureaucratic solutions to achieve the recommendations of ASTEC and PMSEC. It also provides an airing of cross portfolio interests but if it is to be effective in the way envisaged by Professor Stocker, there needs to be Prime Ministerial endorsement of its executive role.

Other specialist groups such as GMAC should be involved directly when a relevant topic is on the CCST agenda. Overall, the arrangements must avoid the danger that scientific advice could become attenuated as proposals reach Ministerial and Cabinet level. A mechanism is needed to ensure that the experts' perspective remains one of the factors under consideration.

Cabinet Committee

The Academy recommends that the Cabinet Committee should be a separate committee rather than the function being added to an existing committee and that the Minister for Science and Technology should be a member, even though he may not be in Cabinet. This Committee could be the decisive Committee for implementing the worked-up recommendations from CCST responding to PMSEC-ASTEC initiatives.

Whatever arrangements are decided by Government for handling departmental, PMSEC and ASTEC proposals, it is essential that the process be well publicised.

Within-portfolio advice and coordination

The Academy strongly supports the position in each department of a chief science adviser with significant science and technology responsibilities. We also support the idea of each portfolio ensuring that it has a high level coordination and consultation mechanism which regularly brings together the key portfolio science and technology players.

These positions should be advertised and filled competitively. The Chief Scientists and departmental executive should work together closely with the Chief Scientist being a member of the senior management group within the Department. We believe that the position should be at Deputy Secretary status with some line responsibilities.

CSIRO, ANSTO and AIMS

The Academy strongly supports diversity in departmental science and technology advisory structures and we believe that the missions for ANSTO, CSIRO, and AIMS should remain separate.

Human resource issues

Human resource issues, such as career-structure, continuity of employment and stability of research programs, are critical for creative research and the retention of the best human capital. R&D will not be attractive to the best brains unless an appropriate climate is provided. Human resources issues in R&D in Australia are currently of great concern. There is a sense of embattlement among scientists.

Gaps and overlaps

The Academy agrees that it is important to protect the current sectoral (or pluralistic) arrangements for research funding, while providing improved mechanisms for accountability and priority-setting at the national level. A move towards a more central system, which appeared to be the preferred option coming out of the National Committee of Audit, would be wrong. In the case of universities, we also consider that there should be diversity in their missions and structure so that some teaching and research is supported at the best international standard.

The Academy is particularly concerned that concentration on short-term rather than long-term issues will impact adversely on science and technology.

Commonwealth-State links

The Academy considers that one way to link State and Commonwealth initiatives would be through the relevant Ministerial Council which should have a regular agenda item on the uses of science in government.

We note that a number of States, including Queensland, with its strategic development plan, Victoria, with its science-industry plans, and Western Australia, have well developed policies on the role of science and technology in economic and social development.

The Academy believes it is important that all activities in Australia, including activities of States and the universities, are brought into the wider picture. It is also essential that departments in the States have adequate science and technical support for policy development and implementation.

Marine Science and Technology

We support the thrust of the comments on marine science and technology. The Academies of Science and of Technological Sciences and Engineering have prepared a submission to the Marine Science and Technology Plan. A copy of this is included for your information. The submission points out that in the execution of a national plan, advice and evaluation of content and progress are essential. The scale of a plan may formalise and retard evaluation and impose an undesirable reporting and response burden on the agencies and individuals attempting to implement the plan. Our joint submission recommends that the evaluations should be kept at small scale in the interests of rapid execution.

Industry support

The Academy strongly supports Professor Stocker's recommendation regarding Government assistance to industry for innovation, namely

  • greater simplicity
  • lower compliance costs
  • a higher effective incentive to invest in research and development than currently applies through the 125% industrial R&D concession
  • a broader coverage of innovative activity, based on a better understanding of the innovation process, and
  • leaving the choice of project to industry.

We also agree that a study of the advantages and disadvantages resulting from competition policy reforms needs to be addressed at the highest level. Certainly, ASTEC should prepare a preliminary report but this needs to be taken up by the new Cabinet Committee proposed in Professor Stocker's recommendations.

Co-operative Research Centres - taking the long view

We welcome the deserved praise given to the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) scheme and endorse Professor Stocker's emphasis on the legitimate place for public-good centres such as the Antarctic Research CRC and the CRC for Southern Hemisphere Meteorology. The Academy is a strong supporter of the CRC scheme and believes that it has been successful in building new links between research groups and institutions and strengthening links between researchers who are already collaborating. We note, with some concern, the reference in the 1997-1998 Budget papers that a review would be undertaken to increase industry funding for the program. There is momentum in the scheme which (with appropriate reviews) should be allowed to have a strategic impact.

We do not support the changes to the CRC program advocated in the Mortimer Review of Business Programs and will be writing separately on this.

The possibility of establishing further CRCs should be kept open to encourage the existing momentum. Consideration should be given to new CRCs covering for example, industrial applications of the mathematical sciences and specialty chemicals, as recommended by our report on Enhancing Australian Chemical Manufacture and Reversing the Chemical Deficit. The findings of the Strategic Review support the viewpoint that a CRC for industrial applications of the mathematical sciences would be an important contribution to the public good.

International Science and Technology Collaboration Programs

The international dimension of university research, including participation of Australian academics in international networks, overseas postdoctoral experience and collaborative research is very important to the health and the impact of Australian science.

The Academy welcomes the strong emphasis on international science and technology links in the report. Australia does not have a monopoly of ideas. The recent work of Bourke and Butler, and the Academy's analysis of the decline in the impact of Australian science publications, point to the need for Australia to continue to promote strong international links and collaboration among researchers.

Professor Stocker's emphasis on the need for coordination of Australian access to major international facilities, and the need for a better formal arrangement to treat this, are welcomed. We support the examination of existing arrangements, at present being undertaken by the Coordination Committee on Science and Technology. We also support the proposal of the CCST for a standing committee to deal with these matters.

Databases

The Academy will be pleased to contribute to the study on issues regarding a national science and technology database.

© 2017 Australian Academy of Science

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