An Australian political malaise

Marlow, D. (2020)


Australian governments have a long and inglorious record of establishing valuable, valued and successful science-based initiatives that address issues of major continuing importance, only to later abolish them. The results are loss of focus, loss of group knowledge, loss of expertise, loss of analytical capability, wasted effort and resources, wasted expenditure – and most of all, wasted opportunity and wasted priceless time. There are so many instances of this highly destructive political behaviour over so many years, committed by governments of both major political persuasions at both national and state level, that it should be recognised as an ingrained political behaviour and a basic endemic flaw in the Australian political system – a flaw that urgently needs correction, if Australia is to achieve a peaceful, sustainable future. This paper presents a necessarily incomplete account of nine science-based bodies that met premature and unnecessary deaths at the hands of politicians – the Commission for the Future (CFF), the Resource Assessment Commission (RAC), Land & Water Australia (LWA), Queensland’s Regional Open Space System (ROSS), the National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA), the Sustainable Rivers Audit (SRA), the Native Fish Strategy (NFS), the National Water Commission (NWC) and the Climate Commission (CC). It describes some of their successes and some of the deleterious consequences of their abolition, the political reasons for their axing and the rationales used to justify the executions. The paper calls for academic study of (and insider perspectives on) these and other valuable science-based initiatives killed off by Australian state and federal governments, so that the worth of these endeavours is recognised and remembered by the scientific community and by society at large. It concludes with a discussion of how this destructive political silencing of scientists might perhaps be reduced in frequency and significance.