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Scandal Claims Science Minister

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA--A multifaceted review of the country's R&D policies may be delayed by the resignation last Friday of Science Minister Peter McGauran, who got caught up in a governmentwide scandal over the misuse of travel expenses. McGauran, a 41-year-old lawyer, is one of three ministers and a total of six top officials who have lost their jobs in the ruling coalition led by Prime Minister John Howard, because of allegations that they filed improper claims for expenses.

"It's not the happiest day in the world for the science lobby; he was an excellent minister," lamented Gus Nossal, president of the Australian Academy of Science. He says McGauran was doing "a good job for science." McGauran, who has been science minister for the past 18 months, says that incorrect claims totaling some U.S. $1050 were "an honest mistake." His departure followed by a few days the resignations of Transport Minister John Sharp, who allegedly filed the improper claims, and David Jull, minister for administrative services, who was accused of failing to report them. Howard has asked the auditor-general to conduct a full inquiry into the matter and said he would name the replacement ministers by the end of the week. However, some observers speculate that McGauran could return to government if he is cleared of any wrongdoing.

In the meantime, Peter Cullen, president-elect of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, worries that McGauran's absence could hamper efforts to reform science and technology policy. "It's a crucial time for science and technology and the interface with industry," says Cullen. In June, Chief Scientist John Stocker made a series of recommendations to improve the government's management of science and technology, and in July, Transportation Executive David Mortimer presented a report critical of existing policies affecting industry and calling for major changes in the relationship. Last month McGauran's office received advice from industry executives and academics on what the country must do to keep up with global developments in information technology.