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Australia's New Science-Lite Government

Downgrade. Tony Abbott, prime minister-elect of Australia, has decided not to appoint a minister for science in his new government.


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA—Australia’s scientific community and incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott are off to a rocky start. Unveiling his picks for Cabinet posts at a press conference in Canberra today, Abbott left science out in the cold. Pressed by reporters on the omission, Abbott replied that Australia’s national research agency, CSIRO, would fall under the portfolio of industry minister Ian Macfarlane.

“Scientists around the nation are asking, ‘Where’s the science minister?’ ” said Catriona Jackson, CEO of Science and Technology Australia, an industry group representing 68,000 scientists and technologists. The Australian Academy of Science, added Les Field, the academy’s policy secretary, “is surprised and disappointed that Prime Minister Abbott has not announced a minister for science.” Australian news media are reporting that this will be the first time an Australian government has not had a science minister since the science portfolio was created in 1931.

The omission comes on the heels of the incoming government’s threat to micromanage grant selection at the Australian Research Council, with awards in philosophy, religious history, and the intersection of art and climate change singled out as “ridiculous research grants that leave taxpayers scratching their heads." Other research areas that may need to brace for tough times include climate science and environmental protection. In 2009, Abbott dismissed climate change as “absolute crap,” and today reiterated his campaign pledge to scrap the carbon tax established by the outgoing Labor government. Abbott’s alternative is a fund, capped at AUD $3.2 billion, that would fund carbon sequestration and reimburse businesses for the direct costs of reducing emissions.