— Kevin B Korb
The Australian government is undermining the future of Australia by attacking science and technology research and education on a massive scale, leading Australia in a unique act of self-immolation. It is not hard to see that the future economic well-being of developed countries is intimately linked to the three key supports of modern economies: science, technology and education. This government is actively attacking all three and is also actively campaigning against all three in the media, especially through its cheerleaders in the Murdoch press.
These are some of the notable attacks on science, technology and education enacted, proposed or supported by the ministers of the Abbott government:
- Attacking the Internet in Australia by cutting the fibre-optic based National Broadband Network project started by the Labor government. Instead of fibre optics, Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull advocates the retention of slower, older and more maintenance-intensive copper wire connections to homes and businesses. As iinet likes to advertise, Australia is behind Romania in average Internet access speeds. Turnbull's program will keep Australia well behind the OECD average for the foreseeable future. Neither Turnbull nor Abbott have a clue that the Internet has become a key enabler of current economic growth. Watch this incredible performance by the pair of them, laughing about the Internet being a "video entertainment system". Or, watch Turnbull in this whiteboard "explainer" on how the value of the NBN in 2030 should be assessed based on the values of 2014. These are the current leaders of our government!
- Cutting science research, in particular the government is cutting funding to the Australian Research Council by around $29M per year (about 5%), to CSIRO by $86M (about 6%), to DSTO by $48M (about 10%), and to the Cooperative Research Centre program by $25M (about 14%). There are hints that more cuts are to come. These programs have been the source of much of the innovation in Australia, so their winding down will kill off what was already a weak contributor to the economy.
- Cutting university and school funding. $30 billion has been cut from school funding, by dropping the "Gonski" reforms that Abbott previously committed to implementing. University funding per student is being cut 20%. As the OECD's Education at a Glance documents year in and year out, public education is central to economic well being; these cuts will lead Australia to the bottom of the OECD not just in education but also in future economic performance.
Many university administrators have been gulled into supporting this by the lure of the deregulation of university fees. While it may be possible for universities to make up the funding cuts by raising fees to students, it is hardly obvious that it will happen, since many students may turn away from accepting life-burdening debts in return for an education. In any case, this will increase inequality of access to education and undermine education's role in driving future economic prosperity.
- Supporting the Defence Trade Controls Act (DTCA) 2012, which will soon criminalize a large swathe of ordinary research and education in medicine, science and technology, all of which have supported economic growth in Australia for many decades.
The law was amended in a minor way in 2012 to enable a "Steering Group" led by Chief Scientist Ian Chubb to review and make recommendations for changes over a two-year period. That is why the legislation is only coming into force in May, 2015. Chubb appears to be a useful idiot for the government: his enlarged opinion of his own ability to effect changes to the law has been widely accepted within academia, with the result that many or most academic leaders have reacted with supreme complacency to the DTCA. As the drop-dead day comes nearer, we can expect more and more academics to realize that they are being turned into criminals. The NTEU has recently launched an educational campaign to inform an academic community that is still mostly asleep.
- Cutting funding for the ABC and SBS. The ABC has been stripped of the Australia Network, which has been handed over to Sky News Australia, partly owned by Murdoch. This is despite the fact that the Australia Network has been a very well received broadcaster to our near neighbors for decades, providing valuable good will for our diplomatic and trading interests. Furthermore, after heavy campaigning by the Murdoch press, both public broadcasters are having their funding cut, with threats continuing of larger cuts in the future. Turnbull claims "efficiency savings" are always possible. Were that true, budgets could always be cut to zero, matching his apparent IQ.
The dramatic budget cuts are explained by Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott as being "necessary" to save Australia from a budget crisis inherited from the Labor government, as well as being dictated by fairness in spreading the burden of this salvation across the community. Although many economists have publicly denounced the claim of Australia being in budgetary crisis as nonsense, it is no surprise that the Australian public have largely seemed to swallow it whole. The Big Lie worked very well for the Nazis, and it is working very well for the Coalition government. After all, the Murdoch press controls most of the print news in Australia and very clearly sets the direction of public debate. Big Lies repeated over and over begin to seem like common knowledge rather than common nonsense.
Abbott claims his government needs no minister for science. He claims to be able to represent the portfolio unassisted. However, his understanding and interests are inimical to science, technology and education and to the long-term interests of Australia. He infamously denounced the scientific consensus on global warming as "absolute crap". He seems to view science as a convenient source of opinions, when scientists happen to agree with him, and otherwise as a nuisance. The long history of science supplying the ideas and means for engineering and technological development from the beginning of western civilization means nothing to him; instead, Abbott and his ministers prefer to attribute that history of civilization to Christianity. Theirs is a view that would have been well received in the Dark Ages.
If anyone is going to lead Australia into a new Dark Age, it is Abbott and his government: the terrorism of ISIS is nothing compared to the terrorism of our own government.