The Hon Bill Shorten MP
Leader of the Opposition
Australian Labor Party

5 December 2018


Dear Mr Shorten,

I am writing to commend the recent Labor announcement of better utilization of expert advice and research in policy development (Shine Dome, 28 November). These initiatives would provide much better knowledge-based foundations for future policy and national progress.

To enhance the policy’s value and avoid division amongst the research community, we suggest that you should not marginalize the Social Sciences, Engineering and Technology, and the Humanities as the present proposals do.

This Academy, which represents the top social scientists, is wholly supportive of the 3% of GDP R&D goal. To pursue such investment will help to truly deliver Australia’s future.

Your Statement also seeks to ensure good delivery of such investment through:

  • a Charter for Science and Research
  • a Prime Minister’s Science and Innovation Council
  • a National Scientific Expert Panel to support the Council
  • a National Inquiry into Science, Research and Innovation.

These too are potentially helpful and productive in helping guide policy for investment in research and using research for national advance. However, significantly stronger outcomes would result by building further on this approach through equal recognition of all researchers across disciplines.

Successive Secretaries for Prime Minister and Cabinet have each made speeches saying that it is multi-disciplinary and integrated research knowledge that is needed for government.

Our Academy therefore suggests:

  1. Amend the names of the bodies proposed to be the
  • Charter for National Research
  • Prime Minister’s Research and Innovation Council
  • National Expert Advisory Panel on Research
  • National Inquiry into Research and Innovation.
  1. Ensure equal membership on these bodies for each of the main areas of research, including the social sciences and humanities, the engineering and technological sciences, and medical and health research, and not only the natural and physical sciences.
  2. Use the existing Australian Council of Learned Academies (ACOLA) as the support body for the Advisory Panel as it already represents the four Government-supported Learned Academies.

As a fall-back if full and equal convergence across all researchers is not seen as acceptable, a separate Economic and Social Advisory Council should be established to also advise Government, just as EPAC did for the Hawke – Keating years alongside a Science and Technology Council. Perhaps this is in the wings already for your future policy announcements! It would effectively fix up the present science bias approach.

In relation to these well-intentioned and progressive reforms, our proposal will ensure that a Labor government retains the support of researchers beyond just the natural and physical sciences in Australia. For instance, two-thirds of university lecturers are in the social sciences and humanities, and their students and their families and their huge numbers of graduates may feel rather unappreciated by this Labor Party initiative as it stands. This includes economics, business, law, arts, social analysis, and more.

Equally, we hardly need to remind how social science has made its contribution to the very foundations of modern Australia, consider Medicare, compulsory superannuation, skilled migration, HECS, APEC, and so much more.

In your announcement, you said “Australia can only reach its full potential, when we draw on the intellect and talent of our entire Australian population” and we could not agree more. Your policy should draw on the whole research community to support national advance. It must not produce division and dissent across research areas.

I would be pleased to discuss this with you further.

With best regards,

Professor Glenn Withers AO

President, Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia