Aurora Australis and the projected $45m home for marine and Antarctic science, Hobart

With National Science Week beginning this weekend it’s important to reflect on the value that science brings the Tasmanian community, and ask whether we are doing enough to support it?

Science is integral to Hobart’s economic DNA – we have hundreds of marine and Antarctic scientists living and working here, and several world-renowned institutions based here. Several State government economic strategies anticipate Hobart as a global hub for Antarctic and Southern Ocean research.

But clouds are gathering on the horizon. There needs to be much greater effort and support from our local decision-makers if science is to continue as an important part of Hobart’s professional and economic life.

Here’s an example of how support for science is slipping: in the most recent budget, initiatives to encourage more science students were abolished. In 2008, university course fees for maths, statistics and science were slashed from $7,260 to $4,077 per year for an undergraduate degree. Nation-wide, this helped to increase the number of undergraduate applications for natural and physical sciences by 17% in 2009 and 13% in 2010. In Tasmania this initiative saw domestic undergraduate applications for the Bachelor of Science grow 30% increase between 2008 and 2010.

But then in June this year, the Federal government cut this incentive. The decision will have a direct impact on the University of Tasmania’s Faculty of Science, Engineering & Technology, which is the largest at UTAS. Only one Member of Parliament spoke and voted against the move: Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Hobart is also home to the world-class research undertaken by institutions such as the Antarctic, Climate & Ecosystem Cooperative Research Centre (ACE-CRC), and the CSIRO’s Division of Marine and Atmospheric Research.

The future of the Antarctic CRC is in doubt. With about 40 scientists undertaking research and policy analysis of national and international significance, it is likely to close within 18 months because of program guidelines that limit a CRC’s lifespan to less than 20 years.

We can save this institution but it will require a leadership decision to give this CRC a new life, perhaps as a Commonwealth statutory authority, like the Australian Institute of Marine Science which was established by legislation in 1972 and continues to operate from Townsville on a budget of approximately $60 million a year.

In the case of the CSIRO, its future will in part depend on the ongoing existence of the Federal Department of Climate Change. A proportion of the work undertaken in Tasmania is funded by the Department that Tony Abbott has promised to abolish. With an election next year, it’s understandable that scientists working here are anxious about their futures.

The Greens believe that government investment in science is critical to ensure that our country is equipped to meet the challenges of the future, such as climate change. In Tasmania, there is a bright economic future to be built on our scientific reputation, creative solutions, and smart innovation. This vision can be realised with the support of Federal decision-makers. National Science Week in 2012 is a good time to show that support.

• Anna Reynolds is the Greens candidate for the Federal seat of Denison