Australia will no longer have a science minister, following the election of a new government just over a week ago. That could be bad news for climate change, and big science efforts such as the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope.
The incoming government clashed with scientists almost immediately, when itdramatically switched strategy on climate change– dumping the nation's embryonic emissions trading scheme, for example.
Now it has emerged that the new cabinet will have many fewer posts – including no minister for science.
"Science will largely be in the industry portfolio," said the incoming prime minister, Tony Abbot – who ran for election on a platform of "scrapping the carbon tax" – with some responsibilities also falling to the minister for education.
Scientists don't agree that this will pick up the slack. Les Field, a chemist and policy secretary at the Australian Academy of Science, says a minister is needed so that there is a long-term vision.Looking to the future
One thing that will suffer is the nation's strategy on climate change. "The horizon for dealing with climate change is decades rather than one or two years," says Field, "so one needs a strategic vision that looks forward decades".
This is also true of research projects such as the SKA, he says, a vast internationally funded telescope array, part of which will be in Australia. "We're about to embark on a huge telescope [project]," he says. "The lifetime of that venture is 30 years plus and you need a plan for managing it."
Catriona Jackson, CEO of Science & Technology Australia, agrees. "It's absolutely critical that we have a minister of science," she says. "You need someone to go into cabinet and fight for the scientific cause. There's science in virtually everything the government does."