Tonight I will talk about our science crisis, climate change and energy including—horror of horrors—the N-word: nuclear, as in power. You could say I have a unique background in this parliament. In this chamber and the other chamber I am the only research scientist who has worked in the research industry. This gives me a different mindset, a different way of thinking. This way of thinking gets back to analysis of data and trend analysis. I have led in debates on subjects such as climate change, carbon tax and the emissions trading scheme when they were not popular. I have led on nuclear debates. If you look at the Hansard, prior to my speech in March 2005 there was no mention of the word 'nuclear'. I have also been highly critical of the joint strike fighter since 2005. We would have joint strike fighters in service, right now, if Defence had been believed back in 2005.
In Australia science is in crisis. We need to look at a holistic solution. Professor Geoff Masters, chief executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, in a media release describes the PISA results as 'disappointing'. Indeed, the trends in the International Mathematics and Science Study of 2011 show that between 1995 and 2011, with the exception of an improvement in year 4 mathematics performances, Australian students' performances in mathematics and science stagnated. During the same period, a number of other countries either dramatically improved their performances—including Singapore, Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei—or showed steady improvements in performance—including Korea and the United States. Professor Masters said:
It is difficult to see how Australia will be in the top five countries by 2025 if we continue on our current path. We need to look carefully at what improving countries are doing to see what lessons there are for Australia.I have been looking at this issue and consulting widely. For secondary schools, I very much support the review of the curriculum as announced by Minister Pyne.
I would like to broach a few issues concerning improving science. Some of them will probably prove quite controversial, including the first one I mention—that is, subject-matter expertise is more important than a teaching diploma. In other words, if we have the option of having people who have worked in the field as engineers or in the hard sciences wanting to teach, we should not bog them down by saying they need to do a full year's teacher-training diploma in order to teach. We should expedite the process and make it very quick. Perhaps we should have mentors, but we should get those people teaching. In other words, we need to fast-track them.
We need to pay hard sciences and maths teachers more, simply reflecting market reality. There is a greater demand for people in the hard sciences and maths, so we need to pay them more to get good students to do teaching. This is even, potentially, at the expense of class size. I would rather see an expert teacher teaching a larger class than a teacher who is struggling with the subject matter themselves teaching a smaller class.
In terms of tertiary education, we have got to stop student feedback being a metric of teacher quality. Difficult courses will be much harder to make popular with students than easier ones. We need to make sure that the quality of the teaching is actually reflected by measuring the output—the quality of students' results—rather than a popularity contest. Students in the hard sciences and maths should also take courses in entrepreneurship, intellectual property and patents.
In tertiary research we need to get rid of an act enacted just last year, and that is the Defence Trade Controls Act, or the DTCA, and put in a much less onerous agenda around the alignment of our legislation with the US ITARs, or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations. With it the way it is at the moment we are going to punish our research sector when this act takes effect next year. We must not make Defence the arbiters of what can and what cannot be independently researched in Australia.
I believe we should also be looking to the research sector, and this includes restrictive contracts that are drawn up between CSIRO and the universities. Indeed, I was on the advisory board of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Antimatter Matter Studies, and we really wanted to bring CSIRO in as one of the partners without research. But the provisions that CSIRO sought to put on us as far as IP was concerned was so onerous that it was far better just to leave CSIRO out, which is a tragedy.
We need to ensure that the Australian Research Council, the ARC, provides more funding for risky research rather than what I would call 'backfill' research, which is research that is far less risky, where you put in a bid for your research proposal knowing what you are going to get at the end.
We need to increase the diversity of the research undertaken under the ARC by having overseas experts act as referees for some research proposals where there is inadequate expertise to do this in Australia. At the moment there are subject areas where we have got one or two researchers doing very good work but we are unable to get people to referee research proposals from these people because we lack that expertise in Australia. We need to ensure that those research areas do not completely wither and die simply for lack of available referees in Australia.
We also need to fund more cross- and multidisciplinary research. I would put it to you that the ARC centres of excellence are an excellent model for this. The ARC centres of excellence are about multiple organisations working together in a multidisciplinary sense. It also enables funding to be granted for longer periods of time so scientists are not madly filling out research proposal after research proposal, which is a waste of time and of the scientists' expertise. Rather, get rid of that bureaucratese, if you will.
In my view, we need to remove any research priority on politically hot topics such as, for example, climate change. The reason I say this is that I had a very senior scientist admit to me in discussions—I am not going to say who it was or what the organisation was; I do not want to identify this person—that a certain area of research was nonsense and was never going to work, and he said, 'But I couldn't have said that 12 months ago because we had research that we were undertaking in that area.' Science is not supposed to be about convenient definitions and conveniences as far as funding is concerned; science is supposed to be about a search for truth.
The research proposals that get through the ARC at the moment are only funded to about 80 per cent of the level requested. There is a huge problem, obviously, with this, because if you are funded to 80 per cent of what you requested, to do a piece of work straight away, it changes the bounds of the work that you are going to undertake, because you can only undertake 80 per cent of it. We need to fully fund the proposals that are approved and, preferably, like the United States, not only fully fund but also actually provide contingency funding as well. This would enable that research to be done as agreed, so there are no excuses after the fact for research that is not undertaken.
We should also specify what I call 'linkage' grants, which are grants that are there specifically to link industry with science. We should specify a minimum percentage of linkage grants that need to be new linkages with industry, which would then force further outreach between research and industry. The problem at the moment is that it is all too convenient just to go back to the industry partners you are familiar with.
In my view, we need to gradually remove the outside funding requirement for the CSIRO. I remember when the so-called 30 per centers came in in the late eighties. It was done for a very good reason: to make CSIRO more responsive and more applicable to industry. The problem is that it actually distorted things, where far more than 30 per cent of the effort went into chasing that 30 per cent of funding. In addition to that, the level of research done in those 30 per centers equated very often to what was equivalent to Mr Fixit jobs rather than real research. We need to introduce a scheme similar to the United States' Small Business Innovation Research program to encourage innovation. This will allow a lot of spinoff companies to begin very easily. We need to expedite IP processes, and we need to ensure that the CSIRO and the universities are aware that intellectual property is a perishable commodity and that it becomes less valuable over time. Rather than trying to squeeze absolutely the nth degree out of it with lengthy processes to try and maximise that IP—in which time people are less likely to pay for it anyway because there will be alternatives out there—expedite the process and get the IP signed off as quickly as possible.
As far as climate change and the carbon tax is concerned, the carbon tax is a $9 billion a year hit on jobs. Unemployment already is 110,000 higher now than it was in July 2012, when the carbon tax was introduced. The carbon tax, even by the former government's own figures, is a giant handbrake on the economy. Labor's own figures state that by mid-century our economy will be cumulatively $1 trillion smaller with the carbon tax than without it—and all of this with no defined reduction in global average temperatures. There is a complete disconnect with the whole mechanism with carbon dioxide and global average temperatures—which is what it is supposed to be all about.
"RETs and their equivalent damage economies. You only need look at Spain where they embarked on a massive renewable program to see the effects of this."I welcome the review of the Renewable Energy Target that was announced by the Minister for Industry and the Minister for the Environment. Judith Sloane has pointed out that the RET by 2020 will increase electricity prices by 40 to 45 per cent. In my view, get rid of the RET, honour the contracts that have already been signed and let the market decide on a completely level playing field. The show stopper for renewables, quite frankly, in terms of baseload power, is storage. So, we should look at the cheap end of the innovation pipeline—that is, research. Instead of forcing uneconomic energy solutions on the market, we should try to get a solution where we can gain benefit from the IP. RETs and their equivalent damage economies. You only need look at Spain where they embarked on a massive renewable program to see the effects of this.
Spain - economic crisis of 2008-2014 is unrelated to renewable energy
Did Dennis Jensen mislead the Parliament?
Spanish property bubble
"The hundreds of thousands of empty homes across Madrid has spawned a black market for cheap housing in which groups illegally break into, and then let, repossessed properties."The residential real estate bubble in Spain saw real estate prices rise 200 percent from 1996 to 2007.
€651 billion is the current mortgage debt (second quarter 2005) of Spanish families (this debt continues to grow at 25 percent per year – 2001 through 2005, with 97 percent of mortgages at variable rate interest). In 2004 509,293 new properties were built in Spain and in 2005 the number of new properties built was 528,754. 2004 estimations of demand: 300,000 for Spanish people, 100,000 for foreign investors, 100,000 for foreign people living in Spain and 300,000 for stock; in a country with 16.5 million families, 22–24 million houses and 3–4 million empty houses. From all the houses built over the 2001–2007 period, no less than 28 percent were vacant as of late 2008.
"Due to the lack of its own resources, Spain has to import all of its fossil fuels."Due to the lack of its own resources, Spain has to import all of its fossil fuels, which in a scenario of record prices added much pressure to the inflation rate. Thus, in June 2008 the inflation rate reached a 13-year high of 5.00%. Then, with the dramatic decrease of oil prices that happened in the second half of 2008 plus the confirmed burst of the property bubble concerns quickly shifted to the risk of deflation instead.
Dr JENSEN (Tangney), Wednesday, 26 February 2014 (Continues):
In terms of climate change we have cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. Indeed, we saw Professor Chris Turney get stuck in his own experiment, yet he still has no doubts about 'the science'. There is no 'the science': science is a process; it is not a noun. The simple fact is: if, back in 1995, I had made a prediction of future global average temperatures and I had said, 'Next year and every year afterwards is going to be the same as this year,' I would have been far closer to what has eventuated than the IPCC projections and predictions of that time. There has been a lack of warming for well over 10 years, contrary to model projections. Quite frankly, there is a lot of bad science that goes on in this. For instance, you have people with a certain paradigm that they accept; when you give them contrary data and evidence they look at ways to explain that data and evidence in terms of the paradigm they accept, rather than questioning that paradigm.
Appeals to authority and consensus show weakness in argument. For instance, when was the last time you heard 'The consensus of the world's scientists is that the earth orbits the sun'? Indeed, Newton's equations of motion were seen as a complete solution to mechanics for a period of nearly 200 years, until Lorentz transformed it and Einstein's theory of relativity. It is ironic that the Bureau of Meteorology said that last year was the hottest year on record. They do not talk about any sort of adjustments that they make to the data—and that is something I will be asking questions on. Furthermore, what about the 1890s and early 1900s where it was very warm and in all probability quite a bit warmer than last year. The Bureau of Met says, 'Well, that temperature data is unreliable.' But here is the catch: the IPCC has temperature data going back to 1850. Even if you accept that the rest of the world's temperature measurements were reliable, and it is a big call considering it was 1871 when you had Stanley saying, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume.' You can imagine the temperature measurements in Africa at that time. Even if all of those other measurements were accurate, you have this massive section of the globe called Australasia where, by the Bureau of Met's own acknowledgement, the records are unreliable.
In terms of nuclear power, we talk about baseload solutions. Japan is in the process of re-opening many nuclear power stations. Germany has failed comprehensively with renewables, but it has refused to expand its nuclear power industry. Guess where it is going? It is going back to more coal fired power. At present the only way to generate baseload in Australia, apart from coal and gas, is nuclear. Renewables do not cut it—sorry, they just don't. They do not cut it economically and they do not cut it in terms of reliability. Nuclear is economically competitive; it was marginally uncompetitive when Switkowsky did his review back in 2006-7, but we have seen electricity prices rise to reflect the reality of the market as far as gas and coal fired power is concerned. Nuclear is very much in the picture. It is in the picture in the US; in fact, it is the cheapest method of generating power in the US and similarly in South Africa. Quite frankly, in Australia we need to seize that opportunity. Burying our heads in the sand and saying, 'No nuclear. Terrible technology,' et cetera does not help. It is the safest method of generating power out there by far and, obviously, for Australia there would be scientific benefits as well in terms of training more nuclear engineers, more nuclear physicists. There are areas where we are screaming out for more engineers. Particularly with the car industry going, where are engineers going to be employed? Nuclear energy is a very good start.
Why we'll never have solar... pic.twitter.com/n4JH5oCkt0
— RC deWinter (@RCdeWinter) February 26, 2014