The New Zealand Association of Scientists (NZAS) is surprised by comments made by the Minister of Science and Innovation, Steven Joyce, in apparent contradiction of the Crown Research Institutes (CRI) Act, 1992. The Act describes the first two principles of operation for CRIs as undertaking research ‘for the benefit of New Zealand’ and ‘pursuing excellence’, said NZAS President, Dr Nicola Gaston.
“Minister Joyce has said that ‘Crown research institutes are about commercial science, that’s why they’re there’, but benefit in the Act is not narrowly defined in terms of commercial outcomes.” said Dr Gaston.
“It also includes a requirement for ‘social responsibility by having regard to the interests of the community in which it operates’.”
The Minister’s comments come after widespread concerns were expressed at the announcement of large-scale redundancies at AgResearch, the CRI responsible for agricultural science.
“Inflation has been allowed to erode the core funding that AgResearch receives from the government, exposing its science capability to the short-term priorities of the sector, based on precisely this misunderstanding of the balance of scientific work that CRIs should support,” said Dr Gaston.
“CRIs need sustained programmes of fundamental research so as to maintain a competitive edge, in order to deliver on their overall purpose.”
Dr Gaston notes that the Act outlines specific circumstances where maintaining capability and excellence is essential.
“The Act states that the Prime Minister may give directions to Crown Research Institutes during emergencies relating to civil defence, and to animal or plant disease. Directions can also be given by ministers in relation to international issues, presumably including issues such as climate change, epidemics and biosecurity. The CRIs must retain expertise for such situations”, said Dr Gaston.
The NZAS is a nationwide association of practising research scientists spanning the universities, technical institutes, Crown Research Institutes, government departments, industry, museums, other science institutions, and independent researchers.