How the political parties would increase public understanding of science

Because of Covid-19, the NZIAHS cancelled the Political Forum at Lincoln University early this month.  Key politicians had been invited to the forum to inform our members of their party policies relevant to our science and to be questioned. 

Instead, we put three questions to the politicians for written replies for publication before the general election next month. 

Here’s the first of the three questions and the responses we received.

 

  • What would you do to increase public understanding of the importance of science to the wellbeing of all New Zealanders?

Damien O’Connor – Labour Party

The Primary Sector’s ability to adapt and grasp new opportunities has been underpinned by the robust research carried out by New Zealand scientists and the tremendous expertise that they can access from their networks.

We have promoted public understanding of the importance of science to our wellbeing through many different channels. Science is a key part of the curriculum and the government supports science and research funding across the country for everyone, from pre-school to our top researchers.

The potential for science and technology to drive transformational change requires an appropriate enabling environment. This will involve regulations, infrastructure, and capability that is responsive to new research and development opportunities.

The way that this government has responded to COVID-19 shows how important science is to all of us – our well-being in many ways has depended upon it. It was scientific evidence that showed going hard and going early to protect New Zealanders from the spread of COVID-19 was the best course of action. This has not been lost on New Zealanders.

Capitalising on the current climate of awareness and unlocking further capability will depend upon building and maintaining global partnerships, with researchers, industries, businesses and government. Science and technological developments will need to flow through all parts and participants of the value chain and lead to practical benefits and opportunities. In that regard we intend to engage and increase understanding at each step of the chain. It is very much a rotational knowledge base, where each step informs the other, with the end product being to enhance well-being.

Further to this our Prime Minister has her own Chief Science Advisor and they have a forum of Chief Science Advisors across government departments to ensure that key issues and decision making can be informed by scientific evidence.

David Bennett – National Party

Science is critical for the wellbeing of all New Zealanders and the wellbeing of our nation as a whole. In the wake of Covid-19, science, research, and innovation is critical to economic prosperity and our recovery from the impacts of the global pandemic. To grow our economy and to grow our primary sector in particular New Zealand needs to be encouraging the best scientific practice and the most innovative use of scientific research.

Increasing public understanding can begin by acknowledging the gains that science has brought New Zealand and demonstrating the role that science plays from genetics, to harvesting, to processing. Science is fundamental to New Zealand’s food production process from seed to supermarket shelf.

It is important that we encourage the next generations of New Zealanders to take an interest in science and pursue careers in STEM subjects. We need to be showing our young people that horticultural and agricultural science offers great career opportunities. Bringing greater awareness to the gains made through agricultural and horticultural research can help young people see a new range of a career paths. It is also important to ensure that this scientific awareness reaches Māori and Pasifika communities as there is a consistent under-representation of Māori and Pasifika in science as a whole and specifically in the primary sector. Science is a career path that should be considered and encouraged for all.

Eugenie Sage – Green Party

Ethical, well-funded scientific research, science, and technology can help reduce our environmental impacts and improve our quality of life, and economic and social wellbeing; and help Aotearoa be a more productive country. The Green Party will strengthen science education in schools, promote greater diversity within science workforce, ensure there is a strong matauranga Māori perspective in research and science,  and support and enable science communication by scientists as advocates.

We will continue to ensure that policy decisions are based on sound science. We need stronger links between researchers and society, so that research responds to community needs and results are readily available and influence policy and government programmes.

The Green Party will maintain core support facilities such as libraries and specimen collections, and promote open and shared data. We will require all results of publicly funded research to be published and held in the public domain, with proceeds from patents, licensing, etc, being reinvested.

The Green Party is committed to changing New Zealand’s under-investment in research and development. As part of the Government we have pledged to increase this expenditure to 2% of GDP by 2027, by encouraging businesses to research and innovate. The Government’s new R&D tax incentive in Budget 2018 with a 15% tax credit on eligible expenditure over $50,000 for businesses doing R&D in New Zealand will result in $1.02 billion being spent on R&D over four years.

With the Greens as part of the Government we have through Budget 2018 invested $1.1 billion of funding over 4 years for research, science and innovation. This increased the total Government investment  in research science and innovation by 26% from $1.58 billion in 2017/18 to $1.99 billion in 2019/20.  As part of Budget 2020 and the COVID Response and Recovery Fund, the Government announced a $401.3 million package over four years for research, science and innovation.

The package includes support for businesses to continue research and development, reprioritisation of existing funds to enable more Māori to participate in and benefit from research, science and innovation, and funding for research institutes to continue to innovate and be able to respond to the challenges associated with COVID-19 will bring. $196 million from both Budget 2020 and the COVID Response and Recovery Fund is helping Crown Research Institutes retain talent and continue their important research.

 

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