Australian government retracts threat

The Australian government, which had been using the threat of refusing to fund vital scientific research infrastructure to try and force changes to the education system through parliament, has backed down, agreeing to finance the agencies for at least 12 months.

Education minister Christopher Pyne had threatened to sack 1,700 researchers unless he got his way in deregulating university fees. But that approach sparked anger among opposition and crossbench senators forcing Pyne to back down.

Pyne even came under attack for the tactic from his allies. “Playing games with our scientists and research hasn’t seemed to have done the government any favours,” Pyne’s colleague, Senator Cory Bernardi, said.

Pyne was withholding A$150 million in funding for 27 research infrastructure facilities under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme (NCRIS). With no guaranteed funding for the NCRIS past 30 June, up to 1,700 jobs and crucial projects could have been lost.

Scientists, academics, including the vice chancellors of the country’s major universities, and the public reacted angrily to what they perceived as blackmail by the minister.

The president of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Andrew Holmes, and president of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, Dr Alan Finkel, also pointed to the waste of previous funding if the scheme were to be closed down.

The Government has already invested $2.5 billion in the scheme which includes high-tech manufacturing facilities and sophisticated laboratories.

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