A Scientist Speaks in Parliament

Some may not be aware that Australia has a scientist (with expertise in the physical sciences) sitting as a Member of Parliament. But even though he’s with the parliamentary majority party, he is in a minority of one as a physical scientist in the chamber.

He is sometimes permitted to speak. Which he does with vigour and honesty, even if some of his party colleagues cringe as he tells some unpopular truths. Here are some excerpts from Hansard Wednesday, 26 February 2014. I’ve inserted some sub-headings.

Dr Dennis Jensen (Member for Tangney):

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. …

Shortfall in Education

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. …

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 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. …

Research Funding and Intellectual Property

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.…

In my view, we need to remove any research priority on politically hot topics such as, for example, climate change. … 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. …

Taxes to (not) Change the Weather

As far as climate change and the carbon tax is concerned, the carbon tax is a $9 billion a year hit on jobs. … 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.

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. …

[Experts in Germany are recommending cancellation of their “equivalent” laws.]

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. … 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. …

Nuclear Power. Energy and Expertise

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 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. … 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.

There’s more detail in his full speech at the Hansard link above.

Update: Here’s a video of the full speech.

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2 Responses to A Scientist Speaks in Parliament

  1. lorelie tacoma says:

    Well done Dennis. All makes good sense. Let’s not waste any more time.

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