2016 Science Meets Parliament report – Hannah Osborn

Science Meets Parliament 2016 report

by ASPS student member Hannah Osborn (@han_osb321)

The sixteenth Science meets Parliament was held in Canberra last week, an event where over 200 scientists descend on Parliament House to learn about politics, policymaking and the media. I was fortunate enough to represent the Australian Society of Plant Scientists alongside Professor Yong-Ling Ruan from the University of Newcastle.

This annual event organised by Science and Technology Australia (STA) is a great opportunity for scientists to inform and excite politicians about science and at the same time learn about politics and the policy, media and parliamentary processes.

The event is held over two days the first day is to prepare us for meeting the politician, the second day is actually meeting them. Professor Brian Schmidt was up first offering many pearls of wisdom from his experiences dealing with politicians. Top tips included “Don’t get defensive”, “Don’t whinge or complain about lack of funding” and remember they’re human! We then heard from journalists Paul Bongiorno and Alison Carabine about the role of media in science. This session covered the importance of being engaging and communicating your science in a simple and direct way. The responsibility of the media to provide alternative views was also discussed with the emphasis on issues like climate change and vaccinations. Both journalists agreed that the alternative view should be proportional to the public interest. I believe the media could have more responsibility here in presenting scientific facts over the “conspiracy theories” but it shows how important it is to clearly and simply communicate your science for the public to make an informed decision.

Following this Catriona Jackson, CEO of STA chaired the session “Getting into policy: how to use science to shape public policy” with Professor Emily Banks, ANU and Dr Subho Banerjee, Department of Education and Training. This was a really interesting session covering the importance of policymakers and how politicians are actually really interested in science, we’re “pushing on an open door” and we need to make the most of this.

The afternoon session was spent working out what to expect from Science meets Parliament by a panel comprising Dr Jeremy Brownlie, STA, Professor Mark Hutchinson, ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, Dr Krystal Evans, BioMelbourne Network and Catriona Jackson, STA. The key message here was to make sure you have a key message when speaking with the politician and to know what you want out of the meeting, which could range from informing the politician of your science to inviting them to visit and see firsthand what goes on within your workplace.

Your science in 60 seconds was the interactive final session of the afternoon where Dr Rod Lamberts and Dr Will Grant both from ANU set a strict time limit for us to tell our science story. In a competitive elimination process where only the best moves forward to win a metaphorical bottle of wine all 200 of us got to practice communicating our science succinctly. Actual wine followed at the Gala dinner that night at Parliament House with Minister Christopher Pyne and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten both speaking about the importance of science and innovation.

The second day of Science meets Parliament involved actually meeting a politician. Personally, my experience was fantastic if not all too brief as the realities of life as a politician became clear. Throughout the rest of the day we were entertained by Q & A sessions with Professor Ian Chubb, former Chief Scientist as he reflected on his experiences in this position and then Senator Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Industry. Senator Carr put into words how I believe a lot of people were feeling that CSIRO is not a glorified consultancy and if we keep going that direction we will undermine its status as our nations research centre completely.

The new Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel gave his first address at the National Press Club which I unfortunately missed as my meeting clashed with this event but I did get to attend the reality show also known as Question Time for the House of Representatives.

The day ended with a panel of politicians all passionate about science chaired by Genevieve Jacobs from ABC Canberra with Professor Aidan Byrne, ARC, the Hon Karen Andrews, Assistant Minister for Science, the Hon Richard Marles, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Dr Adam Bandt, Industry, Energy, Science and Research spokesman.

Overall, the take home message from Science meets Parliament 2016 was Professor Graham Durant’s comment “science isn’t finished until it’s communicated” which is something we should all remember and include as an important part of our research