On 2 November 2013, the Labor Science Network ran a Q&A panel on science and politics as part of the Chifley Research Centre's 2013 "Building a Progressive Future Conference", held at Australia Technology Park in Redfern, Sydney.

The panel, entitled "Why Science Needs a Political Wing: How Labor can become the Party of Science", was chaired by Labor Science Network convener Elija Perrier and comprised a stellar lineup of experts on science and politics, namely:

  • The Hon. Tony Burke MP (Federal Member for Watson, Shadow Finance Minister and current Manager of Opposition Business in the house)
  • Ms Anna-Maria Arabia (Director of Policy for the Hon. Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Opposition)
  • Mr Peter Lewis (Director of Essential Communications, Sydney)

Highlights of the lively panel discussion included.

  • Tony Burke's erudite recount of the practical challenges he faced (as Minister) while navigating the scientific and political hurdles in order to finalise the historic Murray Darling Basin Agreement, institute coastal marine parks and decide on the super-trawler issue
  • Anna-Maria Arabia's discussion on how science practically inputs into the political advisory process
  • Peter Lewis's analysis of trends in public opinion, particularly regarding the sensitivity of public sentiment on issues such as climate science


Important points raised during the debate included:

  • that there may be multiple and possibly contradictory or competing scientific approaches to particular issues and that the manner in which issues are framed and questions are asked determines the applicable science
  • that public trust in science is maintained by avoiding the temptation to overreach or exaggerate when discussing issues publicly
  • that the need for a continuing engagement with the public to explain science is stronger than ever

Audience questions included how to address polemical and ideological attacks on science, how to best persuade people that scientifically-sourced policy was in their own best interests and scientific literacy levels among the wider public.

(Photographs reproduced with the kind permission of the Chifley Research Centre)