Australia’s Coalition Angers Scientists and Cuts Solar Rebate

by Editor on November 25, 2013

The recent federal elections in Australia have stirred many debates, not the least of which being the one with a pronounced ecological slant. The incoming Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has recently announced the government’s decision not to name a Science minister. Apparently, in Abbott’s view, that portfolio can be handled satisfactorily within the Liberal-National government by members of other cabinets, especially by the Industry Ministry. This decision has given rise to the apparition of many a vocal argument against it, most of which are coming from some of Australia’s foremost scientists.

In a recent reaction statement, Les Field, the science policy secretary with the Australian Academy of Science, said the members of the Academy are dismayed at Mr. Abbott’s decision. Field cited the importance that science carries over many different fields of life, including health, food, water security, defense, and IT. The Academy expects the incumbent Prime Minister to recant his initially announced decision and put former Science Minister Ian Macfarlane in charge of more than just the CSIRO. A similar view was expressed by the CEO of Science and Technology Australia. Catriona Jackson stated that the decision has caused distress and confusion at the heart of the country’s scientific community. She also highlighted the importance of science and technology in all the undertakings of the federal government and stressed the need for a dedicated Science Ministry.

The truth of the matter is that science carries over into even the minutest aspects of human life – and this is all the more true in an environmentally conscious society such as Australia. Homeowners in Australia have numerous eco-friendly solutions at their disposal, for the optimization of any and all day-to-day activities. Solar panels are one widespread example; in a country where the sun shines a-plenty, it only makes sense to capitalize on its energetic potential. Then, household items such as fold down clotheslines are being produced with durability, a lower carbon footprint, and green lifestyles in mind. Yet the Prime Minister elect doesn’t seem to believe that the country needs someone in charge of science, to help further such progress.

Another recently announced decision, which seems to go against the grain of Australia’s sustained approach to environmental optimization, is that of cutting the solar panel rebate for households. The coalition has announced it would implement a last-minute series of budget cuts to its Direct Action budget savings plan. Among the expected cuts, the plan includes reducing solar rebates by 50 per cent, in order to work toward the goal of saving $338 million in expenses with the climate strategy this year. By all counts, this looks like the kind of decision that staunchly contradicts the climate change policy that the very same coalition has proposed.

Under the provisions of the climate plan, the National-Liberal coalition plans to spend $2.88 billion by 2017. This figure has been revisited from the initially allotted $3.2 billion – yet in spite of this slash, the coalition still expects to have more than one million solar panels installed across Australia over the coming ten years.  It’s important to note that the largest part of the expected $338 million savings stem from cutting the solar rebate down from $1,000 to $500. This decision was motivated by the coalition’s climate change spokesperson, Greg Hunt, with the explanation that solar panel prices have become far more affordable over the past three years, since the strategy was first devised. The upcoming government expects to save $200 million over the coming four years, while still implementing the greenhouse gas emission reduction component of the climate change strategy in full. The greenhouse arm of the plan includes investments in revegetation and soil carbon improvement.

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