Australia's dumbing down: The view from outside | RenewEconomy

Australia’s dumbing down: The view from outside

A Bloomberg article says Australia’s government is betting on ‘baristas over brains’ as it flags further cuts to scientific research and development. What do you think?


It is interesting, every now and then, to take a look at Australia from the outside, in. Or is it just depressing?

This week, a leading article on the homepage of global business news service, Bloomberg, had this to say:

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 12.11.26 pm

The article reads:

The country that brought you refrigerators, black-box flight recorders, bionic ears and Wi-Fi will cut its research budget by 7 per cent over the next 12 months, and another 10 per cent in the following three years. At the same time it’s offering tax cuts and write-offs in its budget this month for small firms to buy equipment like espresso machines and lawnmowers as the centerpiece of a plan to build a “stronger and more prosperous Australia.”

It goes on to quote our Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, as saying that every OECD nation has a plan to grow its scientific enterprise and aid its translation into technology, innovation and development … except Australia, which the article points out now ranks in the bottom seven countries based on government spending on research and development as a proportion of gross domestic product.

Anyway, it’s worth reading the whole article here:

We’d love to hear what you think…

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  1. Keith 5 years ago

    It just reinforces that we are governed by fools. The Labor party is very passive, so you can’t help but think that they are scared to say anything in case they get wedged.

    The rest of the world is paying attention. Christiana Figueres visit here a few weeks back (after she visited Canada, is that a clue about her mission?) suggests to me that our unconscionable behaviour regarding fossil fuel emissions is under review.

    None of these foolish actions will be without consequences. I don’t understand why we are all so passive about this and instead spend our time reflecting on a so called terror threat, which seems to be mostly about young people with mental health issues.

    The curious thing is that while every area of activity needs balancing cuts (eg Lomborg funding requires cuts to CSIRO), in the “making people scared” space (so called terrorism) there is an open cheque book…. why?

  2. JMac 5 years ago

    It’s depressing 🙁

  3. Jacob 5 years ago

    True. AUS is one of the most stupid nations in the world.

    It thinks exporting iron ore, LNG, uranium, coal, and bauxite is the way to go.

    While tiny nations such as Israel, Ireland, Singapore, Taiwan, export computer chips. Singapore exports solar panels too.

    My Nokia phone is made in the tiny nation of Finland.

    Even Bolivia wants to not just export lithium ore, but to value-add in Bolivia.

    • Alan S 5 years ago

      And Bolivia wants to keep production in Bolivian hands. It also wants to limit production to preserve the resource and avoid flooding the market so the price drops. Are they considered to be Third World?

      • Jacob 5 years ago

        Bolivia is not rich. But they want the lithium to be processed in Bolivia.

        China and India have sensible export taxes on raw ore because they want the value-add done locally.

        Australia should also have an export tax on iron ore and bauxite so that it gets turned into steel here.

  4. Nick Sharp 5 years ago

    My daughter in law has brains and is a barista, so let’s go easy on the “baristas over brains” argument thanks. In fact, I think if we replaced the government front bench with baristas we’d be doing a lot better. Or as John Clark (as an “international constitutional lawyer”) asked Brian Dawe “how does Australia function on the weekends when the government isn’t running?”: “Just great”. So perhaps just remove said front bench and take no further action.

    I’m a Thatcher refugee, and beginning to wonder if it is time to go back to Blighty, even with Cameron in charge (after support from an underwhelming 33% of those voting (which was about 66% of the registered electors). IE less than 1/4 of the Brits want him, yet he gets a majority in the HofC. Democracy?

    • Coley 5 years ago

      Don’t, it hasn’t got any better, in fact have you a shed or a garage available?

  5. Bungarra 5 years ago

    Watching the state department of Ag in WA being reduced to mere shadow of its previous self, one asks the question, what are we doing to do when the wheels fall off our system?

    There is zero value placed on being able to solve our problems here. Lets buy the IP from overseas and then beat our selves about the head for deficits. Made worse by the failure to capture the value of economic activity through poorly designed tax systems. I would suggest that a trip to any 3ed world country near by to see the street people, and to have a refresher course in Colonialism, and then be asked Why is It So?

    In the long term, do we have enough pitchforks?

  6. John McKeon 5 years ago

    There are many more intellectual achievements in Australia’s history on top of those listed in the article, so it is indeed depressing to feel the constriction of the narrow mindset of our political classes, both Labor and COALition.

  7. Rob G 5 years ago

    It’s what happens when you put dumb people in charge… We all laughed at Americans voting in then near brainless George Bush, twice! But now it is America’s turn to laugh at us. My only hope is that these guys get voted out in such convincing fashion, that they as a party, rethink the way they do politics.

  8. disqus_3PLIicDhUu 5 years ago

    The lunatics have taken over the asylum and have set us up as an ‘ideocracy’.
    The bogans, the senile, the disengaged and the antisocial, voted them in, with a big hand by Murdoch.

  9. Ken Dyer 5 years ago

    The pollies might try and dumb us down (some of us anyway) but you cannot keep our smart people down forever.

    Australia is coming to a point where people are tired of incompetent and morally bankrupt government management (leadership does not exist in Government and has not for the last 30 years). Eventually the death of knowledge by 1000 cuts will cease. The ballot box draws ever closer, so don’t waste your vote!

  10. Alan S 5 years ago

    One of their more mind-numbing calls is by C Pyne who wants people to study maths and physics at years 11 and 12. Why? What are the subject syllabuses and what is the point of someone who’s already studied up to year 10 going on for a couple more years unless they’re interested and intends doing something with the subjects?

  11. Farmer Dave 5 years ago

    It is depressing, and I blame neoclassical economics and its religious devotion to the free market as the provider of everything we want. Why fund research, after all, when the market will provide? My favorite single word description of mainstream economics is: wrong. I mean, these people even believe that it is possible to have infinite growth on a finite planet! The more I read about the fundamentals of economics, the more removed from reality I judge it to be.

    If economics were simply a stupidly crazy academic discipline practised by a few harmless nutters safely locked up in universities, then it would not matter how wrong it was. The problem is that economists are uniquely influential: a high proportion of people in important policy roles are economists from the mainstream schools of economics. It’s instructive to play “spot the economist” amongst policy types.

    Not all economists have been brain-washed by the discipline’s mainstream: Steve Keen is an academic economist who has published on the fundamental errors of mainstream economics, and on the way economics students are discouraged from questioning its assumptions and approach. The ecological/biophysical economists are trying to build an approach which is consistent with both the laws of physics and common sense, but they are seen as a fringe group.

    Right now in Australia, having a qualification in mainstream economics is seen as an important prerequisite for people involved in formulating and commenting on policy. We need to turn this right around so that such qualifications are seen as a major disadvantage for policy work.

    • nakedChimp 5 years ago

      Sorry, you got that wrong there pal:

      …The problem is that economists are uniquely influential: a high
      proportion of people in important policy roles are economists from the
      mainstream schools of economics. It’s instructive to play “spot the
      economist” amongst policy types. …

      Just look at Lomberg, it’s the other way round – the ones who rule do pay those that draw the world in the color that supports their case (*).
      There are a lot of economists who would tell you a different story, but those don’t get media time, support or invites to advisory groups and you can easily tell why that is. And it was and still is the same everywhere on this planet.. I don’t know of a society that has tight feedback loops and the ability to reinvent itself without pain if needed nor how one would look like – not even science (which works on those principles afaik) can do something like that in perfection (yet).

      So yeah, naked chimps have come a long way since ancient times, but there sure is still a lot of rocky road ahead..

      *) and even this might be ‘natural’, as if I remember correctly people do affiliate with and surround them-self with information that fits their mindset and not many have what is needed to look past their personal horizon – I think most peoples horizon ends about 50 mm in front of their nose.
      So if you’re interested in computers you won’t start reading how to fertilize your garden, but you might be indifferent to the notion of that. Now if there was information that computers had some bad influence or were not sustainable in some form or another.. do you think you’d say hooray let’s stop those computers, ignore it or rather ‘fight’ that kind of mindset and keep using computers?
      What now if your social status, your income, your life-hood depends on those computers, what would you do?

    • Barri Mundee 5 years ago

      Most but not all economists adhere to a “theory” (neo-classical economics) that has been shown not to be supported by the data.

      See for example:

  12. Chris Fraser 5 years ago

    Tell the outside world that Abbott has more faith in God than Science, like they did in medieval times.

  13. Steve159 5 years ago

    Michael Moore’s “Sicko” explains (in part) the impetus of this government.

    Primarily, Abbott’s fundamentalist religious views translate into command and control (religions, by definition, are hierarchical, leading to hierarchical models in society — which are directly at odds with, and incompatible with how Nature self-organises cooperatively towards balanced, sustainable eco-systems. Hence manipulating and fighting nature, rather than cooperatively working with “Her”.).

    Moore interviewee:

    “I think there are two ways in which people are controlled.
    First of all, frighten people, and secondly, demoralize them.
    An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern. And I think there’s an element in the thinking of some people: “We don’t want people to be educated, healthy and confident, because they would get out of control.”
    The top 1 % of the world’s population own 80% of the world’s wealth. It’s incredible that people put up with it, but they’re poor, they’re demoralized, they’re frightened. And therefore, they think perhaps the safest thing to do is to take orders and hope for the best.”

    Abbott is very adept at frightening people (debt and deficit, death cult etc).
    By hitting the poor even harder (which has been found to be the result of their policies) they demoralize them, so that’s the perfect equation for fundamentalist control over the populace (scare them, and demoralize them, then do as you please to them).

  14. BazzaJ 5 years ago

    I agree with the majority of the responders. Australian has long lost leadership of any long-term vision. Politicians of the 1960s(no I am not in my 70s) made plans beyond their own lifetime, like modern management more and more CEOs and Prime Ministers are thinking only up to the next Financial Year or the next election! The Chinese Politburo has for first time in it’s history appointed a person with a non-engineering background. Which means the majority are engineers and it should stay that way. Unfortunately the west, apart from the standout(Germany), has been listening to Financial Engineers instead of real Engineers. Engineers build things! Remember Germany has costs that are almost double Australia yet they succeed by being innovative and the rest of the world(KIA has just engaged the chief designer from Audi) are trying to keep up. The secret is companies like Mercedes spend one third of their income of research and development. Look up Andrew Liveris(an Aussie) who works for an Obama think tank that is ON-SHORING manufacturing and reducing costs like energy and by using renewable energy and instead of selling gas to the Chinese for 3 cents a litre we keep that resource to make our manufacturing more competitive. Tony Abbott is captured by the Economist just as John Howard was so it won’t happen anytime soon but Australia needs to reinvent itself as an innovator. We are heading for decades of deficits so why not invest in the future technology growth areas. For every Manufacturing job this creates 3 for the economy, so what does Abbott/Hockey do? They give manufacturing the flick in exchange for serving teas and coffees to tourists. Without manufacturing there is no innovation. The Bloomberg article says it all!

  15. Miles Harding 5 years ago

    From the bloomberg story:
    “Australia’s boost for baristas is partly a result of successive
    governments’ failure during the decade-long mining boom to prevent a
    hollowing out the manufacturing sector as the currency strengthened and
    investment flowed to the mines.”

    They certainly got that right.

    Recently, I was lamenting the fact that, in Australia, entrepreneurship means digging a bigger hole (for the nation to fall into) and sending the rocks overseas as cheaply as possible.

    See the Smithsonian 40th anniversary Symposium on the Limits to Growth from 2012 here: , then tell me there isn’t a problem.

    Maybe we should be collectively doing something about resilience.

  16. Rob 5 years ago

    The wacky governance and politics of Australia these days makes me feel like I’m living in a third world country. Time to emigrate?

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