Tag Archives: EPA

Peter Doherty: why Australia needs to march for science

The Conversation

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March for Science events will be held across the world on April 22 2017. From www.shutterstock.com

Peter C. Doherty, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

The following article is adapted from a speech to be delivered at the Melbourne March for Science on Saturday 22 April, 2017. The Conversation

The mission posted on the March for Science international website states:

The March for Science champions robustly funded and publicly communicated science as a pillar of human freedom and prosperity. We unite as a diverse, nonpartisan group to call for science that upholds the common good and for political leaders and policy makers to enact evidence based policies in the public interest. The March for Science is a celebration of science.

To me, it seems the reason concerned people across the planet are marching today is that, at least for the major players in the English-speaking world, there are major threats to the global culture of science.

Why? A clear understanding of what is happening with, for example, the atmosphere, oceans and climate creates irreconcilable problems for powerful vested interests, particularly in the fossil fuel and coastal real estate sectors.

Contrary to the data-free “neocon/trickle down” belief system, the observed dissonance implies that we need robust, enforceable national and international tax and regulatory structures to drive the necessary innovation and renewal that will ensure global sustainability and a decent future for humanity and other, complex life forms.

Here in Australia, the March for Science joins a global movement initiated by a perceived anti-science stance in Donald Trump’s administration.

Trump’s 2018 budget proposal

In the USA, President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 incorporates massive cuts to the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

And, though it in no sense reflects political hostility and deliberate ignorance, British scientists are fearful that Brexit will have a terrible impact on their funding and collaborative arrangements.

How does this affect us in Australia? Why should we care? The science culture is international and everyone benefits from progress made anywhere. NOAA records, analyses and curates much of the world’s climate science data. A degraded EPA provides a disastrous model for all corrupt and regressive regimes.

Science depends on a “churn”, both of information and people. After completing their PhD “ticket”, many of our best young researchers will spend 3-5 years employed as postdoctoral fellows in the USA, Europe and (increasingly) the Asian countries to our north, while young American, Asian and European/British scientists come to work for a time with our leading scientists.

The proposed 2018 US President’s budget would, for example, abolish the NIH Fogarty International Centre that has enabled many young scientists from across the planet to work in North America. In turn, we recruited “keepers” like Harvard-educated Brian Schmidt, our first, resident Nobel Prize winner for physics and current Vice Chancellor of the Australian National University (ANU).

We might also recall that – supported strongly by Prime Ministers JJ Curtin and RG Menzies – the ANU (with 3 Nobel Prizes to its credit) was founded as a research university to position us in science and international affairs.

Not a done deal, yet

What looks to be happening in the US is not a done deal.

The US political system is very different from our own. The Division of Powers in the US Constitution means that the President is in many respects less powerful than our PM.

Unable to introduce legislation, a President can only pass (or veto) bills that come from the Congress. Through to September, we will be watching a vigorous negotiation process where separate budgets from the House and the Senate (which may well ignore most, if not all, of the President’s ambit claims) will develop a “reconciled” budget that will be presented for President Trump’s signature.

How March for Science might help

The hope is that this international celebration of science will cause US legislators, particularly the more thoughtful on the right of politics, to reflect a little and understand what they risk if they choose to erode their global scientific leadership.

There are massive problems to be solved, along with great economic opportunities stemming from the development of novel therapies and new, smart “clean and green” technologies in, particularly, the energy generation and conservation sector.

Ignoring, or denying, problems does not make them go away. Whether or not the message is welcome, the enormous power of science and technology means we can only go forward if future generations are to experience the levels of human well-being and benign environmental conditions we enjoy today.

There is no going back. The past is a largely imagined, and irretrievable country.

Peter C. Doherty, Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

This article was originally published on The Conversation. (Reblogged by permission). Read the original article.

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Philip Opas QC

Philip Henry Napoleon Opas OBE QC was born in Melbourne on 24 February 1917 and died on 25 August 2008, aged 91. His antecedents were Portuguese and Jewish.  His accountant father Joseph Opas was the first to recommend to the Victoria Police that a special company squad of accountancy-trained men be set up to combat business fraud.

Educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School, Opas’ schooling was cut short at the age of 15. Still a teenager, he was apprenticed to Roy Schilling as a law clerk and graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Laws. He enlisted with the RAAF in 1939 when the second world war broke out. Twelve months’ war service was permitted to count as six months’ articles, a rule under which Opas was the first lawyer in Australia to qualify. In 1942, while on leave from New Guinea, he was admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Victoria as a barrister and solicitor. In 1946 after the war, he signed the Victorian Bar Roll and read with R.V Monahan (who was later appointed to the Supreme Court bench and became Justice Sir Robert Monahan). Opas was a junior barrister for some fifteen years before taking silk in 1958. His practice was wide and varied, ranging from constitutional matters to local government.

In 1966, Opas became defence counsel to Ronald Ryan, in a lengthy and well-publicised murder trial that was to become the defining moment in Opas’ long career. Despite the tenacious defence of his client, Ryan was eventually found guilty and executed (the last person to be hanged in Victoria) in 1967. Shortly after, the Victorian Bar Ethics Committee recommended that Opas be struck off the Bar Roll for touting. Opas was represented at a public hearing by the late Richard E McGarvie, and acquitted. Disillusioned and dispirited, he left the Bar in 1968 and went to work with CRA, ConZinc Rio Tinto before returning to the Bar in 1972.

In 1973, Opas was appointed chairman of the Environment Protection Appeals Board, and later to the Town Planning Appeals Tribunal. He held a number of similar positions specialising in local government and planning during the 1980s before retiring in 1989.

I was a scientific officer with the Environment Protection Authority from 1972 until 1982, when I was promoted to the Department of the Premier and Cabinet as Senior Policy Adviser, Natural Resources. Whilst at the EPA, I and my scientific colleagues were initially dumbfounded and then appalled to observe Philip Opas QC, during a hearing of the Environment Protection Appeals Board, place a drop of crude oil in a beaker of water, drink it and then immediately declare that crude oil in water was not pollution. In fact, I thought his behaviour was moronic and unbelievably dismissive of scientific evidence. Perhaps he suffered from the common sense fallacy. Naturally, he got a lot of cheap tabloid publicity for this silly and irresponsible stunt.

Possibly as a result of this cheap publicity, he was later appointed the position of CEO of the City of Doncaster & Templestowe, a position for which he had almost no relevant qualifications or experience. In this case, the councillors of the City of Doncaster & Templestowe were the morons. Leaving aside whether Ronald Ryan was guilty of murder, Philip Opas QC should be admired for his tenacity in trying to save his client from being hanged. But in the non-legal aspects of his career, he appears to have been out of his depth.

Reference

The Victorian Bar Oral History <http://oralhistory.vicbar.com.au/opas_bio.asp&gt; Viewed 3 December 2016.

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