8 January 2007

Created date

Monday, January 8, 2007 - 10:00pm

Media Coverage 6-8 January 2007

Happy New year to all!

Some of you have already seen media coverage in the Canberra Times and ABC Online 6 January 2007, and in The Australian 8 January 2007.

In particular, the front-page article in The Canberra Times on Saturday 6 January headlined “Threat to Bushfire Research” needs some explanation, and also reassurance that the bulk of our CRC funding is secure through to 2010. We are also working hard and with some optimism towards obtaining the resources to sustain a national research effort beyond that date.

The Canberra Times article was prompted by our annual report and our Board’s response to the DEST Third year Review – both documents are available on our public Web site.

The annual report makes a passing reference to the CRC selection criteria. Prior to 2004, the objectives of the CRC program were, in effect, a triple bottom line approach – direct benefit to an industry and the economy, but also of wider benefit to society and the environment.

After 2004 the objective became “to enhance Australia’s industrial, commercial and economic growth through the development of sustained, user-driven, cooperative public-private research centres that achieve high levels of outcomes in adoption and
The Productivity Commission in its latest draft report on Public Support for Science and Innovation, sees these new objectives as being a disadvantage for new CRC proposals that focus on outcomes in social and environmental research. It is significant that the Commission was asked to undertake this report by the Treasurer Peter Costello and DEST Minister Julie Bishop.
The Commission’s report recommends the objectives of the CRC program should revert to their previous form. The Bushfire CRC has supported this view. See our submission to the Commission via the link on the front page of our Web site under New Online. The full Productivity Commission report can be found at their Web site www.pc.gov.au
The simple facts are:
• We are funded through to June 2010 with the exception at the moment of HighFire and the Outreach/Fire Knowledge Network projects which are funded to June 2008;
• A re-bid for a second term as a CRC would need to be submitted by March 2008 and we need to decide soon about mounting such a bid;
• The current selection rules make it more difficult for a public interest CRC, but a strong performance in research adoption by our industry partners would strengthen our case;
• Last year our industry partners through the AFAC Council expressed their wish to find a way to sustain research for the long term, including consideration of eventual transition to a national fire institute at some stage;
• We are actively following up on the Third Year Review recommendations, including holding a national forum to address issues described in the opinion piece in today’s Australian (see link below and more details on this forum shortly);
• The Australian Government has demonstrated a strong and continuing interest in supporting a strengthened bushfire research effort and would most likely continue to feature as a major funding source for ongoing research. It is significant too that COAG, in its response to the report on the 2003 fires, supported the concept of a commitment to a long-term, national research capability.

Because the article was overly pessimistic, I have made some of these points in a letter to the editor submitted today – see copy attached.
In contrast to the coverage in the Canberra Times, the planned opinion piece for The Australian has appeared in today’s edition. It re-affirms the need for ongoing research and places this in the context of the 27 February National Forum – see http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21024336-7583,00.html

Kevin O’Loughlin