March for Science: Canberra protest calls for consistency in research funding
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March for Science: Canberra protest calls for consistency in research funding

More than 1000 people converged on the lawns of Parliament House on Saturday calling for greater awareness and funding for science.

The Canberra March for Science was one of more than 600 similar protests being held around the world in 54 countries, with marches also happening in Sydney and Melbourne.

The demonstrations, which co-incided with World Earth Day, were held in response to funding cuts to the sector in the United States by President Donald Trump.

Speaking at the rally, ANU professor and climate change expert Will Steffen said support for science funding was now needed more than ever in the face of scepticism about global warming.

Teagan Vaughn, 6, at the March for Science.

Teagan Vaughn, 6, at the March for Science. Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

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"Australia has an important tradition of being a pillar of science in the southern hemisphere," he said.

"Now that is being eroded in support for our own scientists and eroded in pulling back from international science programs."

Following redundancies at the CSIRO and the abolition of the Climate Commission, Professor Steffen said, for many scientists, the stability of funding was diminishing.

"There is more and more pressure, even in the universities, for immediate outcomes for the research, in other words something that can be translated into some sort of economic benefit," he said.

Protesters gather outside Parliament House for the March for Science.

Protesters gather outside Parliament House for the March for Science.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Among the protesters was Margie Roberts, who is also a member of climate change advocacy group 350.org. She said there was an increasing trend of evidence-based research being rejected.

"Australia is getting into the same situation like with Trump in America: if you have the loudest voice, your truth comes across," she said.

Protesters walked to Old Parliament House.

Protesters walked to Old Parliament House.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

Barbara Norman, an urban planning professor at the University of Canberra,

said while scientists were often not ones to attend protests regularly, it was important to demonstrate the importance of science.

William Pieper with an anti-Trump placard.

William Pieper with an anti-Trump placard.Credit:Dion Georgopoulos

"Often scientists are behind closed doors in research, and this shows how concerned they really are," she said.

A recent ANU poll of more than 1200 people about science funding showed 67 per cent believed science was best funded by the government rather than private business. Eight-two per cent believed politicians should rely on more expert scientific advice.

Lead researcher Professor Matthew Gray said the poll was a snapshot of Australian attitudes at a time when spending on research and development was falling to around 2.1 per cent of GDP, below the OECD average of 2.4 per cent of GDP.

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"The figure for Australia in 2013 was 56.3 per cent compared to an OECD average of 81.1 per cent, and well below the United States (70.6 per cent), Japan (76.1 per cent) and Germany (67.2 per cent).

"The relatively low proportion of Australian R&D being undertaken by the private sector is one of the reasons for successive governments attempting to increase private sector R&D expenditure."

Andrew Brown is a journalist at the Sunday Canberra Times. Andrew has worked at the Canberra Times since 2016.

Georgina is a reporter for The Canberra Times