In October 2013, Abbott defended this decision in front of an audience of scientists, saying:
It’s been remarked upon, ladies and gentlemen, that we don’t have a minister for science as such in the new government. I know there are some in this room who might have been momentarily dismayed by that, but let me tell you, neither does the United States have a Secretary for Science, and no nation on earth has been as successful at innovating as the United States and I’d say to all of you, please, judge us by our performance, not by our titles; judge us by our performance, not by our titles.
The difference, in case it is not obvious enough, is that the US has never had a Secretary for Science, whereas Abbott made a conscious decision, after 82 years of there having been a science portfolio in every Australian government, to erase the word from his ministry. Where the previous government had a Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the current government has a Department of Industry, headed by Minister Ian Macfarlane.
Supposedly, responsibility for science continues to lie with the Minister for Industry. However, it seems that Macfarlane is starting to get a bit tetchy with people who think, just because he does not have the word ‘science’ in his title, that he is not, in all but name, the Minister for Science. And when I say ‘people’, I mean ‘scientists’. And when I say ‘scientists’, I mean (according to Macfarlane) ‘precious petals’. Because last week Australia’s Minister for Industry, the Honourable Ian Macfarlane, MP, said:
I’m just not going to accept that crap [criticism of the lack of a science minister]. It really does annoy me, because there is no one, no one, more passionate about science than I am. I am the grandson and son of a scientist, and I give science more than their share of my time, and just because I’m not the minister for energy, do I hear the whinge from [the energy sector]? No.
But I hear it constantly from some of the precious petals, can I say, some of the precious petals in the science fraternity, and if you can’t guess, I won’t accept it.
Of course, this angered a few scientists, although I think they should wear the label with pride, because they are precious, in the nicest sense of the word! And responding to name-calling is a distraction from the real issue, which is this government’s rather poor record, to date, on Australian science.