At a time when encouraging science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills is firmly on the political radar, it was no surprise to see Canberra weigh heavily into the annual National Science Week celebration.

What was surprising, however, was how strongly the Government endorsed science, given its chequered relationship with the science community on the back of large research cuts and modest investment.

As National Science Week moved into full swing, the Minister for Industry and Science Ian Macfarlane used a speech in parliament to “reflect on the role of science in Australia”.

He said science was “critical for jobs, growth and business success".

However, he said there needed to be “a bigger bang for our science dollar”, noting that Australia is “poor at translating research into commercial outcomes”.

Macfarlane said the Government has been working to assemble the “building blocks” for a “coherent” long-term science strategy, and was seeking support.

“A sustained approach needs our collective energy and goodwill that crosses the political divide,” he said.

“In taking this long-term outlook, I emphasise the importance of a bipartisan approach to industry and science policy so that the decisions we make today – whether they’re in STEM, investment in research infrastructure or ways to boost our ability to commercialise research – can benefit Australia for decades to come.”

The suggestion was met with a lukewarm reception from opposition leader Bill Shorten.

“You cannot say that you are committed to science if you ignore the evidence and shoot the messengers,” he said, citing funding cuts and the Government’s policy position on climate science.

Scientists steer clear of politics, stick to science

Outside the wrangling of parliament, Australia’s science community used National Science Week to showcase what science is already contributing to the country.

Consultancy PwC profiled scientists in its ranks – from a chemistry double-major that now works in PwC’s Research and Development Tax incentives team, to a pharmacy graduate that uses her science training “to help me interpret and make sense of complex information and to analyse data sets".

CSIRO and the University of Southern Queensland are using the week in part to visit schools to further encourage interest in STEM skills.