His statements were part of a keynote address to the National Press Club for ‘Science Meets Parliament’, a two-day event run by Science and Technology Australia.
Professor Chubb said he believes a more strategic approach to science can provide Australia with sustained economic development.
“We can continue to muddle along, dabble at the margins and let what is represented to us as a market, decide. Or we can get real,” he said.
“We can be strategic with a proportion of our investment and be better at ensuring that national needs and competitive advantage are important parts of the agenda.
“We should have a comprehensive strategy, too – connecting and embracing the key pillars: education, research, innovation, international linkages and community engagement.
“But we lack the urgency found elsewhere – even the urgency seen in countries that already outperform us – and we risk being left behind.”
Professor Chubb said politicians acting on expert advice could identify a budget, key priorities such as particular areas where Australia must be engaged, or key infrastructure within a priority framework.
Once that was done they should leave the decisions on which projects to fund to researchers and the peer community, he said.
The UK and Australia have a similar distribution of researchers in universities and business but the UK does collaboration better because it has real strategies and incentives, he said.
“We do not have such strategies. And we should.”
Professor Chubb said it was important the community understood the scientific process to prevent opinion overriding evidence.
“And it is a truly frightening time for humankind when scientists and their science are derided – even vilified – because their evidence, after close and expert scrutiny, happens not to fit with what some people want to hear,” he said.
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Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Science Bill Shorten said: “We need to make science and innovation a matter of national political importance.”
Mr Shorten, who took on the shadow science portfolio when he became leader, has told scientists their input is needed if Australia is not to be “stuck on the blocks” in the race for the jobs of the future.
His comments came as hundreds of industry leaders converged in Canberra to meet parliamentarians to fuse stronger bonds between science and politicians.
Pointing to the success of National Disability Insurance Scheme campaigners, Mr Shorten said “together they achieved an outcome that would have been impossible alone”.
“The future of Australian science will depend on whether you, and I, can make your cause a national political issue.”
He said scientists shouldn’t have to deal with uncertainty in funding and there should be a new national commitment to science and innovation.
Labor will call for a Senate inquiry into science, research and the Australian innovation system to explore that idea and others including how to help innovators commercialise their ideas.
Science and Technology Australia boss Catriona Jackson said industry leaders are hoping to follow the UK’s lead and spread expert knowledge throughout federal divisions since the Abbott government scrapped a science ministry.
“We have certainly discussed the idea with the government and there has been some movement, with an appointment in agriculture,” Ms Jackson told AAP.
After coming to power in 2013 Prime Minister Tony Abbott reshuffled portfolios and split science between industry and employment, removing the role of dedicated science minister which had been in place since 1931.
Ms Jackson said scientists were concerned but have suspended their opinions until they see the government’s first budget in May. While there is a federal chief scientist, and one for each state and territory, greater consultancy would be valuable, she said.