I’ve been to Australia for a brief trip, attending a closed public policy conference run by the Australian think-tank the Centre for Independent Studies. The terms of engagement of the conference prevent me from reporting on it in detail; it’s meant to be unreported and off-the-record. The attendance list was certainly a cut above the usual scientific conferences I go to; it included present and former cabinet ministers from the Australian and New Zealand governments, central bankers and senior judges, industry CEOs and prominent journalists.
A session of the conference was devoted to nanotechnology; I spoke, together with a couple of prominent Australian nanoscientists and the science correspondent of one of Australia’s major dailies. I was nervous about how I would be received, and I think many of the audience, more used to hearing about terrorism in Indonesia or commodity price fluctuations, were similarly nervous about whether they would find anything to interest them in such a specialised and futuristic sounding topic. In the event, I think, everyone was very pleasantly surprised at the success of the session and the lively debate it sparked.
I don’t want to divert this blog too much into discussing politics, but I can’t help observing that the tone of the meeting was a little bit more right wing than I am used to. The CIS clearly occupies rather a different part of think-tank space to my centrist friends in Demos, for example, and I regretted having left my Ayn Rand t-shirts at home. Nonetheless, I think it’s hugely important that science and technology do start to play a larger role in policy discussions.