ASBS Newsletter 95, June 1998
Meeting with the Minister
Following another letter to Senator Robert Hill on behalf of ASBS, I received an invitation to meet with the Minister and his adviser on 13 May. The invitation included Andy Austin, President of the Society of Australian Systematic Biologists, and Jack Simpson, President of the Australasian Mycological Society (i.e. the three amigos of the Adelaide meeting). Also at the meeting were Judy West, representing the ABRS Advisory Committee, and Helen Haliday, acting head of ABRS.
In our agenda we asked about the budget of $6 million recommended for ABRS in the program evaluation (see below), our concerns about the lack of opportunities and training for 'young' systematists, and a number of other issues related to the finances and priorities of ABRS. Although we didn't secure the $6 million (of course we doesn't expect to), the meeting was very positive. The Minister was sympathetic to our arguments but said the government had no plans to increase the total allocation to Environment Australia. He showed a good understanding of ABRS's role and its financial limitations. Prior to the meeting we had learnt that ABRS's core budget for 1998/99 was to remain fixed at $2.2 million. This is the same as the 1997/98 budget, excluding the $1.2 million top-up provided by the Minister following protests from the scientific community. In the meeting, the minister made a commitment to us to provide an extra $1.2 million for the 1998/99 budget, maintaining it at last year's level. He also made a commitment to place the funding for ABRS on a more secure footing in the future. Hopefully this means a base funding level of $3.4 million per year rather than having to top it up from $2.2 million on an annual basis.
There has been some concern in our society about how the 'extra' $1.2 million in the 1997/98 budget was spent. In a letter (dated 14 May) sent after the meeting, the Minister included a detailed allocation of this supplementary funding. Half of it went to the Participatory Program to fund all new programs in the 1998 calender year, with an additional $51,000 used to fund projects from the Reserve Grants list. The rest was spent primarily on the Publications Program, mostly making good shortfalls (resulting from earlier cuts to the ABRS budget) but including some new initiatives. A small proportion went to the ABRS program evaluation consultancy.
At the meeting and in his letter, the minister said that after appointing a new chair for the ABRS Advisory Committee he would direct them to examine and help implement the recommendations of the program evaluation. He would also like them to have a role in the allocation of the ABRS budget and in setting priorities within the unit. The society Presidents will work closely with the Advisory Committee and with ABRS staff to ensure that ABRS remains a strong and relevant organisation for Australian systematics. The meeting was a good start. The follow-up will include lobbying ministers prior to the next election and maintaining our good relationship with the Minister.
ABRS Program Evaluation
The evaluation of the Australian Biological Resources Study and the Biodiversity Program is now available from ABRS. Its major recommendations for ABRS are (in summary):
The recent death of George Scott was a great loss to his many friends in the botanical community. There is a tribute to George elsewhere in the newsletter but I wanted to recall a couple of my own memories. Firstly of the Bryophyte identification courses he held at Monash University. Not only did George teach the basics of bryophyte taxonomy but he found time to help anyone with a genuine interest related to his favourite group of plants. For me he helped make a small collection of aquatic bryophytes from his own herbarium. More recently, he coordinated and edited the Overview of the Conservation of Non-marine Lichens, Bryophytes, Alge and Fungi in Australia for Environment Australia, working with and helping fellow cryptogamists such as myself.
Since first meeting George (probably at the bryophyte course in 1985, where I also had my first single malt whisky), there has been a trickle of algal collections from his many forays across Australia. Only a few months ago he sent a collection of red algae from Roaring Meg Creek at Wilson Promontory, a population I had been wanting to recollect for many years. Typically, George unassumingly gave me the specimen saying I was under no obligation to keep it. Equally typically, it was a valuable collection and yet another of his diverse and important contrbutions to Australan botany.
Chris Puttock has accepted a position at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, and has therefore resigned as Vice President. Chris served the society for three years as secretary, and for the last year and a half as Vice President. I wish Chris well for his future and thank him for his support and his contributions to the society.
Barry Conn was the only nomination received for the Vice President position for the next election (in September) and council has appointed Barry to the position as of 18 May. Thanks Barry for stepping in to the position at such short notice. Barry's appointment will be particularly useful in establishing the Research Committee to assess the Eichier Fund applications.
Thanks to everyone for their overwhelming support for the constitutional changes. We can now move quickly to get tax deductibility status for the society. Thanks particularly to John Clarkson for his hard work in getting the process completed quickly and effectively.
It is likely that there will a sizeable profit from the Adelaide conferences, part of which will come to ASBS. In what is becoming a proud tradition, the ASBS conference was not only a scientific and social success, but also a financial one. On behalf of the society I would like to once again thank the organising committee for their hard work and financial diligence. As with the profits from the Kuranda conference, ASBS council (at the suggestion of the organising committee) would like to invest the money in the Hansjorg Eichler Scientific Research Fund. In this way we can use our finances to further the society objective to 'promote the study of plant systematics'.