To: The Courier Mail <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Community Comment for the Courier Mail
Date: Thu, 9 Dec 1999 3:57 PM
Greed is good, isn't it?
Famed British author James Clavell in his novel "King Rat", on the horrors of the Changi POW camp, wryly observed of the Australian prisoner's, "there's nothing more disgusting than an Aussie on the make".
There is a similar whiff of scandal in the rush to reap the "Biotech Bonanza" of Premier Beattie's Centre of Excellence in Biotechnology focused on Brisbane's inner-western suburbs.
A huge UQ/CSIRO joint building project is about to commence construction, over the road from an established residential community. Yet no environmental impact assessment, risk assessment, nor traffic report have been made available to the public. Prof John Hay, VC of the UQ, has admitted that it has no emergency procedures for the community if something goes wrong. And facilities proposed include bulk chemical and gas stores, flammable oils and toxic liquid, and laboratories for experiments with bacteria/viruses and genetically modified organisms (GMO's).
But of over-riding concern is the apparent change in culture of academia that now encourages an entrepreneurial approach, with Professors not just required to teach, but to also branch out into research and development, in the real world so to speak.
Where do we draw the line on what is acceptable in the extra curricular activities of our academics? Should it be that they teach say 70% of their time and devote say 30% of their time to their discipline, or the other way around? Is it acceptable that they be remunerated therefore from their academic salary of say $100,000 pa, and should therefore be able to supplement this with a further $50,000 or so from consultancies in research, and perhaps royalties from their "intellectual property"? What if they were to earn an extra $1 million from their share holding in a "spin-off" incubator industry, the product of their research? Is this still ethically acceptable? After all, greed is good, isnšt it?
We are assured that there are abundant checks and balances to meet the requirements of all relevant Australian Safety Standards. In addition research in the Institute of Molecular Biology will be overseen by an Institutional Biosafety Committee and the University Occupational Health and Safety Unit. But what of professional ethics in this emerging entrepreneurial field?
The rush is on to attract research funding which more and more is being sourced from outside the limited "money pot" of Government. Is industry funding going to be without "strings attached"? We are told that it is "common practice" to receive from 10% to 20% of the action for setting up a deal! Imagine offering the public facilities of our University to attract a prospective joint venturer. A nice cozy arrangement! Should a scientist strike it lucky, and establish a biotech factory within the facility being funded by the public purse, what assurance do we have that the "bonanza" will be shared by the institution, or indeed by the general public that have so lavishly funded the research? Will the "lucky scientist" be siphoned off to greener pastures abroad? Will the joint venture which he enters into with say, a major drug company to commercialise his product see a return to the investors, to you and me?
Premier Beattie has inveigled us with his catch cry of "jobs, jobs, jobs", but even he has given another $78 million of our hard earned bucks in "attracting high profile researches from overseas". It seems that we are being retrenched to make way for the glamour boys from abroad, though there should be "spin offs" for our new graduates to work at the gene factory of St Lucia.
The ethical considerations of the development of Biotechnology in Brisbane warrant far greater scrutiny. At the very least, the deal making should be transparent and open to public scrutiny.
The researchers ought to submit to a register of pecuniary interests, much like our politicians are required to do, if we are not to descend into corruption and scandal. Their enthusiasm and decency is undoubted, but the huge dispersal of public funds in generating a prospective return in this emerging field is too open to abuse.
There is the smell of easy money and expedience in the deals being stitched up to facilitate the biotech factories in our midst. And really, "therešs nothing more disgusting than an Aussie on the make".
St Lucia Residents' Association
Long Pocket Concerned Residents Group
c/o P O BOX 678 TOOWONG 4066 AUSTRALIA
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