A voice in parliament for water pollution

By Bryant Gagliardi

Bryant Gagliardi at Science Meets Parliament

Bryant Gagliardi with fellow SETAC AU representative Tarah Hagen at Parliament House.

Each year, the Science Meets Parliament conference is held in Canberra. This conference is an initiative of the representative body Science and Technology Australia. As the name suggests, the conference provides a forum for Australian scientists and federal politicians to meet and exchange ideas. This year, I was fortunate enough to receive the 2017 Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry Australasia Student Ambassador Award. This award saw me acting as student delegate representative for SETAC AU at the two-day conference in March, along with Tarah Hagen acting as SETAC AU’s staff representative.

It was nice to think about my own science in the broader context of the national policy agenda.

Day one of the conference saw stormy skies clearing for a day of policy workshops and presentations by a variety of highly-esteemed experts in their respective fields relating to science, the media and federal politics. It was quite unlike the academic conferences I’ve previously been to, and it was nice to think about my own science in the broader context of the national policy agenda. This day was hosted by STA CEO Kylie Walker, who also directed several very important workshops – those that gave us info on how to best engage with our allocated parliamentarians, whom we were to meet on Day 2! The day was rounded out by the gala dinner, at which Federal Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science Arthur Sinodinos, and Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten outlined their respective parties’ policies for Australian science going forward. I enjoyed the company of all kinds of scientists from around Australia at our table– physicists, mathematicians and ecologists, along with Federal MPs Mr Craig Kelly and Mr Luke Howarth. It was a fun night with great conversations had between the scientists and politicians.

MP for Parkes Mr Mark Coulton was particularly interested in issues such as black water events, coal seam gas pollution and herbicide impacts.

Day 2 was “D-Day” as far as most of us were concerned, as this was the day on which we would have allocated office meetings with our selected politician. Although we warned that politicians can have extremely busy and changeable timetables, I was lucky enough that my person – MP for Parkes Mr Mark Coulton – was able to meet at our allocated time. Myself and two other scientists had a great 20 minute or so conversation with Mr Coulton about our respective areas of research, and how they relate to the specific issues faced in his regional NSW electorate. With regards to my own area of interest, water pollution, he was particularly interested in issues such as black water events, coal seam gas pollution and herbicide impacts, and also shared with us insights on the broader environmental, social and economic issues that an MP has to contend with. Mr Coulton was very gracious with his time and thoughts, although unfortunately the meeting ended abruptly with a knock at his door by the House Speaker The Hon Tony Smith… and with that Mr Coulton had to dash off for a House vote! There was therefore no time for the customary 'selfie with a pollie' but it was nonetheless a great experience, that I am grateful to SETAC-AU for affording me. The day still held a few uniquely 'Canberran' experiences left, including lunch at the National Press Club and attendance at a raucous lower House question time, all of which contributed to a memorable two-day experience!

Bryant Gagliardi is a PhD candidate at CAPIM.