DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert)
: We have been debating the Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill now for some time, and I think it is in the interests of everybody, and particularly the Royal Society, to move on with it. Although I know that we have about 4 years’ grace to get this legislation through, nevertheless it would be in the interests of everybody, including the Royal Society, which would like to move on with this legislation and put it behind it, for it to be concluded in this session. I know that we are definitely—certainly, the Labour side, anyway—keen to progress this bill as quickly as possible and to try to get it through so that we have some closure on this particular legislation before this session of Parliament comes to a close.
To refresh everybody’s memory, this legislation is supported by all sides of the House. We had about a dozen submitters who came and made submissions to the Education and Science Committee some months ago now. Some of those submissions—I think the bulk of the submissions—were concerned about the inclusion of the humanities into the legislation that established the Royal Society. Part of that really was that submitters feared that the inclusion of the humanities would water down the Royal Society and make it less focused on what they consider to be the evidence-based type of research that continues to go on within the science community.
Having listened to many of those debates, we felt that the Royal Society is probably the best judge of any risk that the bringing of the humanities into the Royal Society’s raison d’être might involve. In fact, we believe that it could be a strength for the Royal Society to bring in the humanities amongst the Royal Society itself. I think that despite the fact that most of those who took objection—many of them came from the various branches of the Royal Society throughout the country—we found that it was an ill-founded fear and an ill-founded risk.
The Royal Society, as we know, is one of our pre-eminent organisations in this country. It has been running for well over 100 years. It is the greatest pool of talent that New Zealand has in the science community, and now we will broaden that into the humanities and social sciences, as well.
We did make some adjustments to the characterisation of what might be included and what might not be included. From memory, American studies was excluded, for example. We involved that in a more generalised definition.
In conclusion to my opening point on this bill, I say that Labour would like to see progress on this bill concluded this year. I think that is in everybody’s interests. Certainly, the Royal Society would like this bill to be concluded and to be wrapped up before the end of the year. We know that we have a buffer of 3 or 4 years to allow this bill to go through, but I think it would be in the best interests of the House if we were able to get this bill through so that the Royal Society, having made its recommendations and made its internal decisions, and really only requiring this Parliament to rubber-stamp the conclusion of this bill, is able to move forward.
I will resume my seat with the wish that we progress this bill as quickly as possible. I am sure that some of my other parliamentary colleagues may want to take a call and expand on that a bit further.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North)
: Up until just a few seconds ago I was under the impression we were on clause 15, but it turns out we are on clause 16. I am very happy to make a contribution on clause 16 of the Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill. It is a bill, as members are well aware, that Labour has gone to great pains to make sure we examine in the finest detail. As technical a change as this bill might be, we want to make sure that we get everything right, and clause 16 should receive no less investigation than any other clause in the bill.
Clause 16 refers to co-opted councillors and states: “Section 24(2)(d) is amended by omitting ‘science and technology’ and substituting ‘science, technology, and the humanities’.” Again, this is one of those changes that goes to the heart of what this bill is all about, which is, of course, allowing the humanities and people who carry out study and research within the humanities to become part of the Royal Society, thereby expanding the Royal Society’s brief from simply science and technology into the broader area of the humanities.
Obviously, when co-opting councillors, usually one co-opts individuals to a council, a board, or any governing organisation in order to bring in specific expertise. This provision could be particularly useful in the transition phase as we see more people representing the humanities coming into the Royal Society and as their numbers grow. Initially it might be important to co-opt on to the council an individual who has specific experience or knowledge in the humanities. As the Royal Society expands into this new area, it will have people with particular abilities who are able to advise the other members of the council—whose experience might be more in the area of science and technology, as opposed to the humanities—about new areas that the Royal Society might be going into. This makes a lot of sense.
Obviously the Royal Society has always been able to co-opt members. This, I suppose, is useful when there are specific items of interest that the Royal Society might be examining. I know that the different components of the Royal Society sometimes take on investigations into areas of specific interest, and that would be another time when co-opting a member would be of great value to the council. But, as I said, obviously in this new era, when people from the humanities are able to be part of the Royal Society, should such an investigation be embarked upon into an area that is not one of the traditional areas that has been the work of the Royal Society, then co-opting someone with that specific ability, that specific knowledge, and that specific experience could be very useful. Clause 16, by amending section 24(2)(d) of the principal Act, allows that to happen. It is an infinitely sensible move in the context of the broader bill, which will allow greater rigour, in a way, to be brought to the area of the humanities.
I have mentioned previously in the debate, with pride, the number of people from Palmerston North who are members of the Royal Society, because of our concentration of people engaged in science and technology, I suppose. But we also have a number of people engaged in the humanities—people who really are at the cutting edge of research in the humanities. Some people might see that as an oxymoron, but I disagree. The member in charge of the bill, Grant Robertson, pulls a face. Maybe he would like to make a contribution about that statement; I do not know.
Clause 16 is a very sensible clause in the context of the bill and the whole point of the bill. I am sure that although it is a technical change, it will allow the Royal Society to embark upon this new era of enlightenment in which it includes the humanities. I am sure clause 16 will be a very useful component of doing so.