Labour leader David Shearer has taken aim at what he says is the Government's lack of support for scientists, saying research and development tax credits should be reinstated.

Speaking at the New Zealand Association of Scientists conference yesterday, Shearer, the party's science and innovation spokesman, said the National-led Government had failed to encourage innovation.

Shearer said innovation was the key to creating high-value, high-tech industries, and also to giving an edge to the biggest industries, such as agriculture.

"There's always going to be a ceiling to how much milk and beef you can take off a hectare of land. It's not a matter of choosing agriculture or high-tech. It's a matter of choosing both."


Shearer criticised the Government's scrapping of R&D tax credits, which left businesses with less incentive to invest in science.

Labour's science policy was being developed, but Mr Shearer said he was interested in bringing back the credits. Reinstating them would cost around $800 million, which Labour had previously indicated it would pay for by bringing farmers into the Emissions Trading Scheme.

Shearer was also critical of National's cutting of post-doctoral fellowships.

"If you wanted to farewell our best and brightest at the airport, that was was probably the best way to do that."

Shearer said the country was producing more lawyers and accountants but the number of scientists and engineers had flat-lined.

He emphasised the importance of public science and "blue-sky" science, not simply science-for-profit.

He wanted to encourage inspirational teaching, noting that the late Sir Paul Callaghan was first inspired by his high-school calculus teacher.

Asked by the audience what his solutions would be, Shearer said he "did not have the magic bullet".


He said the party's policy on science had been laid out in its manifesto at the general election but it would be further developed after discussions with scientists, institutions, and others.

Earlier, National MP David Carter - speaking on behalf of Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce - assured scientists they would not be forgotten as a new ministry absorbed the functions of the Ministry of Economic Development, the Department of Labour, the Ministry of Science and Innovation, and the Department of Building and Housing.

Shearer said the merger had been carried out "in the least scientific way possible", without adequate research or due diligence.