Science & Technology Australia ‘Science meets Parliament’

Speech
  • Minister for Jobs and Innovation
  • Senator for Western Australia

Ladies and gentlemen good evening and on behalf of the Prime Minister it really is just an absolute privilege to be amongst so many amazing Australians tonight to celebrate the 19th Science Meets Parliament dinner.

There are so many special guests here tonight, but I do want to make a brief mention of course Kylie Walker and the absolutely fantastic Professor Emma Johnston and say thank you to those two ladies for all that you do, in particular for this event. And of course Dr Adi Patterson, this event would not be on if it was not for you and ANSTO so thank you so much but I’ve also just been talking to Adi ladies and gentlemen, about the work that Adi has done quietly and methodically for so many years now to ensure gender equity at ANSTO and Adi you need to be recognised for that.

To the Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, to Bill Ferris, Chair of Innovation and Science Australia, to Larry Marshall, Director of CSIRO. In particular, to my Assistant Minister, Senator Zed Seselja, to all of my parliamentary colleagues who are here tonight from all sides of politics it really is fantastic that we can unite and come together to support this annual event.

But ladies and gentlemen can I make a particular mention of two people who are here tonight who I think, when we now say 2018 what a fantastic time to be a scientist and to be involved in the scientific community, I am clearly referring to Professor Michelle Simmons our fantastic Australian of the Year and Professor Graham Farquhar, our Senior Australian of the Year. We are so proud of you, so proud of you.

Last year I had the privilege of attending the Prime Minister’s Awards for Science. I spoke to so many of you, I learnt first-hand about your achievements and it really was an honour when I was then representing the former Minister, Arthur Sinodinos. Can I just say, to be the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, and I am the Cabinet Minister responsible for science, is an absolute privilege and I can assure you it is a role that I am so excited by.

I just want to talk briefly about Michelle who is one of the most humble people I have ever met. I first encountered Michelle a few years ago at a chief executive women function, there were nearly a thousand people in the room and Michelle was the guest speaker. And I listened intently to her speech and what I loved about Michelle more than anything was, like so many people, in politics in particular, we are not necessarily all over what science is all about and, in particular, quantum physics and quantum computing. But Michelle spoke to us all in such a way that she conveyed the importance of what she was doing in a laymen’s terms, and I went away that night, having never met her before, thinking this is someone who I am in absolute awe of, someone who is without a doubt, and I don’t need to tell the people in this room, a fantastic role model and leader. She is doing incredible work putting Australia at the forefront of the quantum computing and the quantum computing race – and it is a race, Michelle, which we are working with you to win. So again, on behalf of every single one of us, congratulations, we are so proud.

Ladies and gentlemen, working together – it is why we are here tonight.

In recent years, and I’ve spoken to so many of my colleagues about this event, Science Meets Parliament really has become a celebration of collaboration between researchers, between industry and, of course, government.

It is important, as a government that we are clear. Science and Innovation are essential. They are integral to Australia’s future.

From basic research through to applied research, science impacts every single one of us here in Australia and it’s so important that we communicate that to the Australian public.

From fuelling our economy by creating new businesses and jobs, to ensuring we’re healthy and have the very best quality of life – science is an essential element of our culture.

And the Government recognises this.

And that is why we prioritised science last year as part of Science meets Parliament, when we launched our National Science Statement.

The Statement was developed in consultation with the science community and it sets out our policy to build a nation that is fully engaged with, and enriched by, science. 

Ladies and gentlemen I just want to pause briefly and recognise the extraordinary work the former Minister, Arthur Sinodinos, did.

Arthur did extraordinary work for science securing funding, infrastructure planning and global partnerships across the sector.

He put the National Science Statement into practice. I’ve had a number of discussions with him, as you all know, and it will be my honour to build on the work that he has done.

And I know you will all join me in thanking Arthur and really wishing him all the very best.  

Can I also say that I am absolutely delighted that I am going to be working with a local Canberran for you, my Assistant Minister, Senator Zed Seselja. We have had some fantastic meetings to date, in terms of what we both want to do. It is a huge portfolio, I want to meet all of you but having Zed working with me is going to enable us to meet as many people as possible.

I know Zed himself has spent the past few weeks getting to know as many of you as he can. But in particular, I also know Zed helped to launch TAIPAN – the purpose built instrument for the UK Schmidt Telescope by the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

And of course when you talk about infrastructure, this is part of our $6.4 million investment in this telescope, which is, of course, going to help ensure that we are providing, as Adi referred to in his speech, world class infrastructure for Australian astronomers.

In my role, I look forward to working with you to focus on key areas from a science policy perspective including; championing science, research and innovation to the broader population; securing funding for critical research infrastructure; and, I was so delighted with the applause that Emma received tonight, ensuring that women have a much stronger voice in growing, developing and participating in, at all levels, the science sector.

In order for science and scientists to succeed in their missions, the public need to understand the important role they play.

From our economy – through to both the wellbeing of ourselves and our planet – science plays a critical role in securing and supporting our quality of life.

It is, therefore, important that we continually find ways to promote the work of scientists and innovators.

Australians need to know what advancements in science and technology mean for them. They need to understand the positive impact that those advancements have had in the past, and the continuing impact they will have into the future.

I am delighted, and I have spoken with Emma about this, one of my first announcements as the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, with the Prime Minister, was our further investment of $60 million to secure the future of our Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef – it is a world icon. It captures the imagination of everybody who sees it.

But our reality also is, and I don’t need to tell the people in this room, you know, it has been hit hard over recent years by coral bleaching, cyclone damage and the continued spread of the crown of thorns starfish.

The Reef, of course, can recover from these events.

Its recovery is a key opportunity to explain how basic and applied research, innovation and technology will help to do just that. 

But it is also an opportunity to explain to Australians how our investment in the Great Barrier Reef will help secure the 64,000 jobs that are relied on because of the health of our reef and also the $6.4 billion the reef contributes to the economy. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I couldn’t discuss science without also discussing the future.

Our Space Agency announcement has, quite literally, captured the imagination of the country.

Space-enabled technologies and services play a vital role across practically every sector of the Australian economy.

The Australian space industry currently employs around 10,000 people. 

There is, of course, another important role that space plays in this nation and this is its role in inspiring the next and the current generation of Australian scientists!

When I announced last year the creation of an Australian Space Agency, I had never seen a response like the one that I received.

I was flooded with emails and letters from people all across Australia – scientists and existing members of the space industry, but also everyday Australians, who wanted to know what role they could play in this exciting new chapter.

The Great Barrier Reef, the creation of the Australian Space Agency - these are things that all Australians can identify with.

What that then does is help them understand the work of scientists, the impact of their work, and what it means to each and every Australian, the man and woman in the street.

I am incredibly excited, and I know that Zed is incredibly excited, to be working together to be overseeing this work.

In relation to research infrastructure, which I know is incredibly important to all of you, we are recognised for our world leading researchers and research infrastructure.

And last year, of course, our Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, produced the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap – and that of course is our roadmap of critical infrastructure needed by Australia’s research community.

We have already made a down payment on this roadmap, with our $70 million commitment for the National Computational Infrastructure.

This builds on the investments that we have also already made in critical infrastructure as result of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

These include the $1.5 billion for National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, as we heard from Adi, the $520 million for the Synchrotron and $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array.

But as a Government, we know that more needs to be done.

My Department – along with Minister Birmingham’s Department – has been working hard on turning that roadmap into an investment plan.

A long term plan that provides the science community with confidence that critical pieces of infrastructure will be maintained into the future.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I just now turn to a topic that I think you all know, particularly as my previous role as the Minister for Women, that I am very passionate about.

When we talk about the future, it is a period of unparalleled, rapid economic change.

Science and innovation are what will drive business growth, economic prosperity, more investment and all of that, as we know, is going to create job opportunities.

In meeting that by 2030, it is actually estimated that Australian workers will spend 77 per cent more time using science and mathematics skills.

So what do we need to do as a country, well we need to ensure we have the people available with those skills.

That obviously takes me to the issue of getting more women and girls into STEM.

When I look around the room, anyone says to me, but Michaelia, where do we find these women, I’ve been trying. Seriously, as you leave today just get the business cards of all of the women in this room today, because ladies and gentlemen it is not that hard!

What do we know though? We know that women face real challenges in the science sector and we know it is reflected in the data. I found this personally fascinating because I hadn’t heard of this statistic before, much of the gender imbalance starts at school and continues through tertiary study, I knew that.

The research tells us that many young girls struggle to see themselves in a science based career. But this I found absolutely fascinating: when asked to draw a scientist two thirds of children, aged 9 to 11, draw a man. That is not something that we should be tolerating and it is something that we need, not just as a government, but together, be actively addressing.

So what does it mean for me? Well from girls in school classrooms, through to students entering universities and the VET sector, mid-career researchers and, of course, on to our fantastic science and technology superstars, so many of them are with us tonight, what do we need to do? We need to map their pathways and ensure women in STEM have the support they need.

And that is why I am so passionate about programs including the Superstars of STEM, and I was absolutely delighted to be able to announce that the Government is doubling the number of female scientists involved, 30 Superstars is fantastic, but we have 60 at least to make it even better, but also provide the certainty of funding over the next four years.

Can I also just say though, and I promise you I will wrap up shortly, but I’m just having a good time, I was at a breakfast this morning with Zed and with our Chief Scientist and it was with Emma Johnston and Kylie Walker and a number of our Superstars, absolutely fabulous breakfast. And I made the announcement that we would committing the funding for four years and increasing the number of our Superstars.

At that breakfast as well, was Max York from GE Australia. Many of you will know that GE Australia has actively partnered with the Superstars of STEM program. And I have to say, a bit of competition for others in this room will never go astray, Max, the minute I made my announcement looked at me, looked around the room, put his hand up and said; well GE Australia will now also continue in our capacity for the next four years.

So max, on behalf of us all, thank you.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, when we think of Australia’s continuing prosperity we think of science and innovation.

As a government we are committed to driving economic growth, ensuring more investment, and creating more job opportunities for all Australians.

This is the work that the Prime Minister has entrusted in me, in administering this portfolio.

And as I look around the room – and I’ve talked to so many of you, it reminds me that we cannot deliver on our commitment to the Australian people without you.

Your curiosity, inquiry, and ingenious ways need to show the world that possibility is endless – as is the opportunity for each and every Australian.

I look forward to working with you.

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