Science & Technology Australia 'Science meets Parliament' Gala Dinner, Parliament House, Canberra

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

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Thank you for that introduction.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Prime Minister I am delighted to join you this evening for the 20th annual Science Meets Parliament gala dinner.

I was honoured to have met so many of you - and learn first-hand about your work and achievements – when I represented former Science Minister, Arthur Sinodinos. To now be the Cabinet Minister responsible for science is a privilege, and one that I am excited by!

And what a time this is to be a scientist and part of the scientific community!

Just two weeks ago, all of Australia applauded when Professor Michelle Simmons was named Australian of the Year. I am personally in awe of Michelle and her achievements! She is an inspiring leader, a pioneer of quantum computing, and a passionate ambassador for involvement in science by all – but in particular for women and girls.

Michelle is doing incredible work to put Australia at the forefront of the quantum computing race – a race we are working with her to win. Michelle, over the course of this year, will be able to build on the work she already does – inspiring girls around the country to envision their own career in science and the dizzying heights to which it could take them. And what an honour it is to have Michelle with us tonight.

Working together is why we are here tonight!

In recent years, 'Science meets Parliament' has become a celebration of collaboration between researchers, industry and government. It's important that as a government we are clear: science and Innovation are essential to Australia's future. From basic research through to applied research, science impacts everyone in Australia and it’s important we communicate that to the public. From fuelling our economy by creating new businesses and jobs, to ensuring we’re healthy and have the best quality of life – science is an essential element of our culture. The Government recognises this.

That is why we prioritised science last year as part of 'Science meets Parliament', when we launched the Turnbull Government’s National Science Statement. The statement was developed in consultation with the science community and set out our vision: to build a nation that is fully engaged with and enriched by science.

Arthur did extraordinary work for science: securing funding, infrastructure planning and global partnerships across the sector. He put the National Science Statement into practice and I look forward to building on that work. I’m sure you’ll all join me in thanking Arthur for his extraordinary work and in wishing him the very best. 

I am also pleased that I will be assisted by Senator Zed Seselja in the management of the portfolio. Zed has spent the past few weeks meeting with as many people as possible in the science community – including helping to launch TAIPAN – a purpose built instrument for the UK Schmidt Telescope by the Australian Astronomical Observatory. This is part of our $6.4 million investment in this telescope and helps to ensure we are providing world class infrastructure for Australian astronomers. Zed will be helping me to construct science policy and oversee a number of the science agencies – whose work we know is essential to ensuring that our science capability continues to grow.

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
  • ensuring that women have a much stronger voice in growing, developing and participating in the science sector, at all levels.

In order for science and scientists to succeed in their missions, the public needs to understand the important role they play. From our economy – through to the wellbeing of both ourselves and our planet – science plays a critical role in securing and supporting our quality of life. It’s important 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 and the positive impact that those advancements have had in the past, and continue to have.

One of my first announcements as the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, along with the Prime Minister, was our further investment of $60 million to secure the future of the Great Barrier Reef. The Reef is an icon of Australia and the world, it captures the imagination of everyone who sees it. As we know, it has been hit hard over recent years by coral bleaching, cyclone damage and the continued spread of crown of thorns starfish.

The Reef can recover from these events. Its recovery is a key opportunity to explain how basic and applied research, innovation and technology will help do that. It is also a key opportunity to explain how that work will help secure the 64,000 jobs it supports and the $6.4 billion the Reef contributes to the economy.

I couldn’t discuss promoting science without also discussing the future. Our Space Agency announcement has captured the imagination of the country. Space-enabled technologies and services play a vital role across practically every sector of Australia’s economy. The Australian space industry itself currently employs 10,000 people.

 But there is another important role that space plays in this nation: its role in inspiring the next and current generation of Australian scientists! When I announced the Space Agency, I’ve never seen a response like that. I was flooded with emails and letters from people all across the country – scientists and existing members of the space industry, and everyday Australians too, who wanted to know how they could be part of this exciting new chapter.

These are things that all Australians can identify with. It helps them understand the work of scientists, the impact of their work, and what it means to every person on the street. I am incredibly excited, as I know Zed is, to be overseeing this work.

Australia is recognised for its world leading researchers and research infrastructure. Last year, the Chief Scientist produced the National Research Infrastructure Roadmap – a 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 our investments in critical infrastructure made as part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, including the $1.5 billion for National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, $520 million for the Synchrotron and $294 million for the Square Kilometre Array.

But we know more needs to be done.

My Department – along with Minister Birmingham’s – 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. That future is a period of unparalleled, rapid economic change.

Science and innovation are what will drive business growth, economic prosperity, more investment and more job opportunities. It’s estimated that, by 2030, Australian workers will spend 77 per cent more time using science and mathematics skills. Meeting the demand for these skills will require us to tap into the entire pool of STEM talent in our population. That means we need to tackle the underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM education and careers more than ever. And boy – or should I say – girl – do we have the talent to do just this!

Women face real challenges in the science sector and this is reflected in the data:

  • Only 16 per cent of university and VET graduates in STEM are women.
  • There are far fewer female STEM graduates in the top income bracket.
  • Women make up less than one third of total academic and research staff.

Much of this gender imbalance starts at school and continues through tertiary study. The research tells us that many girls can be deterred from a science career at any point during their schooling – and this starts with very young girls struggling to see themselves in a science based career. When asked to draw a scientist two thirds of children, aged 9 to 11, draw a man.

From girls in school classrooms, through to students entering universities and the VET sector, mid-career researchers and, on to our science and technology super stars – we need to map their pathways and ensure women in STEM have the support they need. This is why projects such as the Superstars of STEM are so important. Strong, visible role models are key to showing young girls and women they can not only pursue a science based career – but they can lead the industry.

And what amazing role models we have! Everywhere you look, we have extraordinary women leading the charge for Australian science. We have many of the Superstars of STEM in the room tonight, who you would all know.

Over the last few days I have had the pleasure of meeting with several of them to hear about and be inspired by their work. They are incredible role models and champions, and extraordinary individuals. They are not alone though, in the room tonight we also have:

  • STA President, Professor Emma Johnston, and STA CEO, Kylie Walker, responsible for this fantastic event.
  • Anna-Maria Arabia, a distinguished science advocate, leading the Australian Academy of Science.
  • Dr Heather Smith, the Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
  • Dr Megan Clark, the first female CEO of CSIRO, who is now leading our Review of Australia’s Space Industry Capability.
  • And, of course, as we have already recognised – Professor Michelle Simmons, our Australian of the Year!

We know the science community is made of many pioneering women and all of you here are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s critical your voices and stories are heard and seen by the next generation. And the Government will support this.

Today I announced an expansion of the Superstars of STEM programme. We will provide additional funding to allow the Superstars of STEM programme to continue for the next four years and we will double the number of women participating from 30 to 60. This means that more leading women in science and technology will be provided with support and training to promote their fields of research, to work towards equal representation in the media and to become great role models for the next generation.

 I know this investment will have a long-term positive impact. It’s also been wonderful to hear that the SAGE and Male Champions of Change initiatives are exceeding expectations and starting to have a real impact. I look forward to building on these initiatives to drive more female participation in STEM studies and into STEM careers.

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 the Prime Minister has entrusted to me in my portfolio. And as I look around the room – I continue to be reminded we cannot do this 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 to deliver our commitment to the Australian people.

Thank you.

[ENDS]

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