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Science meets Parliament

18 March 2014

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Thank you for the warm welcome and for the opportunity to speak with you this evening.

It’s my great pleasure to join you as the Minister responsible for science.

The Industry portfolio is diverse, and covers some of the most productive sectors of our economy.

It ranges from manufacturing and food processing and innovation to energy and resources, skills, training and importantly – science.

Science has a natural fit with these areas, not least of all because it drives so much of Australia’s renowned ingenuity, creativity and new ways of solving problems.

Science is an important academic pursuit, but it is equally as important for its practical applications.

Therefore, science and research are at the front of my mind in addressing a major challenge confronting us –how to enhance our productivity and ensure a strong future for Australian industry.

We know that Australia’s prosperity depends on our ability to transform and modernise our economy.

This in turn depends on our scientists and the quality of their work.

It has never been more important that we develop new industries.

It is critical to have our scientists working in partnership with business to develop the science that will underpin these industries.

Five pillars

We want a diverse, world-class economy.

The resources sector has long been a mainstay of our economy and will continue to be so into the future, but we want to build on this strong base and take advantage of new opportunities.

We want to create a five-pillar economy that unleashes Australia’s economic potential and plays to our strengths in manufacturing innovation, agriculture exports, advanced services, world-class education and research and mineral exports.

We’re already on the way - getting rid of the red tape, and removing hurdles, including by working to repeal the carbon tax and the mining tax, as well as repeal excessive regulation.

The Prime Minister’s taskforce to develop a National Industry Investment and Competitiveness Agenda will focus on ways to build Australia’s strengths, create jobs and exploit our competitive advantages.

The taskforce will focus on economy-wide measures to boost competitiveness and lower the cost of doing business.

We will be exploring options aimed at small to medium businesses, boosting investment and encouraging innovation.

And from your perspective, the great thing about this agenda is that science and the scientific community will play an important role.

This will include driving innovation and product development, delivering on more efficient and smarter ways to boost our productivity and by ensuring Australians have the right skills to capitalise on new products, new markets and new opportunities.

Science meets Parliament

The Government values Science meets Parliament.

This is the 14th event of its type.

Its longevity and popularity attest to the important role it plays in highlighting the many ways science is critical not just to our Parliament, but to our community and our economy.

Science is a critical part of so many Government portfolios.

In agriculture, science is a fundamental part of the 15 Rural Research and Development Corporations.

My colleague, Minister Turnbull, has underscored the role of science and research to inform our cybersecurity.

The Health Minister, Peter Dutton, has recently launched work by the Australia Academy of Science examining the future of brain research in Australia.

And our Deputy Prime Minister, the Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, Warren Truss, just announced how our new investment in freight technology was a ‘game changer for freight movement along the eastern states’.

Our economic success depends on our collective ability to translate world-class education and research into a productive and prosperous Australia.

Australia has a wonderful track record in doing this.

We continue to celebrate the achievements of our numerous Nobel laureates.

There are countless other scientific discoveries that haven’t received these accolades but nonetheless have transformed the way we negotiate the world.

These include the bionic ear, long-wearing contact lenses, anti-counterfeiting note technology, and the electronic pacemaker for hearts.

Science, technology and research are critical to understanding, preparing for and responding to Australia’s economic, social and environmental challenges.

We are determined to strengthen the connections between science, research and industry, and make more of them.

The Government can and is playing a role, but it’s up to industry, and the scientific community, to take the lead.

Practical applications

Two weeks ago, I was in Geelong announcing structural adjustment fund assistance that will help to commercialise research into carbon fibre manufacture.

Carbon Revolution is poised to create 150 jobs for Geelong by making the world’s first one-piece carbon fibre automotive wheels.

This advanced technology is the result of collaborative research between the company and Deakin University.

The potential for other applications of carbon fibre makes Geelong a good prospect for a new industry base in this emerging high tech manufacturing sector.

We need to continue to build Australia’s research capacity and work is underway on the commitments we made last year which include:

  • a $42 million investment in James Cook University’s tropical health and medicine research capacity;
  • $9 million being invested over three years into the National Climate Change Adaptation Research facility;
  • $24 million to help establish a new Centre of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research;
  • $25 million over five years for the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre;
  • a 20-year strategic plan for Antarctic and Southern Ocean Research;
  • and streamlining grant applications and approvals for health and medical research.

The Australian Government is investing $186 million to extend four existing Cooperative Research Centres and establish three new ones.

They will provide major benefits to industry and the community, in transport, health, data security and agriculture.

CRCs work so well because they bring together world class scientists and researchers with industry, the community and Government to create opportunities and develop solutions for Australia, Australian industries and the world.

The seven CRCs we have funded are industry driven and combine more than 130 organisations from across Australia and internationally, including 60 industry partners in Asia, Europe and the United States.

They include the Hearing CRC, which will continue to develop new devices, therapies and service delivery models to combat hearing impairment.

The Data to Decisions CRC will help Australia’s defence and national security sector extract big data to reduce national security threats.

And the CRC for Sheep Industry Innovation will deliver affordable technologies to transform Australia’s sheep industry.

CRCs are a truly joint effort, with a 20 year history of bringing the Government, researchers and industries together.

All up they have put more than $15.4 billion dollars of grants and participants’ cash and in-kind support to work for Australia.

Other initiatives

We are investing in visionary scientific projects that will have long term spin-offs for industry, like the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope, or SKA.

The SKA will be the largest scientific instrument on Earth, in physical size and in terms of the amount of data it will generate.

The two precursor telescopes operating in the Murchison region of Western Australia, the Murchison Widefield Array which began operating last year and the Australian SKA Pathfinder, soon to go into full operation.

We are very proud of the reputational and scientific benefits they bring to Australia.

Those benefits will be more than matched by the technological benefits for industry in the design and operation of this telescope.

Areas like imaging, remote sensing and photonic instruments for earth observation satellites may provide vital information for our agricultural and forestry sectors and for our disaster management and national security agencies.

New microrobotics and automated positioning devices may help Australia advance its capabilities in precision manufacturing.

Looking ahead, the Prime Minister and Australia’s Chief Scientist have been considering the future role, focus and agenda for the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council.

With my Department, I am working with Professor Chubb, and my colleague Christopher Pyne, the Minister for Education, to ensure Australian science and research is well supported to deliver social and economic benefits.

I am working to reposition industry in Australia by making sure that we are using the latest innovations and taking advantage of the latest science.

I want to make sure that we collaborate better.

I was shocked to see statistics the Chief Scientist provided about Australia’s business collaboration with higher education or public research agencies.

We ranked 33rd.

We need to do better for our economy to continue to grow.

The Government expects universities and research organisations to be ‘open for business’, inventing, patenting and commercialising more.

If you aren’t applying your research to the real world, think about how to let others do it.

The industry and the research sector should work together to solve problems and adapt to change.

Conclusion

Science meets Parliament is an opportunity for you to let us know how important your work is to the national interest and what you are doing to get out there and talk to industry.

I am proud to be the Science Minister in this Government.

I grew up in a family of scientists, including my mother and grandfather.

And as a former farmer I’ve always seen the practical applications of science.

These experiences taught me that science is greater than just one individual and longer than just one moment.

Science is as much about community and getting your ideas out there as it is about basic discovery.

I applaud your commitment and your willingness to come and give us insight into your important work.

Media contacts: Mr Macfarlane's office 02 6277 7070