Address to the Science and Technology Australia Gala Dinner

Canberra ACT

Good evening, everyone. I want to acknowledge that we're on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and I want to pay my respects to elder's past and present and the electorate of Chifley that I very proudly represent, it's on Darug land, and it is one of the largest urban based Aboriginal communities in the country, and I'm very proud of that stat and I just want to recognise elders past and present there. 


It turns out, this is my first official function as Minister and typical of a politician, I'm claiming credit for something that just happened in a particular way. The reality is I'm here because nowhere in the store of human knowledge has anyone found a way to say no to Misha Schubert.


There are a lot of people around. There are a number of great things that have happened tonight. The first being that we've used this technology to link people in and not once has anyone said you're on mute. I think that's very good. It's been good to know that there are people all around the place. 


This is always dangerous when you recognise people, but I know in South Australia, I just wanted to say g'day to Deputy Premier Susan Close, who I'm very much looking forward to working with. There are some things particularly in the advanced manufacturing side and down in the Tonsley Innovation Precinct, that I'm very keen to work with her. I noticed that Minister Meaghan Scanlon is on the line as well and very glad that she can be here. Maddie Ogilvie in Tasmania very excited, I have dealt with Maddie and her interest in tech and digital for quite some time. My near neighbour, in New South Wales, Robyn Preston who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation. 


I want to make this point. I don't care what side of politics you're from, if we're working together in the national interest, that's all that matters. Eva’s up there in there in the Northern Territory and g'day to Eva as well. There are some others that I've had the opportunity to work with Deputy Premier in WA, Roger Cook, and also in Victoria, between Martin Pakula and Jaala Pulford as well, is really, really good. I think Chris Steel is responsible here. So I think I've done around the grounds.


And all my federal parliamentary colleagues, welcome to you all and it is good to have everyone participating tonight for a whole host of very important reasons that Misha outlined. But in my first opportunity, instead of reading, I want you to know, in terms of some of the motivations that I'm bringing to this role, some of the things that I'd like to say are very important and some of the things I think we need to do together.


The first thing I want to say to you all, and it's something we do not do enough, in terms of the parliamentary side of this equation tonight, I think either within our realm, or more generally, we do not say to you all, thank you. We don't say it enough. Thank you very much for what you do and what you do is exceptionally hard. Not just talking about the complexity, you know that. What you're trying to do, in terms of advancing human knowledge, the breakthroughs that you're pursuing, and wondering if you'll get through that in the way that you intended, where you started and where it ended? And did it end in the way that you wanted? And did it achieve what you wanted, and to be able to do that at scale? This is the stuff we don't thank you enough for because we don't really appreciate how hard that is, how lonely that job is, how fraught that job is, and I hope I'm not scaring you off from what you're currently doing. But I do want to say thank you. Because what you do, we not only need to celebrate more of it, but we need to do more of it. We need to encourage this, in terms of what we're doing in Science and Parliament together, this should be one of many platforms to do it. But we need to celebrate it more in the wider realm, in the wider community, as a nation to value this, as much as a lot of the other pursuits that we value in this country. We apply so much interest, enthusiasm, recognition, support for. I think that that is very important.


The other thing I want to tell you, which is a bit weird for a politician to say this, because we so often, not me, of course, but a lot of us attach our egos to our position. I just want you to know this one thing, and this is going to be a weird admission to say to you all; I don't know it all. I don't know it all. That's your job. And the reason I say that is because you don't need people telling you particularly from the parliamentary side on how to do your job. And one of the big signals we wanted to send to you all, when Prime Minister Albanese set up a portfolio name, because I know it's created a bit of interest. Why are you calling it industry and science instead of industry and innovation? We're here to say we're putting science back at the forefront.


We're listening to the science, we're respecting the science, we're acting on the science, these things, this is the signal that we wanted to send. So that's really important and as much as I have a passion and an interest in this space, and I believe that, and I'll come to some of these points in a minute, I'm saying this to you all because as I said, I'm very keen to work with you all as much as I possibly can in the time that I have. Because I've met a number of people tonight, and they said you have to come and visit and I've said "Absolutely I will."


And finally, the other thing is we have to create a sense of purpose, a national purpose. We  got a sense of that through the pandemic. In terms of saving the lives of not just fellow Australians, but people across the world. And finding a way to do that, an incredible way in which the vaccine being delivered, developed so quickly and saved so many lives. In my part of Western Sydney through that second lockdown 60 per cent of the people in the city of Sydney, through that second lockdown, through the Delta wave 60 per cent of the people came from my part of the world who lost their lives. We couldn't get to them in time in terms of the vaccine. And we had this whole challenge against science and about what is happening. We've had to live this all and we don't need to repeat it tonight. But what you do and the work of science does to improve the quality of life, very important. But now we need to now think ahead not just in terms of the pandemic, but beyond where we reshape the nation. Because we don't want to go back, we've said, we don't want to just go back to the way we were before this pandemic hit us. Let's do something better. This is the big challenge. 


There are two things we've got to balance out and what we need your help with the two things, it's competition and cooperation and how we find the balance is very important. But the competition is we have so many countries we'll be competing against who are problem solving in their own jurisdictions, thinking with the impact on supply lines, what the pandemic did at the time we needed things and we couldn't get them. How do we address that? How do we rebuild capability? How do we rebuild manufacturing capability across industry sectors? There's all that challenge that's happening. We've got a geopolitical challenge, which everyone knows about where we've had dependencies that we simply cannot continue. So how do we problem solve in this nation, as well?


The other thing is, we've been so slow, so slow, we needled and nagged that last government. I don't want to be too partisan on things like this. But so often, and you would know this, so often, we're ahead of the pack. We have such bright people in this country that we're ahead of the pack globally. And what do they do? They leave. They leave the nation. And the thing is, it's not a new phenomenon. I mean, I stand here tonight, as a Labor MP in this day and age, but I've watched, we have a heritage, a proud heritage on our side of the fence. ANU, Chifley, you had Whitlam open up higher education to people, and encourage the pursuit of knowledge and widen the pool of people who get it. We had Hawke 30 years ago in a campaign speech, we've just gone through an election and campaign speech where he promised he would set up Cooperative Research Centres. He made that a big deal. And he said, we're going to stop importing technology and we're going to stop the brain drain. And where are we now 30 years later? It’s still around, still around, and we're going to fix it. We are bloody going to fix it. And we need your help in doing that. And we'll have a lot of people that say it's too tough. And will say it's too hard. And that's not Australia's thing. And yet, here are people when you look at the population, and I think I'm going to steal one of my first acts, as Minister, Cathy, to pinch your stats that you talk about [Dr] Cathy Foley, We have Australia's 0.3% of the global population producing four per cent of the world's research. And we have eight of our universities in the top 100.


We've got capability, we've got capacity, we've now got to apply it. So that's why we've set up the National Reconstruction Fund $15 billion in loans and equity to create a co-investment fund, one of the biggest in this nation's history. A number of things that we did through the campaign, we announced a critical technology sub fund, particularly $1 billion that we want to apply to support efforts in quantum, AI, robotics. Because again, we needled this government on AI, the previous government on AI, we think there's more to do, we see all these nations that are applying technology in a way that will transform economies. 


My big fear, if I can say to you all, is we're going to see in this world with the application of technology and those economies, we’ll either see makers or see takers. What side of the equation do we want to be on? We want to be the makers. And when it comes to AI, and when I've seen what's happening in quantum, in robotics as well. All this and more. I'm not saying that this is the only focus, you are all here to tell us what else we can focus on. But there's that. The other sub fund on medical manufacture. People keep reminding me about John Button, which I absolutely am in awe of. One of the other things that he did was he thought a lot about pharmaceutical and medical manufacture in this country as well, and there are a lot of you and you that are very interested in that as well. And we've set aside the $1.5 billion for medical manufacture, as well. So, there's all that that we're talking about. 


The other thing that I'm looking forward to is setting up the other opportunities for the newer, for that next generation of talent, to come through. And what we've said is we're going to do something different. And the good thing is I'm going to be able to work with a colleague and friend of mine and Jason Clare, the new Minister for Education. We want to set up something where we tweak the HECS system just a little bit. And for those university students that have got an idea to create a firm, they backed off that idea. We will extend at that early-stage access to capital through the HECS scheme of up to $11,000 to potentially create 2,000 new firms through our university accelerators and incubators, and we've said that's what we want to do as policy. 


It's not just about solving those firms. But the other thing is, there's two things, it's about getting young fresh eyes to pair with technology to pursue this attribute; problem solving. And to apply that in the broader business community to improve the way Australian business works. And to see those ideas grow. Now, this is not the sum total of what our ambitions are. But it's a start. And what we're saying to you is, we want to be able to get the edge, because we've got other nations that we're competing against. So, this is going to be really important for us to find that edge and we want to start that process and work with you on it. But there will also be the need for cooperation as well on some of the things that are confronting us, from climate change. The fact of the matter is, as Misha said, let's face it, this is not the only pandemic we're going to face.


The realisation is as much as people like to say, “It's all a Bill Gates conspiracy”, we are going to face that, we're going to need your help in confronting that and working with others. On the weekend, I'll be traveling to Indonesia with Prime Minister Albanese and I've had a long interest in trying to work out how we bring together Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia working together, particularly in terms of digital and innovation. But the other thing is, too, we could do a hell of a lot more on science diplomacy. We've been talking about that and how do we work with our neighbors on that and build stronger relationships in sorting out common problems, and there's that as well. So there is a lot to do. We need your help. I want to be able to work with you. But I need, also, your guidance and advice. And the other thing I promised to do is bring the most annoying attributes that my colleagues notice in me being my great impatience, my great stubbornness, I will use that for your benefit. But you got to charge me up, you got to give me the stuff to that we have what we want to do, which I've outlined to you tonight. And that's a big job, the big thing, we'll be setting up that NRF, which is pretty much like the Clean Energy Financing Corporation, but for industry, we've got to set that up, get that running some of these other things. But that doesn't mean that's everything. And I want to work with you on that. So it means a great deal for me to be with you here tonight. Thank you for letting me have this opportunity to speak for quote, five to 10 minutes.


And if I can also apologise to Sally-Ann Williams in Sydney. I said I'd be there tonight and then I ended up in Canberra. So I'll be at the Carter innovation sometime in the near future Sally-Ann and make up for that. And to all of you I'm hoping to come and visit. And I'm also hoping to celebrate your achievements in making this country be the place that people go, that's the place that is doing it right and that's the place we need to copy for a change instead of us feeling like we have to copy someone else's idea. Give us the ideas and we'll get cracking. 


Thank you.