Address at West Tech Women

Perth WA

FACILITATOR: It’s terrific that he’s able to be here at the West Tech Women’s festival today. He is in WA to celebrate the commencement of the construction of one of the biggest science projects in the world, the Square Kilometre Array that’s located in Murchison on the land of the Wajarri Yamatji. I’m very proud that the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy has been a key contributor to the SKA project for more than a decade and I’m even more proud that women engineers and scientists are currently playing a critical role in the success of the project at Curtin. Please join me in welcoming Minister Husic. 

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: Hi, everyone. It is a true pleasure to be here with you all, and I just wanted to start by acknowledging the Whadjuk people and pay my respects to Elders past and present, and to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that are here today. It was really good to hear that welcome from Vaughn. 

As I often reflect, when he was singing in his language, his native tongue – I was always brought up to call it the mother tongue – that was of itself a very radical thing to do because for so long part of the whole process of dispossession involved breaking down all those things that we take for granted, but actually mean a lot in terms of building up knowledge systems from speaking your own language, being able to pass on those stories, the cultural transmission, separation of family; this is very important that we recognise this is part of the process of delivering the Voice. 

Part of the big motivations is to correct something that happened obviously generations ago, but we are the generation that are able and have the great opportunity to correct this, to fix this and build a stronger more united country through the Voice, so it is important for us to recognise, too, the value of First Nations knowledge. 

It is one of the reasons why in the refreshment of the National Science Priorities, we’ve included as a priority the recognition of First Nations knowledge. For the people who were 65,000 years before us learning how to live on one of the toughest continents on the planet, respecting that knowledge base and then integrating it with what we do now is a big deal. So, we are going to do that. And we’ve got some other things we’ll announce in due course as well. It’s really important. I was very conscious of this, if I may say friends, yesterday, and thank you very much for the introduction Professor Hayne. I was there for the Square Kilometre Array. It’s a big deal for our country. It is the biggest radio telescope on the planet. We are working with South Africans on it; 130,000 of these – they look like Christmas trees – all arrayed over a 74-kilometre stretch of land. 

When we arrived there yesterday, the first thing you do when you get out of the plane, reach for the phone, why isn’t there any signal here? Because they’re building the world’s largest radio telescope. Of course, there’s no telephone signal. They did that though, can I say, with the work of the Wajarri Yamatji. They set up an Indigenous land use agreement with the Wajarri there and they made sure – they walked 400 kilometres to make sure that wherever those 131,000 radio telescopes were placed, that there would be no disruption of cultural heritage and where Elders said you cannot go there because – then they talked about sites in different areas being respected. It’s one of the biggest land use agreements for one of the biggest scientific experiments on the planet, and it shows how we can work with people and still do what we need to do. It’s really enormously valuable. 

One thousand scientists and engineers have worked on that, 16 countries, and it will unlock for us all that data – by the way, for people who – I know in this room there is probably people who would want better than this, there would be – have I got one minute to go? I haven’t even got started! You think I’m going to finish in a minute! Wow. Tough crowd! 

Anyhow, we have home wi-fi – I’m going to take more than a minute. Home wi-fi 25 to 50 megabits per second. This is going to download data at 8 million megabits per second, funnel that to the PAWSEY supercomputer here in Perth and unlock the way that the universe first began – huge. The reason why Australia is doing it is not just because of the expanse, but we have a heritage on astronomy here that is world recognised. It stretches back some time. But one of our first radio astronomers, one of our great radio astronomers, Ruby Payne-Scott, worked in the ‘40s and she found, I think it was, three of the five coronas out of the sun. She had worked on some of the work there, back in the day, had done this amazing work. And she worked for the CSIRO and she had to leave because they found out she was married. Found out she was married, couldn’t make a contribution – she demonstrated what was able to be done. Couldn’t do it. 

We built the first computer on the planet in the forties, CSIRAC. We were one of only five countries that did it. It was men and women who built it, and then we’ve seen all the issues that you’ve seen with troubles from female founders to get investment backing, low levels of women in STEM degrees involved in the workforce and our First Nations people – 0.5 per cent of First Nations people who have a STEM qualification are employed in STEM. 0.5 per cent, I think it is, of all First Nations people hold a STEM qualification. So, we have got to do more on that, frankly. 

Part of the reason why – and I was grateful for the reflections of Professor Hayne on the pathways diversity review. We have all this ambition as a country to be able to make a contribution in this day and age where we do need to change the way manufacturing capability evolves in this nation, put it to use in some of the big challenges about getting to net zero, being able to address business entrepreneurism, which is very low and has been under huge pressure through the course of the pandemic. So, we’ve got to boost entrepreneurism, get new firms in, build manufacturing capability, attend to the net zero, and some of the other challenges that we have and we need more people. 

You’ve experienced those skill shortages that you all very much well know about, yet we have these walls that are preventing people from making a contribution – women, First Nations, people from a migrant background, based on sexual diversity, based on people with a disability, all these barriers are up. We need everyone from all corners of the community to be involved, and I want to make sure that when we look at how we do that, Western Australia’s best is embedded in that too, which is why I was hugely honoured that Dr Parwinder Kaur, who I understand is here today or will be – trust me, I’m a politician! How’s that one minute going? 

Anyhow, from UWA is involved to make sure that we’ve got that breadth of view joining Mikaela Jade and it’s being chaired by Sally Ann Williams out of Cicada. It is huge. So, we are going to find ways to involve people and the big thing – and I’m going to end on this point. You’re incredibly patient. Thank you. You need a medal. I’m going to make a medal and I’m going to give it to you. I just want to make this point: many of you would be pursuing what you want to do to be able to turn a profit, make a return, employ people and have that economic contribution. I also recognise and respect that what you’re doing is you want to make a difference in someone’s life and not only improve our economic outlook but national wellbeing. 

So, my point if I can emphasise this to you all is where you are wanting to do good for the country, why would you be held back? And so, we are going to break down those walls and give everyone the chance who wants to make a contribution to step up so that Australia, instead of us looking elsewhere for what other people are doing, people are looking at us and what we’re doing and they’re saying, “We’re going to do what Australia does and we’re going to do what WA does”, importantly as well. It’s my eighth trip to WA this year. I wish I could have come back more, but let me assure you, you are very much on the radar and you are very much needed in that national effort that I’ve described before. 

Thank you very much for what you are doing. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for all your patience and I look forward to seeing you again real soon.