National Science Week launch

Australian Parliament House

I first start by acknowledging we’re on Ngunnawal land and pay respects to elders past and present. Also, I want to acknowledge that back home I represent people where we live on the land of the Darug and in their welcome Waramai. 

To Mark [Hutchison, President of Science & Technology Australia] and everyone. Welcome. 

When our offices were talking, the Deputy Prime Minister and myself, [our presence here had] been characterised as a drive by. I didn’t know if that was the vibe we were going for, but I didn’t think he would – in terms of the Deputy Prime Minister, I didn’t think it would be quick – because [of] his commitment [to science]. And the reason I asked him up is because I think there is something that we can all do, which is for the people who have a deep interest [in science to] always be involved.

And on that basis too, I wanted to acknowledge that there are a number of members from across the political spectrum that are here today. Obviously, I want to recognise Paul Fletcher as the shadow minister, but if I may also recognise Melissa Price. Melissa, I just want to pay respect to your service in the role previously. I think political difference has a place, but I think where we join to work together, particularly in this endeavour, it is good that we are able to join up and work as one in the national interests because we’ve got a big job to do, as the Deputy Prime Minister indicated. 

So, to you and your colleagues, and particularly to my colleagues here – many are here today, I see local members of Parliament, I see people from other parts of the country. I think Patrick Gorman was here. Dave Smith is here. I’m now starting on a very slippery slope when I mention one colleague and no one else. I see Senator Pocock there in the corner. I haven’t forgotten you, my friend. 

Someone who does champion science and the advance of human knowledge and, importantly, its application to the betterment of people, Dr Mike Freelander, standing in the back there, always modest, but I will drag you out into the spotlight, my friend, so it’s good to have you here. I also am very happy to acknowledge the presence of Professor Graham Durant. We have already welcomed and thanked him for what he’s done at Questacon for nearly two decades. 

Who says science isn’t a crowd puller? Look at this. A lot of people here. 

I just also want to acknowledge the panel of First Nations STEM leaders, Krystal De Napoli, who’s Kamilaroi, astronomy, nice to see you; Professor Chris Matthews, Quandamooka, mathematics. And Associate Professor Bradley Moggridge who’s here, Kamilaroi, environmental hydrogeologist. I also want to give a shout-out too to another person [not here today] who’s emerging in the scene, Dr Kirsten Banks, Wiradjuri astronomer, known by her handle on Instagram as @astrokirsten. Her social tag, and I love this, “Come for the space, stay for the fun”. And I do follow her. I’m not here to promote her social media, I’m here to promote mine actually, but her role is good to see in terms of First Nations scientists, [and paying that] recognition. 

I want to make this point as new Science Minister: our First Nations people as the oldest continuous civilisation on the planet to survive here learnt a lot about the way this country works, the way it lives and breathes. We have not previously acknowledged that. 

If we may be frank, there was a degree of arrogance in terms of the primacy placed on the knowledge generated within western civilisation. Yet to survive here for [such a long] time took learning and – importantly [often] not recognised – one of the most powerful platforms for the transmission of human knowledge is storytelling and the way that that was passed from generation to generation, the lessons there that would help the next generation survive, and grow better, prosper, [is] very important. 

So, if I may say to you and other First Nations people, it is my determination in this role that we elevate the respect, that we recognise, that we elevate and we continue to advance that, and it will be a pillar within the work that we do as a government in terms of First Nations. 

If I can also acknowledge the presence of our terrific chief scientist, Dr Cathy Foley, we’ve already begun to discuss that, and so very keen to work with First Nations people in giving the role and the importance that should be recognised. So, I make that commitment to you here in front of everyone. 

National Science Week will celebrate First Nations people this year, and I thought that that would be important that we also set that scene for what is coming. It was also important in terms of what we found this year. In the aftermath of the last two years [of COVID], I thought it was a very important thing that was being done. The 3M State of Science Survey found that 9 out of 10 Australians have confidence in science and scientists. So, at a time when there’s a lot of the work that you have done has been challenged, I think it is important that we recognise that there is a great degree of confidence in what you’ve done, and there should be. 

Science saved lives. From what we went through, science saved lives. 

Science improves the quality of life. Paired with technology – and if you looked at what happened in the development of the [COVID] vaccines, the thinking that went on, but also to be able to test it. And you saw the way that AI churned through all that data and in some cases nearly 100,000 tests done prior to the release of the vaccines in a short space of time. That is thought and tools paired together to deliver something exceptionally meaningful, not just in this country but world over and for us to celebrate and recognise that is very important. 

But to maintain that, we do need to confront this reality, too: we have a shortage of workers, particularly with STEM skills and that will need to be addressed. In the lead up to the Jobs and Skills Summit that the Prime Minister is convening, we will be doing a series of roundtables and I just want to let you know we’re doing one with the science community. I’m doing one with technology, but I particularly want to do one [with science]. 

We’re going to convene these roundtables to start that process of identifying those issues [of skills shortages in science]. They will be picked up at the Jobs and Skills Summit but also talking with my colleague Brendan O’Connor who’s the Skills Minister, we are committed to setting up a longer-term ongoing process of addressing this. So, that’s going to be important, too. In terms of what we’re likely to see in the coming weeks, I think there are more than 1000 events. Dino prints in Victoria; you knew your audience well because they’re also experimenting in the Cumberland Plain Woodland in Western Sydney. Launching rockets from local parks, so there will be fun for everyone. 

Thank you to Questacon and today’s host, Science & Technology Australia, also partnering up with CSIRO, ABC, the Australian Science Teachers Association - thank you to a terrific association, and the State and Territory partners. I know we’ve got Rex here from the ACT Government. Rex, very good to see you. So, it’s all good to [be] working together in that one way to celebrate science and to do what the Deputy Prime Minister said, to vault our national appreciation for what you do. 

And now I get to declare National Science Week officially open.