Doorstop - UNSW Silicon Quantum Computing event, Sydney, NSW

Quantum computing; retaining and attracting talent; Government’s $1 billion Critical Technology Fund

ED HUSIC, MINISTER FOR INDUSTRY AND SCIENCE: I know I’m new to the job, but this is obviously a very big deal. This is a big deal not just for the country, but for the world. And what's being done here is going to revolutionise computing and it's doing it in a way that is organising atoms to help that process. So it's at one of the most minuscule levels but will have a profound impact because it will change, as I said, the way computing is done. And when it's applied to some of the big problems and things that we rely on, changing the way that food's produced, changing the way that medicines are made, this stuff is being done here in Australia. We are world-leading in this technology, and we will basically become the centre, I think if we play our cards right with quantum technology in the years ahead. 

JOURNALIST: You talked a bit about the brain drain leaving Australia. You've pledged this $1 billion fund. How much would we need to pay if we want to keep these minds here and allowing them to actually work with these programs, and are you simply being outdone on spending by bigger neighbours?

ED HUSIC: We have previously been outdone by other nations. We've recognised the role of technology in supercharging their economies. So what we have is Australian talent feel like they're not being valued on home soil and they've left. We're going to change that. We have to change that. It's important for jobs, it's important for industry longer term, that we have our best minds being applied in a way to change the way the industry works. It's happening here with Michelle Simmons and her team, it's happening with other researchers of about 20 or so quantum companies that already operate in this country. [The] Australian Labor Government has set aside $1 billion for critical technology as a fund that will help support the evolution of these companies and make sure when they need the cash to grow, that it's here onshore, but we've got a lot to do in terms of coordinating all this effort to make sure we get these outcomes. What is incredible about what's happened here with Michelle Simmons and her team, they've had to do something that has been thought about over 50 years ago and to be able to reduce what they're doing and they've done it ahead of time, at a time when a lot of projects that we know go over budget and over time, you've got here people organising atoms as part of a bigger project and they did it two years quicker than they thought, so it's a big deal.

JOURNALIST: We saw upstairs that there are a number of people who were in that team who have come from other parts of the world. How important will it be to continue to do that so that instead of losing our brightest minds overseas, to actually attracting them to Australia?

ED HUSIC: Well, the whole work on quantum computers is a global race. It is a really competitive race and we have countries that have made it a part of their innovation policies to get talent from other parts of the world, so they recognise that brains matter in applying it in a way that develops technology. So, we're in this global contest and we've got to win, because the downside is, if we lose people and we lose talent, we will be set back. And the reason why I bang on about the importance of technology in the economy is it builds sharper, stronger businesses and it means that we’ll either, in many respects, we’ll either be economies that are makers or takers. We've got great confidence Australia can be a place that makes things and using technology to do so and using the brains here at UNSW to be part of that.

JOURNALIST: You talked a bit about the issue with allowing these businesses to [indistinct] if you like. How, in your mind, will we see the technology that's being developed here work in a practical sense and how soon will people see that? People at home don't understand the word Quantum Computing.

ED HUSIC: So, what they're doing here different to classic computing, this is increasing the way in which computers can process data and information, but at a massive scale. And they think in the next five years they can set up server farms with these computers with this huge power, which can be applied to rethink at a molecular level how to get things done. How do you make fertilisers in a much more efficient way that can be used in food production? Because the big challenge is to feed the world in a climate that is changing. So, quantum computing can help in the development of that. We've just come through a pandemic where we have to work out how to create vaccines. The processing power in these types of computers can get us to do that way quicker and in a time frame that can save lives. That's what quantum computing can potentially make us and we can do it in the next five years. And again, that's why we're investing in the way that we are with our $1 billion Critical Technologies Fund to make sure we can do that to support them and get it done quicker.

JOURNALIST: Scientists don't tend to toot their own horns, but politicians are very good at it. Do you want to describe how big of a deal this is today, for the world and for Australia?

ED HUSIC: What's happened here at the University of New South Wales and with Michelle Simmons and her team is massive. This is - the world will be sitting up and listening to what's happening here today in terms of what they've been able to achieve. It will change the way computing is done, we're on track to do that, they reckon in the next five years it will happen. It's Australians that did this. We need, as a country, to back ourselves more and we need to congratulate and thank brains, Australian brains, but also attracting world talent to make these innovations and world-leading innovations happening here on Australian soil. I want us to make a big deal of this and I want us - when the world looks upon them, that they think, we go to Australia and get it done. That's what needs to happen. Thank you.