Greg Hunt

Federal Member for Flinders | Minister for Health


Address to the National Research and Innovation Alliance Australian Academy of Science

Monday, 8 August 2016

Address to the National Research and Innovation Alliance Australian Academy of Science

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I’m honoured to be here today to speak with you, our nation’s preeminent science leaders.

I want to thank you for your ongoing leadership and support for Australian science, and for the work you do to place Australian science on the global map.

I am deliberately delivering my first major speech as Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, on science.

Taking up this portfolio is a great honour that comes with great responsibility. Let me speak first about what this portfolio means to myself and the Government.

The Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio is about job security and job creation, and our scientific strength as a nation is key to this.

Over the long term, building our strength in science allows us to capture greater opportunities for our people.

But my appreciation of science, of the work you do, goes beyond these portfolio imperatives. Science matters for the quality of life it provides.

Thanks to the knowledge and technology enabled by science, we have access to clean water, electricity, medicine to fight diseases and adequate food supply.

Science also speaks to our human spirit.

Deep science allows us to capture the majestic beauty and wonder of our universe. This is from the molecular to the eternal questions of the expanding universe.

So to be entrusted with responsibility for science is a great privilege and my goal is to support our magnificent Chief Scientist Alan Finkel as the chief science advocate.

This Government takes science seriously.

If there were any doubt about our commitment to science, let me say clearly, science is at the centre.

The Prime Minister's signature personal initiative and passion placed science at the centre of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Of the $1.1 billion we are investing in the agenda, we’ve allocated the bulk to supporting science.

The Turnbull Government has set in train a number of initiatives under the agenda that will shape the future direction and capability of our science system.

As the Minister responsible for science, I want to set new aspirations as a core ingredient of that future.

Today, I’ll be invoking the past and the present to inform my discussion of that future.

1. The Past

1.1 Origins

For over two thousand years science has given us the tools and the knowledge to understand ourselves, understand the world around us, predict it and shape a better idea for billions.

It is no accident that ‘science’, derived from the Latin word ‘scientia’, means knowledge.

1.2 Science and the enlightenment

Science has been not just a driving force behind our technical progress, it has driven our very social and political structures.

Science was at the heart of the enlightenment.

The astronomical observations of Galileo Galilei, Newton’s laws of gravitation and motion, and the work of countless others, drove forward the different phases of the enlightenment.

The work of Charles Darwin was not just scientific genius, it was heresy in its day. But it transformed our very society.

And this journey continued down to the subatomic level. Marie Curie’s discovery of radioactivity, ignited another scientific revolution that has transformed our world.

Importantly, the scientific revolutions paved the way for the industrial revolution, allowing manufacturing to transition from hand production to machines, and lifting millions of people out of poverty.

Today, we enjoy a quality of life that would have been impossible as relatively recently as the time Australia became a federation.

We now live longer. We have the technology to cure or prevent many diseases that killed thousands of our people only a generation ago.

Personal computers, smart phones, the internet and Dreamliners have all brought the world to our doorstep.

1.3 Australian history

Australia has a proud science history – a history of bringing opportunity out of new ideas.
In agriculture, we’re reminded of names like William Farrer, whose scientific work helped Australia to become one of the world’s largest wheat exporters.

Farrer’s wheat hybrids, including the ‘Federation’ strain in 1903, improved the quality and crop yields of Australia’s wheat harvest significantly – an example of Australian science working hand in hand with Australian industry.

In medicine, the transformation of penicillin into a useful and effective drug is said to have saved more than 82 million lives.

Little wonder Sir Robert Menzies described Australia’s Howard Florey, one of the architects of this discovery, as ‘the most important man ever born in Australia’.

Florey’s work earned him and his colleagues the Nobel Prize, as has the work of nine other Australian scientists, including living Nobel laureates Brian Schmidt, Elizabeth Blackburn, Barry Marshall, John Warren and Peter Doherty.

Australia has given to the world many other world-changing innovations.

The cochlear implant, developed by Professor Graeme Clarke, has changed the lives of more than 100,000 hearing-impaired people.

Sir Macfarlane Burnet became the President of this academy the year I was born. Many Australians - and millions around the world - are alive today thanks to his work in improving the development of vaccines.

In no small part due to his work, a disease like polio that had until then affected thousands of Australian children is now long forgotten in this country.

My own connection to Sir Mac is through my great friend his grandson Dr Michael Burnet who is today a world leading researcher in his own right.

This year marks the centenary of the Commonwealth Government’s involvement in Australian science.

Establishing the Advisory Council of Science and Industry in 1916, Prime Minister Billy Hughes’ vision was for a national scientific organisation that could ‘solve problems that seemed insoluble’.

One that could create ‘a thousand new avenues for capital and labour’ and ‘healthier and better lives’ for all Australians.

That institution evolved into what we know today as CSIRO and gave us and the rest of the world Wi-Fi, among many other life-changing breakthroughs.

The CSIRO we have today represents the benefits from the truly patient capital needed to build a science and research base in which we can take inspired risks.

This brings me to the present.

2. The Present

2.1 Challenges

I’m acutely aware of the challenges we face in science and related fields.

We need to further improve the performance of our school students in science and maths.
In the Programme for International Student Assessment conducted in 2006 and 2012, five of the countries tested significantly outperformed Australia in 2012, whereas only three did in 2006.

We also have much work to do to improve collaboration between our research and industry sectors.

So let me turn to current policy.

2.2 Policy – National Innovation and Science Agenda

Last year we budgeted $9.7 billion for science, research and innovation.

This year, I expect that figure to exceed $10 billion.

My top priority is to implement and advance the National Innovation and Science Agenda to help address the challenges we face.

NISA is built around four principles: building the science culture and capital, strengthening collaboration, encouraging science and innovation talent and Government leading as an exemplar.

The $1.1 billion investment is specifically focussed on hard science such as the Synchrotron.

This is about making sure the whole community is engaged with and understands the value of these subjects.

It is also about making sure Australia is able to meet its future workforce needs.

2.3 People and collaboration

If we are to realise our vision for an economy powered by innovation, we’ll need a strong pipeline of people with the skills and capability to support it.

There are those who believe there are too many people studying science and too many science graduates working in jobs outside the science field. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Such thinking sees working out of field as a problem when it actually reflects the benefits of a scientific education in many areas of the economy.

Skills taught by science, such as problem solving and quantitative analysis, are used in a wide range of occupations.

That’s why you see science graduates working in a huge variety of fields, especially in combination with other skills such as entrepreneurialism.

The real issue we face is that the number of people studying disciplines like engineering and IT is not necessarily aligned with current demand.

In fact, Australia continues to import high-level skills in areas like IT because we are struggling to supply them ourselves.

That is why the Government is focused not just on science, but science, technology, engineering and maths.

Australia needs to be focused on digital and engineering skills. The future is undeniably digital, and I think most people understand that.

This includes:
• $51 million to foster digital literacy so both students and teachers have the tools and skills to operate effectively in the future work environment
• $48 million to inspire a passion for science, technology, engineering and maths, the arts and humanities, in Australians of all ages, from pre-schoolers to the broader community, and
• $13 million to inspire girls and women to take up education and careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

This is about making sure the whole community is engaged with and understands the value of these subjects.

It is also about making sure Australia is able to meet its future workforce needs.

Another theme of today is collaboration. I will be driving collaboration strongly, given its importance for innovation and industry competitiveness.

Only last week, Lockheed Martin, a leading global security and aerospace company, announced it will establish a research centre in Melbourne focusing on high-tech research.

The centre, to be headed by an Australian scientist, will involve collaboration with universities and businesses to leverage their research technological capabilities.

This is a big vote of confidence in Australian science and a recognition that science and research is a global activity that, more than ever, is connected and collaborative.

The National Innovation and Science Agenda recognises that linking our science and innovation systems to the world is critical to our future.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the launch of our $18 million Global Innovation Linkages programme under the agenda’s Global Innovation Strategy.

This initiative aims to support Australian industry and research organisations to collaborate on industry-focused challenges with global partners.

Funding of up to $1 million per project over a maximum of four years is to be matched by Australian and global partners.

3. The future

Let me turn now to the future of Government science policy

3.1 Strengthening our Institutions

Great research is happening today in our public and private systems: in our universities and research institutions like CSIRO.

We must make sure the long-term policy settings remain right for this to continue.

The Government will be developing a strategy for our science and research institutions, including CSIRO.

CSIRO is one of Australia’s greatest institutions and one of our greatest assets.

I want to make sure it remains a world-class premier science and research organisation.

I will work with the Australian scientific community to revise the CSIRO’s Statement of Expectations.

I hope this will form the basis of its operations for the next two decades. I want to revise this Statement in consultation with those key stakeholders who interact with CSIRO.

I’m also pleased to announce that a new CSIRO Climate Science Centre based in Hobart will be established under the interim direction of Dr Steve Rintoul.

The centre will have primary responsibility for CSIRO’s climate modelling and observations of the atmosphere and ocean, and deliver more effective national collaboration in climate science.

This will help inform decisions about climate mitigation and adaptation in Australia and beyond.

Reliable decadal forecasts will enable decision-makers in agriculture, energy, water, health and other sectors to manage the risks and opportunities arising from variations in climate.

Today I am announcing we will create a decadal climate science monitoring and forecasting capacity. This will be within the Climate Science Centre. I know from my own work how important this is to good science and the science community.

To achieve this we will create an additional 15 climate science jobs funded by CSIRO.

3.2 Strengthening infrastructure

The Government is committed to Big Science, with critical research infrastructure as our focus.

You know better than anyone else how access to leading-edge research infrastructure is critical to the pursuit of scientific endeavour.

The Government has committed $2.3 billion over the next ten years to supporting research infrastructure.

On Wednesday, I will formally complete the handover of the Synchrotron to the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

This is the culmination of years of work, including by some in this room.

I’m pleased we’re securing a bright future for this important piece of scientific research infrastructure.

I’m also excited about the many opportunities the Square Kilometre Array—or SKA—has to offer for industry and science collaboration, and the great potential for job creation.

Take as an example the collaboration between Curtin University and WA company Balance Utility Solutions.

It is helping develop an optimum power distribution strategy to deal with the SKA’s significant power requirements in remote outback locations.

CSIRO has also worked with many Australian businesses on SKA technology.

One such collaboration—with Innovation Composites, a composites and fibreglass company based in Nowra—has helped build and produce lightweight and cost-effective weather-proof casings for the telescope’s receivers.

Casings that could withstand the harsh environment of the Australian outback.

CSIRO has also worked with Newcastle’s Puzzle Precision to build sophisticated electronic circuit boards for the SKA Pathfinder telescope’s digital systems.

I will be engaging deeply in the consultations that Australia’s Chief Scientist has begun on Australia’s future research infrastructure priorities.

This will help identify key capability areas of research infrastructure that would enable us to focus investment where it will have the greatest impact.

3.3 Strengthening investment

Finally I want to turn to how we strengthen investment in science in the coming decades.

I’m aware Australia’s expenditure on R&D is below the OECD average.

Australia spends just over 2 per cent [2.12% in 2013–14] of its GDP on research. The OECD average was 2.38 in 2014.

One of my priorities over the next three years is therefore to encourage private investment in science through venture capital.

The Government has set the ball rolling by establishing a $500 million Biomedical Translation Fund and a $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund each based on a 50/50 contribution from the public and private sectors.

These provide a great opportunity for the private sector to co-invest in commercialising our publicly funded research.

Only last week, we opened the Biomedical Translation Fund for applications from private life sciences fund managers to help accelerate the development and commercialisation of Australian biomedical discoveries.

The Turnbull Government also established a $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund to support emerging clean energy technologies in making the leap from demonstration to commercial deployment.

In addition to driving innovation, these initiatives will create new jobs and provide value for the investment of public money.

I believe we can do more in this space and I want to work with the research and investment communities on further opportunities for new matched equity investment programs in science.

I also want to work on further improving our attractiveness to early and mid-stage private equity. Our angel investors initiative is important but I am soon to meet with the venture capital sector to discuss how we can further improve our attractiveness as an international investment destination.


Ultimately we need to plan and commit to a vision to further build our scientific strength and create economic opportunity.

We have started the important groundwork of getting the settings right for science and making them as predictable as possible, giving stability and security to support our scientists.

Innovation and Science Australia is developing a 15-year strategic plan to put more predictability into the system.

We will carefully consider that plan, when the Government responds late next year on the strategy.

The 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap being developed will set the forward vision of Australia’s capability needs.

The Commonwealth Science Council will be looking over the horizon to see and tell us what’s next and how we should prepare for this.

In conclusion, I am reminded of the words of Tennyson's Ulysses in relation to our shared scientific project: “To strive, to seek, to find but not to yield.”

What we do together matters for the economic opportunities and jobs of Australians in all walks of life.

It matters for our quality of life.

And above all else, it addresses our deepest human concerns.

For that I thank you and I am with you.

In short, science is at the centre.


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