Address at the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science Dinner
Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, fellow parliamentarians, members of the science and research communities, and to our teachers and our students.
It’s my great pleasure to join you tonight in recognising the achievements of the very best of Australian scientists, innovators and science educators.
I couldn’t agree more with the Prime Minister about the vital role of science in Australia and the Government’s unwavering commitment to science.
Great scientific research and learning is happening in Australia every day: in our universities, in our research institutions and in our schools.
But unlike some other activities, this work and the brains behind it do not often make front-page headlines.
Yet science matters because of the problems it solves and the quality of life it provides.
Science matters because of the crucial role it plays as a driver of our economy and a creator of wealth.
It is the fundamental source of the innovation that drives 60 per cent of our productivity.
And science matters because it enriches our lives with new discoveries and sources of wonder.
Our scientists should be given the recognition they deserve. That is why we are here tonight.
1. The Past
In the global science arena, Australia has a rich history.
We are also a nation of great innovators. Australia has a history of bringing opportunity out of new ideas.
Our scientists—from William Farrer to Howard Florey and Mac Burnet, Graeme Clarke, Brian Schmidt, Elizabeth Blackburn, Barry Marshall, and many more—have given the world life-changing innovations and insights.
In agriculture, our scientists helped Australia to become one of the world’s largest wheat exporters.
In medicine, the transformation of penicillin into a useful and effective drug is said to have saved more than 82 million lives.
This year marks the centenary of the Commonwealth Government’s creation of the Advisory Council of Science and Industry in 1916, which evolved into what we know today as CSIRO.
Work by CSIRO’s researchers has resulted in the world’s first Hendra vaccine and, of course, the development of Wi-Fi, along with 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.
2. The Present
There are those of you in this room and out there across Australia whose work today will position us to secure our future prosperity, create jobs and protect us against disease or harm for many generations to come.
Last month I visited the University of Wollongong to see the innovative work they are doing at their science and technology research centres.
Work such as using stem cells to grow new spinal cords for people with paraplegia and quadriplegia; regrowing human tissue using 3D printing techniques, and using research in robotics and automation to support manufacturing industries and Australia’s defence capabilities.
Great research work like this is what we need to help usher Australia into a future of endless possibilities through innovation.
And they are occurring right across the country: within our research institutions, world-class research facilities and innovative industries.
2.1 Science at the centre of NISA
Australia’s future lies in innovation and we need you to be at the forefront of our quest to build an economy powered by this.
The Australian Government is set to invest more than $10.1 billion in supporting science, research and innovation in 2016–17. The National Innovation and Science Agenda, NISA, will ensure the government maximises returns from this investment.
The National Innovation and Science Agenda is the Government’s long-term plan to secure Australia’s future economic prosperity, and science is firmly at the centre.
We’ve committed $2.3 billion over ten years to supporting research infrastructure—the Synchrotron, the Square Kilometre Array project, and the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy.
You know, more than anyone else, how important such infrastructure investment is for research in Australia.
3. The Future
3.1 Inspiring the next generation of scientists
It’s also critical that we continue working to inspire young Australians, so we can build the next generation of scientists and innovators. We all have a vital role to play in engaging the community about the value of science.
Role models and mentors are crucial. Just as our young people admire and aspire to be like our sporting heroes, the same goes for science.
That is why I am delighted to see Cameron McEvoy in the audience tonight. Cameron is not only an Olympic athlete and a great ambassador for our country in the sports arena, as a scientist he is a great role model for all young Australians with an interest in science.
Through the National Innovation and Science Agenda, we are investing in a range of science engagement activities to inspire greater participation of young people in STEM. In particular, we aim to lift the participation rates and opportunities for women and girls.
I will shortly be announcing a range of new initiatives aimed at supporting our young people to engage with and pursue a career in STEM, but before I do that I would like to briefly outline our plans for the future of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.
3.2 Second and Third Waves of the National Innovation Agenda
We are hard at work now on the second and third waves of our National Science and Innovation Agenda.
The second wave will focus on encouraging private sector investment in innovation and new infrastructure for science.
Access to leading-edge research infrastructure is critical to pursuing scientific endeavour.
The task now is to find the next Synchrotron or Square Kilometre Array.
Therefore, the Government has tasked Australia’s Chief Scientist with the development of a National Research Infrastructure Roadmap.
The focus of the third wave of the National Innovation and Science Agenda will be twofold.
First, we’ll be making it easier for business to interact with government and reducing unnecessary regulation with our National Business Simplification Initiative.
In particular, we want to target unnecessary duplication across federal, state and local government levels.
Second, we’ll be helping industry sectors move into the future. This will be guided in part by the national 2030 plan for innovation, science and research being developed by Innovation and Science Australia.
Innovation is something that can happen anywhere, but we know that it happens a lot more in some places than in others.
That’s why I want to work with universities on developing precincts of expertise, and in doing so boost private sector investment in science and research.
3.3 New Initiatives
Young Australians have so much potential waiting to be tapped and we must take the necessary steps to help them realise their full potential.
The government is committed to supporting our young scientists in pursuing their passion for science, technology, engineering and maths, and tonight I’m delighted to announce $13.8 million for initiatives to encourage young Australians to pursue an interest and study in these fields.
This includes $6.4 million over four years for students under 18 to participate in science events, activities and competitions in Australia and overseas.
Grants of up to $5000 per student and $20,000 per application are available.
Funding of $2,992,000 over four years will enable Australian Science Innovations to deliver the Australian Science Olympiads and support some of our most talented science students participating in the International Science Olympiads.
We’re providing $1,760,000 to support Australia’s hosting of the 2019 Asian Physics Olympiad, the first time this event has been held in this country.
The Australian Mathematics Trust will receive $1,496,000 over four years to support participation of our most talented Australian students in the International Mathematics and Informatics Olympiads.
The National Youth Science Forum will receive $660,000 over four years to expand their National Science Teachers Summer School and start an additional January residential forum, hosting 200 students. They will also establish a fund to assist students from lower socio-economic and disadvantaged backgrounds to participate in their activities.
There’s also $500,000 in grants for National Science Week 2017.
In a few years, we might be here recognising the achievements of scientists whose careers were inspired by one of these programs.
Each of the prize recipients being recognised tonight would have their own story to tell: where they started, what inspired them, and how they got here.
But one thing they have in common is that they are all highly esteemed within their fields and currently performing at the top of their class.
They deserve to be honoured here, in recognition of their excellence, at Australia’s most prestigious public celebration of achievement in science.
Congratulations to all the prize recipients.