Industry and Science Minister the Hon Ed Husic MP gave the following speech at the National Press Club on Wednesday 22 March during Science Meets Parliament 2023.
I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to Elders both past and present.
And I pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today.
Some of you have heard the first occupants of this country described as the nation’s First scientists, First technologists, First engineers.
And, the evidence is indisputable.
Well before axes and cutting tools were being developed on other continents, they were created here, in Australia.
Thousands of years before the construction of the Great Pyramids, Aboriginal communities to our north-west were building the Brewarrina Fish Traps: stone walls and weirs 400 metres long.
And long before astronomer Ptolemy developed his distinctive ringed map of the heavens, Aboriginal people here were using concentric circles in rock art for time keeping, mapping out the seasons of a year in relation to the sun.
Through observation, experimentation and analysis – the bedrock of the scientific method – they developed knowledge systems sustaining life and culture on our diverse continent.
But, for a long time we ignored this knowledge.
In some places, we destroyed the evidence.
Denied the science.
Now, as we confront challenges to the planet, its people, and our collective prosperity, it’s time we started listening.
And as Science Meets Parliament launches this week, we as Parliamentarians are listening.
It is great to be here to celebrate Science Meets Parliament with you all.
Actually, more than that, it’s great to be here to celebrate science with you all.
Because that’s what I’m here to do today.
To remind Australians how essential science is to our future.
It is a task at one with the reason for Science Meets Parliament.
This is a week in which scientists from around Australia converge on Parliament to explain the importance of science to everything we do as policy makers.
The challenges that confront us as a nation are complex.
They require new ways of working, calling up knowledge from all corners of the country.
When we seek out diverse knowledge, we set ourselves up for success.
Since becoming Minister for Industry and Science, I have been vocal about tearing down the barriers preventing people from contributing to the wellbeing of the nation.
Confronting the biases head on that hold people back from entering or staying in STEM careers.
It’s one of the motivations for initiating the Diversity in STEM review within my first 100 days as a Minister.
To make sure that what we do as a government is really helping to widen the pipeline of STEM talent in this country and put it to work.
I have also been vocal about the importance of science to supporting our national wellbeing and ensuring our economic prosperity.
This is why we are re-invigorating Australia’s science priorities, the first time since 2015, underpinned by a National Science Statement, that hasn’t been updated since 2017.
It is a refresh engaging everyone, from the grassroots research community to our science leaders.
To inform and advise us on areas of future focus.
This is work led ably by our Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley who’s here in the room.
Building a community view about what we can work on together.
And, I’ve said time and again, we must be prepared to back Australian ideas, so they can grow here.
That’s why the government is creating the National Reconstruction Fund, $15 billion to support Australian manufacturing.
What I want to do today is explain why these initiatives are needed.
And why now.
It’s because Australia as the birthplace of the first scientists and engineers isn’t just a nice story to hear.
It is our origin story.
It is the enduring thread that connects Australia’s outsized scientific achievements, from the earliest days of human civilisation to today.
It speaks to a history of innovation and problem solving, spanning our vast continent.
A culture defined by creativity.
Dare I say, a legacy of Australian exceptionalism.
It is a culture that we all share – as those whose ancestors were here first, those who were born here, and those who come here.
It connects First Nations astronomers and astrophysicists today, like Krystal de Napoli and Karlie Noon, who are bridging Indigenous knowledge systems and Western astronomy.
It connects our science pioneers like Ruby Payne-Scott, considered the world’s first female radio astronomer, who played a critical role in the rapid growth of radio astronomy in this country – all while fighting just for the right to work.
It’s brought scientists like Professor Sharath Sriram and Professor Mahdu Bhaskaran to Australia, manufacturing sensors and smart medical devices in Victoria.
It connects our scientific institutions, like the CSIRO and ANSTO.
It was only a few months ago that we were reminded of the ingenuity of our science institutions, when ANSTO researchers managed to find that missing radioactive capsule in remote Western Australia.
With their own device, developed in-house, they were able to locate a capsule the size of a 10-cent coin, while travelling 70km/hour along a 1400km stretch of road.
They found the one needle in a million haystacks.
Let’s not forget University of Sydney Professor Edward Holmes was instrumental in the team of scientists around the world that first sequenced the COVID-19 genome in 2020.
It’s achievements like these that make the rest of the world sit up and take notice of what is happening here.
Australia makes up only 0.3 per cent of the global population, yet we produce more than 4 per cent of the world’s published scientific research.
I think we can go even higher, calling up people with diverse knowledge and skills from across Australia to be part of our science story.
I have pledged, as Minister for Industry and Science, to ensure that science reflects our multicultural country.
That it helps us to solve our most complex challenges.
But this doesn’t happen simply because government says it should.
It involves all of you, as our science community.
Pioneering new areas of research that are essential to our national wellbeing.
Being curious about diverse methods and knowledge, wherever they come from.
Working with communities – drawing on their expertise and experience – to improve science practice.
A science community that reflects our society.
Science by the community, for the community.
One of the great honours I have as Minister for Industry and Science is the opportunity to meet inspirational leaders in Australian science and research.
We also have the opportunity to shape the leadership of our national science institutions.
And our government was recently presented with the chance to do just that.
It is with great pleasure that I can officially reveal today an appointment of the Albanese Government, to the Board of our national science agency, the CSIRO.
CSIRO’s origins date back to World War One.
When a young Australian government recognised the urgency of investing in science and technology capability at home, during a time of escalating conflict around the world.
As we emerge from a global pandemic, and as we confront the realities of climate change and shifting geo-politics once again, science remains essential.
Science began here, on this continent.
We can draw a line from the first scientists and engineers, solving problems for communities here, to Australian science solving problems for humanity today.
That is the legacy of Australian science.
And it is our future.
And two weeks ago, Cabinet endorsed the appointment of one of Australia’s most preeminent health scientists to the board of CSIRO.
He is also we believe the first Indigenous scientist to be appointed.
He is an internationally recognised leader in Aboriginal health and public health services, and of the Yuin Nation.
He has dedicated his research career to understanding and overcoming the health inequalities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, particularly chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
And his methods – working in partnership with Aboriginal communities, and bridging disciplines – stand as a model for us all.
It is one that will strengthen the CSIRO’s leadership.
He is Professor of Indigenous Genomics at the Telethon Kids Institute and recently took up an appointment with the Australian National University.
And I’m very pleased to let you know he joins us today.
Could you please join with me in congratulating Professor Alex Brown on his appointment to the board of the CSIRO.
Alex, you’re the first appointment, but I know you won’t be the last.
And I know that your own journey in science has been guided by inspiring Indigenous scientists and mentors.
You’ve mentioned the influence your sister’s career had on your decision to embark on research in health.
Your sister, Professor Ngiare Brown was one of the first Indigenous medical graduates in Australia and is now the first female and first Indigenous Chancellor of James Cook University.
Quite a family.
So I thank your sister for being the example that you followed.
And I thank you, for the path you are setting, for all the Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers and scientists who will follow you.
Australian ideas are everywhere.
Our know-how matters.
It is rooted in our experiences in this country.
But as a country, we haven’t valued Australian ideas enough.
Too often, we still prefer ideas that come from somewhere else.
And other parts of the world end up benefiting from Australian ideas, before we do.
For women around the world today, their chances of developing cervical cancer have been drastically reduced by the creation of the HPV vaccine.
It was first developed at the University of Queensland, by researchers Ian Frazer and the late Dr Jian Zhou.
Studies have shown that women who are vaccinated have a 63% reduced risk of developing cervical cancer.
For women vaccinated as teenagers, that reduced risk could be as much as 90%.
That is simply life changing.
For women, for their families.
But it wasn’t commercialised by an Australian manufacturer.
Instead, Merck picked it up and it became Gardasil.
And then we bought it back.
Our manufacturing self-sufficiency languishes dead last in the OECD.
But we can and should have the ambition to build on Australian ideas here.
If others have faith in us, why can’t we have faith in ourselves?
We should expect to be more than just the best customer in an app store, downloading someone else’s ideas.
We can commercialise our own.
We must commercialise our own, if we are to continue thriving as a nation long-term.
I recently visited the Future Battery Industries Cooperative Research Centre in Perth.
It’s exciting to see researchers, governments and the community working together to grow battery industries and capability in Australia.
Their new report is out today and it paints a picture of why backing science-based industry development is worth doing.
The revenue and jobs opportunity for battery industries in Australia has grown exponentially in the past two years.
In 2021, this CRC forecast battery manufacture would be worth $7.4 billion to the economy and create up to 35,000 jobs.
This year, they’ve updated those figures.
And they’ve doubled.
In 12 months.
By 2030, the industry has the potential to be worth nearly $17 billion and create more than 61,000 jobs.
There is a window of opportunity to become a key player in battery manufacturing here in Australia and export on the world stage.
We cannot let it close.
We are recognised as possessing the greatest stores of critical minerals and rare earths in the world.
That’s why I’ve said, if we mine it here, we should make it here.
And that’s why the Government has prioritised the development of a National Battery Strategy.
To support Australian researchers and manufacturers pioneering this new industry.
But this isn’t the only opportunity.
We have strengths in every sector. In food and forestry, in defence, in enabling capabilities, resources, the medical sector, in renewable energy and in agriculture.
As one example, scientists from the CSIRO have come up with a seaweed supplement for livestock – Future Feed – to help reduce methane emissions.
They’ve licensed their IP to manufacturers in the US, New Zealand and Europe and right here in Australia.
Sea Forest is one of those Australian manufacturers.
They’re working with the industry’s best scientists.
They’re also doing their own R&D into the best production and delivery methods.
As a result, they’ve become the first company in the world to manufacture a livestock seaweed supplement at a commercial scale.
And in doing so, they’ll help change the planet for the better.
Evidence is showing that livestock whose diets contain just 0.2% of Sea Forest’s seaweed supplement will have methane reductions of up to 98%.
From batteries to beef. From silicon to seaweed.
Many challenges facing Australia today can’t be solved without science.
But building on and replicating Australia’s past scientific successes won’t be solved in a single Budget cycle, a single year or even a single term of Parliament.
Unwinding the neglect, negligence and disdain for science of the previous government will take time.
It’s going to require a culture change in how we think about science.
How we engage people in science careers.
And how we value science.
All of us – government, industry, the research sector – have a role in that culture change.
Because changing our nation’s culture – the way our nation looks at science – will change the way people make decisions.
It will change the way investors make decisions, what they value and how they make trade-offs.
The way policymakers make decisions.
It will change how parents help their kids choose school subjects and careers.
It will change how kids imagine their future.
Science isn’t a nice to have only when times are good.
It is essential to the prosperity of this country. To our national wellbeing.
To being a modern economy.
And science doesn’t happen by magic.
It takes sustained investment – not just by government and universities, but by industry too.
Especially by industry.
And it takes patience. It means playing the long game.
Being willing to invest in skills and basic research even where the short-term commercial outcomes are not immediately apparent.
Often, what started out as basic research is behind life-changing innovations that we use every day.
Today we take for granted the use of ultrasound for medical examination and diagnosis, but its development, which happened right here in Australia, was anything but an ‘overnight success’.
It was a multi decade undertaking.
In the early 1960s, CSIRO researchers discovered a way to differentiate ultrasound echoes bouncing off soft tissue in the body.
Even then, they could convert them to TV images.
Yet the ultrasound scanner wasn’t commercialised for another fifteen years.
This Australian know-how completely changed medicine around the world.
By 1995, ultrasound was used to monitor 97% of pregnancies.
And as any parent who’s watched the heartbeat of their unborn child on a monitor can attest, this invention is one of our best.
Today, years of patient investment have positioned Australia to be a leader in new technologies.
Quantum technologies, for example.
Many of the leaders in quantum right now – in industry and academia – around the world undertook their training right here in this country. And Australian researchers and industries in quantum punch well above their weight.
Quantum technology is now forecast to be a $6 billion industry in Australia by 2045. That wasn’t clear when Australia’s quantum leaders started their careers.
It took faith in their know-how – and long-term investment – to get to where quantum is today.
Today, we are on the brink of a quantum revolution.
Quantum technologies are poised to change industries across the economy.
In some sectors, like mining and environmental management, quantum sensors already are.
Our partners recognise Australia’s edge in quantum.
Quantum has been identified as a priority technology capability under the recent AUKUS agreement, for example.
This is why this Government is shortly releasing a National Quantum Strategy.
Because after years of patient investment, now is the time to put the conditions in place to commercialise quantum technologies here.
Around the world, governments are moving to diversify their economies, rebuild domestic manufacturing and support more research and development.
In Australia, the federal government directly invests around $11.8 billion in research and development.
Australian businesses spend around $18 billion on R&D.
And each year, businesses receive just over $2.7 billion in tax offsets on their eligible R&D expenditure.
Those figures sound big.
But at only 1.8 per cent of GDP, R&D spend across our economy is well below the OECD average.
And it won’t increase simply by turning to government and asking for more funding.
It requires change from all of us: universities, science agencies, industry.
Seeking out and celebrating new kinds of partnerships.
Fostering skills and know-how that make cross-disciplinary collaborations possible.
Being prepared to work flexibly across silos.
Investing in R&D as part of being an innovative, resilient business.
As business as usual.
Australia is a country of vast distance and outsized achievements.
Of collaborations bridging communities and cultures.
This is the legacy we recognise this week, during Science Meets Parliament.
And it is the bedrock on which the Albanese Government is building an ambitious, long-term vision for science in Australia.
Underpinned by investment from a government that is serious about backing Australian science and know-how from wherever it emerges.
That is committed to listening to Australian science.
This year, a record-breaking number of MPs, Senators and their advisers are meeting with scientists during Science Meets Parliament.
Over 40 per cent of Parliament is involved.
From every political party.
And did I mention it’s a sitting week?
Misha Schubert and the team at Science and Technology Australia, you’ve outdone yourselves.
It is demonstration of the value of Australian know how.
Respect for your exceptional achievements.
And recognition of the importance of science to our nation’s future.