Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles’ speech to launch National Science Week

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles MP gave the following speech to launch National Science Week at Parliament House on Thursday 4 August.

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I want to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

Can I acknowledge Misha Schubert as the CEO of Science & Technology Australia and Mark Hutchinson as the President. Thank you very much for hosting this event and hosting Science Week.

I acknowledge my very good friend, Parliamentary colleague, and in this case the Minister for Science – and it’s great to be able to say that – Ed Husic. He was very generous in alerting me to this event yesterday and suggesting I should come along, so thank you very much Ed. And I will get back to Ed in a moment in the remarks that I make.

Can I acknowledge Melissa Price as a former Minister for Science, and all my Parliamentary colleagues who are here this morning. Thank you for turning out and showing your support for this event.

Cathy Foley, can I acknowledge you, and Graham Durant. Questacon – I didn’t realise we are meeting in your last week – but in the firmament of institutions in science that we have in this country, Questacon is a beacon as a scientific outreach museum, and stands really at the pinnacle of that in the world, and we are really lucky to have Questacon, but we’re particularly lucky to have it after the tenure that you have given it Graham.

It is an enormous service to this country, but it an enormous service to the place of science in this country – and I thank you for it and wish you all the best for your future.

Our challenge as a nation is to climb the value ladder. As people will be familiar, Harvard University does an index of economic complexity which I frequently refer to, and it’s a ladder that is not good news for our nation.

And I was checking it this morning and the speech that I’d been giving for a large part of the last year has changed because our position on that ladder has changed – we were 86th, as we looked at it this morning, we are now 91st.

We are sandwiched between Kenya and Namibia. It in many ways is an index of modernity. What is describes is the complexity of our economy and the kind of activities that we undertake in this country.

And if you want an alarm bell for what prosperity looks like in the middle of this century, that’s it. We have to turn that around. We really need to climb the technological ladder. We need to climb the Harvard index of economic complexity ladder.

And to do that, we have to finally crack the nut of turning science into jobs. Commercialising the wonderful science that we do in this country, and as people will be aware, that has not been a strength of the nation for a very long time. Doing science has been. The doing of science, the research that we engage in, the inventions that we come up with, we do that very well. But it is infusing that into our economy which is our national challenge.

So in many ways I think the most important piece of micro-economic reform which faces the nation today is infusing our economy with science and technology. But at the heart of that is almost a deeper issue – and that is the way in which we as a society regard science, the place that we hold it. And I actually think that fundamentally, we do not value science in the way that we should as a people and as a society.

At our heart, actually the challenge that faces us is to change our cultural relationship to science. We love sport. And I love sport. We’ve got the Commonwealth Games going on at the moment and I am as big a sports fan as anyone, but we need as a nation to love and to value and to celebrate science. It’s fundamentally important.

Which is why National Science Week is so critical, why the work of Questacon is so critical. Because actually what that is about is going to the very heart of the conversation which seeks to change the cultural relationship that we have to science and when I was looking at all the activities that were going to be undertaken during Science Week, it is about getting that conversation going in the country where we spark the natural human curiosity and enthusiasm for discovering the unknown which is what science is about.

And celebrating that and finding the excitement of it, and trying to make it part of the way in which we engage in our lives. Now these are words that I have spoken a lot over many years. But what is different, in a sense, doing it today, is that it’s the first time I have spoken those words as a Member of Government, and am doing so with my good friend the Minister for Science right next to me.

What I want to say to you is this. As you go about your work, in Science Week in a couple weeks’ time, you will do so with a Government which wants to make science the hallmark of our legacy. The Albanese Government is going to be The Science Government – and it will be led by the Science Minister Ed Husic.

And everything you do, every step you take, you will have Australia’s Government standing behind you, seeking to push you forward, seeking to amplify your voice and making sure that we do meet the micro-economic reform challenge of turning science into jobs and making science completely central to what we are about as a nation. Changing the way in which we think about science and go ahead with it. And, for me, that is really exciting. That is really, really exciting.

And so I hope that as you go about Science Week this year, you do so with all the enthusiasm that you would generally bring to it, but with a renewed enthusiasm. A renewed enthusiasm that this is a country which is going to change when it comes to science.

And the final point I want to make is we are there to support and we are there to champion and we will be there with resource. But the people on the frontline are actually you. It’s Australia’s scientists who will lead this. The work you are doing is so profoundly important in terms of the nation that we seek to build. So in advance of that work, let me, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

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