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.