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I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, our nation’s first scientists, innovators and inventors and I pay my respects to elders past and present.
I won't go through the full list of distinguished guests, as they say in the movies, you all know who you are. And I would like to welcome all of you back to Parliament House.
And before I go on to formally acknowledge the new Minister for Innovation I want to thank her for letting me go first because one person we haven't yet acknowledged is my wife Chloe.
She's here and we are going to go and have dinner, after this, if that's okay.
But I do want to acknowledge the new Minister for Innovation.
Michaelia, I think your appointment to the portfolio shows that the Liberals are finally listening.
Because for the past 5 years, I've been lucky enough to come to this event at this dinner and all sorts of meetings, I’ve had scientists and researchers come up to me and say:
“Bill, we need more cash’.
And you have that now.
It’s a real pleasure to be back for my fifth consecutive Science Meets Parliament dinner – all of them as Opposition Leader, but that’s another speech for another night.
Tonight though, as we've heard already is a fantastic celebration of Australia’s great scientific story and our remarkable scientific community.
I do think that you can afford to take a reasonable measure of comfort in how highly our nation regards your work when:
- The Australian of the Year, Professor Michelle Simmons, is a quantum physicist
- The Senior Australian of the Year, Doctor Graham Farquhar, is a bio-physicist
- And Australia’s local hero, Eddie Woo, is a maths teacher.
Australians celebrate your contribution with collective pride – even if not all of us fully understand it.
I know that when Professor Simmons was honoured for her contributions to quantum computing, for many of us – except for quite a few of the people here - it meant Googling: "What does quantum computing actually mean?"
The best analogy I heard was that the difference between binary and quantum computing is the difference between a single train line and the Tokyo Metro.
The single line gets you from A to B - and over time we can upgrade the track, remove the level crossings, improve the engine speed – but it’s still A to B.
But a metro system facilitates thousands of simultaneous journeys.
So quantum computers offer a completely new way of solving problems – right across every field. Re-shaping everything from transport networks and financial markets to biological molecules and weather modelling.
And so much more – in fact, we have no idea how much more.
And between you and I, no political slogan, no glossy strategic document could have produced this discovery.
There’s an old line that says that if you had 100 monkeys working on 100 typewriters you’d eventually get Shakespeare.
But if you had 100 politicians working on 100 announcements, you would never get quantum computing.
Governments, to be fair, can’t predict breakthroughs and we can’t predict where they will lead. Indeed half the time, neither can the scientists and the researchers.
There’s a quote I love from MIT’s Richard Schrock, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2005, he said:
“The value of basic research is you discover something you didn’t expect — that nobody expected.
And it’s where almost everything we now expect comes from.
My work had applications. I just didn’t know it at the time.”
This to me is the essence of basic research: “my work had applications, I just didn’t know it at the time”.
Professor Dan Kleppner, was part of the team that invented the hydrogen maser in 1960, an atomic clock which turned out to be essential for the operation of satellite-based global positioning systems today.
“I wasn’t dreaming of developing the GPS.
With basic research, you do not begin to recognize the applications until the discoveries are in hand.”
Isabor Rabi won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1944 for his research into magnetic particles – but it took another 30 years of collaboration, expansion and application before we got the MRI.
My first degree was in history, I loved the history of science and it has taught me the power of basic research - the over-the-horizon work.
Now, parliaments cannot predict discoveries that will define the next generation. But what we can do in this remarkable place is we can make generational investments in the research which will drive future discovery.
And friends, for me, and my remarkable Shadow Minister for Science Kim Carr, indeed for Labor - this is where science and parliament meet.
I am ambitious for Australian science, I believe we should aim to be a world-leader:
- A leader in the teaching of science in school
- A leader in the education of high-quality science graduates at university
- A world leader in post-graduate research.
And dare I say it - a world leader in better supporting our post-doc researchers.
And I believe that we can champion discovery and basic research – while of course backing applied research and supporting innovation and start-ups.
I want to put to you that it is not a binary choice between commercialisation on one hand and basic research on the other.
Perhaps it’s more like quantum computing - investments in basic research build the foundation and simultaneously support all of the other programs that we seek in education and applied research.
For a long time, Australian scientists have been among the best in the world in what you do.
But I think parliament has a responsibility to do more than throw a dinner once a year and give you well-deserved a pat on the back.
In the past 5 years, government support for science has been falling.
It is now at its lowest share of GDP since 2005.
In fact government share of total research spending is now smaller than any time since the 1980s.
And – as I said before – it is skewing toward applied research and away from basic research.
If we agree that moving forward as a scientific nation is important, we have to acknowledge that we cannot move forward as a scientific nation if we have a Hunger Games-type scenario where different spheres compete for a shrinking share of government investment.
You can’t do what you do best if your lives are hostage to endless rounds of grant funding applications.
Especially when our economic competitors are pumping money into science and research across the board.
I believe that there is a more active, more constructive and more strategic role for government to play – up and down the research and science chain.
- Government provides the resources for basic science, the foundation. We re-fuel the investment pipeline.
- Our universities and research institutes supply the labour, the talent, the training and the commitment.
- Those results inspire innovation, private investment, further research and development.
- And at the end all Australians share in the benefits – with new industries, new products, good jobs and a higher standard of living.
To show that I'm serious about Labor doing our part, I’ve committed the next Labor Government to a clear, unequivocal national goal.
By 2030, we should aim to dedicate 3 per cent of our national Gross Domestic Product – that is both private and public - to science, research and development.
And a Labor Government will not leave all the heavy lifting to the corporate sector, we won’t prioritise share dividends over discovery.
For us, science, research, innovation and education will be national priorities – with a dedicated Cabinet Minister for Science.
There’s another collective goal I suggest we have to get serious about: equality for women in science.
Today, 33 per cent of those studying Bachelor’s degrees in STEM are women.
To be fair that is two per cent better than the percentage of women in parliament - my own party is at 46 per cent, just saying.
The truth is, neither parliament nor our scientific community, will be able to fulfil its true potential until we have true gender equality.
Chloe has just signed on as a Patron for Questacon – in addition to her existing roles at the Burnet Institute and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute – so I can guarantee that you’ll be hearing a lot more from her and from me about getting more Australian women studying and teaching science and leading our national research efforts.
And I think in our Australian of the Year, women and girls have a wonderful role model to look up to.
So friends, forgive me if I sound like I was once a union rep, I was.
But I’ve seen the rough edges of economic change, I've seen what happens when there is not re-capitalisation and re-investment, when there is not re-training.
I know good people who feel the effects of disruption, automation, the rise of new technologies, the re-shaping of whole industries.
Therefore I have seen, the hard way, the importance of investing in science and research and technology and training to make sure that people and communities and regions do not get left behind in the process of change.
We are engaged in a great global race for jobs and livelihoods and industries of the future.
Our commitment to research and science will be the difference between a generation of Australians designing, refining and operating machines - or being replaced by them.
I said at the outset Australia has a proud scientific story. But at its core is a generational contract.
All of us here are united by a common determination to hand on a better set of circumstances for the next generation.
To leave the country and the world, better than you found it.
I see that with Graham Farquhar’s lifelong passion for our national estate.
We see it in the scientists tackling climate change, so our kids aren't left to deal with a worse and more degraded environment
I see it in pioneering new treatments and curing disease. Transforming the liveability of our cities, boosting the success of our farmers
Australian science is courageous, ambitious and forward-looking. And it is the job of parliament to be as courageous, as ambitious, as forward-looking.
It is the job of government to reward your courage, to support your ambitions and to provide you the certainty so that you can look forward with confidence.
Thank you very much.