NEW YORK ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
NEW YORK, USA
THURSDAY, 24 JULY 2014
I am very grateful for this second opportunity to speak at the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue.
And for the chance to thank all those who have worked so hard to make this year’s dialogue another outstanding success.
There is always so much for us to share, and celebrate, together.
For more than two centuries, our national stories have been intertwined.
Our two nations are like parted cousins, who went with similar dreams across vast oceans to different countries and ways of being.
Australians and Americans fought and fell, side by side, in two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
A million US soldiers passed through Australia, on their way to winning the war in the Pacific.
12,000 brought Australian brides back stateside.
And another 10,000 stayed in Australia to start and raise their families.
For generations, American music has been the soundtrack to Australian adolescence.
Our actors and film directors have invaded your Oscar nights, your great picture palaces, your Broadway theatres.
One of our singers, Helen Reddy, gave the American feminist movement its anthem.
One of our writers, Tom Keneally, wrote modern classics on your Civil War, and the Holocaust that yet haunts so many of your citizens.
Americans and Australians died in the Twin Towers on 9/11.
Australians and Americans were shot from the skies over Ukraine last week.
We are bonded, we are blood cousins, we share, as Rick Blaine said in the favourite film of a million Australians, ‘a beautiful friendship’ – in history, literature, music, film and sport.
Cate Blanchett has played Katharine Hepburn.
Judy Davis has played Nancy Reagan.
Russell Crowe has played James J. Braddock.
This year, the Dodgers and Diamondbacks played at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
Last month, Paddy Mills and Aron Baynes won championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs – following in the footsteps of Luc Longley and Andrew Gaze.
Victorian Dante Exum was taken at pick five for the Utah Jazz while Queensland’s Cameron Bairstow was taken in the second round by the Chicago Bulls.
Ben Graham played in an AFL Grand Final for the Geelong Cats – and in a Superbowl for the New York Jets.
Saverio Rocca left the North Melbourne Kangaroos to become a punter for the Philadelphia Eagles.
And Eric Wallace left North Carolina basketball for a spot at North Melbourne.
Laver, Rosewall, Court, Rafter, Hewitt and Stosur have achieved the ultimate success at Flushing Meadow.
Connors, Navratilova, Sampras, Agassi, Seles and Williams have won legions of admirers at the Australian Open.
And for years, millions of Australians have set their alarms for Augusta.
We have watched, bleary-eyed, as Greg Norman endured heartbreak – and Adam Scott basked in glory.
And in 1784 - four years before the First Fleet entered Sydney Harbour - General George Washington joined soldiers in the Continental Army at Valley Forge in a game of cricket.
He was on the winning side – of course.
Australia, like America, has a great tradition of stand-up comedy, of long, rambling rhymed verse.
We are multicultural societies that glory in good food and street dancing and music and literature.
We, like you, understand the difficulty of those coming burnt-out of terrible wars and persecution into the forgetful tranquillity of our suburbs, becoming Australians, becoming Americans.
We, like you, do not underrate that difficulty.
We understand the whole world is a melting pot now – and we celebrate that.
We are two of the world’s oldest political democracies, but in each case there was not full suffrage till the 1960s.
For each of us social justice has a way to go.
We know that each of our countries could do better, each of us can do more.
We can do more to extend opportunity, to nurture the dreams of our citizens, to give the next generation a better life and a greater chance.
This is our great shared goal.
This week, we have gathered in pursuit of all of this.
And today, at the New York Academy of Sciences, this monument to the pursuit of knowledge, our focus is on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
There is no better proof of America’s ability to look beyond the horizon and test the limits of the impossible than the way it has led the world in science and innovation.
As Labor’s lead Science and Innovation spokesman, I am very fond of Michael Shermer’s definition:
‘Science is not a thing – it is a method, a process, a way of thinking.
Science is a verb, not a noun.
Science is a method for understanding the world – a process that involves evidence, reason and especially testing claims.’
Long before Shermer said this, Americans embodied it.
They looked at the world around them and they sought to understand it, to harness it for progress.
People like Franklin, Goodyear, Edison, Whitney, Ford and Firestone – driven by a spirit of curiosity and enquiry to build a better world.
That’s what needs to remain at the heart of our science curriculum – respect for curiosity.
It’s what Sir Paul Nurse, the President of the Royal Society means when he says there is:
‘a little bit of the scientist in all of us – especially when we are young children’.
Chloe and I have three marvellous children, one of whom is our four year old daughter - and every day I am amazed by her limitless imagination and her boundless curiosity.
She shares a determination common to all young children – the desire to ask why, and how – and to keep asking.
That’s the spirit of science – it is in-built, hardwired into our human nature.
Our job, as leaders, as policy-makers, as educators, as champions of science and innovation, is to foster this fascination, and to broaden and deepen it in our classrooms.
Because we all know the biggest factor in getting children to study science in secondary school - and beyond - is the training their teacher has had.
We all know that inspired teachers inspire children.
But, in the hands of hardworking, but underqualified, teachers who lack the confidence and knowledge to go beyond the set materials, Science can be re-cast as a dry, rigid series of rules, formulae and equations in textbooks.
In reality, science is so much more than the accumulated weight of centuries of discovery.
It is a cast of thought.
A way of thinking.
A mindset that allows our citizens to critically evaluate information – a skill that has never been more important.
We live in a time-poor, data-rich age.
We carry in our pockets a more sophisticated computing system than the one that landed Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins on the moon 45 years ago this week.
And because of this, no people in human history have had instant access to the quantity of information we do.
Quantity – but not necessarily quality.
In a world awash with self-published, self-proclaimed experts, a respect for credible evidence helps us sift through the conspiracy theories and Dr Google’s latest instant diagnosis.
A scientific mindset reminds us that uncertainty is not the enemy.
That framing the question is sometimes just as important as seeking the answer.
That doubt drives discovery.
Preserving this spirit, encouraging this worldview will be just as critical as nurturing our research institutes and higher education centres.
Without question, many of the breakthroughs that will define the 21st Century will come from our university laboratories, our research centres and large-scale collaborative projects.
These research and development centres compete for limited private investment and scarce government funding– and they know that, more often than not, the money follows ‘results’.
They need achievements to point to, benchmarks, milestones, projected returns.
This framework of accountability is important.
The last thing we want is a grants system where investors are duped into an investment in alchemy or taxpayer funds are frittered away on perpetual motion machines.
But a short term cost-benefit analysis should not constrict us.
Not all research has an immediate, obvious commercial benefit – and making that the sole criterion sells short unknown potential.
For example, early Australian research on the axon in the giant squid had no demonstrable commercial potential.
Yet it has deepened our understanding of the nervous system – priceless knowledge.
Not all ground-breaking discoveries will involve orderly, sequential progress toward a clearly sign-posted outcome.
And not every invention that changes our world will come from the laboratories of NYU, Stanford, Berkeley or MIT – or ANU, UWA, Monash or Sydney University.
Even in the 21st Century, great ideas, future-shaping change will come from the workshops, garages and garden sheds, studies and school desks in our suburbs and country towns.
And it is our duty to ensure there is still room in our world for individual innovation, for creative genius.
That it is still possible for an American or an Australian, to turn a great idea into a successful start-up.
And to grow that start-up into a thriving enterprise.
Not every new idea will be a good one.
Not every new business will succeed.
The greatness of America is that it knows this.
It knows, that:
‘the only thing to fear, is fear itself.’
It was the same lesson I took from my visit to Israel in 2012.
Israel has made high-tech exports and entrepreneurship their point of competitive advantage.
Israel, with a population of less than 8 million, fosters a thriving venture capital industry that produces more successful start-ups than much larger economies like Japan and Korea.
Israel’s commitment to innovation - and commercialising that innovation - is hard-wired into its key institutions.
Like America, the Israeli government embraces science and innovation - and like America they understand that sometimes failure is merely a marker on the road to success.
Investors realise that it is often an entrepreneur’s second or third business that will be their most successful.
I believe that Governments play a role in setting this tone, in creating this culture.
Not replacing private investment, or crowding it out.
But in supporting start-ups, nurturing creativity and rewarding ingenuity.
Here again, America shows us the way.
Today - the rate of US patent applications is at its highest level since the Industrial Revolution.
The United States Government supports more basic research than the private sector.
And a report from the Brookings Institute shows that patents funded by the US Government tend to be especially high quality.
When the Federal Government provides funding for small business research and development – the result is higher metropolitan productivity growth.
In fact, the difference between a high patenting and low patenting area is worth more than $4000 in productivity per worker over a decade.
Above all, the Brookings Institute Report shows us the value of collaboration – of innovation hubs and integrated graduate research.
Of course, when science seeks to make history, or change the world…there are always some risks that are greater than others.
Sometimes the price of failure is truly terrible.
No country knows this better than the United States of America.
At 6:34 pm, on Friday 27 January 1967, during a training exercise on the launchpad of the John F Kennedy centre, a flash fire broke out in the command module of Apollo 1.
The fire only burned for 30 seconds – but it claimed the lives of all three astronauts aboard:
Lieutenant Colonel Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom, a member of the original Mercury Seven.
Lieutenant Colonel Edward White, the first American to walk in space.
And Roger Chaffee, who was preparing for his first space mission, were the first Americans to die in pursuit of the grand national goal of:
‘landing a man upon the moon and returning him safely to the earth’.
Two and a half years later – and 45 years ago this week – as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepared to leave the Sea of Tranquillity, they reverently placed the mission patch from Apollo 1 on the powdery surface.
There, amidst the ‘magnificent desolation’, lie the names of Grissom, White and Chaffee.
Remembered forever, not for how they died – but for why they lived.
Without Apollo 1, there could have been no Apollo 11.
Without that terrible risk, there could have been no reward.
Without pioneers with the courage to risk it all, humanity’s greatest journey could not have been made.
This is America’s example.
This is America’s legacy.
It is from this that Australia takes our inspiration.
In science, in innovation, in discovery.
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