PM Transcripts

Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript - 31843

Address to Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Dinner, Parliament House

Photo of Abbott, Tony

Abbott, Tony

Period of Service: 18/09/2013 to 15/09/2015

More information about Abbott, Tony on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 29/10/2014

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 31843


Ladies and gentlemen, it is a thrill to be amongst so many of our best minds on this evening which is a celebration of science and it’s also a thrill to be with so many of my colleagues.

It was said of Alexander the Great, when he saw the breadth of his dominion, that he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Perhaps this is why Winston Churchill said “the empires of the future are the empires of the mind”.

Because that deep yearning to explore, to discover and to advance is part of the human condition – and now so much of it one way or another has to be intellectual.

The scientists in this room are the great explorers of our day.

From Professor Brian Schmidt unlocking the universe, to the workers at Cochlear providing hearing to the deaf, the scientists of our country are revealing the secrets of our world and doing the great works of our time.

Tonight, we honour Australia’s scientists who through grit and determination are continuing to tell us what we previously didn’t know and sometimes couldn’t even imagine.

And we wouldn’t have great scientists without teachers to transfer their sense of curiosity and wonder to a new generation.

Tonight, I especially honour the science and maths teachers who are with us.

I honour all these who are promoting science.

And I want to assure you that you have a fine advocate in Ian Macfarlane – the Minister responsible for science.

He is the son of a scientist.

He is the grandson of a scientist.

He is one of the most experienced members of Cabinet and he is the second longest Minister for Industry in the history of our country – over seven years so far.

And it’s good that you have as your Minister one of the steadiest and the most experienced people in the Cabinet.

Science is at the heart of this Government’s Economic Action Strategy because you cannot separate science from the advancement of our country.

It is an essential part of modern economic policy – because the commercialisation of science and the encouragement of innovation is essential for jobs, for growth and for prosperity.

And two weeks ago, Ian Macfarlane and I released what we call our Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

This maps out a vision for science and its role in the future of our country.

The overriding themes are: investment in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, entrepreneurship, and collaboration between business and science.

Now as I’m sure you know, in our first year, we have had to bring the Budget back under control.

Living within your means always involves difficult decisions and it’s rarely popular, but it is necessary if we want our prosperity to be sustainable.

But even in a time of budget cutting, we have still made some important new investments as part of the $9.2 billion ongoing annual investment in science and research.

These new investments include $65 million to operate and maintain the CSIRO’s new marine research vessel; and $35 million for the operation and maintenance of ANSTO’s Opal nuclear reactor.

We’re promoting international science collaboration by extending the Australia-China Science and Research Fund and the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund.

And – and this is something very close to my heart – we have set out to build one of the largest endowment funds in the world for medical research.

This $20 billion Medical Research Future Fund will ensure that Australia continues to be a world champion of research and innovation.

And now that our best scientists and our greatest medical researchers are in this building, I hope you will wear out the carpet putting the case for this fund to my political colleagues in other parties because you can’t have a fund without funding.

Now, across government, our focus has been on getting maximum benefit for taxpayer dollars.

It’s what you do in your life every day – you try to get maximum value from your research grants; you try to get maximum value for the funding that the university has given you.

We are seeking to prioritise national research to the challenges that face our nation.

Because our ability to compete in global markets does depend on our ability to produce high-quality, innovative products and services.

And these products usually require the ingenuity that’s born of strong science.

As the Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb put it: we have to do “all the things that we need to do well.”

That’s what our competitors are doing – and so must we.

So as part of the Competitiveness Agenda, the Government is providing $12 million more to foster school students’ interest in STEM.

There’s the ‘Mathematics by inquiry’— maths-in-schools programmes.

There’s computer coding courses.

There’s a local trial of the American Pathways in Technology Early College High School or P-TECH.

And there’s more summer schools for STEM students.

These are just some of the things we’re doing and there is more to come – including changes to employee share ownership to encourage more start-up businesses so that good ideas can be commercialised here in Australia. 

We are recognised globally for our high quality research.

In 2013, with just 0.3 per cent of the world’s population, this country of ours was responsible for over three per cent of the world’s published research.

Now, that only ranks us 9th in the OECD. So, we can do better. Especially, we must do better at translating research into practical outcomes.

We are determined as a Government to boost collaboration between science and business because Australia ranks just 29th out of 30 OECD countries on the proportion of businesses collaborating with higher education and public research institutions.  

And we rank just 23rd out of 32 countries on the percentage of total research publications that are co-authored by industry and the research sector.

We are determined to work with industry and researchers to get a better return on that $9.2 billion a year research investment.

And to this end the new Commonwealth Science Council to advise the Government on ways to improve connections between research organisations, universities and businesses will comprise five scientists and five business representatives – including Professor Brian Schmidt, Professor Ian Frazer, Catherine Livingstone and Michael Chaney. 

One of its first tasks will be to consider specific proposals raised by the Chief Scientist – for Government funding of science and research to be better targeted.

Of course we value “blue sky” or pure research, we always have and we always will, but we still need much to improve the links between science and business and to better commercialise our ideas.

Tonight is probably a good time to add something to the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science. 

Ian Macfarlane and I have been considering the findings of a review.

The review, led by our Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, found that too much was being asked of one prize.

From next year, and alongside the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, there will also be a Prime Minister’s Prize for the Commercial Application of Science.

This prize will be awarded to an Australian or Australian team for ‘the most significant technological innovation that has led to the betterment of humanity’.

It will allow a broader range of achievements from industry, defence science, rural science and engineering to be honoured.

Equal recognition should be given to those who discover and to those who innovate, because without innovation, scientific discovery may never be more than an interesting experiment.

I thank all of you in this room tonight – teachers, researchers and industry innovators.

I thank you for your dedication to a better world and to a better Australia.

On behalf of the Australian people, congratulations to all the nominees for this year’s prizes.

And as I was walking to the Great Hall this evening I was thinking to myself, what does Australia need more, who does Australia need more of? Do we need more lawyers or do we need more scientists? Do we need more politicians or do we need more scientists? I have absolutely no doubt what the answer to those questions would be – so, scientists of Australia, go out and increase!



Transcript - 31843