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Australia has new chief scientist -

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LISA MILLAR: After a six month international search, Australia has a new chief scientist.

Professor Penny Sackett is the director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the
Mt. Stromlo and Siding Spring Observatories.

But she'll soon be leaving that role because for the first time since 1996 the job of chief
scientist will be a full-time position.

The US born Australian citizen takes over from Dr Jim Peacock who was in the job part-time for two
years.

Professor Sackett is speaking here with Karen Barlow.

PENNY SACKETT: This is a tremendously exciting role which I'm honoured to take up. The primary role
is to give independent advice to the government of the day on scientific issues that affect
Australia. But that of course is a complex brief that covers many facets.

I also see this role as being an ambassador for Australian science from a global stage, a
communicator not only within the government but also between sectors and to the Australian public
and being a commissioner and facilitator for national innovation going forward.

KAREN BARLOW: It's a full-time role, it's the first time since 1996 that it has been full-time.
Does it need to be?

PENNY SACKETT: I think it does need to be a full-time post, science is becoming more and more
critical in good decision making, good policy making, the issues that we have in front of us
require that kind of input. I also think that there's a role for the chief scientist in working
with the next generation to help them understand and make decisions in science, engineering and
technological fields because to be honest all of our future rests with how young people take up
these sorts of issues.

KAREN BARLOW: What about independence? Are you truly independent voice for science?

PENNY SACKETT: I am and I will be a truly independent voice for science. The communications that
I've had so far with the minister and the Prime Minister lead me to believe nothing other than we
have the same view on the importance of the independence of this position.

KAREN BARLOW: Do you have any ties with any companies? Because that has been an issue for some of
your predecessors

PENNY SACKETT: No I do not, I currently hold a position which I will be resigning before I take up
this role with the Australian National University where I'll continue to be engaged as an adjunct
professor so I can continue to mentor the postgraduate students that I currently am supervising.
But I will be full time working for Australia in this post.

KAREN BARLOW: What do you see as the most pressing scientific matter facing Australia?

PENNY SACKETT: I think the two... if I'm allowed two issues. I would say climate change and all that
goes around that including water and sustainable energy and secondly I would say again inspiring
greater numbers of youth to take up the challenge of addressing scientific technological and
engineering issues.

KAREN BARLOW: Two very different scientific matters there.

PENNY SACKETT: Indeed but they both affect, both the future health and wealth of the nation.

KAREN BARLOW: The Garnaut report, the final report is coming out today. What sort of cuts do you
think are necessary for Australia to survive?

PENNY SACKETT: Look it would be premature for me to make any statement like that before taking up
the post and thoroughly reviewing all of the evidence. I can say that I think Australia does need
to act quickly and I imagine that it will be a matter that's under continual review as
circumstances change.

KAREN BARLOW: So what do you see as your role in tackling climate change?

PENNY SACKETT: The chief scientist as I have said the title is not chief scientist of Australia
it's chief scientist for Australia and so I see my role as being a facilitator and a commissioner
working with other experts, other scientific experts in Australia to understand the scientific
evidence, to communicate that to the Australian people and to use that to best advise government on
the evidence-based information that they will need to form effective policy.

KAREN BARLOW: What's your position on nuclear power? Your predecessor Dr Jim Peacock was a
proponent.

PENNY SACKETT: I think we have to look at all of the options going forward, luckily for Australia
we do have many options and those include initiatives that have already been taken around cleaner
coal and sequestration and I imagine that Australia should also be taking a very serious look at
some opportunities that it has in abundance in terms of solar and wind power.

KAREN BARLOW: So you're open to nuclear power but you're seeking more information?

PENNY SACKETT: I certainly will be seeking more information on all of the alternatives before
giving advice and I would say that I think any effective strategy will require more than one
approach.

KAREN BARLOW: So you're not ruling it out?

PENNY SACKETT: I think as I say it's premature for me to say anything at this time before I take up
the post.

KAREN BARLOW: What about genetically modified food?

PENNY SACKETT: Again an issue that is important and sensitive to Australia. I think the most
important thing that we can do there in addition to examining the evidence is making sure that
we're communicating and canvassing the opinions of not only experts in the field but also the
general public.

I also believe that as in many issues that are at the intersection of science and policy that one
must look at the change in conditions, not only in Australia but also globally before making
decisions.

LISA MILLAR: And that's Australia's new chief scientist, Professor Penny Sackett, speaking there
with Karen Barlow.