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Address at the 2010 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science, Canberra



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The Hon Julia Gillard, MP

17 November 2010

2010 Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Parliament House, Canberra

Senator the Honourable Kim Carr, Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and our fellow parliamentary colleagues.

Distinguished ambassadors and members of the diplomatic community.

Our honoured guests from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Scientists, teachers, leaders from the academic community and the public sector Award nominees and your families.

And a very special welcome to previous Australia Prize and Prime Minister's prize winners.

What a delight it is to welcome you to this prestigious ceremony here at the heart of our democracy in Parliament House tonight.

No venue could better reflect the special place that science holds in the fabric of Australian society.

Science is not just another industry or another sector.

Along with other values such as universal schooling, an independent public sector and the rule of law, science is one of the fundamental platforms upon which our conception of a modern advanced society is based.

The objectivity and rigour of science are basic to our existence and success as a community of reason.

It is science, more than almost any other pursuit, which has freed humanity from the habits, fears and superstitions of the past.

It is science which has created greater progress in the past two centuries than all the previous millennia of human history.

And it is science to which we turn for a better understanding of ourselves and the future of our fragile planet.

New knowledge in the human and social sciences will help us to understand that most complex of systems - the human race.

These insights will help us live more productive and fulfilling lives.

That is why tonight we gather to acknowledge the men and women who make scientific endeavour possible.

We honour our scientists who dedicate their lives to the pursuit of knowledge.

We honour the teachers and lecturers who do so much to bring a love of science to the next generation.

And we honour those who build bridges of engagement between the world of science and the wider community...

... individuals like Dr Karl, Adam Spencer and Robyn Williams...

... and great organisations like the Australian Academy of Science and the CSIRO.

The issue of engagement is the essence of my message tonight.

That is why my government is investing $21 million over three years in Inspiring Australia, the country's first ever national strategy for science engagement.

This program has been developed by Senator Carr to champion the cause of science and help share the achievements of science with the whole nation.

The early phases of the strategy are already underway.

Through Inspiring Australia, we will continue to recognise achievement through these Prizes for Science.

We will continue to support National Science Week, Australia's premier vehicle for bringing science and research to the people, right across the country.

But Inspiring Australia will go further, supporting science events and activities in Australia's cities, regional and remote areas all year round.

We will target young people, outer-metropolitan and regional areas, and Indigenous and remote communities too.

We will connect with popular community events such as writers' weeks and music festivals.

And Inspiring Australia will connect with mainstream and new media to promote science issues and achievements to an even wider public.

You do great things.

Let's ensure the community gets to hear about them.

Friends,

We also need to ensure that the world of science can enlist the full range of Australia's potential.

We can no longer afford to allow talent to languish simply because of the circumstances of birth, demography or gender.

That is why tonight I am pleased to announce the creation of two new ARC Australian Laureate Fellowships for outstanding women researchers.

The Fellowships will be named for two Australian pioneers, Kathleen Fitzpatrick and Georgina Sweet who were active and prominent in the early to mid 20th century when female researchers were a small minority indeed.

The Kathleen Fitzpatrick Australian Laureate Fellowship will be available to a highly ranked woman researcher from the humanities, arts or social sciences.

And the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship will be available to a highly ranked woman researcher from the science and technology disciplines.

The thinking behind this is simple.

Experience has shown that women can compete very effectively at this elite level - when they apply.

But application rates for women are much lower at this level than the proportion of women among capable, accomplished senior researchers.

These Fellowships are intended to attract a larger number of applications from female research leaders of international repute.

They will include an additional funding to support ambassadorial activities to promote women in research.

We aim not only to recruit and promote our best senior women researchers, but to utilise their experience to help foster the next generation as well.

But the story of engagement does not stop there.

One of the most exciting new frontiers of science is the engagement of experts across disparate fields of knowledge.

Our newest Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn often stresses that the best way to work on problems is to get people of relevant expertise around the table from a range of fields.

After all, the big challenges of our world do not occur neatly within disciplinary boxes, so why should our responses.

We are only beginning to tap the potential of this approach.

For example, bringing economists, cultural researchers and historians together with water experts, meteorologists and agricultural scientists to understand water usage in arid areas.

New collaborations across these traditional divides have a powerful potential to change the way we solve real world problems.

Similarly, the engagement of industry with science has enormous potential to boost productivity and skill our workforce.

Australia has a good track record in this respect like our Cooperative Research Centres and the CSIRO.

But as a nation we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

That's why we have instituted the Joint Research Engagement scheme to encourage universities to work with industry.

And announced the ARC Linkage Training Awards to embed 200 of our best research students into industry settings.

Most significantly, we are replacing the current inefficient system of tax concessions with a fairer, more effective tax credit, to encourage industry to become more involved in research and development.

So more engagement between disciplines and more engagement between science and industry; both indispensable in the years ahead.

But science has no borders and therefore our engagement must be global as well.

After all, our scientific community may be exceptional but it is also relatively small.

That means if we want to compete we also have to collaborate, and those collaborations can take many forms:

Like Australian physicists working in international teams at the Large Hadron Collider beneath the Swiss Alps.

Or anthropologists and linguists from all over the world conducting field work in the Pacific Islands or the Australian outback.

In fact, one of the most special collaborations is our emerging partnership with China. We are deeply fortunate to be joined tonight by Professor Lu and his colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

They have to come to help us celebrate the 30th anniversary of scientific cooperation between China and Australia ...

... and their presence does us great honour.

Last year, China overtook Germany to become our third most favoured country for scientific co-publication after the USA and Britain.

Between 1996 and 2009, the level of our co-publications with China rose twenty-fold, easily the highest rate of growth among our top partnerships.

The recent Australia-China Science and Technology Week at the Shanghai Expo showcased a range of exciting collaborations between our countries.

And it strongly underscores the role science will play in the progress and prosperity of our two nations - and the whole world - in the years ahead.

Friends,

We live in a crucial time for science in Australia and around the world.

It is a time demanding strong leadership, from the grassroots to the highest levels of government.

Together we must ensure that science, research and innovation can continue to play their part in shaping our future and guiding our decisions.

We saw vividly last year in the lead-up to Copenhagen just how greatly the forces of denial and distortion can hinder good public policy.

And how decades of thorough science can be overshadowed by those with louder voices and fewer scruples.

But as the great American statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts.

In that light, it is simply worth re-stating that the spirit of science is optimistic and so am I.

That is why in a community of reason like Australia, knowledge and facts will triumph in the end... as they must.

And so I say to all of you tonight -

Be proud and be courageous.

Dedicating your lives to science is not always easy, but your work is more necessary and more relevant than ever before.

So together let's champion the cause of science.

And through these awards and beyond, let's tell your brilliant story to the world.