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More power to you! Empowering research communities: Address by Senator Helen Coonan to the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing Conference 2005: Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, Queensland: 28 September 2005.



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Senator the Hon Helen Coonan

Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts

More power to you!

Empowering Research Communities

Address to the Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing conference 2005

Royal Pines Resort, Gold Coast, QLD

Wednesday 28 September 2005

Thank you John (Professor John O’Callaghan, Executive Director, Australian Partnership for Advanced Computing

First and foremost, I wish to apologise to each of you personally that, due to a misunderstanding that arose in my office, I was unable to deliver the keynote address yesterday morning in person.

As you may know, I have taken a considerable personal interest in the potential of e-Research to transform the research landscape in Australia and I am keen to share these perspectives with such a knowledgeable and committed audience.

I am therefore most grateful to Professor John O’Callaghan and the conference organisers for making arrangements that allow me to deliver my remarks at a different time in what is obviously a busy Conference schedule.

The fact that I am able to join you this morning is a testament to the potential of high capacity broadband links and I am very grateful that this capacity has been made available to me this morning.

e-Research

Our understanding of research is changing dramatically and so is the fundamental nature of research.

Research has in the past, conjured up images of dusty books, furtive note taking and silent study.

Or perhaps tables and graphs and chewing over complex statistical analysis.

Australia along with the rest of the world is loudly and boldly embracing a new and exciting type of research — e-Research

e-Research signifies a fundamental shift in the way we do research. It is powerful and collaborative and

knows no borders.

A New Concept

As a structured concept, e-Research is relatively new, but it is starting to underpin all scientific disciplines as well as the social sciences and humanities.

It is very much a ‘whole-of-society’ concept.

e-Research is the term used to describe the impact that recent developments in ICT are having on the conduct of research.

The term has particular application in describing emerging large scale projects involving very high levels of bandwidth capacity, computational power and data storage.

This infrastructure includes physical infrastructure such as research telecommunications networks and large computing facilities; information infrastructure such as electronic digital repositories; national scholarly output and data; and finally and most importantly, people.

It is also emerging as a significant element in advancing the information economy more broadly.

The Australian Government is convinced that the future success of many of our research communities will depend on the adoption of e-Research as a way of life.

Already an exciting range of key e-research activities in Australia exist where researchers are using a combination of grid applications and advanced computing. These include:

Predicting three-dimensional fluid flow to develop novel bioreactors in the fight against terrorism.

Understanding the migration of salt and contaminants in soil for more efficient extraction of oil.

Designing novel catalysts for the synthesis of pharmaceuticals and drugs.

Simulating how ions move through membranes to assist the understanding of many neurological, muscular and renal disorders.

Modelling the performance of light alloys and material composites to boost innovation in car design and performance.

The underlying beauty of these few examples is the tremendous impact ICT and the application of e-Research has across a range of industry sectors and disciplines.

ICT’s Role in Enabling the Information Economy

The impact of Information and Communications Technology in the last few decades has been nothing short of miraculous.

I think we can all sense that we are living at a time in history that has witnessed considerable breakthroughs in the areas of distributed computing, mobile phones, e-mail and the Internet.

It has changed the way we work, live and play.

And this transformation is far from over, with many more of these technological changes, having a considerable impact on what we know as the information economy.

There is a pattern of ongoing and increasingly profound business change.

This is being driven by the application of technology to existing industrial sectors, the creation of whole new industries and new products and services.

ICT is enabling flatter organisational structures, networked organisations, virtual organisations and new business models and even dare I say even virtual Ministerial appearances.

It is improving our capacity for research and innovation creating a virtuous circle of innovation.

It is enabling the emergence of new flexible working relationships and empowering consumers and citizens by giving them more diverse sources of information and knowledge than ever before.

At the recent ICT Outlook Forum, Richard Newton, Dean of Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, gave an exciting presentation on current Berkeley project.

This project addresses controllable but neglected diseases including Malaria, HIV AIDS and tuberculosis.

He talked about the huge improvements in drug production which are now achievable through the application of ICT to synthetic biology.

For example, the Berkeley team is close to achieving its goal of reducing the cost of an anti-malarial shot from US$30 to US 10 cents! Huge savings in both lives and health care costs.

Richard Newton went on to quote Ed Penhoet, co-founder of the Biotech company, Chiron and Chairman of the California Health Care Institute in support of this theme:

“…The biotech revolution is not as much about biology as it is about Information Technology…”

Such outcomes are made possible by advanced ICT applications, including huge increases in computing power, the Internet and data-sharing.

The Information economy and e-Research

The emergence of the global information economy presents both opportunities and challenges.

The opportunities lie in applying information, knowledge and skills to improve Australia’s economy and society and strengthen our global competitiveness.

The challenges lie in developing the new ‘ways of working’ that are needed to fully realise the potential benefits to Australia.

This is not just a matter for governments.

The challenges can only be properly addressed through coordination and collaboration between governments, business, universities and the community to create the conditions for a successful information economy.

The emerging information economy is being driven by two separate global developments—the growing importance of information, knowledge, and skills; and communication in both economic and social activities.

It is also the dramatic impact of ICT on information and knowledge-intensive activities.

This is particularly evident in the pursuit of research where the rapid evolution of ICT has created a significant change in the concept of research on a global scale.

Positioning Australian e-Research

Bearing in mind the size of our economy in comparison to those countries which we regard as our research competitors, the challenge for Australia is to ensure that our response is strategic.

Our response also has to be coherent and effective in terms of the resources available to us.

Increasingly, we will need to create and mobilise new capabilities using information and communications technologies and bring them to bear in a focused way to maximise returns.

e-Research Coordinating Committee

This is one of the reasons that Dr Brendan Nelson, the Minister for Education, Science and Training and I recently established the e-Research Coordinating Committee.

The Committee’s task is to develop an e-Research strategic framework to advance Australia’s capabilities and guide investment in research infrastructure.

The imperative will be national coordination and global collaborations on common e-Research issues.

This is aimed at providing the connection between infrastructure and people.

It represents an important milestone in the Government’s strategy to capitalise on its substantial ongoing investment in Australian research and its supporting infrastructure.

It is too early for me to anticipate the full outcomes of the deliberations of the e-Research Committee but Dr Nelson and I are grateful for the efforts of the Chair, Dr Mike Sargent, Committee members and the wider Reference Group.

The Australian Government has taken a leading role to move this important agenda forward but ultimately, the success of this transformation in Australian research lies in the hands of the research community itself.

I would urge all members of the community to seize the opportunity created for the benefit of science and the community that you serve.

Government Investment

I would like to take the opportunity to talk about the Australian Government’s major investments in innovation and research in recent years.

Most notably the injection of $8.3 billion over 10 years through the two Backing Australia’s Ability funding packages.

Strengthening collaboration and linkages across the research and innovation system is a key feature of this broad strategy.

As part of that strategy, approximately $1 billion will also be invested in modern research infrastructure through various funding agencies.

These agencies include the Australian Research Council, the Department of Education, Science and Training and the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts.

High performance computing and communications infrastructure represents fundamental deep infrastructure which underpins our research endeavours.

Together these initiatives have laid a solid foundation to pursue the e-Research agenda.

The presence of such infrastructure is a necessary pre-condition for e-research, but insufficient in itself.

The Government provided funding in 1998 to establish the Australia Partnership for Advanced Computing (APAC) to lead the development of an Australia-wide advanced computing infrastructure supported by coordinated programs in research, education and technology diffusion.

The Government committed further funding for the period 2004-2006 to strengthen APAC’s role of developing advanced computing and grid infrastructure for the Australian research community.

APAC now has eight partners, one in each state as well as the ANU and CSIRO with three main programs.

The National Facility Program, including a sub-program on Computational Tools and Techniques; the APAC Grid Program; and the Education, Outreach and Training Program.

The Government established the Advanced Networks Program with the objective of contributing to the development of advanced network infrastructure in Australia to deliver long term benefits to the economy.

In particular we wanted to support progress towards the establishment of a national advanced backbone network.

By the end of its initial three year term—I am delighted to say that the program had successfully delivered on these objectives.

Two of the three Advanced Networks Program projects, GrangeNet and CeNTIE, had interconnected to form a national research backbone from Brisbane to Perth, via Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

This was the first very high capacity network—10 gigabits per second—in the southern hemisphere.

The third project, mNet, is centred in Adelaide and concentrates on the commercial development of wireless data applications.

In order to build on the success of the Advanced Networks Program, the Government decided to extend the funding for a further three years, to 2006-07.

The extension of funding will enable the three Advanced Networks Program projects to take full advantage of the capabilities of the networks which have been set up.

They are continuing and intensifying their research into leading-edge broadband applications and network technologies.

They are also exploring opportunities to commercialise these innovations, making upgrades to the technology and extending their networks.

The Advanced Networks Program is also extending Australia’s expertise in Grid Applications.

A diverse range of research sectors stand to benefit from this research, from remote access to electron microscopes and right through to very large online databases in astronomy, nuclear science, endangered languages and cultural data.

The Way Forward

So while there is a lot of work in progress there is still a lot more work to be done.

The key underpinning of an e-Research platform is the Internet protocol in use because this determines how and where information such as text, data and video moves across networks.

The current Internet protocol—know as IPv4—has limitations that will soon impact on the useability of our networks whether they be for communications, defence, commerce, entertainment or research.

A new Internet protocol—IPv6—is currently being deployed globally. Australia simply cannot afford to ignore this.

The advantages to Australia are many.

IPv6 deployment will build better networks for Australians, strengthen our strategic relationship with the Unites States and align us with trading partners in Asia.

A two day Summit about IPv6 will be held in Canberra on 31 October and 1 November and is the first open forum for representatives from the carriers, industry, commerce, government and the academic and research sectors.

I would encourage you all to take the opportunity that the first IPv6 Summit offers and encourage you to be part of the next generation of the Internet protocol.

Collaboration

Even with the Government’s substantial investment in research infrastructure, there will continue to be large, expensive items of infrastructure which Australia cannot afford in its own right.

Even in countries with much larger economies than that of Australia’s, the business case for major investments in large research infrastructure increasingly involves strategies to promote access to the facility by international researchers.

The incentive of promoting better access to such facilities—and the increasing appreciation of the benefits of broader access to all research infrastructure—is driving e-Research strategies in many countries around the world, including the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan.

Australia ’s e-Research strategic framework needs to embrace these international developments to ensure our research endeavours are to remain relevant in a global context.

And perhaps the greatest challenge of all relates to people.

Advancing Australia’s e-research capabilities will be absolutely dependent on the skills of our Information Technology specialists, information managers and researchers.

They will need support and encouragement if we are to maximise our return on investment in Australian research and development.

The way ahead is also likely to challenge existing cultures of practice within the research community, providing opportunities to work in ways, and on problems, that were previously seen to be overwhelming.

A key challenge is to redefine the line between collaboration and competition in research.

While competition is traditionally viewed as leading to excellence, research will increasingly be dependent on collaboration within and between disciplines.

We are surrounded at this venue by some of the technologies which will be the enablers of e-research.

Using the advanced optic fibre networking within this hotel—the only hotel in Australia with fibre configured to carry 800 Megabits per second — connections to both AARNet and GrangeNet have been set up.

I understand that conference guests have been enjoying the potential of these networks over the last couple of days.

The Government is firmly committed to fostering the development of e-research in Australia, in order to ensure that our research community remains on a par with international research.

I believe that the research community has a major part to play.

Some significant changes in research philosophies and research practices will be involved.

Those researchers who embrace change and see the opportunities can play a significant role in bringing the Australian research community into the bold and empowering world of e-Research.

Thank you.

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