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Thursday, 22 March 2012
Page: 4119

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (12:41): I was delighted to visit the University of Queensland earlier this month for a guided tour of the university's state-of-the-art research facilities. I thank Professor Max Lu, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, and Professor Alan Lawson, Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research, as well as Professors Gerard Milburn, Mark Kendall and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, and Mr Andrew Davis and Dr Dean Moss of UniQuest for their time and hospitality during the day.

Firstly, I visited the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, which is under the stewardship of the Australian Research Council Federation Fellow and Professor, Gerard Milburn. The centre gained $24.5 million of funding in 2010 to investigate quantum coherent systems and work with 14 other leading institutions. From the quantum activity of photosynthesis, which occurs in plants, Professor Milburn's optomechanics researchers are hoping to devise artificial photosynthetic cells to convert sunlight into other forms of energy. This kind of energy conversion will be much more efficient than the current solar photovoltaic cells, and is definitely an area to keep an eye on.

Secondly, I was able to inspect the Australian Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology with Professor Mark Kendall. There I received an update on the very exciting research and commercial operations, with particular reference to the nanopatch developed in their laboratories. The team has recently received a milestone-linked venture capital grant of $15 million to advance the development and delivery of the nanopatch, which will replace the need for needles and syringes in the future. Smaller than a fingernail, the nanopatch has thousands of points about 100 millionths of a metre long, with tips coated in vaccine, that are still able to breach the tough outer skin layer. This kind of technology has great potential for the developing world, including for 18 of our 20 nearest neighbours which are still developing countries. The second biggest contribution, after clean water, to adding more years and quality to human life has been vaccines. The nanopatch will be of enormous help in places like Papua New Guinea, which desperately needs better targeted programs for diseases like tuberculosis. As they begin to move into the first phase clinical trials with humans, they will not only increase the efficacy in vaccine administration but, because of the much smaller dose required, they will also reduce many of the adverse effects associated with vaccines, especially at the injection point itself.

Thirdly, many in the House would have heard of the great work that Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg has been doing with the Great Barrier Reef. Ove is now the Director of the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland. They are devoting significant resources to devising possible solutions to four problems which affect humanity: land use, food security, oceans and coasts, and renewable energy. With any policy proposal, one must consider the trade-offs involved; for example, as ethanol is produced from food products, how can we increase the contribution of ethanol to energy production, while mitigating the impacts on the supply of food, global food prices and poverty?

We really need to handle the interplay between, on the one hand, coming up with positive solutions and, on the other, weighing up the intended and unintended consequences of such a solution. That is what the Global Change Institute are trying to do, and I commend them on their efforts.

One of the inspiring aspects of the day was the truly international representation at the University of Queensland. For example, there are 12 different nationalities in the nanopatch laboratory alone, and many more at the quantum systems laboratories. These high-achieving internationals—including Australians—have genuine mobility and flexibility; they really are citizens of the world. They could be doing their research at places like Humboldt University in Berlin or John Hopkins University but instead they choose the University of Queensland. This certainly demonstrates the huge worth of investing in our universities and in research. It also demonstrates how far the University of Queensland has come, to be one of the best research universities in the world that is an attractive place for some the world's greatest thinkers and researchers.

We are at a turning point with university research. Our country has seen some of the best research in the world, but we must not be complacent. It is therefore very concerning that the Gillard government has failed to recommit to schemes like the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, a program implemented by the Howard government to allow universities to collaborate their work with world-class technology and equipment which would otherwise have been prohibitively expensive for a single faculty. With this type of equipment we are able to attract researchers from around the world and keep Australia's home-grown talent here. It is therefore absolutely imperative that this government continues to invest in our research industry so that it is not just world class but top of the class.