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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6173

Ms GEORGE (8:54 PM) —I want to use the adjournment debate tonight to place on the public record congratulations to the University of Wollongong, which plays a pivotal role in our region. The vice-chancellor of the university, Gerard Sutton, and his staff deserve due recognition for the good standing and excellent outcomes that have been achieved and the high esteem in which the university is held. That is great for a regional university, when it competes against the best of the more traditional, established, sandstone universities. We have done very well on a whole range of scores.

Since the election of the Rudd Labor government, our university has been the beneficiary of substantial funding from the Education Investment Fund. The funds flowing to the university were determined in a highly competitive application process and attest to the merit of the proposals and the quality of the submissions made. In December last year $35 million was provided to our university to create a SMART infrastructure facility, with SMART standing for Simulation Modelling and Analysis, Research and Teaching facility. This new facility—the first of its kind in Australia—will have benefits beyond the Illawarra. It will help advance analytical and scientific research and modelling for major infrastructure projects and, very importantly, train infrastructure specialists across a variety of disciplines. In its construction phase, the SMART facility will employ 340 people, and on completion it will provide 150 employment positions across a range of occupations—obviously academics, technicians and administrative staff. In fact, the vice-chancellor was saying that they were already out headhunting for the best that they could find in this field from countries around the world.

Together with my colleague the member for Cunningham, I was recently privileged to be at the turning of the first sod, along with the builder, Hooker Cockram, who indicated that they hoped the building would be finished by 2010. More recently, our university was successful in its bid for $43.8 million for the Australian Institute for Innovative Material’s processing and devices facility, again under a competitive bid from the Education Investment Fund.

The groundbreaking research currently being undertaken at our university’s Institute for Innovative Materials will, in the not-too-distant future, have an adjoining home where scientists will have an opportunity to manufacture their inventions. Some of the groundbreaking research currently taking place includes work in the fields of medical bionics, solar cells and superconductors. We were very happy and privileged to have the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, visit the university to see at firsthand the groundbreaking research that we are conducting at this institute in the Illawarra. The head of the institute, Professor Wallace, described the proposed processing and devices building as bridging a gap that he referred to as ‘the valley of death’. This is the valley of death which leaves materials and devices all too often lingering on the lab shelf and is often the reason why new products in Australia fail to make it to the commercial market.

One of the challenges of undertaking research to this next level is the lack of machinery and technology to manufacture specialised products. The unique environment which we will create at our university will generate new technologies, along with people trained in new manufacturing areas. For example, the university is currently working with the Royal North Shore Hospital on a prosthetic glove for hand movement in the rehabilitation of patients after injury or surgery. The current handmade prototypes do not perform as efficiently as they would if engineered in a proper manufacturing environment. Once the institute begins to manufacture prototypes, it can look at other limbs and body parts. It is a great development with a great public benefit potential.

In conclusion, I congratulate the vice-chancellor and all the staff and students at the University of Wollongong. They are truly playing a very important role in diversifying the economic base of our region and attracting the best minds to live and work in the Illawarra.