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Thursday, 26 November 2015
Page: 13969


Mr TAYLOR (Hume) (11:27): Making science and maths more accessible and meaningful to students is an absolute national imperative. There is no doubt that our productivity and competitiveness depends on our ability to innovate. A focus in education on science, technology, engineering and maths—the STEM subjects as they are known—has never been more important, because STEM is absolutely central to innovation.

If we are to deliver all these things that those members opposite are asking for and which we have just heard about, the truth of the matter is that we have to be able to deliver more with less. The secret to that, we know, is innovation. You innovate by being deeply knowledgeable and capable in science, technology, engineering and maths.

Everyone wants to be able to deliver more with less. If I can turn up at work tomorrow and do my eight hours in seven hours, I have an extra hour to earn more or I have an extra hour with my family—and that is good for absolutely all of us. And if I earn more, I pay more tax. All of us benefit from that, so this is absolutely central to how we as a government and how we as a country are going to be able to deliver all those wonderful things that we want to be able to deliver in the coming years, including the roads, schools and hospitals that we just heard about.

Unfortunately, there has been a very significant decline in students studying STEM at year 12 and tertiary levels, and as someone who did high-level maths, physics and chemistry through to the end of my school career and in my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, I think this is an absolute tragedy. Participation in STEM subjects in Australian schools is at its lowest level in 20 years. We are struggling to find teachers with a science and maths background to take this agenda forward in many schools and to get involved in the teaching of STEM subjects.

It is also estimated that 75 per cent of jobs in the fastest-growing industries require skilled workers in STEM subjects. This is not just people who are doing high-level technology and engineering-type work. This is in business. The truth of the matter is that more often than not people who are great in business have quantitative skills they have learnt in their time at school in STEM subjects. This will be a real lost opportunity for our young people and our nation if we do not address it soon. If these trends continue, trends that those opposite were not addressing when they were in government, Australia's capacity to develop a high technology and high productivity economy will be severely curtailed.

The coalition government is developing a long-term national strategy for STEM in schools, including programs to support our teachers and our students across schools—and you will hear more about this in the coming weeks. It is an absolute focus of this government. We have committed an extra $12 million already to restore the focus in these areas in primary and secondary schools across the country. That builds on the $5 million allocated to the Primary Connections and Science by Doing programs. Restoring this focus on STEM subjects, a focus that those opposite did not seem to care about, is about ensuring that Australia's young adults are equipped with the necessary skills for the economy of the future.

At the local level, I am keen to build on these initiatives by developing and putting in place an annual STEM award for high schools in my electorate of Hume. Picton High School, Wollondilly Anglican College, Mulwaree High School, Goulburn High School, Trinity Catholic College and Crookwell High School have all embraced the idea of a perpetual STEM trophy to be awarded at the annual end-of-year presentation evening coming up in the next few weeks. The recipient of the trophy will be a student, nominated by the school, who has excelled in STEM-related disciplines. This is a really exciting project, and I will personally be presenting the award to a number of students in the coming weeks.

Focusing on STEM is a priority for the government because the jobs of the future are in these areas. In agriculture, a sector I know well, more and more of what farmers are doing is software enabled and uses sophisticated hardware. Whether it is precision agriculture or soil and moisture mapping, this is the future for industries that are not considered to be technology intensive. Starting an interest in technology and STEM at the school level will increase students taking up these subjects and will help Australia's competitiveness for many years to come.