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Announcement of ARC Federation Fellowships 2008: speech.



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Speech

Announcement of ARC Federation Fellowships 2008

22 May 2007

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. I acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues and distinguished members of the science, research and higher education sector.

The benefits to society that come from science and research tend to occur, with a few exceptions, over the medium to long term.

This makes it vital for Governments and other organisations that invest in science to take a longer term strategic approach to their investments.

The Federation Fellowships programme is an excellent example of how a longer term approach can yield significant benefits.

Another example of a longer term investment was provided by the Treasurer on Budget night when he announced the Government would establish a $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund.

Its primary purpose will be as a perpetual fund, a growth fund, to generate earnings for capital works and research facilities in our universities.

The initial investment of $5 billion out of this year’s Budget surplus will broadly double all the existing financial investments and endowments currently held across the total university sector.

The Government will invest the capital and add additional funds from future Budget surpluses to the endowment fund.

The earnings from this investment will be dedicated to building first-class institutes of learning — first-class by world standards — and put our institutes of higher learning on a secure footing for decades to come.

The endowment fund will also serve as a signal to the community that it should also consider supporting universities through philanthropy, and it is my hope that this fund grows exponentially over coming years.

On Budget night, the Treasurer also announced increased funding for science and innovation for 2007-08.

The $6.5 billion announced is the highest amount allocated by any Australian Government for science and innovation programs.

This adds significantly to our investment in the sector through Backing Australia’s Ability, the Government’s 10-year $8.3 billion commitment to innovation.

These and the other announcements on science, education and training are not, of course, an end in themselves.

We are seeking significant economic, environmental and social benefits for all Australians.

Australia has produced many world-class researchers who work on a broad range of fundamental and applied projects that have the potential to make a significant impact on our future wellbeing.

The prestigious Federation Fellowships scheme is a major cornerstone of the Government’s long-term vision to develop and retain Australian skills.

The Fellowships can attract and retain world-class Australian researchers in key positions, and create new rewards and incentives for them to apply their talents in Australia.

Through the fellowships, internationally recognised Australian researchers and other outstanding international researchers are making a significant contribution to the generation of knowledge and to the Australian innovation system.

The 20 new Federation Fellows I am announcing today will join the ranks of 124 other researchers who have been offered ARC Federation Fellowships since 2002.

Each will receive an internationally competitive salary and equivalent funding from their host institutions, and a standard tenure of five years. And six of the successful applicants will receive start-up grants for their projects.

Today’s announcement means that the Government will have awarded more than $200 million for the Federation Fellowships since the announcement of the first awards in 2002.

Funding for the 2007 Fellowships will total more than $35 million.

Competition for these prestigious awards is keen.

The ARC Federation Fellowships Selection Advisory Committee vetted 129 proposals.

After an extensive selection process the field was narrowed down to the 20 to be announced today.

Of the successful proposals for Federation Fellowships, research projects involving physics, chemistry and geoscience are well represented, as are those in the biological sciences and biotechnology areas.

The Federation Fellowships I am announcing today also include projects in the engineering and environmental sciences; humanities and creative arts; mathematics, information and communication sciences; and social, behavioural

and economic sciences.

Seventeen of the 2007 Federation Fellows are resident Australians. Eight are receiving a second Federation Fellowship.

This year, one Australian researcher working overseas will return to take up a Federation Fellowship.

One of the Federation Fellowships scheme objectives is to encourage proposals from early- to mid-career researchers who will play a leadership role in building Australia’s internationally competitive research capacity.

The scheme also supports active researchers in the later phases of their careers whose work, it is considered, will provide a lasting legacy.

Judging from this year’s group of Federation Fellows, the scheme is achieving an excellent balance. Thirteen—or 65 per cent—of the successful researchers are under 50 years of age, while the remainder are between 50 and 59.

This would suggest that the Federation Fellowships scheme is achieving its goals.

But no matter how favourable our impressions, we need to make sure we are on the right track.

And that is why an independent committee is in the final stages of reviewing the scheme’s first five years.

We need to know, for instance, how successful the scheme has been in attracting back to Australia world-class Australian researchers who have been working overseas.

And, of course, it is important to know whether there are any changes that could be made to enhance the scheme as it currently stands.

These questions are no doubt engaging the minds of the three members of the Federation Fellowships review committee, which is due to report its findings by the end of June.

And I take this opportunity to thank the committee’s members—Mr John Grace, Professor Deryck Schreuder and Dr Megan Clarke—for the time and effort they are contributing to the review.

An area in which I have a dual interest—first as portfolio Minister, and second as the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues—is the number of women who apply for Federation Fellowships.

I note that only two of the successful applicants for the 2007 Federation Fellowships are women. Over the six years of the scheme, only nine per cent of applicants have been women.

And that, for me, raises several questions: Are women in some way discouraged from applying? And, if they are, what can we do to encourage highly qualified women to apply?

But let me return to the 20 people being offered Federation Fellowships this year.

This will be their day.

I offer my warmest congratulations to you on your selection for these awards.

I also wish you well in your endeavours and thank you for the contribution you will undoubtedly make to the Government’s vision for Australia’s long-term prosperity.