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Australia’s Science Minister Details Bold New Investment in Innovation
Julie Bishop, Australian federal minister for education, science, and training, said her nation has embarked on a multi-billion dollar investment in innovation, with funds devoted to S&T research, talent development and education. A combination of S&T investments, critical global partnerships and a commitment to education are central features in Australia’s plan to address global challenges in the 21st century, she said.
“As part of a truly global community, we are facing global issues such as climate change, clean energy production, access to water, security, and disease epidemics,” Bishop said in a press briefing at AAAS in Washington, D.C. “No one country will be able to solve these problems on its own. It is incumbent upon all of us to work together for the common good.”
Bishop spoke at AAAS on 22 June. The briefing was sponsored by the Australian Embassy, the Washington Science Policy Alliance and AAAS. It was attended by domestic and international reporters as well as officials from the diplomatic service.
Bishop detailed current Australian policy initiatives and stressed the growing importance of international collaboration. Most notably, the Australian government unveiled since 2001 several domestic programs, including in May 2004 Backing Australia’s Ability – Building our Future through Science and Innovation, a scientific infrastructure which will invest an additional 5.3 billion dollars (Australian) in science and technology over the next seven years.
The program builds on 2001’s Backing Australia’s Ability investment of 3 billion dollars over five years. In total, these programs will have dedicated 8.3 billion dollars (Australian) over 10 years from 2001 to 2011.
Backing Australia’s Ability has three main points of focus: the generation of new ideas through research and development; the commercial application of ideas ; and the retention and development of national scientific talent and skill. In addition, Australia’s government has enacted major policy initiatives to engage young people and traditionally underrepresented populations in science and math.
These programs help Australia play a major role on the constantly shifting world stage of globalized science, Bishop said.
To read the full text of Minister Bishop's speech, click here
“Backing Australia’s Ability ensures the Australian science and innovation system has the foundation to meet future demands,” she said. “It will help provide the skills necessary to let Australia participate in world leading science and technology development and contribute to economic prosperity through commercial application of ideas.”
In addition, Australia has signed significant scientific accords with several regional and global partners.
In February, Bishop signed the United States and Australia Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, a bilateral accord to increase research ties between the two nations. Both parties hope the agreement will become a catalyst for a collaborative U.S.-Australia research framework vital to survive in the new global world. According to U.S. officials, these agreements promote good will, strengthen political relationships and advance the frontiers of knowledge for the benefit of all.
But for Bishop, international collaboration is not merely for the collaborating partners; rather, it is required to solve the issues currently plaguing global society. According to Bishop, the complexity of many current issues are too grand and their solutions too expensive for one government to solve.
While much of Australian collaboration occurs with the U.S. scientific community, Australia has also dedicated funds for bilateral cooperation with a number of countries including France, China and India.
Earlier this year, the Australian prime minister, John Howard, announced the establishment of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund. This program dedicates 20 million dollars over 5 years for collaboration between scientists from the two regional partners.
Howard also quadrupled the funding for the Australia-China Special Fund, which pushes for innovation in mutual national priority areas, such as mining, energy, agriculture and the environment.
“These initiatives recognize the incredible potential of these nations and their strategic importance to our future,” Bishop told the audience at AAAS.
Bishop, who is in her third term as a member of parliament and also served as the minister for aging, remarked that Australia’s culture is very supportive of science.
“It is often said that Australian science ‘punches above its weight’ despite our relatively small population. It is part of the Australian nature to ignore that we are small,” Bishop said. “[We are] bold and tenacious. The Australian psyche is to be curious and question the status quo, to be skeptical, even.”
Australia has produced 9 Nobel laureates in a variety of fields including physics, chemistry, and immunology. Well-known Australian Nobel laureates (all awarded the prize for medicine) include Peter Doherty (1996), Barry Marshall (2005), Robin Warren (2005), and Howard Florey (1945).
Florey, a joint recipient of the prize whose portrait has appeared on the Australian $50 note, is credited with saving millions of lives during World War II by designing a method for large scale penicillin extraction and production.
Another famous scientist, Ian Frazer, was recently named Australian of the Year for establishing a link between the human papilloma virus (HPV) and cervical cancer in women. According to Bishop, this has led to the world’s first cancer vaccine, Gardasil.
Bishop quipped that Australia’s treatment of its brilliant scientists sometimes resembles that of sports celebrities.
“Australian science has a proud track record in the world of scientific discovery,” she said. “In many respects, standing of Australian science has never been higher.”
To read the full text of Minister Bishop's speech, click here.
30 June 2006