Address To Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Dinner, Parliament House
It is a real honour to be here this evening to be amongst some of the greatest researchers, thinkers and teachers in our country and to bask in your reflected glory.
None of us, whether we are scientific experts or scientific layman should ever underestimate the power of science and the impact of science on the modern world. The modern world is absolutely unimaginable without the work of our scientists, our innovators, our technicians, the people who make use of science to give us everything that we take for granted and which distinguishes the modern way of life from that of our forebears, several thousands of years ago.
The difference between us and our ancestors dwelling in caves is that we understand science and do our best to apply the fruits of that understanding to the way we live.
So science is absolutely critical to progress and scientists are the explorers and the adventurers of the modern age; and we’re lucky here in Australia that our scientists are amongst the very best in the world.
It’s always difficult to single any out but I do want to name a few of the Australian scientists who have made such a difference to our world.
There’s Professor Brian Schmidt, here with us tonight, helping to unlock the secrets of the universe.
There’s Professor Terry Speed, also here with us tonight, helping to unlock the secrets of the human body.
There’s Howard Florey, perhaps the Australian who has had more impact on our world than any other with his discoveries that lead to the first drug, penicillin, the first antibiotic which has done so much to save tens of millions of lives right around the world from that day to this.
There’s John O’Sullivan, a previous winner of the Prime Minister’s Science Award, whose work made WiFi possible.
There’s Frank Fenner, whose daughter is with us tonight, whose work helped in the eradication of small pox.
In the last decade this country has produced three Nobel prize winners and three Australians of the Year who are research scientists. So, we are very good at science here in this country and our challenge is to build on those strengths and to be even better in the years ahead.
And that’s where great teachers come into their own. As one of the greatest scientist of all time, Issac Newton is reported to have said, ‘if I see far, it is because I stand on the shoulders of giants’. We have giants in this land and it is the responsibility of the teachers of science to ensure that those giants are known to this generation and the future generations and to communicate the spark of enthusiasm which moved them to successive generations of Australians.
We need great teachers, we’ve got great teachers, as these awards tonight will help to demonstrate, but we also need government at every level to be supporting their work.
I’m pleased to pledge the incoming Government to continue to support science to the fullest extent possible.
We are spending an extra $200 million on health and medical research, particularly on dementia research.
We’re continuing the Primary Connections science education programme which is so important in unlocking youngsters’ enthusiasm for the study of science.
We are determined to drive the research dollar further by lengthening the tenure of NHMRC and ARC grants so that our best minds have more time to devote to research and spend less time filling out forms.
Yes, these are difficult fiscal times but this is a Government which is committing to do whatever it reasonably can to boost our brain power, to acknowledge the genius of the Australian scientific and research community.
While at this stage the new government is inevitably more promise than performance, I would ask all of you to look at the record of the previous Coalition government in which I served. As some of you would know, for four years I was the Health Minister and in that time our NHMRC funding almost doubled and over the life of the former Coalition government, total spending on health and medical research went from just over $100 million a year to just under $1 billion a year.
This is what we want to do. This is the kind of thing that we are determined to do once our fiscal circumstances give us the ability to do this kind of thing for the people of Australia and the people of the wider world who stand to benefit so much from the work of the Australian scientific community.
It’s been remarked upon, ladies and gentlemen, that we don’t have a minister for science as such in the new government. I know there are some in this room who might have been momentarily dismayed by that, but let me tell you, neither does the United States have a Secretary for Science, and no nation on earth has been as successful at innovating as the United States and I’d say to all of you, please, judge us by our performance, not by our titles; judge us by our performance, not by our titles.
This night doesn’t belong to the politicians, it certainly doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to those who are honoured tonight, who are rightly honoured tonight and who hopefully, through events like tonight, will be honoured by the entire Australian community.
I want to personally congratulate everyone being honoured and recognised tonight and I want to pledge myself and the incoming government to work closely with you for the benefit of our nation and the wider world.
Thank you so much.