Address - Prime Minister's Prizes for Science Awards Dinner

16 Oct 2019
Canberra, ACT
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well thank you very much for the introduction and can I start also by thanking Auntie Violet for her wonderful welcome to country. And can I also acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, elders past and present and of course emerging like her young little granddaughter and the many others that form part of her wonderful extended family. Can I also thank and acknowledge the many colleagues who are here this evening from both sides of the House. And of the Senate of course. From all sides of politics. Because when it comes to the issues that we're celebrating tonight I think it is all about celebrating you, and we come together in this great building, our parliament, our people’s place. That we all together acknowledge your tremendous efforts but particularly to Karen Andrews, the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, and Dan Tehan, the Minister for Education, Anne Ruston the Minister for Families and Social Services, and Brendan O'Connor the Shadow Minister for Science and the Shadow Minister for Employment and Industry. Together with the many senior officials here tonight and in particular I acknowledge Dr Alan Finkle who I absolutely thoroughly enjoy working with and the tremendous job he does and the many others who were here this evening.

It is 20 years since these awards were first inaugurated and I'm sure amongst all of you here tonight the reason you have been able to achieve so many things in your scientific career is because of the mentors that nurtured you along the way. And so it is humbling to be here tonight to present, as Prime Minister, these awards that were inaugurated by one of my great mentors, John Howard, when he initiated this all those years ago together with the scientific community. It's great to celebrate the place of science in our national life. Now I'm sure one of the reasons John did that all those years ago is it's not a bad thing for politicians to understand in a room like this, that they're not the smartest people in the room. Sometimes they like to think they are, and the good ones know they never are. And when I look out at this room, there'd be no contest with the incredible array of talent and ability that is assembled amongst us all this evening.

Now all of you will have your favourite scientist I have no doubt, tonight I want to start like I did last year because you know I'm a great admirer of the scientist and explorer Captain James Cook and next year marks the 250th anniversary of Endeavour’s voyage to the Pacific, a voyage in 1770 which was a truly momentous event and in its time it was like going to the moon. Maybe that's why NASA, and I particularly want to acknowledge Dr Paul Scully Power who is here this evening, our space industry ambassador, was why NASA named a space shuttle after the RMS Endeavour and carried in the cockpit, a wooden fragment of the Endeavour. The Voyage of Endeavour added enormously to the world's knowledge and navigation, geography and science. And it is in that age old human quest to know more about the world that we honour, and we have long given up the flawed idea as Aunty Violet reminded us, that Cook discovered Australia. It was well discovered well before that. And for tens of thousands of years, she says she knows, you're absolutely right Aunty Violet. But Cook’s voyage did connect ‘Terra Australis’ to the rest of the world in the truly literal sense he put the continent on a map. And only because he was able to chart it himself and he was a man of enormous abilities, with many of his maps still being used into the modern age, pre-settlers. But he was also an illustrator of truth. He certainly endeavoured to be. But the advancement of nations and the advancement of science are intertwined, and of all the challenges of our time.

It's the science challenges that are ones that most inspire us and assist us. Cyber security, soil degradation, water management, plastics as we were just hearing in our oceans, drought mitigation, climate change, economic competitiveness, technological innovation, energy security, defence capability, disease management, and there’s a much longer list than that as you know, what you do is central to the advancement of humankind. But it's also very essential to our advancement as a nation. Your success in Australia's advancement are also intertwined and we are seeing this in so many ways. I was fascinated to see a recent study that found that the most common degree for ASX top 50 CEOs in Australia today is now a science degree. Not management, not economics, thankfully not even law! It was science. And as a - bachelor with a degree in applied science, social science, economic geography, I’m pleased to count myself a humble member of a much more advanced community. Science is all about asking questions as we heard, as we were listening to those nominees tonight- testing assumptions, critical thinking, and as those who work in the lab know it's all about sheer doggedness and determination and persistence. There's a lot of perspiration in the determination of science and these are skills we need now more than ever in a new era that we find ourselves in, an era of great technological advancement and change, and enormous opportunities but also enormous risks, enormous ethical challenges for us to navigate together.

What you do is so important to our economy, it’s science and technology that is now driving our global economy. The jobs of the future and the jobs of today. Lifting the living standards of your fellow Australians. Every one of my Ministers understands this. The centrality of science to the challenges our country faces. Minister for Health Greg Hunt knows how critical advancements in pharmaceuticals are to the lives of hundreds of thousands of Australians and that is why he's added over 2,100 new or amended medicines and treatments to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme worth more than $11 billion dollars. We created a $20 billion dollar Medical Research Future Fund a major injection of medical research funding on top of our longstanding commitment through the National Health and Medical Research Council. The Minister for Water Resources knows how vital science is to water management and protecting our waterways from the ravages of drought. At the same time combatting the curse of salinity and that's why we've committed some $3.5 billion to dams, weirs, pipelines. We're going to use the best available science to determine where and how our water resources can be sustainably developed through our new national water grid authority. And in this drought the Murray-Darling Basin and the other parts of the country which are under enormous strain, are benefiting from all the work undertaken over the past decade making the most efficient use of water. The Minister for Environment Sussan Ley knows that it's only the application of science that will protect our Great Barrier Reef. And the Minister for Agriculture knows that soil degradation is becoming a major impediment to productivity in agriculture and that's why we're investing $40 million in important research on how to lift soil performance and bring soil science into broader farming communities, and along with the Assistant Minister for waste reduction and environmental management the Minister for Environment is taking an active interest in what is happening to our recycling and plastics in our oceans. Already we’ve committed $100 million dollars to support the manufacture also of lower emissions and energy efficient recycled products. And another $20 million dollars to fund new and innovative solutions to plastic, waste and recycling. The Minister for Home Affairs is overseeing a $230 million investment in cybersecurity with a further commitment of $156 million to grow our cybersecurity resilience and workforce. While the Minister for Defence, and Defence Industries also know how important science is to ensure that we can rebuild the capability of our defence forces to where it once was with our $200 billion dollar rebuild of our Defence capability. But as Karen knows, our Minister for Science, science sits with industry because the collaboration between researchers and business is so vital to industry and jobs and we see this clearly in our work to expand our footprint in the space industry. Space is a $345 billion dollar global industry. And it's why we've established the Australian Space Agency and recently announced a further $150 million dollars to invest, not in NASA, they’ve got enough money, to invest in the Australian space industry.


Australian businesses, in an R&D partnership that will see Australia very much, and these businesses and the scientists we have here connected up and part of the supply chain which is going to take NASA's mission to the moon and Mars. So again we see this great intersection of science, innovation, the economy. That's why I've asked the Industry and Education ministers who are here with us tonight to explore how we can better align the work of research and business sectors around our national priorities, to bring these streams together to see a new level of collaboration. I've got to say the biggest frustration I have in this area is the lack of collaboration. It doesn't not exist, but it can exist at such a greater level between our scientific community, between our academic community, between our business community, and ensuring that these are aligned. And I've had some incredibly useful and exciting conversations on this with Alan Finkel who is as passionate a believer in this as any.

But tonight we're going to celebrate some, and honour, some great scientists, but before I do, in conclusion let me do this, I want to honour one- who is not here tonight, but we should acknowledge and that is Emeritus Professor Jaques Miller from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. The professor is a former winner of the Prime Minister's Science prize back in 2003. And when I was recently in Washington on the very same morning that I was on the South Lawn of the White House, Professor Miller was in New York being awarded the Lasker prize. He shared the prize with an American, Professor Max Cooper and their work separately changed the course of immunology. Professor Miller's ground-breaking discovery on the function of the thymus paved the way for critical research into vaccine development, organ transplants, identifying and treating auto immune diseases, and immunotherapy to treat cancer. The Lasker judges said his discoveries had ‘launched the course of modern immunology’. That is extraordinary. And for an Australia to be achieving that at such an international level can only fill all of our hearts with pride. Discoveries that have launched the common course of modern immunology. That's an incredible achievement. And I know Sir Gustav Nossal was proud of him too, like Professor Miller, Sir Gust was a migrant to Australia and they both attended the same primary school and medical school just a year apart from one another. Sir Gus said that Professor Miller's work had influenced most of the work on immunology that has gone on in Australia for decades. Professor Miller's award confirms to me and the world that we are certainly a nation of excellence, achievement and stature, in the great world of science, we’re still a nation where a young kid coming to Australia without a word of English, growing up here, learning here, mentored here, can literally change the world through science, and the people around the world aren’t just noticing, they’re benefitting, no matter where you call home. We're all safe. We're all healthy. Because of the work of Australian scientists and researchers, and that's what we gather together to celebrate in honouring you this evening.

So to all of tonight's nominees, congratulations on your nominations. I know that through the sheer exhilaration of the work you do. You have already in your own mind, achieved the great satisfaction of the discoveries and progress and research that you've undertaken. I know you don't do it for prizes but it's not bad to come up and get one. And for it to be acknowledged. And for it to be acknowledged here in this place. And so, for the same reasons that John Howard stood in this same place 20 years ago, I'm pleased to stand here tonight and acknowledge your contribution, and say thank you on behalf of a grateful nation.