Simon Birmingham: Thank you, thank you very much Aidan, and no you’re not the one to be Santa Claus, or Father Christmas, I think- I think it’s my predecessor Christopher Pyne who’s quite enjoyed being the Father Christmas of innovation over the last couple of weeks with giveaways aplenty. But to you and the team at the ARC thank you, and thank you for a big year, and thank you in advance for what I know will be an even bigger year next year with some additional responsibilities and opportunities coming your way. To Professor Ian O'Connor, Vice Chancellor here at Griffith University, and the team from Griffith, thank you for hosting today’s event, which of course reflects your contribution to, not just learning in Australia, but of course to very high quality research outcomes. To Professor Peter Høj, from UQ, my old friend from the wine industry many years ago, lovely to see you here and thank you for coming along today. Distinguished guests, and importantly those in the round of 2015 future fellows who have joined us here today, welcome all, and I too acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, on whose knowledge we continue to build and rely in the future.
Supporting our outstanding researchers, and particularly at the mid-career level is essential to ensure that as a nation we help to, and work to, retain and attract research talent, and of course to advance knowledge opportunity, and innovation within our country. Our focus as a nation in recent years has particularly been around economic booms in the mining industry, but increasingly now we aspire as a nation to shift that focus, and to shift that focus as a government from mines to minds. And the ingenuity, the creativity, the problem solving of our researchers and scientists is essential to that.
Last week, as you all know, and has been acknowledged, the Turnbull Government released our National Innovation and Science Agenda. It’s an agenda about trying to drive a culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship, to support research excellence, which we know in this country is of outstanding quality, and ERA results released earlier this month demonstrate the capability and capacity of our universities, and that so much is happening of absolute world class standard. Our challenge as everybody seems to have come to accept and acknowledge is to translate that world class research into benefits for all Australians, to ensure that we apply new ways of working, and new ways of thinking, that doesn’t undermine the caliber and quality of our research undertaking, but does enhance and build upon the outcomes and benefits we derive from it.
Future Fellowships are one way that we can continue to help to drive that target change. Innovation and science are of course essential for Australia to be able to seize new sources of economic growth, and from those new sources of economic growth, to as a nation in the future be able to maintain the type of high wage, strong social safety net, country that we have been, and we hope to continue to be well into the future.
The Innovation and Science Agenda released focuses on four key pillars: culture and capital; collaboration; talent and skills; and Government in a position as an exemplar. Together these pillars around our Innovation and Science Agenda provide a framework for a range of initiatives that are worth $1.1 billion in additional investment and commitment over the next four years. But importantly the commitment goes well beyond four years, and for the research sector, and our universities in particular, the strength of commitment to now provide, not just short term funding fixes for programs like the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme, or the Square Kilometre Array, or the Synchrotron, but to provide a decade of funding certainty for those important pieces of research infrastructure, and important arrangements that enhance collaboration, is I think, one of the most essential and important outcomes from the Innovation and Science Agenda.
An infrastructure road mapping exercise will also commence next year, overseen by the chief scientist, which will look at Australia’s long term research infrastructure priorities; what it is that we require additional to those facilities that we have given strong longer term commitments to. And of course as I emphasised before the focus on how it is to get better at commercialising our research. And with that appropriate incentives to try to lift the uptake and the ability for universities and others who are looking to work collaboratively, and in that commercialisation of research to be able to better access or find sources for start up funds, and for venture capital for investments. And because we recognise that it is not just a case of Government coming along and saying to universities we expect different outcomes from you, but equally saying to investors, to business, and to industry, that we expect and need different outcomes and approaches from them, that it is a two-way street to ensure all sides of the collaborative agenda are actually moving in the right direction.
But we also believe in the importance of fundamental research. That whilst we are shifting some of the incentives to make sure we can get the best public policy and economic outcomes from our research in terms of its uptake and utilisation, we also recognise that basic science often leads to unexpected and exciting breakthroughs that have far reaching applications.
As I look at the project summaries for the 50 fellowships being awarded today, I recognised a strong mix of both fundamental and applied research across a broad range of research disciplines. I think it is worth highlighting a few of those examples. Dr Timothy Dargaville who is with us here today – where are you? Timothy, there we go, in the front row, excellent – from QUT who will develop a 3D molding process that will have future applications in tissue transplants. Dr Mark Waters from the University of Western Australia who is looking at ways to improve crop productivity. Dr Fiona Barlow – Fiona, there we are, excellent – who is also here in the front row, from a host year at Griffith who will investigate the harmful effects of racism and its economic cost. And Associate Professor Christine Wells, Christine, excellent, I’m very pleased to see that you’re seated next to Timothy given your field of research is also looking at enabling new avenues in tissue engineering. So of course the two of you sitting here today are already a fine example of the type of collaboration that we want to see, given your research fields both looking at tissue transplants and tissue engineering clearly have much knowledge to share.
There are many Future Fellows success stories from the program over the years. I’m sure many in Queensland would know of Professor Mark Kendall. Professor Kendall is an inaugural ARC Future Fellow from UQ, who pioneered needle-free immunisation technology that promises to eliminate the need for needles and syringes in vaccine delivery. I’m quite certain that my three and four-year-olds hope that that technology is taken up in a very quick and timely manner. The Nanopatch is breakthrough technology; it’s a bit like a postage stamp that sticks on the skin and delivers a vaccine directly to the body’s immune system, and has the advantage of not needing refrigeration, which of course, when you think about the potential transformative benefits of that in countries that are less developed than Australia, is immense in terms of being able to safely and successfully deliver vaccines in all manner of communities. Research and development under his Future Fellowship allowed the Nanopatch to be developed.
Professor Kendall also co-founded Vaxxas with $15 million in capital investment, one of the largest investments in an Australian start-up biotechnology company. The Nanopatch technology has also been licensed to US-based pharmaceutical company Merck & Co. It is research that is being noticed nationally and internationally. Professor Kendall’s research group received the Eureka Prize for research by an interdisciplinary team in 2011, and also won the 2011 Australian Innovation Challenge. And last year Vaxxas signed an agreement with the World Health Organisation to trial the Nanopatch delivery system for polio vaccines. It’s hoped this agreement will assist to move the technology through the next stage of clinical trials. It’s an outstanding achievement of an ARC Future Fellow, and of course is a brilliant example that at each stage we have seen investment in an exciting young researcher. From that investment we’ve seen the creation and advancement of new knowledge. From that new knowledge we’ve seen investment outside of government by those willing to support and invest in the commercialisation and ultimately roll-out of that new knowledge in a practical way that will deliver both public policy benefits in terms of improved health outcomes, but from those public policy benefits and improved health outcomes, enormous potential, economic benefits as well.
Our Government committed to make the Future Fellowships scheme an ongoing scheme, awarding 100 four year fellowships per year. This is an important commitment that we’ve made, which compliments in every possible way the National Innovation and Science Agenda. The future- the 50 Future Fellowships being awarded today are an important investment in our innovative research capacity. I’m confident that this 2015 cohort of ARC Future Fellows will continue to enhance Australia’s reputation on the world stage, that this cohort will help us in our ambitions to be a more innovative, more prosperous nation in future, built upon the minds and the knowledge of great researchers like those we’re recognising today. So congratulations, in particular to those present with us, but to all 50 recipients. Congratulations to the institutions who support and invest in these individuals, and in the teams who work with them to help create the opportunities that they are working on, which can only of course help ultimately create an even better Australia into the future.
Thanks so much again Aidan, to you and your team, and for the work that goes into ensuring we get the highest quality fellows working on the projects in the future, and good luck to all of you for outstanding results from your research. Thanks very much.
Senator Birmingham’s media contacts: James Murphy, 0478 333 974
Nick Creevey, 0477 644 957
Department Media: firstname.lastname@example.org