Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much Michelle for that welcome, it's a real pleasure to be here with Neil and George today, both good friends, both good colleagues in Canberra, and as we just heard from Michelle, both constant advocates for Central Queensland, constant campaigners for this part of the world, and both constantly in the ear of any Minister who will pause long enough to let them speak about some of the priorities they have for development of support in this region. Phillip thank you very much for the welcome to country on behalf of the Yuibera people. I acknowledge them and all of Australia's traditional owners whose knowledge we continue to learn more of, to learn more from, and to build upon as a nation.

To Rennie Fritschy and your wife Noelene it's wonderful to be here today for a very significant event for you in the opening of this building and the naming of this building, and to congratulate you on 13 years of service to Central Queensland University and the Central Queensland community, and the work that you have done in of course transforming very much this university over that timeframe. And there is obviously, perhaps given your background in engineering and passion in that space no more fitting honour than today to have this building named after you in recognition of the work that you've done for CQU.

To Professor Scott Bowman, Vice-Chancellor, and Scott, like all vice-chancellors form the group of my new best friends that I've acquired since becoming the Minister of Education and Training late last year. And Scott however is a vice-chancellor who'd I met with previously in my role as the Assistant Minister for Education and Training when I had particular responsibilities for vocational education and training.

And of course it's a demonstration of the passion that Scott brings to CQU's role as a dual sector provider ensuring that it is servicing the communities of Central Queensland and beyond in providing outstanding education opportunities, not just for those students who pursue a higher education university oriented pathway, but of course for students undertaking crucial vocational training and skills training to make sure that the diverse needs of this economy in Australia are met well into the future. Australia has one of the world's best higher education systems. It's a higher education system of which our nation should be immensely proud.

First and foremost it is one of the most equitable and accessible systems in the world. Today we're seeing something approaching 40 per cent of school leavers and young Australians attaining higher education qualifications. They do so with no need for upfront payment, with generous Government subsidies and student loans available to them; a student loan scheme that is among the most generous in the world. And that has afforded this remarkable growth that does see more young Australians accessing higher education opportunities today than ever before.

And that's crucial because we know that the jobs of the future do depend upon having a more highly skilled workforce to deliver those jobs, and to create those jobs and businesses in which those jobs will exist. It's wonderful to see a system that has provided that equitable access, where we know now that there are, thanks to the growth in university admissions, and the support particularly provided in a number of equity programs, there are more Australians from regional backgrounds accessing higher education than had been the case previously.

There are more Australians from Indigenous backgrounds accessing higher education than had been the case previously. There are more Australians from lower socio-economic backgrounds accessing higher education than had been the case previously. We should be proud of that equity that exists in terms of the access to higher education in Australia.

But sitting alongside that is the other crucial E in the higher education landscape, and that of course is excellence. And ours is a system that is widely recognised as being one of the best higher education systems in the world in terms of the quality of its output. The quality of its output in student learning, and the quality of its output in research. We're widely recognised as producing some of the greatest knowledge and research outcomes in the world. We struggle a little when it comes to translating that into commercial application, and I'll come back to that point in a minute.

But we're also widely acknowledged as producing some of the best, most knowledgeable, job ready graduates in the world. And you need only look at the fact that Australia is one of the most popular global destinations for international students as an endorsement of the quality of our universities. An international student market that generates around $19 billion in annual economic activity for Australia, and sees thousands and thousands of people come from many different nations to study here in Australia at institutions like the Central Queensland University.

So it's that foundation of equity and excellence that we look to the future. And the future we know is one in which science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, the STEM subjects will be increasingly important. And 75 per cent of the fastest growing jobs in Australia, fastest growing industries, rely very much upon those STEM skills. So it's incredibly timely that this outstanding new facility is being opened today because it comes at a point of transition for the Australian economy, for the economy here around Mackay as well.

A point of transition where we do need to make sure we're providing access and support to skills in the highest technological areas. The opportunity for people to equip themselves with that knowledge from which they can innovate.

Malcolm Turnbull since becoming Prime Minister has of course made innovation a central plank of our Government, and late last year released a $1.1 billion national innovation and science agenda. That Agenda tries to take a holistic approach, from the earliest years of learning in the preschool environment where we seek to now encourage and support greater development of interest and awareness in science and maths, right through schooling into the higher education and research prisms, and into industry.

And importantly in that research area we've made some big commitments to support, over a decade or longer, significant research projects like the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme, like the Square Kilometre Array, like the Australian Synchrotron, major research undertakings across multiple research institutions in Australia that will now have funding certainty for the next decade that will allow their researchers to get on and focus on the jobs at hand.

In the business space we're making it easier for businesses to have a go and innovate. Innovation of course is not something  that just happens out of a university, we know that it is formed on the basis of basic research, basic undertakings, the advancement of knowledge, and it's those pieces of knowledge that come together that form innovation and hopefully ultimately commercialisation, and our changes to research grant formulas will better encourage universities to reach out and work with industry, industry to work with universities, better encourage venture capital into start-up companies, and ensure that we actually are doing all that we possibly can to help Australia be a country in which businesses of all size seem to build upon the knowledge that is harnessed in institutions like this one.

Practically this facility will see more engineering graduates come out of the Mackay campus. A shift I gather, from around 40 to 100, who will be supported as a result of the enhanced facilities that are available here. And you've heard the fact that this will support students, not just in Mackay, but importantly in the other campuses of CQU as well. So I want to congratulate Scott, Rennie, all those who have been involved in the development of this outstanding new facility for the investment they have made in the future of Central Queensland. For the foresight that they have in investing in the latest technology in the most advanced areas of our economy, because these are the areas in which the jobs of the future will well and truly be created, and we will all become dependent upon.

So well done, it's a delight and a pleasure to be with you today. I have little doubt, given the advocacy of my friends and colleagues down the front here, that this will certainly not be my last visit to CQU, nor to Mackay, and I really do look forward to hearing over the years of the outstanding results for students, for Mackay, for Central Queensland and Australia that stem from this wonderful new building. Congratulations.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                  James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
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