SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well thank you very much Aiden for that welcome as the Chief Executive of the Australian Research Council. It is a delight to work with you and your team and to have you administering this very important grant. Professor Sandra Harding, the Vice-Chancellor of James Cook University, Professor Willie Schofield, the Director of the Australian Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine, ladies and gentlemen thank you all for coming along this evening. It is a real delight to see you here for this very important occasion launching this centre. I too, acknowledge the traditional owners of the land, but particularly, as Aiden did, those of northern Australia whose knowledge and experience of living in the tropics over thousands of years, no doubt, will help to inform elements of the research and undertakings at this centre. 

It is clearly a very special occasion because it is quite unusual to bring together not one, not two, but three Cabinet Ministers to speak at your launch of your centre and I recognise my colleagues in Andrew Robb the Minister for Trade and Josh Frydenberg the Minister for Northern Australia who are both here to celebrate the very significant commitment made by this facility. As I do, Shadow Minister Amanda Rishworth and particularly some of the representatives from northern Australia who have fought very hard for the type of attention that our government is now delivering to northern Australia. The local Member covering the Townsville area, Ewen Jones, Senator Ian MacDonald, the Parliament’s longest serving champion of northern Australia without question and Senator Jan McLucas from the north as well; thank you all for joining us here this evening. 

In politics as in life, it is important to not try to be all things to all people and the same is true for educational and research institutions and when I first visited James Cook University, the thing that struck me most was JCU as an institution that had a clear sense of purpose, a very strong idea of its place in the world and of what it stood for. I think our nation would be, in many ways, better served if every one of our universities and higher education providers and training institutes had such a clarity of purpose and of mind about their place in the world and so it is to the credit of James Cook University that in their life and history since being conceived as such by the Menzies Government, JCU has managed to solidify its position as a university based in the tropics, servicing the communities of the tropics, leading research in to the tropics and making sure that its place is well regarded and well respected. 

As we seek as a nation to try to advance and play to our strengths and opportunities in northern Australia, we know that JCU will be at the forefront of that. Whilst playing to your strengths means, of course, playing to areas where you are historically strong, it should in no means mean ignoring opportunities where you can be even stronger and the area in which JCU operates in northern Australia is clearly an area where Australia can be stronger, where we can help to generate more wealth for our nation and the opportunities we have, especially using the knowledge of Australians in medical research to combine that with enhanced use of our facilities and resources through the tropics is immense, not just for what we can do within our nation, but of course, for the opportunities we have to share that knowledge, those research opportunities and the commercialisation of that research with the millions and millions of people who live and work within the tropics around the world.

This project, of course, was conceived during our days in opposition and I’m very pleased and proud to see it come to reality today as we launch the Institute for Tropical Health and Medicine. The $42 million commitment that’s been made is a significant commitment that is now delivering tangible benefits to communities in Townsville, in Cairns and in the Torres Strait and from that, of course, we’ll create new job opportunities that will last and hopefully see not just the researchers and the work occur in those communities, but ideally and optimally, the benefit of new businesses establishing as a result of that research that will provide services right around the tropical regions of the world. Because we shouldn’t just look at a project like this, an institution like this in isolation. As a government that is committed to ensuring that we do all we can to lift the innovative potential of Australia, to ensure that our knowledge industry is at the forefront of where we go as a nation and that we capitalise on our research institutions by encouraging greater collaboration with industry, greater commercialisation of research outputs, greater use of those research outputs in our public policy directions in the future. All of those activities need to come together and I am confident can and will come together as a result of this centre. 

So I for one, look forward to the opportunity as your building works on site to reach conclusion across the different locations, to being there and to visiting with Ewen and Ian and others. I know I’ll probably have to fight Josh for the opportunity to be there at the opening ceremonies, but that is because we are passionate about what you are doing across northern Australia, but importantly as an exemplar in our university sector, as an exemplar for our researchers and as indeed an institute that we are confident will provide great benefits right around the tropics and the world. Congratulations on a magnificent achievement and we look forward to continuing the very strong support our government has for this wonderful new institute. Thanks very much.