Standing up for Canberra

National Science Week 2015

I rise today to speak about one of my passions, and that is science— particularly, women in science. It is completely fitting, given that this is National Science Week. It was fantastic to visit Canberra College this morning with the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Minister for Education. We spoke to inspiring young students, in their science class, who showed us their experiments and spoke to us about their plans to study science or engineering when they leave school. Their excitement for science was contagious.

I too share in the excitement for science because it runs in my family. My middle sister, Meg, is one of only 60 winemakers from around the world who have just been selected to take part in the Ningxia Winemakers Challenge in China, and her husband is another. Meg has a Bachelor of Science with honours from Monash University. She is a former AIDS researcher and is now a winemaker and Australia's first female Master of Wine. She has spent a decade working and living in Europe and in South America.

My little sister Amy is the successful recipient of one of only six NHMRC dementia research grants worth $6.4 million. Through the Florey Institute, Amy will lead a team of 14 national and international researchers to explore the impact of stroke on brain degeneration. Amy is a neurologist with a medical degree and a PhD from Melbourne University and is one of the world's most respected stroke researchers. She has studied, worked and lived in the United States and Europe. These vastly different careers highlight the endless opportunities and possibilities of the science discipline.

Labor recognises these endless opportunities within the science discipline and we recognise the need to invest in training to create the jobs of the future. Our plan is to build beyond the mining boom to capitalise on the imagination, adaptability and innovation of our people. We want to invest in digital technologies and computer science, and to ensure that coding is taught in every primary and secondary school in Australia. We want to write off the HECS debt of 100,000 science, technology, engineering and maths students. We want to encourage more women to study, teach and work in STEM fields. We want to reduce the small business company tax rate from 30 to 25 per cent, which will help people who are in the science area. We want to establish a new $500 million Smart Investment Fund to partner with venture capitalists and licensed fund managers to co-invest in early stage and high potential companies. Many of those companies are in innovative scientific areas.

As it stands, not enough high school students are studying science and related subjects. According to Australia's Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, participation rates in science subjects, as well as top-level mathematics, are at a 20 year low. At the same time, Australia currently spends less on scientific research than the OECD average.

The Abbott government has no vision when it comes to investing in our future leaders. Its answer is just to cut funding and to cut jobs. In fact, the Abbott government's record on science, innovation and research has been appalling. We just have to look in our own backyard to see how short-sighted this government's approach to research and science is. CSIRO has had its funding slashed by $115 million in the 2014 budget. As a result, it has been forced to let go of 1,200 science and support staff in the last two years, the largest job cuts in the organisation's history. And it is not just limited to CSIRO. Geoscience, the Bureau of Meteorology, NICTA and many other areas of scientific research and innovation in this country have been affected. I fought against that funding cut, and I will continue to fight for scientists everywhere so that they receive the funding and the respect that they deserve. Just look at my little sister, with that extraordinary, very large grant to benefit stroke research and also dementia.

Finally, I want to congratulate the ANU's Colin Jackson, who is the ACT's inaugural Scientist of the Year. He works at the Research School of Chemistry at the ANU. He has done work on insecticide resistance and also how people learn that also benefits Alzheimer's, and he also wants to increase science literacy. I also want to congratulate Brian Schmidt, who is to be the new Vice-Chancellor for the ANU. He is a Nobel Prize winner and an extraordinary addition to Canberra's academic community. Finally, I want to say, 'Happy National Science Week,' to the Australian community and to echo the sentiments that I saw on a T-shirt just recently: 'Come to the nerd side. We have pi.'

Download a copy of this speech.