PM’s Prizes – Prime Minister Turnbull’s speech

Prime Minister Turnbull’s Speech – 2016 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science


It’s great to be here among friends; to celebrate the outstanding achievements in science, from teachers that have inspired a generation of young scientists, to world-class researchers that are pushing the very frontier of human knowledge.

You have all helped Australia become a leading science nation and my Government’s commitment to science, our investment in the skills of our children and grandchildren and in Australia’s critical research infrastructure will help to attract and retain some of the world’s great talent.

One of the most remarkable things about tonight’s event is the calibre of the audience; it’s wonderful to share this evening with some of Australia’s brightest minds. We’d be hard pressed to find a greater collection of scientists, academics and teachers – not just in Australia but anywhere in the world.

That brings me to Australia’s new Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, although ‘new’ may not be an entirely accurate description. Alan was appointed to the role shortly after last year’s event and has been a leader in business, science and the University for many years.

His advocacy; his passion for innovation and science really is, as you all know – or those of you that know him well – quite infectious and I know he has been warmly greeted in this new position of leadership that he has.

A few months back our Chief Scientist revealed his competitive streak when he issued the following call to arms to our nation’s scientists and innovators: not only are we in the business of getting to the future; we’re in the business of getting there first. And we are relying on you to make sure that we do.

Personally, I am excited by the aspiration inherent in that aspiration, that ambition of Alan’s. It combines passion and commitment about the vital importance of scientific endeavour with the entrepreneur’s eye for competitive advantage, that willingness to stretch our ambition so we can put our nation and our scientific and research institutions right at the cutting-edge of the global knowledge economy.

Australia should be known the world over as one of the world’s great nations for science and innovation and we are great, but we can be even greater. We have an unprecedented opportunity to capitalise on the disruption and change that is all around us. We are living through a time of change of a pace and a scale that is utterly unprecedented in human history. And it is being driven by you, it has been driven by science, by technology. That is the great accelerator.

It is happening more than anywhere else in our region, and never before has Australia had such an opportunity at its fingertips.

You, the scientists, the innovators, the disruptors, the disturbers of the universe, you, here are central, critical to helping us realise that great opportunity.

Tonight, with that in mind, I am thrilled to acknowledge the new leadership at the helm of my Government’s innovation and science agenda: Alan Finkel, recognised already, and of course the new Minister Greg Hunt and his new Assistant Minister, Craig Laundy who is also here tonight.

Tonight is Alan’s first awards dinner as Chief Scientist, so let’s welcome him now in front of all of us, his esteemed colleagues.


We should honour Greg Hunt – you know, Greg was an outstanding Minister for the Environment and indeed Shadow Minister for the Environment for many years. He is one – you said Adam, release the inner geek, well with Greg the geek escaped long ago, I can tell you. He is an absolute natural in this role and I want to just recognise how fortunate we are to have Greg and Alan working together on this great project of putting science at the heart of everything we do.

And finally, let me pay my own thanks, our thanks to Greg’s predecessor as the Innovation and Science Minister, Christopher Pyne.

Christopher spearheaded our innovation agenda, our $1.1 billion commitment, comprising 24 measures across nine government departments. I want to thank Christopher for his leadership and advocacy and know that he will continue to work closely with Greg and Alan as he spearheads again, another vital priority of my government, our investment in defence industry. This Defence Industry Plan of ours is the largest in the nation’s history, and every element is about innovation, every element is going to deliver the science, the innovation, the advanced manufacturing that we need not simply to deliver the defence capabilities that will secure us in the future, but the skills, the technology the science that will secure our future.

When children visit Parliament I always assure them that this place is devoted to them, it is here after all we make the decisions that will secure the nation they will inherit, it will secure their future. Of course in the fury of day to day debate that’s easy to overlook, but scientists like yourselves understand better than most that we are all engaged in a very long game.

You look beyond the horizon, you imagine what can be, what might be, and so should leaders too.

It is our duty to ensure that the world we leave to our children and grandchildren is a better one than that which we inherited from our forebears.

And it is you, we’re counting on you. Your knowledge, your courage to push beyond the conventional, to defy the deferential, that enables us to do that.

Innovation and science, your work, is the key to our future and so it is right that tonight we celebrate your great national endeavour, our great national endeavour and the fundamental role that science and innovation have played in our nation’s past—and will play in and secure and shape our future.

This room contains the minds that are preparing us to respond to the immense changes before us. I have said this before many times but rarely, I might say, to a group of people so comfortable with the proposition – I don’t anticipate there will be any nervous shuffling here tonight. We must treat change and uncertainty as our friends, not as our foes.

We have to be prepared to engage with what we don’t yet know and we must be prepared to engage with disruption and volatility, we have to treat that volatility as a time of opportunity and treat it as our friend.

My life’s experience has taught me that there is little reward without risk.

Allowing ourselves to operate, as science does, in a way that is thoroughly agile—while also giving Australians the skills to be agile—is the surest way we can capitalise on the opportunities our changing world delivers.

This is a core pillar, science and innovation is a core pillar of the economic agenda of my Government.

Our Innovation Agenda commits our modern economy to this new way of thinking.

As you well know, the quality of Australian research is world-class, yet our ability to commercialise and apply it has been an ongoing challenge.

Greg Hunt and I are committed to changing this and I’m very proud to say that in just 11 months, the National Innovation and Science Agenda has taken great strides.

We have launched initiatives to attract more women into STEM and invested $112 million to upskill more Australians in digital literacy and science, technology, engineering and maths.

In quantum computing, we have partnered with the University of New South Wales, Telstra and the Commonwealth Bank to fund the world’s first silicon-based quantum computing circuit, taking the first steps towards building a quantum computing industry here in Australia.

In medical research, the Biomedical Translation Fund will invest $500 million to make new medicines commercially viable for the Australian market and beyond.

Already, we have implemented the CSIRO Accelerator Program and we are investing in the CSIRO Innovation Fund. Our $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund will connect early-stage Australian research with the investors who can turn it into products and profits.

We are ensuring that Australia builds and maintains a world-leading data science capability by investing $75 million in Data61. As part of the CSIRO, Data61 will help create new industries and transform existing ones in an increasingly data-driven economy.

And, for the first time, we are putting our research infrastructure on a sustainable footing by providing $2.3 billion over the next ten years. That includes $1.5 billion for our National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy, led by the Chief Scientist.

Through the Commonwealth’s $520 million investment, we have successfully secured the future of one of our most valuable research assets, the Australian Synchrotron.

The Synchrotron enables more than 5,500 researchers who use it to achieve their goals faster, much faster as you know. For researchers at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute it provided the vital next step to develop new drugs to prevent and treat malaria. This was a critical development as the parasite becomes more resistant to conventional historic treatments.

We’ve committed $294 million to the Square Kilometre Array which will be the largest and most advanced radio telescope ever constructed. It’s an initiative led by a 10-nation consortium, the Square Kilometre Array can help us solve some of the universe’s long held secrets.

Science and innovation aren’t just central to our domestic political agenda – it is through science and innovation that we are forging deeper ties with our regional and global partners.

We are putting science at the heart of our diplomatic relationships.

Just last week I hosted Prime Minister Lee of Singapore. At the top of our agenda, along with trade, defence and security, was improving collaboration between our two countries on innovation and science.

Prime Minister Lee and I concluded the Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation on Innovation and Science. And we agreed that fostering further collaboration among scientific, industrial and financial sectors was vital to transitioning both countries to the agile 21st century economies we aspire to be, and to raising our international competitiveness and productivity.

In addition to Singapore, the Government is also currently negotiating enhanced government to government arrangements with the US, Israel, Japan, New Zealand and Italy.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re leading the way in building the Square Kilometre Array and working with South Africa, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, among others.

And international collaboration by our research organisations is booming. Take China for example: Australia and China contributed over 6,000 joint publications in 2015 and we have more bilateral agreements with Chinese universities than any other country – 1,200 in total.

Our Global Innovation Strategy provides a whole-of-government approach that utilises our international networks and improves our research and business outcomes. As a result, we have experienced an unprecedented surge of interest for bilateral innovation and science negotiations and activities.

Now those of you that known me for a few years, know that I have been talking about innovation for a long time. Indeed I said to Lucy a little while ago that I had been giving the same speech for quite a few years and she said yes, it’s just that they take more notice of it now that you are Prime Minister.

It is a very deep passion and commitment of mine, believe me. We secure out future by being faster. By being more inquiring, by being more innovative, by being, frankly more like you. We need to push to envelope; we need to defy the differentia. We need to overturn the convention; we have to be more like you, prepared to explore the unknown.

Not simple ask what is out there, ask what might be out there. Experimentation, be prepared to have a go – it’s critical.

When we launched the National Innovation and Science Agenda, I was with Christopher; I was asked by one of the intrepid representatives of the media whether I could guarantee that all of these measures would be successful. And I said, absolutely not – it came as a bit of a shock – I said, we’re hoping that they will, they’re the best measures we can think of at the moment, but those that succeed we’ll do more of, those that fail, we will drop.

If we see other opportunities, other opportunities, other techniques elsewhere we will ruthlessly plagiarise them – it is after all the sincerest form of flattery.

We will get on with a dynamic, agile approach to policy, again, working in the way you do. Being agile, being prepared to experiment, recognising that we are living in a dynamic environment.

Now one of the most consistently dynamic scientific institutions in the world is the CSIRO.

It is Australia’s largest patent holder.

It is the birthplace of so many of our greatest innovations and it has transformed the world as we know it, as everyone with a smart phone knows all too well.

The CEO Larry Marshall and Chairman David Thodey, who of course – both of them have been, both of them have been outstanding change agents in their previous work. David of course truly transformed the culture of Telstra. Not that long ago it was the post master generals department. He was able by leadership, to turn that in to a much more innovative company, culturally, operationally and that leadership, together with Larry, is making an enormous difference at CSIRO.

The CSIRO has always been, and always will continue to be, focused on advancing scientific research for the public good – for the nation. And equally it will ensure that that research is translated into outcomes that improve all of our livelihoods, all Australians livelihoods.

So my Government is unwavering in its commitment to science – not just as the solution to our economic challenges, nor simply as the solution to other challenges, social challenges. Science gives us the answers to both and it always has.

And it’s incumbent on all of us here tonight to communicate just how much science has to offer. As the passionate science communication advocate Alan Alda says, science belongs to all of us, but we don’t all have the kind of access to it that we should.

The communication of science, of the value of science and its capacity to transform our lives, should be better understood by us all.

If we want to be a country that can continue to seize these answers into the 21st century, the 22nd century and beyond—if we want to be a genuine science nation—we have to be everything that your work as scientists enables us to be.

More innovative – thank you, what a kind man. How often do you have to cough before you get a glass of water.


You are of course the first respondent.

We’ve got to be more willing to seek out new ways of doing things.

More willing to challenge the boundaries of ideas, better prepared to be wrong and try again. That is so absolutely critical. We need to be prepared to experiment, it is one of the biggest challenges of leadership and government, believe me. Hierarchical structures, too much of a blame culture, a tendency to manage up to avoid making a decision, as you know. If you have a blame culture in your organisation so the good ideas are scantly rewarded and mistakes are furiously punished, the rational actor doesn’t make a decision.

We’ve got to encourage people you work with to experiment, obviously in a prudent manner.

You’ve got to encourage them to have a go.

We live in an environment of rapid change, we live in an environment of uncertainty, so we don’t always know what is going to work and we’ve got to be prepared, just as you, to see what can, to see what might.

So we have to be more like you, as I said right at the outset.

Now, not all innovators are scientists but all scientists are innovative – because you are at the frontier of new knowledge.

We need great scientists and we have them, and we celebrate you tonight. And we honour you. We have a long and proud history of honouring your achievements, of celebrating our achievements. Of holding you up as an example, not just to young scientists as we have here tonight, but also to others like myself, not scientific at all, but someone who can see at least the method in the way you work. The scientific method, the preparedness to have a go, to experiment, to try and try again.

So you inspire us. You inspire me, you inspire my government, you inspire the nation.

And it is your intellect, your preparedness to probe in to the unknown, your willingness to try something new, your determination to defy the proposition that we’ve always done it this way, or not invent the wheel.

That’s what secures our future.

And so, to each of the prize winners, and all of the nominees, you have our deepest respect, and my very, very sincerest congratulations.

Thank you and welcome here tonight.