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News from Science & Technology Australia

18 Aug 2023 1:07 PM | Marie-Louise Rankin (Administrator)

We hope you’ve had a terrific National Science Week! Science & Technology Australia hosted the official launch last week with our partners at Questacon. We generated strong media coverage of new data from the 3M State of Science Index which shows 9 in 10 Australians want to see more people and businesses stand up for and defend science. The survey also found the Australian public has very high levels of trust in and respect for science and scientists. 

Around the world, we see science being attacked and undermined, and closer to home we see businesses being told to ‘stay in their lane’ when they speak out on social issues. But this social research - conducted by Ipsos for 3M - shows clearly that the Australian public values science and expects the nation’s business community to be active and vocal supporters of science.

A huge thanks to STA members for the strong turnout of inspiring grassroots science leaders and Parliamentary champions of science. We thank Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic, Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, Shadow Science Minister Paul Fletcher, Greens science spokesperson Senator David Shoebridge, Questacon Director Jo White, STA’s Governance Chair Jas Chambers, Australian Space Agency Head Enrico Palermo, STA President Professor Mark Hutchinson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mathematics Alliance Chair Professor Chris Matthews and Ngunnawal Elder Uncle Warren Daley. #ScienceWeek #ThanksScience!

This week, the newly-released Draft Recommendations of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM review are a powerful call to “stay the course” and double-down on proven diversity-driving initiatives with new long-term investments to forge systemic and cultural change. The draft recommendations include calls to create a new Diversity in STEM Council, strengthen STEM teaching in schools, tackle job insecurity in STEM research careers and secure proven women and diversity in STEM initiatives with “significant and sustained funding” over longer time frames to help drive long-term systemic and cultural change.

It’s crucial the country builds on the strong evidence-based success of initiatives that are already working powerfully to deepen diversity in STEM, like STA’s Superstars of STEM. Superstars of STEM sits at the very heart of diversity in Australia’s STEM ecosystem as a central resource and talent source that powers a wide array of other diversity in STEM programs and initiatives. If proven successes like the Superstars of STEM program had Government funding scaled up and secured for a whole decade, it would dramatically turbo-charge all of the other efforts and proposals to drive systemic and cultural change in STEM workplaces.

In its coverage, InnovationAus reported that “the STA-run Superstars of STEM program was recommended in the report as a way for media to help influence diverse representation beyond women to non-binary people and people from other diverse cohorts”. It is a powerful program that embeds diversity strongly in every aspect of its work.

We congratulate the DISTEM review panel – Sally-Ann Williams, Mikaela Jade, and Dr Parwinder Kaur – on their work so far, and look forward to continuing to work productively with the government and the sector to drive the next waves of change. Have your say on the draft recommendations here.

The Universities Accord review is also progressing - final submissions are due by 1 September. The next two weeks will be a crucial window for STA members to ask the panel to recommend a bold uplift in Australia’s research investments. We encourage all of you to make a submission and write to the panel in your own powerful words to make clear how important it is that the final report recommends a bold scale-up on research funding. This is the moment for all of us to make the case for research, highlight the powerful research breakthroughs Australia could make with deeper research investment - and offer evidence on the strong economic returns from a bold boost to research funding. Two news stories in major media outlets this week also help to make this case. The Australian reported that the Academic Ranking of World Universities shows Australia’s top universities have started to slide downwards in a fierce era of escalating global competition as other countries scale up their investments in publicly-funded research. Rankings are renowned as a lag indicator - and this slide is cause for significant concern. The AFR reported the new research commercialisation fund - Australia’s Economic Accelerator - has been overwhelmed by the volume of applications in its opening round. This shows Australia is brimming with research innovators and research ready for commercialisation - but there simply isn’t enough money in the research system to unleash that innovation. 

Industry and Science Minister Ed Husic has announced the Board for the $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund. The Chair will be Martijn Wilder AM - who has previously chaired the Board of Australian Renewable Energy Agency and was Founding Director of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation - two proven models for using investor capital to accelerate technological innovation. We congratulate the incoming Board and look forward to working with them.

Finally, how good was Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley on ABC’s Q&A program this week? Her calm, compelling clarity on what the science tells us about the scale of Australia’s transition task on climate change was compelling. If you missed it, it’s worth taking a look.

Until next time,

Misha Schubert
CEO, Science & Technology Australia

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