Ed Husic on why we need to say thank you more often – and create 2000 new startups at universities

- June 6, 2022 6 MIN READ
Ed Husic
Industry and science minister Ed Husic. Photo: Science & Technology Australia
The first thing I want to say to you all, and it’s something we do not do enough, in terms of the parliamentary side of this equation tonight, I think either within our realm, or more generally, we do not say to you all, thank you.

We don’t say it enough. Thank you very much for what you do and what you do is exceptionally hard. Not just talking about the complexity, you know that.

What you’re trying to do, in terms of advancing human knowledge, the breakthroughs that you’re pursuing, and wondering if you’ll get through that in the way that you intended, where you started and where it ended?

And did it end in the way that you wanted? And did it achieve what you wanted, and to be able to do that at scale? This is the stuff we don’t thank you enough for because we don’t really appreciate how hard that is, how lonely that job is, how fraught that job is, and I hope I’m not scaring you off from what you’re currently doing. But I do want to say thank you. Because what you do, we not only need to celebrate more of it, but we need to do more of it.

We need to encourage this, in terms of what we’re doing in Science and Parliament together, this should be one of many platforms to do it.

But we need to celebrate it more in the wider realm, in the wider community, as a nation to value this, as much as a lot of the other pursuits that we value in this country. We apply so much interest, enthusiasm, recognition, support for. I think that that is very important.

The other thing I want to tell you, which is a bit weird for a politician to say this, because we so often, not me, of course, but a lot of us attach our egos to our position. I just want you to know this one thing, and this is going to be a weird admission to say to you all; I don’t know it all. I don’t know it all. That’s your job.

Why it’s industry and science

And the reason I say that is because you don’t need people telling you particularly from the parliamentary side on how to do your job. And one of the big signals we wanted to send to you all, when Prime Minister Albanese set up a portfolio name, because I know it’s created a bit of interest. Why are you calling it industry and science instead of industry and innovation? We’re here to say we’re putting science back at the forefront.

We’re listening to the science, we’re respecting the science, we’re acting on the science, these things, this is the signal that we wanted to send. So that’s really important and as much as I have a passion and an interest in this space, and I believe that, and I’ll come to some of these points in a minute, I’m saying this to you all because as I said, I’m very keen to work with you all as much as I possibly can in the time that I have. Because I’ve met a number of people tonight, and they said you have to come and visit and I’ve said

“Absolutely I will.”

And finally, the other thing is we have to create a sense of purpose, a national purpose.

We got a sense of that through the pandemic. In terms of saving the lives of not just fellow Australians, but people across the world. And finding a way to do that, an incredible way in which the vaccine being delivered, developed so quickly and saved so many lives.

In my part of Western Sydney through that second lockdown 60 per cent of the people in the city of Sydney, through that second lockdown, through the Delta wave 60 per cent of the people came from my part of the world who lost their lives. We couldn’t get to them in time in terms of the vaccine. And we had this whole challenge against science and about what is happening. We’ve had to live this all and we don’t need to repeat it tonight. But what you do and the work of science does to improve the quality of life, very important.

But now we need to now think ahead not just in terms of the pandemic, but beyond where we reshape the nation. Because we don’t want to go back, we’ve said, we don’t want to just go back to the way we were before this pandemic hit us. Let’s do something better. This is the big challenge.

Balancing competition and cooperation

There are two things we’ve got to balance out and what we need your help with the two things, it’s competition and cooperation and how we find the balance is very important. But the competition is we have so many countries we’ll be competing against who are problem solving in their own jurisdictions, thinking with the impact on supply lines, what the pandemic did at the time we needed things and we couldn’t get them.

How do we address that? How do we rebuild capability? How do we rebuild manufacturing capability across industry sectors? There’s all that challenge that’s happening. We’ve got a geopolitical challenge, which everyone knows about where we’ve had dependencies that we simply cannot continue. So how do we problem solve in this nation, as well?

We have such bright people in this country that we’re ahead of the pack globally. And what do they do? They leave. They leave the nation.

And the thing is, it’s not a new phenomenon. I mean, I stand here tonight, as a Labor MP in this day and age, but I’ve watched, we have a heritage, a proud heritage on our side of the fence. ANU, Chifley, you had Whitlam open up higher education to people, and encourage the pursuit of knowledge and widen the pool of people who get it.

We had Hawke 30 years ago in a campaign speech, we’ve just gone through an election and campaign speech where he promised he would set up Cooperative Research Centres. He made that a big deal. And he said, we’re going to stop importing technology and we’re going to stop the brain drain. And where are we now 30 years later? It’s still around, still around, and we’re going to fix it. We are bloody going to fix it. And we need your help in doing that. And we’ll have a lot of people that say it’s too tough.

And will say it’s too hard. And that’s not Australia’s thing. And yet, here are people when you look at the population, and I think I’m going to steal one of my first acts, as Minister, Cathy, to pinch your stats that you talk about Dr Cathy Foley, We have Australia’s 0.3% of the global population producing 4% of the world’s research. And we have eight of our universities in the top 100.

We’ve got capability, we’ve got capacity, we’ve now got to apply it. So that’s why we’ve set up the National Reconstruction Fund $15 billion in loans and equity to create a co investment fund, one of the biggest in this nation’s history. A number of things that we did through the campaign, we announced a critical technology sub fund, particularly $1 billion that we want to apply to support efforts in quantum, AI, robotics.

Because again, we needled this government on AI, the previous government on AI, we think there’s more to do, we see all these nations that are applying technology in a way that will transform economies.

My big fear, if I can say to you all, is we’re going to see in this world with the application of technology and those economies, we’ll either see makers or see takers. What side of the equation do we want to be on? We want to be the makers. And when it comes to AI, and when I’ve seen what’s happening in quantum, in robotics as well. All this and more. I’m not saying that this is the only focus, you are all here to tell us what else we can focus on. But there’s that. The other sub fund on medical manufacture.

We’ve set aside the $1.5 billion for medical manufacture, as well. So, there’s all that that we’re talking about.

Nurturing the next generation

The other thing that I’m looking forward to is setting up the other opportunities for the newer, for that next generation of talent, to come through. And what we’ve said is we’re going to do something different. And the good thing is I’m going to be able to work with a colleague and friend of mine and Jason Clare, the new Minister for Education.

We want to set up something where we tweak the HECS system just a little bit. And for those university students that have got an idea to create a firm, they backed off that idea. We will extend at that early-stage access to capital through the HECS scheme of up to $11,000 to potentially create 2,000 new firms through our university accelerators and incubators, and we’ve said that’s what we want to do as policy.

It’s not just about solving those firms. But the other thing is, there’s two things, it’s about getting young fresh eyes to pair with technology to pursue this attribute; problem solving. And to apply that in the broader business community to improve the way Australian business works. And to see those ideas grow.

Now, this is not the sum total of what our ambitions are. But it’s a start. And what we’re saying to you is, we want to be able to get the edge, because we’ve got other nations that we’re competing against.

So, this is going to be really important for us to find that edge and we want to start that process and work with you on it. But there will also be the need for cooperation as well on some of the things that are confronting us from climate change.

  • This is an edited extract of federal minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic’s, address to the Science meets Parliament gala dinner, hosted by Science & Technology Australia, on June 2.
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