AsianScientist (Jul. 9, 2019) – In an age of smart cities and digital transformation, science and technology play an indispensable role in good governance. Recognizing this, governments around the world have created roles to provide high-level oversight for science and tech policy, a wide portfolio that includes everything from the environment to space exploration and training the next generation of scientists.
Following the Liberal-National Coalition’s victory in the August 2018 federal elections, the Honorable Karen Andrews MP was appointed as Australia’s Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. Prior to her most recent role as full Minister, she was Assistant Minister for Vocational Education & Skills in 2016, and Assistant Minister for Science in 2014.
Having an early exposure to science and the industry would prove useful for Minister Andrews later in her career. Trained in mechanical engineering at the Queensland University of Technology, Minister Andrews worked as a maintenance engineer at power stations and petrochemical sites before furthering her studies with a graduate diploma in industrial relations from Victoria University. Following a stint as a consultant and industry relations advocate, she joined politics and was elected into office in 2010.
Minister Andrews recently led an Australian delegation to attend Singapore’s Smart Nation Innovations Week, a week-long series of events that showcase Asia’s most innovative developments. During her visit, she gave keynote talks and panel sessions at the Straits Digital Exchange and Innovfest Unbound.
Asian Scientist Magazine caught up with Minister Andrews to find out about her plans to develop Australia’s clean technology and space sectors, Australia’s scientific collaborations with Asia, and how Australia is helping women with careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
1. You’ve mentioned that developing battery technology, electric vehicles and clean technology would be priorities for Australia in tacking climate change. Could you share with us your implementation of these policies to date?
We have a broad-ranging climate policy. A key part of that is an electric vehicle strategy. We are aware that emissions have recently been rising in Australia, and transport is one of the key areas that we are looking at to reduce emissions.
It is not necessarily exclusively electric vehicles; we are also looking at alternative sources of fuel, so that may well include hydrogen fuel cells. I will be working with my ministerial colleagues, including the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Energy, on a vehicle strategy.
I have also announced a Cooperative Research Centre strategy in Australia looking at future battery technologies. We are looking at the critical minerals that Australia has, and what the opportunities there are for the development of battery technology. That process is probably going to be over a longer term, maybe over five to ten years, but we will be looking at outcomes in probably the next 18 months to two years.
2. You once quipped that you would like to travel to Mars one day. On that note, what are your plans for the space-tech sector in Australia?
I think that everyone loves space. In science, nothing engages young people like space and dinosaurs. If we look at space, the global space sector is worth probably around US$350 billion. Australia is only a small part of that; we’re looking at about AU$3.9 billion. But we intend to grow the sector. It currently employs about 10,000 people. We’re going to triple its size by 2030, so that it will be worth about AU$12 billion and employ an additional 20,000 people.
Launch is the part of space that many people are very excited about. And of course, Australia had a significant role to play in the ‘first man on the moon’ story. We’re approaching the 50th anniversary of that, and so I’m very excited as it is an opportunity to engage Australians in the space story and demonstrate that we do have a long history in space.
We have launched nano-satellites already and we have a growing nano-satellite sector. Importantly, we’re also doing some work on global positioning, which is part of space. [Global positioning technologies are] important as we move towards autonomous vehicles. We are also looking at what we can do with global positioning to provide support to, for example, our agriculture sector. This is so that we can maximize primary production, whether that be crops or livestock.
Would I rule out that one day I might go to Mars? Definitely not. But I’d like to go at a time when there’s a return trip! There currently isn’t one, but I’ll be patient.
3. What are Australia’s plans for engaging countries in Asia, such as Singapore, in research and development?
During my visit here, I’ve engaged with a number of the Singaporean ministers. I’m impressed with the openness and willingness to engage with Australia, and the opportunities for us to work closely together in agriculture, food security, cybersecurity and hydrogen.
There is a lot of synergy between Australia and Singapore. A number of our universities also have facilities here in Singapore. So if I discuss, for the purposes of today, about James Cook University, they have had a presence in Singapore for quite some time. We know that food security is a significant issue for Singapore. We will engage and look for future opportunities for us to engage in aquaculture.
I have long championed a relationship between the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), so I’m very keen for our leading research agency CSIRO to continue to engage with A*STAR and also develop an independent presence here in Singapore.
We do not necessarily confine ourselves to just work within Singapore; [we will also use Singapore as a base] to widen our engagement in the Asian region. We see Singapore as a great opportunity for us to collaborate with and also broaden our scope into Southeast Asia.
4. As a strong proponent of women in industry, could you share with us some of Australia’s policies that support women in STEM?
A key policy initiative that comes to mind particularly is the appointment of Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith as our inaugural Women in STEM Ambassador. She’s been doing some great work—she’s an excellent speaker and a scientist of enormous capability. She engages very well not only with our younger audience, but also at the board level.
She’ll be driving an interest in STEM among our young people, and also working with our boards to impress on them the need to maximize the knowledge base that they have, by employing more women in a STEM capacity at all levels of the organization—not just recent graduates, not just at the most senior levels, but all the way through—and developing that pipeline.
And of course, there’s a lot of work that we’ve done with the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program. We’re rolling that out nationally and putting more resources into that.
Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Cyril Ng/Asian Scientist Magazine.
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