Image: Dr Cathy Foley, Australia’s Chief Scientist
I know March can be crunch time for many academics, with students returning to campus
and grant applications due. But this year, I need to add another thing to your list: I’m calling
for all hands on deck as I lead a national conversation about the revitalisation of Australia’s
Science and Research Priorities on behalf of the Australian Government.
These priorities will identify critical challenges facing Australia and will need us to double
down on research activity to address them.
Science doesn’t stand still, but our current list of priorities date from 2015. They don’t
reflect a world where gravitational waves have been discovered, and where claims of
quantum advantage are a grail being fought over by major players like Google and IBM.
The last priorities were developed before COVID, the massive rise in remote working, the global
race to create a COVID vaccine, and the breakthroughs in mRNA technologies. There are
many things we need to consider now that weren’t considered eight years ago: AI chatbots,
increasingly extreme climate change and weather events, the acceleration of species
extinctions, and Indigenous knowledge of country are just a few.
That’s why Australian Government has asked me to lead a national conversation to identify
challenges, strengths and opportunities that will inform the development of a draft list of
priorities for consideration and further consultation during the year.
I will note, the Science and Research Priorities are not intended to be a complete list of the
research Australia does – but they should reflect the most important challenges and
opportunities where science and research has a role. A set of agreed priorities provides
clarity to industry, investors and the international community about Australia’s focus, and
will help guide government policies and investment.
They do not preclude investment in research in other areas. The research block grant
funding model, for example, provides flexible funding across the research pipeline, giving
universities autonomy to invest outside of the priorities. Fundamental, or blue-skies,
research remains a crucially important part of the science and research system, as the
cradle for new ideas and the place where knowledge is built.
I am encouraging people from all walks of life to have their say – young and old, from cities
to the outback and from every background. I want to hear from the science and research
community, from industry, community groups and the wider public on this. During March, I
am convening a series of roundtables in every state and territory, alongside sector-specific
meetings. It’s easy for anyone to join the conversation by making a submission to the online
portal available at https://consult.industry.gov.au.
Provided by Dr Cathy Foley