Australian Open Research Data Showcase, Hyatt Hotel Canberra

  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education and Training

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here to open the Australian Open Research Data Showcase hosted by the Australian National Data Service.

This event highlights the richness and diversity of Australia’s research data collections. It's always a privilege to hear about the work supported by the Government’s commitments to ANDS and other facilities funded through NCRIS since it was introduced by the previous Coalition Government in 2006.

In the nearly decade since, we have come a long way. We can see around us the variety of data collections generated and curated by Australian research institutions.

These collections range from the very broad, like Policy Online, a research database providing free and open digital access to thousands of public policy resources, one I am sure I have used myself, to the very focused, like the University of Queensland’s Australian Wheat Collection, which provides a centralised access point for Australian wheat breeders and researchers.

Some are relatively small such as the University of Melbourne’s Australian Drosophila Data Collection, which contains invaluable data on tiny Drosophila, or fruit flies, while others Are extraordinarily large such as the University of Sydney’s EarthByte collection, which provides rich geological and geophysical datasets for gradually building a four-dimensional Earth model, showing Earth science data through time and space.

This event shows how opening data collections for wider use has a multiplying effect, as these collections support researchers to increase and improve research, producing better quality data in higher volumes and often faster.

Making research data openly available helps to build then sustain such as those showcased here today both build and illustrates Australia’s comparative advantage. Australia's research data is a significant national resource.

Researchers need data, and they need skilled technicians and infrastructure to support the generation, collection, extraction, storage, communication and use of data. The Howard Government recognised this when it established NCRIS. Some of the foundational NCRIS projects are represented here today, including our hosts at ANDS.

This Government also understands the importance of its investment in research infrastructure. This is why we have committed a further $300 million in the 2015 Budget to continue to support NCRIS to June 2017.

An independent Research Infrastructure Review chaired by Mr Phil Clark is currently underway. My fellow speaker, Professor Chubb, is an ex-officio member of this Review, which is examining issues raised by the National Commission of Audit in 2014. These matters include the future of research infrastructure provision. The Review will advise the Government on decision-making arrangements for national scale research infrastructure, long-term planning, improving efficiency and infrastructure, and in particular NCRIS.

Under NCRIS and associated programmes, the Government has invested heavily in infrastructure that could be described as data-intensive or data-centric. These facilities are so-called by virtue of the size or complexity of the datasets they generate, extract, collect, and/or harness.

They include but are not limited to networks, equipment, and facilities for collecting and generating marine, terrestrial ecosystems, biology, earth science, groundwater, health, imaging, and urban research data. Work supported by these facilities includes:

The Population Health Research Network is internationally significant health data infrastructure funded under NCRIS. With the support of every state and territory, PHRN is overcoming those challenges with working across jurisdictional boundaries, to build a network that brings together existing health data from around the nation. This linked data is being made available for health-related research.

This and other research enabled by PHRN infrastructure allows the health sector and policy makers to respond more effectively to the changing health needs of Australians, and underpin more efficient and effective health policy.

This data-centric infrastructure is underpinned by other NCRIS investments in eResearch infrastructure that complement the work of ANDS. Since 2006, the Government has invested more than $460 million in eResearch infrastructure, including investments in tools, data, computation and networks. These investments include ongoing operational funding of more than $30 million in 2015-16 for eResearch alone.

Our leadership in this space was recognised when Australia became a founding member of the Research Data Alliance, an international initiative which aims to build the social and technical bridges that encourage open data. ANDS is Australia’s representative in the Research Data Alliance. The Alliance was founded in 2013 with major funding from the European Commission's 7th Framework Programme, the US National Science Foundation, as well as the Australian Government through ANDS.

eResearch technologies allow Australian researchers to compete and collaborate globally. In short, they are transforming science and research, while bringing about a much needed revolution in collaboration.

Our future competitiveness is partly dependent upon improved collaboration, not just between researchers, but across sectors, taking research and ideas and turning them into policy products, goods and services, which will boost our economy and improve our way of life.

Australia has not always embraced the opportunity to translate excellent research into tangible commercial outcomes: in 2013, we ranked last out of 33 OECD countries on the proportion of businesses collaborating with research institutions on innovation.

We are determined to address the challenge of translating good ideas into commercial results. With this critical outcome in mind, the Government recently launched Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research – a strategy to enhance collaboration and boost the impact and commercial returns from publicly funded research. The strategy includes 14 important actions to improve business and research sector collaboration, support economic growth and ensure Australia’s competitiveness into the future.

In order to get as much value as possible from our research outputs, to help Australian businesses to grow and thrive and to boost productivity and exports: we are committed to implementing the strategy. We will continue to consult and work with the research sector and industry as we implement it. Excellent research data and the infrastructure which supports it is a vital part of this process.

Infrastructure for data is increasingly required by industry and in government operational and policy environments as well as more traditional research settings. NCRIS facilities help create strong partnerships between the research sector, business, industry and government, as well as internationally.

I'd like to share a brief story about the importance of data collection and the role of Government in investing in the infrastructure that supports it.

Meteorology involves data-hungry research with critical outcomes for Australia. Government meteorologists from the time of Sir Charles Todd have used cutting edge technology and infrastructure creatively to generate and collect the data they need. A dedicated colonial administrator with immense scientific curiosity, Todd was Government Astronomer, Superintendent of the Electric Telegraph Department, and Postmaster General in colonial South Australia.

From the 1850s, Todd oversaw the building of the Overland Telegraph from Adelaide to Darwin. This was an extraordinarily ambitious infrastructure project for its time. The telegraph linked Australia to India, and then England, by undersea cable. It reduced our isolation from each other and from the rest of the world, improving the flow of information and thereby creating new opportunities for new and existing science, research and industry and commerce.

Todd built a network of meteorological stations along the telegraph. He worked with pastoralists and farm workers at stations throughout South Australia and the Northern Territory to collect detailed meteorological records and send the data to the Adelaide Observatory via the telegraph. This innovation began to revolutionise weather forecasting in Australia. Todd worked closely with his colleagues in the other Australasian colonies to produce a synoptic view of Australia's weather patterns, supporting Australia's then burgeoning rural industries. These early collaborations underpinned the establishment of the Bureau of Meteorology as a national institution in 1908.

Today, the Bureau collects data about Earth’s surface, oceans and atmosphere continuously from satellites, radar weather stations, aircrafts, meteorological balloons and ships. It relies heavily on the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) to support its increasingly sophisticated climate modelling. NCI has received $85 million from NCRIS.

The interdependent nature of research infrastructure means that without the NCI or without IMOS – the Integrated Marine Observing System – an NCRIS facility which operates observing equipment throughout Australia’s coastal and open oceans – Australia’s ability to predict droughts, floods or bushfires would be significantly compromised. As well as potentially saving lives; this type of information helps farmers decide what to plant for the coming season; and it can even provide investment insight for manufacturers.

The investment in Australia's future through NCRIS creates leading-edge technologies and infrastructure to support research data. These data collections help researchers to create economic, environmental, health and social benefits for all Australians.

The Government currently invests in research and researchers through the NCRIS network of 27 research infrastructure projects distributed across Australia through 222 institutions. The NCRIS network directly employs 1700 highly skilled technical specialists, researchers and facility managers. NCRIS facilities are used by over 35,000 researchers, both domestically and internationally, who discover, generate, collect, analyse, and build data and products which will benefit millions of Australians.

What these examples, together with today's event, show clearly is the importance of supporting research data at the institutional level as well as at the national level. This lesson was learned 150 years ago by Sir Charles Todd when he called on local weather stations to support a continent-wide data-gathering enterprise, and is recognised today in the support NCRIS provides for infrastructure like AuScope's National Virtual Core Laboratory and IMOS' national network of observing equipment.

Today's showcase is a great demonstration of the role of the NCRIS investment in building Australia’s research data collections into a world-class asset, and I thank you all for joining me here today to celebrate our progress.


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