Launch of the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s BioInfoSummer 2014

Speech
  • Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

Good morning and thank you for welcoming me here today at Monash University.

I wish to acknowledge:

  •  Professor Geoff Prince, Director, Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute 
  •  The Monash University representatives, in particular, Professor Kate Smith-Miles, Professor David Green, and Professor Ian Smith
  •  Professor Terry Speed from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research – recipient of the 2013 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science
  •  Professor Chris Overall, Director, the Overall Lab, University of British Columbia.

As I meet with researchers and academics around the country, data collection and processing is one of the most talked about topics in the sciences at the moment.

We live in a world where we can record more information than ever before.

But this information only has a value if we develop the ability to process and analyse it.

This is as true for the biological sciences, as it is for all other areas of science and technology.

The application of advanced mathematical, statistical and computational techniques to discover, analyse and simulate the structures and processes of biological systems will shape our future.

In health and medical fields, the analysis enabled by bioinformatics has led to advances in areas such as genetics, drug discovery, diagnostics, and disease management.

And it is through this cutting edge research that scientists and business will develop new products and services, new health treatments and new technologies.

As a result we will live longer, more productive lives.

Bioinformatics also plays in important part in detecting, monitoring and responding to the immediate challenge of managing emerging infectious disease.

This year, we have witnessed the spread of the dangerous Ebola disease through a number of African countries and beyond.

I was pleased to learn that the bioinformatics community responded swiftly to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone through the development of a new Ebola genome browser.

This will support global efforts to develop cures and treatments, to help forecast Ebola’s future course and to assess the impact of various management strategies.

BioInfoSummer – bringing together students, researchers and professionals to share state-of-the-art technologies and learn about the use of mathematics and computational science in biological contexts – is clearly an investment in the future of science and innovation in Australia.

So, to the organisers of this event, I say thank you for developing this idea and for your persistence. Delivering an annual event for eight years is a major investment and I thank you for making it.

This year’s BioInfoSummer programme covers an impressive array of topics of local and global importance – from cancer treatments, cutting edge computational platforms, predicting the effects of drugs on bone health to the mathematical biology of living cells. 

The Australian Government is proud to invest in the valuable work done by the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute to support students to get the very best start in their maths and science education and careers.

We know that over the past 20 years, there has been a significant decline in the proportion of students studying maths and sciences at Year 12 and tertiary levels. If these trends continue, Australia’s capacity to develop into a high technology, high productivity economy will be severely limited.

As the Chief Scientist of Australia, Professor Ian Chub has reminded us in: STEM ought to be central to the goals of government to ensure our nation is not left behind.

For this reason, the Government is committed to restoring the focus on STEM subjects in primary and secondary schools and will invest an additional $12 million to increase student uptake of these subjects. 

The funding includes support for ‘Mathematics by Inquiry’ programmes, enhanced computer programming skills and encouraging more diverse participants in summer schools.

Restoring the focus on STEM subjects in our schools is ultimately about ensuring young Australians are equipped with the skills necessary for their future.

We know that there is a shortage of skilled bioinformaticians and computational biologists in Australia.

The BioInfoSummer series plays an important role in helping to address this shortage of skilled bioinformaticians and computational biologists by inspiring talented students in relevant disciplines to develop an interest this ground breaking area of study.

We must continue to encourage interest and curiosity in STEM subjects and demonstrate there are great careers built on these areas of study.

The Government is providing $2 million over four years to 2016 for the Mathematical Sciences Institute’s Vacation Schools and Scholarships Project.

BioInfoSummer is an important initiative supported under this project.

Bioinformatics is also supported by the Government through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and associated programmes through projects – Bioplatforms Australia, and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory Australia.

Both of these organisations are sponsoring the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s new bioinformatics intern programme which funds postgraduate students to undertake industry-based bioinformatics projects.

In recognition of the importance of science, the Government has established the Commonwealth Science Council as the pre-eminent body for advice on science and technology in Australia. The Council advises the Government on areas of national strength, current and future capability and on ways to improve connections between Government, research organisations, universities and business.

The Council is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes the Ministers for Education, Industry and Health, as well as 10 eminent scientists, researchers, educators and business leaders. Members include, for example, Professor Ian Frazer, whose work on viral immunology while at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research led to the development of the Gardasil vaccine. And, Professor Nalini Joshi, Chair of Applied Mathematics at the University of Sydney and Australian Laureate Fellow, among other distinguished scientists and researchers.

Australia has a strong higher education system to help ensure a positive future for local research, science and technology.

The Government will invest $11 billion over four years in research in Australian universities. 

The Government announced reforms to higher education and research in its Budget in May this year. 

The proposed reforms are vital to ensuring that Australia’s universities and research programmes are strong and competitive in a tough global market. 

These essential reforms are still under consideration by the Senate.

The Government’s important higher education reforms will help build up Australia’s research capacity.

Australia has a productive research sector – in 2013 we contributed 3.9 per cent of the world's research output, ranking us ninth in the OECD.  

But we perform less well in translating research into commercial outcomes that help drive economic growth.

The Minister for Education, the Hon Christopher Pyne, and the Minister for Industry, the Hon Ian Macfarlane, recently released a discussion paper to find ways to help to translate our research success into economic gain.

Through the Boosting the Commercial Returns from Research discussion paper, the Government pursued input from researchers and industry.

The objective was to develop a strategy to improve Australia’s economic performance by better translating local research into commercial outcomes.  Fully utilising our research output will grow successful Australian businesses and research capacity, and boost productivity and exports.

The Government is considering input received from the research sector through the consultation process, which just closed on Friday.

I commend all those who have supported BioInfoSummer 2014, particularly, the Mathematical Sciences Institute, Monash University, the Australian Bioinformatics Network, the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Australia, Bioplatforms Australia and CSIRO.

I am pleased to declare BioInfoSummer 2014 officially open.

I wish you an enjoyable and productive time as you participate in this innovative event.

[ENDS]

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