Speech, check against delivery


13 August 2018

JULIE BISHOP:  It is an absolute delight to be here to mark National Science Week. I congratulate DFAT and Frances Adamson and Claire Walsh for hosting the function here at the innovationXchange with Sarah Pearson so that we can focus on the issue of science, technology and innovation right here in the innovationXchange.

There is a lot of focus on the under representation of women in STEM and related areas, but isn’t it interesting that here I am as Australia’s first female Foreign Minister, acknowledging Australia’s first female Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and her female Deputy Secretary and the second, female Chief of the innovationXchange, surrounded by the most extraordinary group of female scientists in Michelle, Elanor, Dharmica and Cathy – and you have to ask yourself, is there really a problem?


We are here to celebrate Australian science and technology. Australian scientists are renowned for being creative, innovative, courageous, and adaptive and they think laterally. It is extraordinary when you consider some of the innovations that have been attributed to Australians in medical research – ultrasound, penicillin of course. We have been involved in ground-breaking work on the bionic ear. My good friend, Dr Barry Marshall, won a Nobel Prize for his breakthrough treatment for stomach ulcers with the bacteria helicobacter pylori. We have also done ground-breaking work in treatment of bipolar disorder, a whole range of medical and scientific research and of course, CSIRO’s great breakthrough with wifi which is just an extraordinary contribution to the way we live. As Sarah said, technology is disrupting the way we live, the way we work, the way we engage, every aspect of our lives. We acknowledge this in our Foreign Policy White Paper but this is not a challenge, but an opportunity.

Today we are going to talk about science, technology, innovation, how Australia can continue to contribute, how we can attract more women and girls into the relevant subjects, the STEM subjects that are the basis of our work and how we can bring what we do to the global stage.

I am delighted that Michelle Simmons is here because it really does send a very powerful message when the 2018 Australian of the Year is a scientists, a female and is in a new area of quantum physics and the work that Michelle will be doing in that regard is so exciting, absolutely ground-breaking.

The innovationXchange is an idea we came up with in about 2014, so it is over three and a half years old. I’d been concerned by the fact that we were investing a lot of foreign aid into countries in our region, yet it would appear that they were going backwards in some of the most fundamental socio-economic areas. How could that be?

So, it clearly wasn’t about money, because the money was being invested. What were we doing wrong? Well, in fact, we just weren’t being creative and innovative enough. We weren’t thinking outside the square. We were delivering aid as we’d always delivered aid. We were doing things as they had always been done. So, we thought, well, what if we set aside some money, got a blank piece of paper and said: if we could start all over again, think of some intractable development issues, what would you do differently to try to resolve it? Take some risks, think creatively, be courageous – and, the innovationXchange was born. We set aside the money, we put some of our best and brightest in the innovationXchange. We came up with a series of problems and we said, okay, how would you solve it? The innovationXchange, being innovative, said we don’t have all the answers but what we could do is tap into some of the global challenges, these hackathons and some of the international competitions for ideas and put some of our money up as seed funding. It has grown and grown and grown and now we have about over 100 projects in over 30 nations of the Indo-Pacific.

We are harnessing scientific and medical research and technology in the delivery of our aid. For example, we have a fantastic program using drones to identify needs in the aftermath of a natural disaster. We are trialling drones delivering pharmaceuticals. We are working as part of the world mosquito program, working with the bacteria Wolbachia to see if we can eliminate Dengue fever and Zika. In partnership with other Australian research institutions we are using video conferencing for female doctors in Pakistan to reach into rural and regional areas that just were not receiving that level of health care, using video conferencing. Time and time again, the innovationXchange is tapping into some of the most creative thinking and breaking new ground is what Australia is renowned for.

I am delighted that the innovationXchange is hosting this discussion today. Frances is a huge supporter of the concept of innovation threading its way across the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Think differently. Think creatively. Don’t do what you have always done because you have always done it. Come up with new ideas. We have had some fantastic DFAT-wide competitions where we have asked everybody in DFAT to come up with an idea to solve a problem in your work area. The quality of the thinking and the quality of the ideas has been nothing short of astounding. I would love to see this across the public service. We are setting a standard, and it has been acknowledged – that beautiful trophy there, very innovative looking trophy. We have been recognised for embracing innovation as the core of our aid program and now under Francis Adamson you will see it across DFAT. It makes it such an exciting place to be. You are at the edge, you are doing things that others are not. Your ideas, your enthusiasm, your energy, your thinking will be taken on board. You have an opportunity to get your ideas into public policy and I can’t think of anything more exciting, particularly for young people coming into the public service and knowing that their creativity will be recognised and appreciated.

Sarah, we are just delighted to have you as the Chief Innovation Officer at DFAT. The fact that we have a Chief Innovation Officer in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is noticed around the world, a very different thing to do, but also, someone of your standing and calibre makes us proud to have you as head of the innovationXchange.

I now have to go back to Parliament. Day one after a break, I can tell you the in-tray is looking very full. I really wish you all the best for today. It should be a very exciting day but more than that, it will be fun. You will be empowered, you will be strengthened, you will be energised by what you hear from these five fabulous science role models that are here today. Enjoy and let’s keep celebrating National Science Week every week of the year.