Australia's Chief Scientist

National Science and Technology Council: Second Meeting

The National Science and Technology Council convened in Canberra on 21 June 2019 for its second meeting, chaired by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP.

Minister Andrews welcomed Council members, and emphasised the high priority the Prime Minister and his Government have placed on progressing the Council’s work. The Minister reiterated that the Government considers science and technology critical to productivity, jobs and Australia’s economic growth. The Minister reflected on her recent attendance at the high-level G20 meeting on trade and the digital economy, hosted by Japan, and the importance of considering the human impacts of new technologies. The Council has an important leadership role in the conversation around how to ensure the benefits are realised across Australia’s communities and businesses.

Members agreed that Australia’s capacity to compete relies on maximising engagement in science and technology, and supporting lifelong learning and skills development. The focus must be on securing a future in which meaningful jobs are available for all.

The Minister noted the extensive work underway across government to boost capacity in Artificial Intelligence (AI) responsibly, including a recent national consultation on an Australian AI Ethics Framework and a research project to explore barriers to business adoption of AI. Options for how the Council can assist with progressing work in the AI area will be considered at the next meeting. Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel also tabled a Horizon Scanning Report on AI commissioned by the Council and developed by a panel of experts under the auspices of the Australian Council of Learned Academies.

The Council considered ways in which AI driven technical systems could assist specific sectors. It was agreed that the Council would undertake further work to analyse the opportunities in the manufacturing sector, under the Council’s Research Challenges work stream.

Council Member Professor Debra Henly then briefed the Council on her analysis of critical points for intervention to improve students’ engagement with STEM education. Members discussed the wide range of activities underway at a Commonwealth and State level and agreed to further work to identify further actions that could be taken.

The Council will meet again in Brisbane in late August.