Australia's Chief Scientist

National Science and Technology Council: First Meeting

The newly constituted National Science and Technology Council met for the first time in Sydney on 25 February 2019. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, the Hon Karen Andrews MP, welcomed the Council’s new members, and reaffirmed the essential place of science in supporting the national agenda. They called on the scientific community to engage with the Council to provide Government with the advice needed to improve the lives of Australians and create a stronger economy.

The Council discussed the significance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and members agreed that Australia has an opportunity to play a leading role in shaping the ethics and regulation of AI internationally. It was agreed that Professor Genevieve Bell, with support from other Expert Members, would work with CSIRO Data61 on the extensive activities it has been undertaking on AI following the Government’s 2018-19 Budget. The Council agreed to discuss AI further at its next meeting.

The importance of STEM skills to Australia’s future was noted by the Council and members discussed concerns about students’ falling interest in these subjects. The Council agreed Professor Debra Henly, with support from other Expert Members, would undertake further work to identify the critical points to intervene to keep students, practitioners and the general public engaged with STEM.

The Council noted the outcomes from the Government’s investment in research infrastructure, the opportunities for the future and how these world-class facilities are delivering real world impact.

A forward work program was agreed. The Council indicated interest in pursuing AI and next generation agriculture technologies as research challenges and agreed that further advice, including draft proposals, would be sought prior to final decision. Potential topics for new reports in the Horizon Scanning series were discussed, covering data as a national asset, use of technology in aged care and the conservation and environmental management of oceans. Horizon Scanning reports on AI, next generation agriculture technologies and the internet of things are already underway and will be delivered in the next twelve months. The Council noted that while there are a number of science and research system issues that can be examined, research quality would be earmarked for discussion at the next meeting.

The Council noted that National Science and Research Priorities were established in 2015 and it was timely to examine the policy rationale for the current Priorities and their role in supporting the science research system. The Council agreed to contribute to the work underway by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science to review the policy basis for the Priorities.

The Council agreed to a forward schedule of meetings in June, August and November 2019, and Members will be actively engaging with the community to ensure these meetings considered the most pressing issues for science and technology in Australia.