The Chief Scientist

What is the Chief Scientist?

Australia’s Chief Scientist provides high-level independent advice to the Prime Minister and other Ministers on matters relating to science, technology and innovation. They also hold the position of Executive Officer of the National Science and Technology Council to identify challenges and opportunities for Australia that can be addressed, in part, through science.

The Chief Scientist can be appointed to ex-officio roles at the discretion of the government. Past appointments for Chief Scientists have included Chair of the 2016 National Research Infrastructure Roadmap Expert Working Group, Chair of the Australian Climate Change Science Framework Coordination Group, and membership of the R&D Tax Incentive Review Panel, the National Climate Science Advisory Committee, the Cooperative Research Centres Advisory Committee, the then Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) Advisory Board, and the Rural Research and Development Council.  

The position is also an advocate for Australian science internationally and focuses national thinking on science across the states and territories through the Forum of Australian Chief Scientists. An equally important part of the role of Chief Scientist for Australia is to be a champion of science, research and the role of evidence in the community and in government. Finally, the Chief Scientist is a communicator of science to the general public, with the aim to promote understanding of, contribution to and enjoyment of science and evidence-based thinking.

The position of Australia’s Chief Scientist was first established in 1989 with the appointment of Ralph Slatyer. The full listing of Australia’s Chief Scientists to date is as follows:

  • Cathy Foley (2021-present)
  • Alan Finkel (2016-2020)
  • Ian Chubb (2011-2015)
  • Penny Sackett (2008-2011)
  • Jim Peacock (2006-2008)
  • Robin Batterham (1999-2005)
  • John Stocker (1996-1999)
  • Michael Pitman (1992-1996)
  • Ralph Slatyer (1989-1992)

What unique role does the Chief Scientist for Australia play?

The world, and Australia with it, is faced with increasingly complex challenges and opportunities, most of which require significant input from science in order to address them fully and appropriately. It is essential then, that the Australian Government has access to the highest calibre independent, and authoritative scientific advice available, to be used to help inform the best course of action for Australia. The Chief Scientist has the opportunity to help bring together extensive national and international scientific networks to assist in providing the most up to date and scientifically robust advice. Through international networks the Chief Scientist is also able to help discuss and affect this at a global level. This is a key and unique aspect of the role.

Who does the Chief Scientist report to?

The Chief Scientist reports to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, and also works closely with the Prime Minister both in their role as Executive Officer of the National Science and Technology Council and in order to provide detailed scientific advice.

Members of the Office of the Chief Scientist

Chief of Staff
Nicole Henry

Penny Leggett
Katherine Leigh
Jessica Wright

Amanda Caldwell
Ruth Oettle
Kirsten Lawson
Kate Amiet
Amelia Hart

Sharon Kort
Michelle Cole