The 2016 Science Meets Parliament event brought together over 200 leading and emerging scientists into the heart of Australian parliament in Canberra on the 1st and 2nd of March. Over two days, scientists heard from guest speakers, including ex-Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb and newly appointed Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, along with Australian Ministers, leading scientists, policy developers and media and communications gurus, to learn about how important science research is to Australia economically, politically and socially to develop fundamental skills and processes involved in being able to translate science to politicians, media and the public.
The 16th annual Science Meets Parliament coincided with the Federal Government’s recently announced National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), which places science and innovation at the heart of the nation’s strategy for economic growth and competitiveness. This agenda was an overarching theme over the two-day event with discussions revolving around the role leading and emerging scientists may play in this agenda moving forward. Scientists were encouraged to develop their science communication skills to become more adept to science communication, but it was also identified that politicians need to have a greater understanding of science, and some of this will emerge through strengthened relationships and communication.
Day one was hosted at the Hotel Realm and the theme focused on building professional development in communications and policy development processes. Delegates heard from experienced policy advisers, journalists, analysts and parliamentarians on how to engage with the media, politicians and the policymaking process. Further, scientists engaged in an interactive session, hosted by Science Communication experts at ANU, about pitching science to politicians in less than 60 seconds. At the end of the day, scientists joined some of Australia’s parliamentary figures at the Gala Dinner held at Parliament House.
At the Gala dinner, Industry, Innovation and Science Minister Christopher Pyne the Federal Government’s goals and plans for the and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten addressed the audience with a proposed counter-speech highlighting support for NISA, yet communicating a need for NISA to be underpinned by research and include pure research to complement innovation.
On day two, Science Meets Parliament was hosted at Parliament House, where scientists met with their delegated politicians and had the opportunity to observe Question Time in the house of Representatives or the Senate. At lunch delegates travelled to the National Press Club for lunch, where the nation’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, made a live address to a sold-out audience about the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead for Australian Science and Innovation and his role as Chief Scientist. We also had an opportunity to hear from ex-Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb, where he reflected on his experience and role and the future of Australia’s research strategy.
We met with the Honorable Karen Andrews MP, Assistant Minister for Science, along with two other delegates working in STEM education. Ms Andrews has a keen interest in STEM education and in encouraging youth, and particularly females, to consider Science and Technology careers. Ms Andrews was interested to learn about the various programmes by the delegates and in particular Ms Andrews was interested in learning about why youth interest in STEM wanes in years 5-8 and how the Government could help.
Over the two days delegates heard about NISA’s specific funding to support startups, collaboration between industry and research and efforts to increase women in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and education in STEM from the very first years of school. This year had a political flavour around the topic – with the Federal Government highlighting benefits, potential output and relevance to research scientists and the Opposition challenging and critiquing NISA to ensure it aligns with a national strategic priority in Science. However, there was support from all parties that there is a need to put science and innovation on the stage, and to continue this important conversation.
With a strong industry presence from sponsors, CEOs and representatives put a strong foothold in the important role that scientists have and can contribute to Australia’s science and innovation agenda and the important role that we have as scientists to communicate our research to politicians and the wider public.
The full program can be found 2016 on the Science and Technology Australia website and you can follow past commentary and photos from delegates and speakers on Twitter with the hashtag #smp2016.
It was such an amazing and insightful experience. Thank you to ACDICT for inviting us to attend!