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17 September 2018 Speech


Good evening everyone. Thank you to our hosts this evening here at the Australian High Commission in Singapore, and congratulations on a fantastic Good Science = Great Business festival this month.

The symbiotic relationship between science and business is one I am passionate about, and bringing them closer together is one of the key missions of CSIRO as Australia's national science agency.

Thank you also to Dr Weiyang Cheong from Singapore's National Research Foundation. This new chapter for CSIRO in Singapore is possible because of your support and our cooperation under the Australia/Singapore Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

CSIRO is built on collaboration – everything we do, we do with our partners in research, industry, government or the community.

CSIRO is also committed to delivering benefit through everything we do. That means that our partnerships are driven by a shared vision for making the world a better place.

So tonight you'll see this shared vision of CSIRO and our partners at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in action as we introduce you to the full scale of Australia's innovation ecosystem.

You'll have the opportunity to hear directly from some of the Australian scientists leading the charge for Australia's burgeoning sci-tech start-up community, and we’re thrilled to call them part of our new and expanded Team CSIRO.

So it's wonderful to have so many CSIRO partners – and I hope, future partners – of CSIRO here tonight to celebrate a new chapter in our 100-year-old organisation.


CSIRO has been solving big challenges with innovative science and technology for over 100 years.

From decades-old challenges like reinventing agriculture for the harsh Australian climate through crops like cotton and wheat, through to today’s challenges like saving the Great Barrier Reef, CSIRO has brought together diverse coalitions of partners and scientific disciplines to take on these bold missions.

Innovation has always been about getting ahead of your customers and competitors with a solution they couldn't have imagined.

In recent years, CSIRO has been doing a lot of market forecasting, predicting the biggest challenges and opportunities for Australia's largest industries, and our nation as a whole.

One of the most significant inputs into understanding where we’re headed globally was looking to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals – and I'll come back to their significance later.

Understanding the market vision has been critical to informing our science roadmaps – because we can't deliver solutions without partners in market to drive adoption.

The key question in our major national forecast – the Australian National Outlook, or ANO – was 'can we navigate a path to prosperity through global disruption?'

And in partnering with industry to deliver solutions, we then also had to ask, ‘can industry truly be partners with environment and not competitors?’

At CSIRO, not only do we believe they can be partners, we help them to be partners every day.

Because our science and our solutions are often world-firsts and innovative breakthroughs, they deliver benefits and impact well beyond Australia's borders.

In a more interconnected world, facing rapid disruption, our regional opportunity is for each country to play to our respective strengths, creating more new value through collaboration than any individual nation could have alone.

Innovation has become too hard to do alone – it must be a team sport.

So tonight I'm delighted to announce CSIRO’s official presence in the ASEAN region, based here in Singapore and supported by staff in Vietnam and Indonesia.

In formalising our commitment to the region, CSIRO will strengthen the bridge between the Australian and ASEAN innovation ecosystems based on existing, and new, long-term partnerships.

Tonight I want to briefly discuss some of the opportunities we have to work together to realise regional opportunities and solve shared challenges.

Precision Health

International collaboration is not new for Australia's national science agency.

Our famous Dish in outback Parkes produced the first images of man walking on the moon, in partnership with NASA in the US.

That technology informed our invention of WiFi, which today connects the entire world.

From WiFi, our teams developed the 19-beam receiver now at the heart of the world's largest radio telescope, FAST, in China, where I was earlier this week.

Similar technology led to a project we called 'Bees with Backpacks', an international effort to attach sensors to bees to track their movements and better understand how we can ensure the world's crops continue to be pollinated.

And just recently, this technology is in a new kind of sensor, this wearable blood glucose sensor.

This sensor will monitor, in real time, complex processes in the human body that can be the early warning signs of injury or disease.

This tech could potentially also be used by people at high risk of developing diabetes, to help them regulate their diet and lifestyle and make real changes to manage, or even avoid, the disease.

Around the world, experts across many divergent fields are realising the potential offered by big data – including clinical, laboratory, and genetic data – to generate more precise insights and treatments for the complex challenges of health and medicine.

CSIRO is no different, and that’s why we've invested in a Precision Health moonshot.

When we say moonshot, we’re acknowledging a challenge of this size and scale is going to need an international network of partners across research, industry, government and the community.

If we can align our resources, the rewards promise to be immense.

We've started some exciting work in the Precision Health field with Nanyang Technological University here in Singapore and this is going to create many opportunities for new partners to join us along the way.

Later this evening I am delighted you will hear directly from Professor Russ Gruen, one of the key instigators of the CSIRO/NTU partnership in Precision Health.

Next week, CSIRO will host a Precision Health challenge day, being held concurrently in Singapore and Adelaide, bringing together experts from our two nations to collaborate on regional solutions, and actively seek new partners to join us in our moonshot reach for longer, healthier lives.

And I’m also pleased to note that we will be sharing more about the High Performance Computing collaboration between CSIRO, A*STAR and NSCC at this challenge day. The partnership illustrates how connected supercomputing infrastructure can bring scientists in fields like genetics closer to get to breakthroughs faster.

Sustainable Development Goals

While we're improving our own health, the health of the ASEAN economy over the next decade is projected to grow astoundingly.

With this growth comes much economic opportunity. But as we capture the value of this growth we must be accountable to the environment and wider society. 

At CSIRO, our research is actively advancing progress against all 17 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Whether our partners are in research, industry, or government, whether they’re Australian or from around the world, we all believe we have a responsibility to make the world a better place – and our partners’ customers believe they have that responsibility, too.

Just last month I was in Brisbane for the world-first demonstration of CSIRO’s hydrogen-membrane cracker technology – test-driving a new generation of hydrogen-fuelled cars. Again, another great event with our partners, this time at BOC, HMA, Toyota and Hyundai.

As we transition to a low-emissions energy future, there is vast potential for a new industry in hydrogen to make a significant impact in limiting carbon emissions.

While our technological advances create opportunities for industry and environment to be partners, instead of competitors, as I mentioned earlier, it also demonstrates progress against the Sustainable Development Goals.

In this case, SDG Number 7 – Affordable and clean energy.

Let me touch on one more SDG – Goal 13 calls for action on climate. 

A few years ago we increased our focus on partnerships to mitigate and adapt to climate change, while continuing our critical measurement and modelling work to better understand our climate.

Since then, we've exported heliostats and solar thermal technology to China and we've created an app called YieldProphet to inform farmers' decisions in the face of climate variability.

We've developed a seaweed-based livestock feed called Futurefeed to eliminate methane emissions from cattle – which contribute to 10 per cent of Australia's emissions – and we’ve taken big steps forward on developing Australia’s hydrogen energy industry.

If all of these innovations are adopted, we'll be supporting Australia to reduce emissions by more than our Paris commitment. 

Progress against any of the SDGs takes international partnerships, but CSIRO has all the right foundations in place to keep building on this momentum, and we’re always looking for new partners to contribute.

Australia's Innovation Catalyst

So I've talked about CSIRO’s grand ambitions for transforming human health and saving the world, but let me now give you an opportunity to hear from the real change-makers, our scientists.

Before I introduce them, a little background.

Soon after I returned to CSIRO as Chief Executive in 2015, our role as Australia's Innovation Catalyst received a big endorsement from the Australian Government through the creation of three new programs.

First, we brought together Australia’s leading digital and data scientists under one banner, creating the Data61 team within CSIRO, applying digital expertise across the entire spread of our world-class research.

Second, we created Australia's only sci-tech accelerator. It's called ON, and it's run by CSIRO for all Australian universities and publicly funded research organisations.

In just over two years, we've taken more than 200 teams through the program, testing their benchtop breakthroughs with real world customers, and spinning out numerous new start-ups.

And the third new initiative we launched is the CSIRO Innovation Fund, managed by Main Sequence Ventures. The Fund is set up to invest in market-ready innovations and support their growth to scale, and in due course, delivering returns to the Australian economy and back into more Aussie research.

Initially, it was supported by investment from the Australian Government and returns from CSIRO's WiFi royalties – and I’m hoping most people in this room know about the role CSIRO played in connecting the world through WiFi.

If you don't, come and see me later. It's a great story!

The Fund has just completed its first round of capital raising, closing with $232 million, ready to invest in Aussie innovation. 

I'm really happy to share, here in Singapore, that Temasek has become the third largest investor in the Fund.

Temasek is one of the world's foremost investors in technology, and it's great that the early-stage companies the Fund invests in can access Temasek's very broad ecosystem of portfolio companies around the world. 

It opens possibilities to build partnerships and take innovations to markets beyond Australia.

Temasek's substantial investment is testament not just to international confidence in Australia's growing innovation economy and the returns it will deliver, but to the power of science to deliver real solutions to the world's problems. 

So, we're very excited to have them on board.

In April this year, we hit our first trifecta for the new programs. In a moment, you'll hear from Silvia Pfeiffer, the CEO of Telehealth business Coviu.

Coviu was developed from brilliant Australian science, incubated in CSIRO's Data61, accelerated through ON, and just recently secured funding from the CSIRO Innovation Fund.

Almost none of those steps would have been possible just two years ago.

So let's hear from a few of these teams. 

[Presentations from Coviu, Folear, Maxwell Plus, Cloud180CAM and NoisyGuts]

With talent like this in the Australian innovation ecosystem, it's no wonder we've seen such strong results so early in these new programs. Let's give them another round of applause.

Over to you

Tonight is all about partnerships. Thank you again to our incredibly important partner, DFAT, I'm looking forward to working closely with you as we scale Australian innovation across the region.

Thank you to all our partners here tonight, particularly the National Research Foundation, NTU, NUS and A*STAR. We wouldn't be here without you, and we're excited about continuing to grow our shared opportunities together.

And thank you to all our future partners. With our commitment to the region now formalised, we're throwing open our doors to meet new people and find new and innovative ways to collaborate.

I couldn't possibly do justice to the depth and breadth of work being done at CSIRO in this short speech, but I can guarantee you we'll be working on something of interest to you. So please do make the most of the event tonight to talk to us, and stay in touch. It's great to officially be part of the neighbourhood.

Thank you.

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