Science meets Parliament a big success

Canberra recently welcomed hundreds of scientists from across the nation for a two day program of network and development.

For the past fifteen years Science meets Parliament has provided working scientists with an opportunity to consider their research from a different perspective and develop an understanding of how policy making and the media work.

“We all need to get better at telling and sharing the great stories of Australian science; inventions like wireless technology, IVF, the scram jet, the bionic ear, the black box flight recorder, the ultrasound and the dual flush toilet,” said Catriona Jackson, CEO Science and Technology Australia.

Each year the Staff Association sponsors the attendance of six members from CSIRO and other federal public sector science organisations. This year’s delegation included scientists from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

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Communications focus

With a focus on professional development, the first day saw participants getting involved in workshops aimed at improving communication skills to better engage with the media, policy and parliamentarians.

Andrew Charles, a CPSU member and Senior Climatologist from the Bureau of Meteorology, formed part of the delegation sponsored by the Staff Association.

“We heard a range of views about how we should promote our work to policymakers, from directly spelling out the direct economic benefits to appealing to the broader societal and long term benefits of fundamental research,” Andrew said.

Gala dinner

The first day culminated in a Gala Dinner, held in the Great Hall at Parliament House, hosted by MC Adam Spencer.

Speakers included Minister for Industry and Science Ian McFarlane, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and the President of the Business Council of Australia Catherine Livingstone.

“The opportunity to hear Catherine Livingstone speak about knowledge infrastructure at the Gala dinner was a clear highlight,” said Kate Cavanagh, Staff Association member from CSIRO’s Energy Flagship in Newcastle.

Day two began in Parliament House with a question and answer session with Senator Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Industry and Shadow Minister Assisting the Leader for Science.

The rest of the day’s activities included Question Time in the House of Representatives and lunch at the National Press Club; where Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb launched a report highlighting the contribution of physical sciences to the Australian economy.

Political engagement

However the main focus of the event comprised of a series face-to-face meetings with parliamentarians. Over 70 politicians and senior policy advisors met with scientists, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

The meetings provided a unique opportunity for scientists to explain the importance of their research directly to elected representatives.

“I was surprised to learn Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Science Karen Andrews MP shares the same qualification as I do,” said Mike Collins, Mechanical Engineer and Staff Association delegate.

Staff Association member Lynne MacDonald, from the Agricultural Flagship in Adelaide, met with the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon MP.

“My meeting with Joel featured a dynamic discussion with topics ranging from understanding soil sustainability to viral biosecurity issues,” Lynne said.

“It was clear that across the political spectrum there are many strong supporters of a well-funded research and development sector,” Andrew Charles said.

The Staff Association encourages the participation of early career scientists in particular, such as June Liu, Staff Association member and Post doctoral research scientist at Biosecurity Flagship ACT.

“The event was a totally different and fantastic experience to me as an early career scientist. I came to work the next morning and began to think in a different way to what I was planning to do that day,” June said.

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