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American Australian Association Australia Day Black Tie Gala

New York

20 January 2017

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I’m delighted to be here and honoured to represent the Australian Government at this important event.

In a moment I will be introducing one of two people the American Australian Association has selected to be an honouree this year, a young Australian whose achievements to date exemplify what the Australian government is setting out to embed through our innovation policy.

But first I want to add my good wishes to those already extended by the Honorable Kevin Rudd on this Australia Day celebration.

And I congratulate the American Australian Association for the wonderful work you do in fostering the person-to-person links between our two countries.

Put simply it reinforces the strong and enduring nature of the friendship we share as nations.

Today of course is a significant day for the United States of America, and I’m excited to be here on such a momentous occasion as the swearing in of a new president.

So I extend my congratulations on this auspicious day.

Before I introduce the first of your two honourees I need to go back to basics to give you some context and explain why I admire this person’s achievements so much.

As many of you will know, the Australian Government has a major focus on making Australia a leading innovation nation.

Our National Innovation and Science Agenda sets out the vision to achieve this and to secure Australia’s economic prosperity.

At the moment we’re delivering NISA 1.0.

It recognises the central role of private enterprise, builds on existing programs across governments and places support for innovation and science at the centre of all major government policies.

We’re investing $1.1 billion over four years to lay the foundations of Australian innovation policy.

Already we’re well advanced with a number of NISA 1.0 measures and we’re consulting extensively to ensure that others have maximum impact for years to come.

As part of the second wave of NISA, NISA 2.0, the government is considering ways to encourage investment in innovation, enable digital productivity and support long term scientific infrastructure.

At the heart of NISA 3.0, will be the National Business Simplification Initiative, delivering a better regulatory environment and better business services so that firms can focus on growing their businesses, creating jobs, creating new products and accessing new markets.

We’re encouraging Australians to embrace risk, to pursue ideas and to learn from their mistakes.

We’re working to maximise collaboration between researchers and business, both at home and internationally, and developing and attracting world-class talent and skills and I’ll say more about this in a moment.

It’s no accident that we’ve established five landing pads in innovation hot spots to reach out to the world.

One of them is on the West Coast where I have just been participating in the Australian American Leadership Dialogue.

When we talk about innovation in Australia, we naturally think of the US as one of our chief sources of inspiration.

The US has long been a pacesetter that has attracted the best of the best, including some of Australia’s brightest.

Of course we don’t mind this, as long as we can get them back sometime in the future!

Developing Australian skills and talent is an essential pillar of the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

One of the key elements is a major investment in encouraging more young Australians to study, understand and apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM in their careers.

We want them to seriously consider choosing a career in the STEM disciplines. 

And we have several initiatives that particularly focus on helping girls and young women to consider STEM careers.

But often the most powerful and successful ways of putting messages across is by acknowledging role models.

And it’s great that the American Australian Association has chosen a wonderful role model to be honoured this year.

Marita Cheng has been a passionate advocate for years of the need to address gender disparity not only in the STEM workforce but also in the higher education cohort.

As an engineering student at the University of Melbourne she was concerned by the low proportion of girls in her classes.

In 2008, she and a peer founded Robogals, using fellow students working in schools to teach girls robotics to encourage them into engineering careers.

The following year, Robogals expanded to London while Marita was on academic exchange at Imperial College.

Eight years later, Robogals has taught robotics workshops to 50,000 girls in 11 countries and has won international recognition including the Global Engineering Deans Council Diversity in Engineering Award in 2014.

In addition, Marita is a technology entrepreneur.

She’s the founder of 2Mar Robotics which is working to make a difference for people with mobility difficulties, through its telepresence robot, Teleport.

And 2Mar is working on robotic arms for people with limited upper-body mobility, virtual reality and autonomous mapping and navigation applications.

I said at the outset I’m an enormous fan and I’m not alone. If I listed all her achievements we’d be here for ages.

Suffice to say Marita was the 2012 Young Australian of the Year and VentureBeat magazine called her the ‘coolest girl at CES 2014’ – which some of you will know as the greatest gadget show on earth.

I’m pleased and proud to introduce Marita Cheng.