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Presentation Ceremony for the 2020 and 2021 Awardees of the Australian Academy of Science Honorific Awards, Government House


I begin by acknowledging that Government House sits on the land of the Ngunnawal People here in the ACT. If you’re a Canberran, you’ll know what a beautiful part of the country this is. We thank them for looking after it for us, for generation after generation, and pay our respects to their elders past and present.

Good evening.

Linda and I are delighted to host the Presentation Ceremony for the 2020 and 2021 Awardees of the Australian Academy of Science Honorific Awards.

This ceremony has had a number of false starts due to the pandemic. But, as I say, we’re delighted to have you here and to be celebrating scientific excellence.

These awards have special meaning.

They recognise outstanding contributions to the advancement of science at the early, mid and career level.

I use the word ‘outstanding’ to describe the recipients’ achievements for two reasons.

First, the depth to which each recipient has gone in their respective field. In today’s world, ‘attention’ is fleeting and 15 seconds of TikTok is mistaken as ‘achievement’ far too often. In contrast, the six recipients we celebrate tonight have made substantive commitments lasting years and there is little they don’t know about their chosen field. That is, in itself, outstanding.

The second reason the recipients are outstanding is the sheer potential that each has unlocked. We know that scientific research has the potential to unlock new insights and new pathways. We don’t always know exactly how, but we know that it will.

When Dame Sarah Gilbert, co-creator of AstraZeneca, was asked how she managed to make an effective vaccine so quickly, she stated: because ‘a lot of work has already been done on the technology itself … knowing that we could make that vaccine against a coronavirus put us in a very good position to make a vaccine when we needed to at the beginning of 2020.’

Let me repeat part of that statement: ‘because “a lot of work has already been done on the technology itself.”’

Those who pioneered that technology didn’t know that their work would help us through a pandemic in 2020 and 2021. But it did. Therein lies the key – research!

Tonight, we proudly host a reception in your honour and celebrate your outstanding achievements in science. Consider this your Royal Box at Wimbledon moment!

What you have discovered over the course of your brilliant careers is amazing. We’ll hear the citations in full shortly. But for now can I say that the six awards being presented tonight are specifically for Career and Early Career scientific achievement and have applications in the following fields:

  • Methodology and data [Professor Welsh, and Dr Scealy] 
  • Mineral exploration [Professor Campbell]
  • Photosynthesis [Professor von Caemmerer]
  • The Universe [Professor McClelland]
  • Heatwaves [Dr Perkins-Kirkpatrick]

I want to thank the Australian Academy of Science – one of Australia’s five learned Academies – for its role as an independent advisor to government by providing the scientific evidence base needed to inform decision making at the highest levels.

In particular, throughout the pandemic, I know the Academy has worked to address misinformation and helped achieve the strong uptake of the vaccine Australia has experienced.

It’s wonderful to have you all here. We look forward to shortly presenting the medals and spending some quality time with you over dinner.

Thank you.