An innovative appointment

March 2016

We sat down with a couple of Club Melbourne Ambassadors to see what they thought about Dr Alan Finkel’s appointment as the Chief Scientist of Australia.

Dr Alan Finkel AO took up his role as the 8th Chief Scientist of Australia in January of this year. His appointment is particularly fitting shortly after the Prime Minister emphasised that the future economy needs to be focussed on innovation to enable Australia to fully realise the societal and economic benefits that will result from increased intensity in the sciences.

Dr Finkel’s experience stretches across academia and industry both local and international, making him an ideal candidate to support the articulation and implementation of the National Innovation and Science Agenda, thus fulfilling Malcolm Turnbull’s mandate.

But what does the science community think of his appointment? We asked a couple of Club Melbourne Ambassadors what they thought.

Ambassador, Laureate Professor Adrienne Clarke AC, Chancellor of La Trobe University, is just one of many who is excited about having him in the captain’s seat, as “he certainly has the background for the task as a successful entrepreneur with a passion for science and technology and direct links to both the business community and the communities of science and technology."

It echoes sentiments from Finkel himself who said, “business needs science, science needs business,” in order for Australia to compete in a global science economy.

But the role is also going to come with its fair share of challenges, especially in an environment change in the science sector and heightened expectation around translation.

Clarke said one the challenges that Dr Finkel will face during his incumbency is to “support people who take the big risks to get a new idea and new businesses off the ground.”

But for someone who is a successful technology entrepreneur, that lives in an emission-free house and advocates for nuclear power and electric cars (like the one he owns) to reduce Australia’s carbon footprint, bold solutions are not exactly a stranger to the new Chief Scientist nor is the idea of translating research into commercial returns.

Another major challenge will be to address a plan for science infrastructure into the future, refine the research and development tax scheme, progress the nine National Science and Research Priorities and foster an improvement in STEM performance in our schools.  His work is cut out for him.

What will it mean for Melbourne?

It is thought that Alan Finkel’s appointment will likely deliver advantages for the Melbourne innovation sector.

When asked what the advantages to Melbourne might be, distinguished Australian research biologist, Club Melbourne Ambassador, Emeritus Professor Sir Gus Nossal AC CBE said, “seamless lineage of basic and applied research, and the higher visibility of innovation efforts.”

Just as his predecessors Ralph Slatyer and John Stocker made significant impacts on the scientific industry with the collaborative CRC scheme and co-operatively with CSIRO respectively, Sir Gus Nossal went on to say that “in the future, the Chief Scientist will help guide us into more transitional waters.”

Dr Finkel will now no doubt expand on his long and successful career in industry and academia to support the implementation of the National Innovation and Science Agenda. With his original roots in Melbourne, his global industry networks and his role as Chancellor of Monash University, his understanding of the issues facing the local science and technology sector is deep and rich.

Hearing from two of our Ambassadors, it is apparent that big things are expected from the new Chief Scientist. Whether he can successfully link the business and academic science communities to fuel innovation, increase collaboration and drive faster towards translation is something we are all eager to find out.

We wish Dr Alan Finkel the best in his endeavour to achieve in his words ‘our Great Power Period.’