Blog: Collaboration rife at Science meets Parliament 2017

MTPConnect General Manager of Education, Skills and Events, Dr Mel Thomson, jetted up to Canberra last week for the 18th annual Science Meets Parliament event, aiming to elevate visibility, awareness and understanding of STEM in Federal Parliament and Federal Government departments.

Science & Technology Australia organises the wonderful meeting of minds that is ‘Science meets Parliament’. It is the best opportunity for scientists to obtain then practice their advocacy skills, to keep science and technology issues at the forefront of politics, to inform the actions of our parliamentary democracy.

Day one was a series of workshops and seminars, aimed at getting the delegates to hone their advocacy skills. The first session covered interacting with the media and in the second, we heard from Dr Alex Zelinsky ( DS T) and Professor Anne Kelso ( NHMRC) on how science is used to shape public policy. In the third session we heard from Milton Catelin ( Medicines Australia) among others, about strategies to convince parliamentarians to support desired initiatives.

The afternoon was spent getting ‘pitch perfect’ for our upcoming Day two meetings with the parliamentarians we had been ‘matched’ with the week before, based on our mutual interests. My interests lie in commerialisation and translation of research in the MedTech Pharma sector, as well as advocating for women in science, and I was delighted to be allocated the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP, the Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The first day finished with a gala dinner at Parliament House, where I was lucky to have a long catch up with the Hon. Richard Marles MP, one of my local Geelong politicians, who had once mentioned my innovative use of crowdfunding for research in a speech to Parliament. He is one of the two ‘Parliamentary Friends of Science’ and the Shadow Minister for Defense, and we talked about the latest on the international Medical Countermeasures Consortium. During the dinner speeches, we heard from the Hon. Bill Shor ten MP, Leader of the Opposition, and had a prelude to the address Senator the Hon. Arthur Sinodi nos, Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science would deliver at the National Press Club the next day.

Day two started with a talk from the inspirational stem cell pioneer and Australian of the Year, Professor Alan Mackay-Smith, followed by a conversation with the Shadow Minister for Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon. Kim Carr. The delegates were then bussed to the National Press Club to hear Senator Sinodinos’s first address as Minister. The event provided an excellent opportunity for networking, and I was pleased to touch base with Dr Charlie Day and Bill Ferris AC, from Innovation and Science Australia, Professor Judith Smith (University of Technology Sydney) to Dr Tim O’ Meara (GE Healthcare), connecting on their areas of expertise and ways their organisations can collaborate.

An appointment with Parliamentary Question Time beckoned and the delegates were bussed back in time to take our seats to see the ‘biggest show in town,’ always guaranteed to be a robust discussion. My group met the Prime Minister soon after he left the lower House – after thanking the Prime Minister for putting science back on the agenda, I presented him with a copy of our Sector Competitiveness Plan and explained how I had ‘answered the call’ of the National Innovation and Science Agenda by joining MTPConnect, to facilitate deeper links between academia and industry, and grow the ecosystem for our sector. Dr Tim O’Meara then discussed his role at GE Healthcare Australia, which is to seek world class academic research in Australian universities, to translate into global commercialisation opportunities for our sector. The session ended with official photographs, and I managed to squeeze in a selfie with the Prime Minister to post on twitter, for he was happy to oblige.

The day wrapped up with a session from the Parliamentary Friends of Science, including Richard Marles, the Hon. Karen Andrews MP, the Hon. Craig Laundy MP and the Hon. Adam Bandt MP talking about the need for scientists to directly engage more directly in the parliamentary process as well as with the public at large, to keep science on the national agenda. Craig Laundy mentioned the Growth Ce ntre Initiative as an example of an active government policy to enable better academic-industry collaboration for the economic benefit of Australia. Afterwards, it was great to connect with Karen Andrews and thank her for the excellent interactions I had recently with her federal DET Skills team, on behalf of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, as we work together to address the national VET skills gaps for our sector.

The last event of the day was the farewell cocktail party, sponsored by MSD Australia. Christian Sellars spoke about the Bridge Program and the role MTPConnect played in funding and facilitating this excellent opportunity for commercialisation pathway knowledge transfer to current and future Australian MTP sector entrepreneurs.

After a quick chat with Dr Keith MacLean from CSIRO Manufacturing, I reluctantly left Parliament House, still abuzz from the fulfilling experience that was Science Meets Parliament. I would like to extend my thanks to Professor Jim Piper and Kylie Walker and the team from STA plus their volunteers for hosting such a wonderful event.