Thinkers are doing more than navel gazing
My previous Punch piece talked about the new Royal Institution of Australia, which was formally opened by the Duke of Kent last Thursday.
The RiAus is housed in our new Science Exchange, along with the Australian Science Media Centre.
This national initiative is about encouraging a greater understanding of the importance of science to our nation’s future.
Crucially, it will encourage young Australians to embrace science at school and university, and then take up scientific careers.
These independently operated organisations have been distilled from work undertaken by the current Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Baroness Professor Susan Greenfield, during her time as an Adelaide Thinker in Residence.
When we announced this program, to bring world-renowned thinkers to Adelaide, we were sneered at in some quarters.
“We need action, not reflection”, we were told.
One local radio program predictably attacked the Thinkers in Residence concept, yet it has chosen to interview our ‘Thinkers’ more than any other media outlet.
It seems they like the Thinkers, but don’t like the program. Yet the Thinkers are the program!
Of course, any serious commentator understands that thoughtful planning must always underpin decisive action and strong policies.
Susan Greenfield’s residency is a case in point.
Among the programs she helped inspire is the SpiRit of Science Scholarship scheme, under which young people from disadvantaged families and communities travel to London to attend the Royal Institution’s famous “Christmas Lectures” series.
This initiative is helping youngsters with a passion and a talent for science to become the first in their extended families ever to go to university.
I’m told one recipient has won a scholarship with NASA.
But Baroness Professor Greenfield’s is not the only residency to have delivered tangible benefits to South Australia.
Roseanne Haggerty from New York City came to Adelaide to help us address our target to reduce the rate of homelessness.
We are proud that South Australia is the only Australian State to have done so, with the most recent Census figures showing a five per cent drop in homelessness in South Australia compared to a national increase of around 19 per cent.
Roseanne’s helping us to do even better.
She’s convinced us to back her Common Ground concept with millions of dollars committed to building inner-city apartments in which the most difficult homeless cases are housed in good accommodation.
Just as importantly, they also have access to the support services needed to sustain them, and to get themselves out of a continuing cycle of poverty - street to home, rather than hospital to park.
I’m pleased that other States are following this lead and looking to adopt the Common Ground model, and that Therese Rein (wife of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) has taken on the role of national Common Ground patron.
Herbert Girardet and Stephen Schneider have helped us to identify opportunities in sustainability and renewable energy, and to make us a national – and in some areas, a global – leader in these areas.
In 2007, we became the first jurisdiction in Australia, and the third in the world, to pass greenhouse gas reduction legislation, and then feed-in laws to fuel a greater take up of solar energy.
And while the rest of the nation will find it a challenge to reach the Prime Minister’s target of 20 per cent of power generated from renewable sources, we will reach it years ahead of schedule, and we’re now shooting for a goal of 33 per cent.
We’re also home to around half of Australia’s total wind power capacity, and through the thinking of Herbert Girardet we’re on track to reach our goal to plant three million trees across metropolitan Adelaide by 2014 to reduce our carbon footprint.
Among other Thinkers whose ideas have led to significant programs or initiatives are:
Maire Smith (2003-04) – helped to develop our State’s multi-million dollar bio-science precinct, including our BioSA incubator that has created new bio-technology companies
Peter Wintonick (2005) – helped to set new directions for our film industry.
Fraser Mustard (2006-07) –helped us design and deliver programs to integrate early childhood education and care services with health and child welfare.
Ilona Kickbusch (2007) – helped develop our ‘Health in All Policies’ process that is tackling 21st Century population health issues such as work-life balance and healthy weight.
Dennis Jaffe (2007) – helped us establish measures to help the owners and operators of family businesses.
Andrew Fearne (2009) – helped our viticulture and agriculture industries to improve and strengthen value chains that deliver food and wine from producer to consumer.
Also among our most recent Thinkers is Geoff Mulgan, once described as “the brain of Britain” and an adviser to former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.
Following his recommendation we have established a new Australian Centre for Social Innovation that focuses on practical social solutions, and is chaired by Philip Adams.
A current Thinker is Professor Laura Lee, whose residency is examining a more integrated design strategy for Adelaide so we can make a more intelligent investment in design, planning and development.
Her vision is to help make Adelaide as well known for its design – future, as well as past heritage - as it is for its food, wine and cultural events.
And last week, our most recent Thinker, Fred Hansen, arrived from Portland in the USA.
He played a role in Adelaide’s development well before his arrival, having previously shown me Portland’s tram and streetcar network that has led to billions of dollars of investment in urban renewal projects close to new transport corridors.
That helped us develop a transport and development strategy that involves a coast-to-coast tramline, the growth of medium-density transport-oriented urban residential developments, and electrifying our suburban trains.
The ideas and innovations generated by our Thinkers are shaping and informing 21st Century South Australia.
Far from ponderous academics, the Thinkers in Residence are very much Thinkers in Action.
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