$378 million sounds like a lot of money, right? It’s a catchy headline and looks great on a Sunday press release from Deputy Prime Minister Wayne Swan and his colleague Greg Combet. Don’t get me wrong, their new $378 million program to foster innovation was a good start albeit several years late.
You see the press and the tech communities have been arguing for several years that the local technology ecosystem needs help…and quite frankly Deputy Prime Minister; $378 million ain’t going to cut the mustard.
There are some fundamental challenges domestic startups are facing and many of them can’t be solved with government funds alone. While chucking taxpayer funds at a problem (that is quickly firming as an election issue) might be a tempting solution, what Australia desperately needs is long-term thinking and strong leadership.
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Last week, I had the great pleasure to co-launch the ‘Parliamentary Friends of Science’ group at the annual ‘Science meets Parliament’ dinner. This was preceded by a masterclass on the stars and universe conducted on the roof of Parliament House by 2011 Nobel Laureat Professor Brian Schmidt of the Australian National University.
To be given a guided tour of the heavens by a Nobel Laureate in astronomy was truly a defining moment in my education.
I was an enthusiastic student of science at school and university. At heart, I will always feel that I am a student of science. I grew up in the afterglow of the Apollo moon landings.
Mark Taylor has a lot to answer for.
For years the former Test captain has been interrupting matches to implore Australians to run out and buy air conditioners. It’s working.
Air conditioner penetration in Australia has exploded rapidly in recent years from 30 per cent in 2001, to 70 per cent in 2011. That’s a massive jump.
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Australia’s car manufacturing industry is facing a self-inflicted crisis. After a decade of sliding demand for the locally made Holden Commodore, Ford Falcon and Toyota Camry, car makers have blamed everything but themselves.
But the hard reality is Australian customers are fed up with the half-baked bullshit our car industry serves up and refuse to buy an inferior product simply because it’s Australian made.
Massive discounts to woo back disgruntled customers have been too little too late, as recent figures show Australian consumers have made up their minds and prefer superior foreign made cars.
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Australia could lose its bid to host the World Cup of science, accused of being “cheap” and “arrogant”.
Although it’s slipped under the radar, Australia is one of two countries short-listed as sites for the world’s biggest radio telescope.
The Square Kilometre Array is one of the “most important international scientific projects of the 21st century”, according to Brian Boyle, the SKA director at the CSIRO.
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The Labor government is clearing the decks to position itself for the forthcoming federal election. After resolving the mining tax dispute, and adopting a position on asylum seekers, climate change is the last issue Gillard must address before the campaign. Whatever policy the Gillard government adopts must account for the scale of the climate crisis.
Current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are already so high that if unchecked will push the climate system past significant tipping points. This worst-case scenario poses an unacceptable risk of dangerous and irreversible changes to the climate, to biodiversity, and human civilisation. These adverse climate changes will affect Australia’s food and water security, and increase the risk of regional instability.
The worst of these impacts can be avoided, but only if Australia, together with other major polluters acts now and at a scale the challenge demands.
If you haven’t heard about the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) it’s time to tune in. Along with its cousins the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) and the US Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the GMT will be a telescope of an entirely different magnitude to any that has ever existed.
The Australian connection to the GMT is being forged in northern NSW through one of the grand elders of optical astronomy.
The recently reincarnated AAO – the Australian Astronomical Observatory at Coonabarabran – was the most advanced telescope in the world when it was opened in 1974. At 4 metres it was one of the largest telescopes of its day and the first to be computer operated.
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Years ago, hosting an American, I was confronted with a challenge.
George Washington is clearly the great unifying figure of American history. So who is Australia’s equivalent? Wrestling with this idea overnight, the next morning I had the answer.
“Our great unifying person of history,” I declared, “turns out to be a horse – Phar Lap – and you people killed him.”
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The biggest thing in science right now is smaller than you can imagine. Nanotechnology is a brave new world containing the likes of carbon nanotubes and buckyballs which promises an array of technological advances every bit the equal of the information revolution: better medical treatments; lighter, more efficient building materials; tougher sporting equipment.
An example of nanotechnology is the production of antimicrobial bandages which are covered in nanoparticles of silver ions that at the nanoscale are anti-microbial by attaching to microbes and preventing their cellular respiration, thus destroying them.
The result is a bandage which doubles as a medicine when used to dress a wound.
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There are young Australians who are already making a name (and money) for themselves in the latest market for creative content – and it didn’t exist a moment ago. YouTube is a huge repository of amateur content, but it is also rapidly evolving into a site that has legally contracted Hollywood movies and TV shows but is working out ways to share revenues from advertising with gifted and committed amateurs whose creativity attracts a big following.
Can government play a role in assisting Australian creative talent to catch some of dynamism of emerging markets for culture?
Peter Garrett’s call to develop a National Cultural Policy could be an important opportunity to take innovation to the next stage in this country. The deadline for formal submissions closed yesterday. Most submissions want more recognition, and funding, for the arts. We think this is a great time to close the gap between innovation and cultural policy.
They’re calling it Star Wars on the Water. The winged keel on Australia II looks about as innovative as furry dice on a Commodore against the designs of the two most technologically-advanced yachts ever built, expected to finally start racing tonight (Australian time) in the 33rd America’s Cup.
(Update: Racing was postponed again on Wednesday due to heavy seas. Next possible start is February 12.)
The open ended design rules for the match between defender Alinghi of Switzerland and challenger BMW Oracle of the USA have produced two stunning-looking craft which look more like they should be attacking a Death Star than bobbing about on the water.
A selection of pictures which hopefully capture the huge size and outrageous design of the boats follows, along with some trivia about the event. And perhaps most fun of all, the only thing bigger in yacht racing than the boats themselves is the egos at stake.
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Tomorrow might be the official national holiday but today will be a mass celebration of a great Australian institution as hundreds of thousands of workers call in sick.
Up to half a million workers are expected to chuck a sickie, voting themselves an extra day off. Even if you’re the conscientious type and decide to rock up to work today, it’s only a four-day week. Wouldn’t it be great if every week was like that?
Well for many workers it could be, with no loss of productivity plus the benefits of reduced energy consumption, lower carbon emissions, less congestion on the roads and more time for family and leisure. The key is extending the four working days to 10 hours, so all the work still gets done. And one US state has proved it can work.
WHO’D be a business owner in Australia?
With the way the Federal Government up-ends the apple cart every few months you’d have to have a thick skin, and a thick wallet, to want to have a crack at increasing the nation’s prosperity.
One of my mates runs a solar energy company - an occupation unrivalled in its capacity to guarantee you endless sleepless nights, wondering when the Federal Government will deliver its next windfall, followed by a swift kick in the guts.
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