Address to the laying of foundation stone, Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre, University of Western Australia

  • Speech, E&OE

What a delight it is to be back in Perth on a beautiful winter's day looking out over our magnificent Swan River and celebrating a real achievement here in my electorate of Curtin at UWA in Australia's Indian Ocean capital city.

Recently I invited the Canberra Diplomatic Corps, that is the foreign Ambassadors and High Commissioners from all the missions resident in Canberra, over to Western Australia. I wanted them to see what drives the Australian economy and you don't get that from Canberra! It coincided beautifully with UWA's "In The Zone" conference and so I turned up with my 80 friends to fill the front several rows of the conference to hear from Chancellor Michael Chaney, the Premier and others.

Later that day we went down to Cottesloe Beach and had a session from the West Australian Government and as they looked out over that magnificent beach, I said "Next stop, Africa -that's the Indian Ocean". It is such a powerful way of demonstrating what a large continent we are for a start, but that we are not a country that looks only north and east, we also look north and west. We then went to the Fremantle Maritime Museum and heard from Senator David Johnston, the Minister for Defence, and he spoke about our defence capability and particularly our focus on naval capacity. We then had a function at Government House which was generously provided by His Excellency Malcolm McCusker.

The next day we were on a plane and up to the Pilbara – Mt Whaleback, BHP's massive iron ore mine, we went to Rio Tinto's operations, we went to Woodside's Pluto Plant, Northwest Shelf and flew them back on Friday night and Saturday out to Rio Tinto's operations at the airport where we truly see some extraordinary technological innovation with the remote trains.

We had a session on the Square Kilometre Array on the Thursday and it is always so esoteric when you hear about the universe in this context and we want to learn more about time and what has happened in the past and black holes and all this – it is all so up there. Yet it was when we were at Woodside that it all fell into place because Woodside told us that when we get the Big Data required to support our Square Kilometre Array, it will support their. But once we've got the Big Data capacity that comes from the SKA, they will be able to take on the world. It all fell into place how the research and scientific endeavour we are doing in one part of Western Australia was going to support the economic drivers of the mining and resource sector in another part of Western Australia.

Of course, we went to Sandalford Winery for the koalas and the wombats, and made it a wonderful end to a very long stay. My point is this, we were able to showcase Perth as a hub of innovation, of research, of technology, of creativity. I was blown away by what we were told and I live here! It was such an exciting way to showcase our State.

Now here we are on the edge of the Indian Ocean and that magnificent ocean laps our shores all up the west coast. This is one of the largest oceans on the planet yet it is one of the least explored. If ever we needed to get a sense of the scale of the Indian Ocean it has been through the media coverage of the tragic and bizarre search effort that has been required to locate Malaysian flight MH370. The world has seen Perth as the centre of the universe for the purposes of that search effort but also this sense of how massive the Indian Ocean is and how little we know about it.

We know that if you want to drive economic growth and prosperity you have to maintain and conserve your resources and that also means your marine resources. Perth again is leading the way and the establishment of this Indian Ocean Marine Research Centre will bring together eminent scientists, eminent researchers from some of our top organisations from AIMS, from CSIRO, from UWA and from the Department of Fisheries. It will be a collaboration, a partnership, that brings together the very best brains, talent and capability in the southern hemisphere.

I am delighted that money from the Federal Government – in fact, just over half of the funding, over $34 million – has come from what became the Education Innovation Fund. It started off at the Higher Education Endowment Fund and Peter Costello and I were the parents, if you like, of the Higher Education Endowment Fund back in 2007 with an original endowment from the Federal Government of $5 billion to build world-class research institutions. In a way, I feel quite connected to this because that original money has found its way through to this wonderful research centre here at UWA.

The Indian Ocean is increasingly important, it is the conduit for so much of the transport in this region. About half of the bulk carrier traffic and about a third of the cargo traffic comes through the Indian Ocean and its prosperity, its stability, its security is very important to us. This year, Australia is chairing the Indian Ocean Rim Association. This is a group of 20 member states, littoral states of the Indian Ocean, from as far away as Iran through to Singapore and Malaysia and the East African coast – Madagascar, Mauritius – and of course Australia. Last October, I invited the Foreign Ministers of the Indian Ocean Rim Association to Perth where we talked about ways that the 20 nation-states and our dialogue partners which include the US, China, UK and France who have interests in the Indian Ocean - that we can cooperate in disaster relief management, in tourism, in trade but importantly, on how to preserve and conserve this magnificent resource the Indian Ocean and the marine environment that it comprises.

I am personally delighted that this research centre will be here in Perth – it will back up the work we are doing in the Indian Ocean Rim Association – and I look forward to hearing more of the great work that I know will be achieved here. Once more, Perth is leading the way in innovation in research and scientific endeavour and I congratulate the partners and particularly the University of Western Australia for this magnificent initiative.

- Ends -

Media enquiries