Address at Vogue Codes

  • Speech, E&OE

JULIE BISHOP: I congratulate Vogue on initiating this extraordinary event, hosting Vogue Codes with sponsors, to focus on the issue of women in STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics.

Let me make a couple of observations. First, no country can reach its full potential unless and until it embraces and engages with and utilises the skills and talents and intellect and energy of the 50 per cent of its population that is female.

Secondly, technology surrounds us. Technological advances are disrupting the way we live and work and engage, and it is on a scale and at a pace that is unprecedented in human history.

The 'internet of things' is actually the internet of everything – automation, robotics and artificial intelligence is all pervasive. 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations worldwide require STEM skills and STEM knowledge. So if Australia is to reach its full potential is be a smart and sophisticated country with educated people who are competing globally, if we are to sustain our standard of living, then we need more women and girls who are STEM-literate and undertaking STEM careers.

We all know that we need more female leadership in Australia and around the world. In fact, each September at the United Nations in New York is a Leaders' Week and all of the leaders from around the world and their foreign ministers turn up to debate and discuss global issues. Over the last few years, I have noticed that the female foreign ministers gather together informally and chat about the issues of the day. This year we have made it official, and all 32 female foreign ministers are meeting in New York to discuss global challenges, and I have no doubt that we will conclude, as we have every year that we get together, that of all the world's problems that could be solved, they would be solved, if more women were in charge!

It is timely that Vogue has commenced this series of events under the banner of Vogue Codes because we are behind many other comparable countries when it comes to our understanding of an uptake of STEM. As a former Education and Science Minister, I know that too little science is being taught in primary schools, which leads to too little interest in science and related subjects in secondary school, which means that there is a dearth of students undertaking science and science related subjects at a tertiary level, which means we don't have enough teachers to go into our primary schools to teach science and the cycle goes on.

There are not enough researchers in the economy more broadly. Did you know that 70 per cent of all of the researchers that we do have are employed in our universities and our research agencies – 70 per cent? In Japan, 70 per cent of their researchers are employed in the private sector, in business, in industry, which drives economic growth and that figure is 80 per cent in the United States. So the best and brightest scientific minds are embedded across the broader economy.

Now this isn't just a challenge for universities and for schools, the education sector and business, this is a challenge for the entire community and that is why the Turnbull Government has a National Strategy to address these issues under our National Science and Innovation Agenda. The responsible Minister, is my gorgeous, feisty friend from Western Australia, Michaelia Cash. She is the Minister for Jobs and Innovation, and I just had a look at her website this morning to see what kind of announcements Michaelia has made in the last couple of days. Yesterday she announced the new Antarctic Science Council to revitalise Australia's interest in engagement in scientific research in the Antarctic and to make Hobart the international hub for Antarctic scientific research.

She also announced the six teams of young students from Australian schools who will be engaged in the International Olympiad in Science, Technology and Maths, taking place overseas, some of our best and brightest young people competing against the best in the world.

I have to tell you one of the most inspiring little stories that I saw on the net this morning related to Blacktown Girls High in Western Sydney. In April, 23 female students qualified to take part in the first robotic championships ever held - in Austin, Texas. The Aussie all girl team – girls between 14 and 16-years of age – went over to compete in this robotics championship against 600 teams from 60 countries, most of them way older than they girls – they were Ivy Leaguers, they were robotic engineers from NASA and our girls produced 'Gus the Robot' which was apparently a fantastic effort on their part.

I also think we need more role models – the women who are in STEM subjects and careers and areas - being seen as the innovators and the leaders that they are. One great example is Dr Sarah Pearson. We have just appointed her as the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Innovation Officer - the Chief Innovation Officer. Sarah's own career is inspiring enough. She just happens to have a Doctorate in Particle Physics from Oxford, which helps, but she has been an innovator in industry, she has been a management consultant at McKinsey's, she was the R&D officer at Cadbury – how good would that be! - she has been an academic, she patented a new cancer diagnostic tool, she is an author, she's been on TV on science shows, and she is now heading up innovation in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Specifically, she is head of our innovationXchange, and this is a hub that I introduced into the Department to think up new and creative ways of delivering foreign aid across the Pacific.

It worried me that we have spent billions of dollars on investment in development assistance and some countries are going backwards on every social and economic indicator that counts. So I said we've got to start again – clean sheet of paper - forget what you've always done, think of new and creative ways of delivering aid so that it is effective. We are now using technology in some really amazing ways - drones to deliver pharmaceuticals into geographically impossible locations - just thinking differently.

I'll give you a couple of examples.

In Pakistan, there are more female medical graduates than there are males, yet because of cultural norms and conventions, the female graduates don't practice medicine when they marry. So you have a whole resource of female medical graduates not practising in Pakistan. So with funding from our innovationXchange, two female doctors in Pakistan have set up a company and using video conferencing they have gathered together these female doctors who are at home and connected them into rural and regional areas in Pakistan so that they are providing e-medicine, mainly to female patients. After just a short while, they now have 12,000 female doctors reaching 600,000 patients and 15 e-health hubs throughout Pakistan.

Another example of what we are doing is in the Pacific. So many women are not in the formal labour market, they are not in the formal economy because they are not economically empowered, they don't have a bank account, they don't have access to finance. So we have now ensured that these women who want to be in business can access finance through mobile wallets, through online banking that we've been able to roll out across the Pacific. Now, 940,000 women have access to a bank account and can start and run a business.

My last example is something that I am really excited about. In April, I went to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London - yes, I met Meghan and yes she's divine – but one of the most exciting initiatives that Australia has partnered with the UK relates to the problem that worldwide one billion people have no formal identification – no birth certificate, no licence, no credit card, nothing. It makes it almost impossible to access an education, let alone a job or health care. Australia and the UK, and some telecommunications companies, have embarked on a project, The Commonwealth Digital Identity Initiative, to give these one billion people a form of official identification - two-thirds of them live in Commonwealth countries, and the majority of them are women and girls.

So these are some of the things we are doing overseas because we understand the need to embrace technology to empower women and girls.

One of my great beliefs is in the power of mentoring, and I hope that through events such as this today, you can connect with other women who can assist you in passing on their wisdom and experience, guidance for your career directions and the like. So, if you're inspired to be a nuclear physicist or you want to be a tech start-up entrepreneur, or if you want to be Emily Skye and Kayla Itsines – yes I do follow them on Instagram – and have a multi-million dollar business just harnessing social media, then you need mentors to assist you to realise your aspirations.

I hope that today fulfils your hopes, dreams and aspirations and that you are inspired by the magic and creativity of STEM.

Thank you to Vogue.

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