28/01/2009 - 22:00

Minds meet for mutual benefit

28/01/2009 - 22:00

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The Science and Innovation Council review presents a creative opportunity.

Minds meet for mutual benefit

LAST week's reappointment of Lyn Beazley as the state's chief scientist won praise from many quarters but got me thinking about whether we could make more of the role.

Professor Beazley has served as chief scientist for just more than two years and, like her predecessor Bruce Hobbs, has an eminent track record as a scientist and researcher.

She comes from the University of WA's school of zoology, while Professor Hobbs came from CSIRO.

But what if the chief scientist came from industry? Wouldn't that bring a totally new dimension to the position?

And what if the renamed Western Australian Science and Innovation Council had stronger linkages to other research and innovation bodies?

An accidental posting on an R&D web site last week helped to fuel this line of thinking.

The web site mistakenly said Professor Beazley would chair a new advisory body that would replace the Science Council and the Technology & Industry Advisory Council (TIAC).

The mistake was simple - it published an announcement made two years ago when the then Labor government first appointed Professor Beazley.

Labor's plan - or more precisely former science and innovation minister Francis Logan's plan - to merge the science council and TIAC came to nought.

The correct announcement, issued by Science and Innovation Minister Troy Buswell last week, said the chief scientist would simply be a member of the Science and Innovation Council and TIAC.

But in a break from normal practice, Professor Beazley will not chair the Science and Innovation Council.

A spokesman for Mr Buswell said "at the moment there is no chair, due to the review" of the council.

The review provides a prime opportunity to think creatively about the role of the council, its relationship with other advisory bodies and, crucially, the linkages between science, research and industry.

Professor Beazley acknowledges these linkages are a key aspect of her role. She says her primary goal as chief scientist is "to bring science to all sectors of society while encouraging the science community and industry to leverage off each other so they both gain rewards".

In practice, the activities and focus of the Science and Innovation Council have tended to reflect the experience of its members, who primarily come from science and academic backgrounds.

Among these are the Lions Eye Institute's Ian Constable, UWA's Alan Robson, Curtin University's Peter Newman and the WA Marine Science Institution's Bernard Bowen - all eminent in their fields but with little experience of industry and commerce.

The Science and Innovation Council - and the chief scientist - may benefit if there were more formal linkages with industry, and with research advisory bodies in sectors like mining, agriculture, chemistry and health.

TIAC, which has an eclectic mix of directors, has continually called for much greater integration between the various advisory bodies reporting to government on economic development, technology, innovation, health, science and research.

Chaired by business executive Michael Henderson, TIAC's directors include Poseidon Nickel's David Singleton, former BHP Billiton executive and current Star Energy managing director Bret Mattes, Curtin University's Linda Kristjanson, FORM's Lynda Dorrington, Challenger Tafe's Rob Meecham, Change Corp's Sharon Brown, and Chevron's David Lee.

From TIAC's perspective, the likes of the Minerals and Energy Research Institute of WA (MERIWA), the Chemistry Centre of WA, the State Health Research Advisory Council (SHRAC) and Agricultural Research WA, an alliance between UWA, Curtin and Murdoch universities, the agriculture and food department and CSIRO form part of this integration.

There are already some linkages between these groups.

CSIRO Petroleum's Bev Ronalds, for instance, is a member of the Science and Innovation Council and MERIWA.

TIAC's Bret Mattes is also chair of the Chemistry Centre.

SHRAC's members include Ian Constable and TIAC's Linda Kristjanson.

Some of the best research outcomes occur where cross-pollination of ideas and sharing of expertise occurs.

That is why universities are required to develop collaborative research programs.

The same concept could deliver positive results if applied at a whole-of-government level

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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