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Australasian Biotechnology (backfiles)
ISSN: 1036-7128
Vol. 10, Num. 3, 2000, pp. 2
Untitled Document

Australasian Biotechnology, Vol. 10 No. 3, 2000, pp. 2


Peter Rogers, National President

Code Number: au00026

The issue of whether the Association should have an Executive Director has been one of those hoary chestnuts that have come up for discussion on a regular basis.

Generally, members think that it is a great idea, as always the worry has been about our ability to pay. And in the main, the Association has gotten by reasonably well with Barbara Arnold as full-time secretary and editorial assistant, Martin Playne as Editor, and occasional office support from Anne Grieg. However, over the past three years the workload has increased. And especially over the last 12 months which have been very active.

There have been submissions prepared to a large number of Government inquiries and proposed legislation. The GMO debate has generated a constant stream of requests for comment and reply, quite apart from the regular housekeeping and record keeping.

This year Biotechnology Australia, in the Department of Industry, Science and Resources (ISR), contracted the Association to upgrade and extend the educational leaflets it circulates to students. We also collaborated with ISR on the latest edition of the Biotechnology Directory.

The Association is also proposing a series of meetings to review contemporary biotechnology issues with distinguished participants who can shape public opinion. It is planned that these meetings will be held over the next couple of months. The new ABA branches in Victoria, NSW and the ACT are also generating momentum and business.

There is a need to match our performance with the expectations of the State Governments as well as the Federal Departments who regularly attend international biotechnology meetings such as the recent Bio2000 conference in Boston. The interest also extends into the next tier of Government. The City of Melbourne, for instance, generously offered subsidies of $5,000 towards the cost of company attendance at the Boston meeting. The City also sent its own delegation. The Association has historically advocated the industry’s position on many issues. Nevertheless, if we are to do this effectively in the future, in such an active environment we need to be seen as a professional organisation that speaks for the burgeoning industry. In others’ eyes that includes an Executive Director. The Association can afford a fractional appointment. This will enhance our chances of receiving additional State and Federal funds to support a full-time Director. The Directors are actively seeking funds right now.

At the last Directors’ meeting on the 13th April it was resolved to appoint a part-time Executive Director following a review of the Association’s finances and future budgetary position. The proposal is to be advertised after the next Directors’ meeting in the middle of June.

In the meantime, and unexpectedly, Barbara Arnold has announced her resignation as Secretary of the Association. Barbara has been a mainstay of the Association and she will be missed terribly. She has been with the ABA for 12 years. Together with Martin Playne, she pioneered the publication of the Journal, kept the shop front together and has dealt with members and Directors alike with an even-handed and generous composure. Thanks Barbara, you will be sorely missed.

In the last Journal I highlighted the call by the US Council on Competitiveness for the US to boost public and private spending on education and infrastructure to drive innovation to market. What on earth does that say about us? Because we rank 13th based on the Council’s model, and our R&D spending is falling compared to the US and Singapore, the top two on their ladder.

As in Australia, Americans are concerned that science courses are not attracting enough high-calibre students. The Association has over the past few years promoted science to secondary students through the development of resource materials, support of focus activities such as Science Week and also by providing guest lecturers to talk about issues in biotechnology to students.

The Victorian Government is also promoting science careers and role models through an advertising program highlighting young scientists working in medical and life science research. Trams on the school routes in Melbourne display prominent and stylish copy about young postgraduates.

I hope that the remarkable gesture of John Shine, Director of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Professor at the University of New South Wales, also receives wide coverage. Ian Lowe told this story recently in the New Scientist. Shine was part of a group in the late 1970s, which successfully cloned the human growth hormone gene. HGH was subsequently used to treat growth disorders in children.

The University of California, believing that the IP for bulk production had never been properly acquired, challenged the multimillion-dollar industry based on HGH. The case was resolved last year in a settlement that involved payment to Shine and the original group of researchers.

John has now donated $1M of his own funds towards the refurbishment of the Academy of Science Building in Canberra. What a wonderful and inspirational gesture. Let’s hope that as many kids as possible hear about this donation and think about the real rewards that a science career can provide.

Good on you John!

Copyright 2000 - Australasian Biotechnology

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