ANU vice-chancellor acknowledges public servants, staff fighting against COVID-19

By Shannon Jenkins

August 4, 2020

Brian Schmidt (Image: ANU)

Australian National University vice-chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt has acknowledged the public servants and ANU staff who have helped respond to the coronavirus pandemic.

Delivering ANU’s annual foundation day address on Monday, Schmidt noted the university was established 74 years ago as part of Australia’s post-war national reconstruction effort.

“It was a bold attempt to build a stronger, more prosperous and fairer nation out of the catastrophe of World War Two. Our job as the new national university was to supply the knowledge, research and trained people to get the job done,” he said.

“We reported for duty, served and succeeded. Brilliantly. With Australia and the world now in another catastrophic situation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, ANU is reporting for duty again.”

ANU has been “incredibly proud” that acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly, and deputy CMOs Dr Nick Coatsworth and Professor Michael Kidd, are members of the ANU community.

“They’ve become familiar faces in the media, but their public appearances are just the tip of the iceberg of what they and other ANU experts have been doing,” Schmidt said.

He noted a large portion of ANU’s student cohort has gone on to become leading politicians and senior public servants.

“Our expertise in the education of public servants, diplomats and political leaders continues to contribute to making Australia a highly influential middle power. Just look at the CVs of some of our nation’s leading policymakers,” he said.

But ANU staff have recently been helping the public servants and politicians respond to COVID-19, with 35 academic staff having been seconded to government departments to provide health-related policy advice. This includes Professor Kamalini Lokuge, who is currently advising the Victorian government on its second wave, and Professor Imogen Mitchell, who “has done a top class job running the ACT’s response”.

Outside of the health sector, a number of the senior public servants guiding Australia’s “economic ship through the rocks of recession” are ANU graduates, and many of them are being advised by experts from ANU’s major public policy schools.

Schmidt acknowledged some of the ANU experts who have been working to fight the health and economic impacts of COVID-19, including:

  • Professor Carola Vinuesa and Professor Matthew Cook, who have led a large group of academics, staff and students which has worked to develop a testing program to keep the university and the ACT community safe,
  • ANU epidemiologist Dr Aparna Lal and her team, who have been investigating using sewage to find new ways of gauging the extent of the virus’ transmission,
  • Professor Warwick McKibbon, Professor Renee Fry-McKibbon and Dr Roshen Fernando, who have led ANU’s senior economists in using their modelling skills to “come to grips with the scale and shape of the economic effects” of the pandemic,
  • Economics professors Bruce Chapman, Robert Breunig, Miranda Stewart, Rabee Tourky and Rohan Pitchford, who have been helping guide national thinking about immediate and long-term economic policy with ideas to keep businesses and jobs intact and reform the tax system,
  • Institute for Space head Anna Moore and Associate Professor of Economic Geology John Mavrogenes, who have been working in areas that could contribute to Australia’s post-pandemic recovery,
  • And Peter Yu, who was recently appointed to the role of vice-president First Nations. He will contribute to the national dialogue around reconciliation, which will “make a giant step towards the sort of unity needed to overcome the economic, social and political injustices that remain” after the pandemic.
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