New appointments, from outer space to the Pacific

By Stephen Easton

Thursday June 25, 2015

Famous astrophysicist Brian Schmidt has been announced as the Australian National University’s new vice-chancellor, effective January 1, 2016.

He told the ANU’s media team he believed the university would provide students “an education equal to that of Oxford, Cambridge and the great Ivy League schools in the United States” within a few years.

Vicki Thomson, the chief executive of the Group of Eight universities, said it was “a great coup” for the ANU’s governing council to get Schmidt to take the job.

Since winning the 2011 Nobel prize shot him to fame, Schmidt has been happy to play the role as an unofficial ambassador for science to the nation’s media and politicians. Speaking at the Science Meets Policymakers forum held at the ANU earlier in the year, Schmidt offered some advice for other scientists hoping to have an influence on public policy: do not try to be both a political activist and a subject matter expert at the same time.

“I don’t choose sides; I try to inform,” he told the audience.

ANU Chancellor Gareth Evans said of his appointment:

“Brian Schmidt is superbly placed to deliver on the ambition of ANU founders — to permanently secure our position among the great universities of the world, and as a crucial contributor to the nation.

We had a stellar field of international and Australian candidates, and have chosen an inspirational leader. Brian’s vision, vitality, global stature and communication skills are going to take our national university to places it has never been before.”

Evans also paid tribute to current vice-chancellor Ian Young:

“Never afraid of a challenge or a difficult decision, he will leave ANU with an excellent academic reputation, improved administration, in good financial shape with strong donor support, and well positioned for its next era.”

Young said it had been an honour and a privilege to serve in the role and praised his successor as an “outstanding appointment”.

Schmidt told the university’s media team:

“I’ve been at the ANU for some 20 years and it has given me some of the best experiences of my life. I really want to give back to the University that has given so much to me. …

I am especially looking forward to connecting our students of today with the students of the past, our alumni, for their mutual benefit.

We need to focus as well on outreach, devising policy for the nation, and working with business and institutions like CSIRO. In this way we can take the knowledge we create and give it back to the nation to make Australia even stronger.”

New ACARA board

Several new names have added to the governance of the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, including Emeritus professor and former Macquarie University vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz as the new chair.

David Howes, executive director of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, South Australia’s Chief Education Officer Jayne Johnston and Paul Hewitt from the NSW Board of Studies also join the ACARA board. Additionally, a Catholic school representative has been added in Dr Tim McDonald.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne said in terms of key priorities, Schwartz will chair the Board of ACARA as it oversees work, including the following:

  • continuation of ACARA’s work stemming from the Review of the Australian Curriculum
  • any changes to the My School website stemming from the review of the My School website and the Australian Government response Making My School better, which considers possible improvements to the website
  • development of its next four-year work plan for the next quadrennium for consideration by Education Council in September 2015
  • all the elements of work to bring the delivery of NAPLAN online as agreed to by all education ministers.

The island life for DFAT’s Paul Wilson

Next month, Paul Wilson takes up his post as Australia’s new consul-general to the Pacific island of Noumea — with accreditation to New Caledonia, French Polynesia and the French “overseas collectivity” known as Wallis and Futuna — which also makes him Australia’s representative to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community. Lucky he speaks French.

Wilson was most recently director of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Media Liaison Section and has served in Geneva as Australia’s deputy representative to the United Nations Conference on Disarmament. He was previously first secretary at the embassy in Paris and a member of the Bougainville peace monitoring mission.

Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Julie Bishop thanked his predecessor Heidi Bootle and remarked:

“This year marks the 75th anniversary of Australia’s diplomatic presence in Noumea, one of our oldest overseas posts. Built on shared interests and strong people-to-people links, Australia’s longstanding relationship with New Caledonia and France in the Pacific continues to evolve as New Caledonia determines its political and institutional future.

Australian trade and investment in New Caledonia is active, particularly in the mining and tourism sectors.

Throughout the French Pacific, Australia values its close work with authorities in a range of fields, including regional disaster relief, defence and security, and trade and investment. Australia’s dynamic and targeted scholarships program for the French Pacific is consolidating people-to-people and institutional links with Australia.”

The wine is in safe hands

In other appointments, the Australian Grape and Wine Authority’s inaugural chair, Brian Walsh, will stay in the role for at least the next two years.

Walsh took up the new role in July last year and, along with the board, has made a “substantial contribution” to increasing demand, capability and competitiveness in the $4.2 billion industry, according to Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce.

Walsh is an experienced winemaker who has also served the industry as a manager and executive since 1968, and currently the independent chair of Riverland Wine.

He has previously been president of the South Australian Wine Industry Association, chair of the South Australian Wine Tourism Advisory Board, and chair of Barossa Winemakers Committee.

The board of directors who will work with Walsh for the next three years are still being selected.

New solicitor-general in Victoria

Victorian attorney-general Martin Pakula recently announced the appointment of Richard Niall QC as the state’s solicitor-general, replacing Justice Stephen McLeish, who was appointed to the Court of Appeal in early March 2015. Pakula said:

“Richard Niall is recognised as one of Australia’s leading advocates and public lawyers, boasting significant experience and an outstanding reputation in constitutional and administrative law.”

Niall has over 24 years of legal experience and has made many appearances in the High Court, Supreme Court of Victoria and Federal Court, representing corporations, government agencies and individuals. According to a statement from the premier’s office:

“In addition to a strong public law focus he has wide experience in industrial law, acting both for employers and employees at state and federal levels.

“His advice to governments has ranged across constitutional law, education, freedom of information, discrimination, coronial inquests and planning, customs, tax, patents, migration, fisheries management, environmental protection, financial regulation and trade practices.”

Niall was a member of the Victorian Bar’s Access to Justice Committee and Pro Bono Committee, and is the current chair of the Public Law Section of the Commercial Bar Association.

Planes, trains and boats

Noel Hart has been re-appointed as chair of the Air Transport Safety Bureau for a further two years from July 1. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said:

“Mr Hart’s extensive maritime and resource industry operations experience, along with his previous work on the Commission, will be a valuable asset to the Commission as it continues its investigative work into the future.

Mr Hart’s maritime experience will continue to ensure that the Commission has expertise in each of the transport modes covered by the ATSB, complementing the aviation and rail experience of the other two part-time Commissioners.

I will be looking to the Commission to provide strong leadership to the ATSB as Australia’s national safety investigator across the aviation, maritime and rail sectors.”

Truss also confirmed three members of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority board. Current AMSA board member Sarah Derrington will continue and is joined by Gary Webb and Peter Toohey. The minister said:

“Mr Webb has been a member of the AMSA Advisory Committee since 2007, and brings significant experience from his career in the maritime and ports sector. He recently retired after almost nine years as CEO of the Port of Newcastle.

Mr Peter Toohey has served as secretary at the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers since 2006 and brings a wealth of knowledge from his experience as a salvage engineer.”

Truss also paid tribute to Derrington’s three years of service to the AMSA board and the “wealth of experience in maritime, aviation and transport” she has brought to it.

Top image: Stuart Hay / ANU.

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