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Prime Minister opens new Technology Centre

Prime Minister Tony Abbott opens the Ian Potter Foundation Technology Learning Centre in Deakin. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Clare Colley, Tony Abbott opens Questacon’s Ian Potter Foundation Technology Centre, The Canberra Times, 29 October 2014

Tony Abbott has a “passion” for science and puts it “at the centre of his policy”, according to Questacon’s chairman, despite being the first Prime Minister since 1931 who has not appointed a dedicated science minister.

Questacon advisory council chairman Leon Kempler said when it came to science Mr Abbott should be judged on his performance not labels. Mr Abbott opened of the renamed Ian Potter Foundation Technology Centre on Wednesday.

The centre, in a former Royal Australian Mint building in Deakin, has been operating since last year giving students the chance to expand their skills in creative design, innovative thinking and problem solving through workshops.

But a $7.8 million grant from the Ian Potter Foundation will allow Questacon to open the initiative to more students including an outreach program targeting schools in regional and remote areas.

Despite the government not contributing funds towards the centre, Mr Kempler said Mr Abbott was committed to Questacon and interested in how it could build its business with industry partners.

“There’s always more we can do but it’s a question of being able to work with the Prime Minister, with the Minister for Industry and with the department to see how we can improve and raise our performance,” Mr Kempler said.

Mr Kempler said Mr Abbott could be judged by his willingness to interact with children at Questacon’s “small initiative”.

“That’s quite unprecedented for a Prime Minister so early in his term to actually come and support us, his wife has been to Questacon twice in two months to work with the children,” he said.

“[Minister for Industry] Ian Macfarlane has been here four times and that’s unusual for such a large portfolio.”

Mr Abbott said it was imperative all school children visited Questacon to “learn that science matters to our country”.

He applauded the Ian Potter Foundation for its “carefully targeted generosity” describing it as an “investment in the future of our country”, “not a cash splash”.

“Science is vital to our future and we do need more scientists,” he said.

But he said a trial of an industry-led “pathways into technology high school” – recently announced as part of a $12 million initiative to encourage science, technology, engineering and maths in schools – showed the government could not “engender a scientific cast of minds” on its own.

Mr Kempler said the centre was designed to teach children to have “curious hands” and curious minds.

“It’s very much about the philosophy of I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand, I innovate and I change the world,” he said.

Ian Potter Foundation chief executive Janet Hirst said the grant reflected the investment needed to transition Australia to a “technology-focused, innovative, knowledge-based economy”.

“[The centre] is an opportunity for our young people to look behind the curtain and see the levers and pulleys and see not only a result but a solution,” she said.

The grant is the foundation’s largest in the areas of science and education in its 50-year history and the largest ever outside of Victoria.

The learning centre features a gallery showcasing Australian creativity and innovation and will also be the hub for the new national Questacon Smart Skills Initiative to be rolled out from March 2015 with a tour of Tasmanian high schools.