This Saturday, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science allows us, globally, to mark the need to promote the full and equal access and participation of females in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is the eighth year of such a commemoration, and I thank the many organisations across the nation that will mark the day. As the former Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, I know that Australian women make a significant contribution to leadership in science, particularly in STEM fields, and I’m sure that everyone here can agree that female representation at the highest levels in Australian science is essential to improving outcomes.
Australian women certainly do lead by example. Dr Cathy Foley has served as Australia’s Chief Scientist since 2021 and as the chief scientist at Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, since 2018. Astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith, as the Women in STEM Ambassador, works tirelessly to raise awareness of gender inequity and implement the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, and I acknowledge those opposite for reappointing Ms Harvey-Smith in that role last year.
I know firsthand that the coalition, in government, was committed to promoting gender equity in STEM across the country, including those crucial senior appointments that I have just mentioned. The coalition broke down barriers to the advancement of women and girls in STEM, investing more than $147 million to support gender equity in STEM across multiple programs and initiatives, including the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants program, the Australian Academy of Science’s Women in STEM Decadal Plan and the first Women in STEM Ambassador, and we established the Boosting Female Founders Initiative in 2018 to assist female entrepreneurs, who are underrepresented in the innovation and technology sectors, often because they face greater obstacles in getting early-stage finance.
The 2022 STEM Equity Monitor revealed that, from 2018 to 2021, there was a 34 per cent increase in the number of women in STEM-qualified occupations, compared to a six per cent increase amongst men. Figures also reveal that more women are choosing to study STEM, and I was very pleased to visit a number of schools in my electorate and to hear, anecdotally, that they are seeing more girls choosing to studying maths and science subjects. I am looking forward to even further increases in representation over the coming years and to those students continuing with their studies, post secondary, whether that be at university or through a vocational education qualification.
Between 2018 and 2020, the number of women enrolled in STEM courses at university increased from 77,000 to 87,000. This was a 12 per cent increase, compared to a five per cent increase for men. Whilst those numbers remain relatively small, it is a significant improvement. The coalition created broader opportunity for women in STEM fields through policy measures such as the establishment of the Australian Space Agency in 2017, with the goal of tripling the size of Australia’s space sector and creating up to 20,000 more jobs by 2030. Through our dedicated science policy, we established the National Science and Technology Council as the peak advisory body to the Prime Minister and other ministers on science. I am very, very proud of the more than $1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, including the CSIRO Innovation Fund, the Cyber Security Growth Centre, tax incentives for early stage investors, and crowdsourced equity funding legislation. We also established Industry Innovation and Science Australia to make sure that those three fields were as connected as they possibly could be.
The International Day of Women and Girls in Science is going to heighten the visibility of girls and women in STEM and the importance of the opportunities this field of study and career can provide. I am very pleased at the widespread support for this motion, but I call on all of the members in this place who share the view that it is in the national interest to drive greater gender equity in the crucial field of STEM to support this motion.