Release type: Speech


Launch of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers of Big Data, Big Models, New Insights


The Hon Senator Scott Ryan
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education

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Thank you for that warm welcome. To Professor Brian Yates, Professor Peter Hall and most importantly all the representatives of this institution, the staff who work here and the students.

Thank you for inviting me here to launch this new Centre of Excellence. It is pleasure to represent the Commonwealth here and Minister Christopher Pyne sends his apologies and also his best wishes for the work that will be undertaken here in coming years.

As was mentioned, I am part of the alumni of Melbourne University.  However, I have to confess to this audience that I have a Bachelor of Arts degree.

I wasn’t in this part of the campus and, in this role, some might even say that I spend a bit more time here now than I did as an arts student.

I suppose one of the interesting things about this role that I have is that I get to see so many new areas of research.

I was an incomplete graduate student before I went out to the workforce, so I admire those who decide to do further study and further research.

Mathematics is critical and one of the things I am responsible for is mathematics and science education in high schools. Sadly big data has taken on a different meaning in politics in recent years, as people read about phrases like “doing the numbers”, which is different to the work you’d be undertaking here.

But even for humanities students, social science graduates and those of us involved in public policy, one of the most important developments in recent years has been in what has become colloquially known as “big data”.

Some of the challenges have been outlined here today and some of the opportunities that it provides.

We can now analyse problems and test proposed actions and policies in ways that we couldn’t do previously or, at least, were not widely available. Some of these skills are really making their way out of the old places they used to live in science and maths and into other departments.

The collation of what is commonly known as ‘big data’ and access to ever-increasing computer power, which was unimaginable only 20 years ago, and advanced mathematical and statistical work opens many more fields to evidence-based analysis.

This new $20 million Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence, will create innovative mathematical and statistical models that can uncover the knowledge concealed within the size of the data collected and which was outlined earlier.

In today's world there is a massive amount of data collected minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour, in a variety of forms and from a multiple sources.

Many of the resulting data sets have the potential to inform us and drive contributions to our society, to business and even to government, dare I say it.

The current challenge is that these data sets are often so large or complex that they are difficult to process, to collate and to analyse using the tools we’ve used up until now.

This ARC Centre of Excellence will focus on using these newly-developed models, as well as developing others, to provide insight into tackling diverse policy challenges.

One of the things I think you can be proud of is the degree of collaboration across five Australian universities:

  • the Queensland University of Technology;
  • the University of Adelaide;
  • the University of New South Wales;
  • the University of Queensland; and
  • the University of Technology, Sydney

As well as collaborating partners including:

  • the Australian Bureau of Statistics;
  • CSIRO;
  • Canada’s Mathematics of Information Technology and Complex Systems; and
  • the Australian Institute of Marine Science

The research talent available to this Centre is diverse and far-reaching.

The impact of the work undertaken at this Centre will provide substantial wider benefits.

Some examples that have been briefly explained to me include:

  • Research using data to model the heart and ecosystems of microbes in the body – aimed at delivering real improvements in healthcare;
  • Research developing smart, real-time, data-driven solutions to manage traffic via smart phones and using new GPS technology.

This will be undertaken with partner organisations such as VicRoads, CSIRO and AT&T Labs-Research; and

The research at this Centre is under the guidance of its distinguished Director and ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor Peter Hall.

Professor Hall’s work has been widely praised.

Last year he was further recognized when he was elected as a foreign associate to the prestigious US-based National Academy of Sciences for distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

The talent working here and the wide support provided will ensure that this Centre is at the forefront of big data research.

Thank you all for the opportunity to come here and join with you.

We are all watching what you do and we are all hoping these new tools and skills you bring can do exactly what you are setting out to achieve to dramatically improve society and can make improvements and lead to opportunities for all Australians.