High-class steaks at the nation's innovation celebration

Four scientists who backed their research into bovine tuberculosis eradication are a shining example of innovation bringing health and wealth to the nation.

One of the most exciting nights of the year is the ATSE Clunies Ross awards which are Australia’s premier science and technology innovation awards.

Last year they were held in Sydney, this year 540 packed the Melbourne awards (with a large disappointed waiting list). In 2014 Clunies Ross will be in Perth before going onto Brisbane and back to Sydney in 2015 and 2016. The Clunies Ross awards underline that Australia has a remarkable capacity to innovate in science and technology. Since the awards were started in 1991 more than 125 people have received a Clunies Ross medallion because not only did they develop new science or technology but they took their innovation to the next stage and played a big role in its commercialisation.

One of the most inspiring stories last night came from the four doctors – Tony Radford, Jim Rothel, Paul Wood and Stephen Jones – who worked together to develop a new test to detect bovine tuberculosis in animals. At that stage the work was being developed by a partnership between the CSIRO and CSL.

The next stage was to take the animal developments into human tests for TB. CSL and CSIRO decided to pull back and the work was taken on by a new public company, Cellestis Limited, in which the four doctors played key roles.

They successfully changed the way that TB was diagnosed in the world and took their techniques into most major countries. In 2011 Cellestis received a $400 million offer from the German/US Group Qiagen.

This was a great Australian technology innovation which was taken all the way and there were some very happy Cellestis shareholders.  

Another 2013 Clunies Ross winner was Ian Croser who was a cofounder and technical director of CEA Technologies which has become a global pioneer of new concepts of radar with particular relevance to the Australian and other navies.  

The third awardees were doctors Simon Poole and Steven Frisken whose company Finisar developed and manufactured Australian wavelength selective switches for telecommunications systems.

As you look through the Clunies Ross winners you see the great diversity among Australian science and technology innovators and how they are prepared to take their work to the next stage. If their work is clearly unique, and they can commercialise it, their pinnacle of achievement is an ATSE Clunies Ross award.

And of course I am very proud to be a governor of the Clunies Ross Foundation and I was on the first judging panel for the Clunies Ross awards back in 1991. It has been a great honour to be able to play a small role in recognising Australian innovation.