ANU stands ready to steer Australia through crisis

3 August 2020

Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt has said ANU "is reporting for duty again", as Australia looks to recover from devastating bushfires and meet the challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic.

The comments come as ANU marks the 74th year since its founding as Australia's only national university on 1 August 1946.

Speaking at the University's annual foundation day address, Professor Schmidt said ANU was established as part of Australia's post-war national reconstruction effort.

"It was a bold attempt to build a stronger, more prosperous and fairer nation out of the catastrophe of World War Two," he told staff and students via livestream and a small audience in Llwellyn Hall.

"Our job as the new national university was to supply the knowledge, research and trained people to get the job done.

"We reported for duty, served and succeeded. Brilliantly.

"With Australia and the world now in another catastrophic situation as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, ANU is reporting for duty again.

"I have this message to the people of our community, the people of our nation and the people who serve us in government.

"ANU and Australia's three dozen other universities are among the most important assets Australia possesses, and investing in them is one of the best long-term decisions the nation can make."

Professor Schmidt outlined the "special role" and "unique national responsibility" of ANU in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Examples include the ANU Makerspace designing and manufacturing thousands of sterilised personal protective devices for frontline health and pathology lab workers, free of charge, as well as the 35 ANU experts who have been seconded to government departments to provide health policy advice.

"It makes us all incredibly proud, for example, that the nation's three senior-most public health officers at this time-Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly, and his Deputy Chief Medical Officers Dr Nick Coatsworth and Professor Michael Kidd-are all valued members of our ANU community," Professor Schmidt said.

"They've become familiar faces in the media, but their public appearances are just the tip of the iceberg of what they and other ANU experts have been doing."

The University's response to the global also includes major research initiatives, like the ACT sewage testing program led by ANU epidemiologist Dr Aparna Lal and modelling led by Professor Warwick McKibbin, Professor Renee Fry-McKibbin and Dr Roshen Fernando.

"Other economics professors, like Bruce Chapman, Robert Breunig, Miranda Stewart, Rabee Tourky and Rohan Pitchford have been helping guide national thinking about immediate and long-term economic policy with ideas to keep businesses and jobs intact and reform the tax system," Professor Schmidt said.

Professor Schmidt's wide-ranging speech also touched on how ANU could ensure a brighter future for Australia and the world - noting "the period ahead is looking increasingly problematic".

"This moment of national crisis, which calls for a new era of national reconstruction, makes this the opportune time to restate the importance of the ongoing relationship between Australia and its national university. We're determined to keep doing what we were founded to do: provide the knowledge, research and trained people to help the nation rebuild, remain united and prosper.

"To do that, we need to be a university that is resistant to global economic and geopolitical shocks. A university highly internationalised in its education, research and outreach. A university that can provide Australia with truly independent advice.

"In other words, an Australian national university in every sense.

"Such a university proved invaluable to the first national reconstruction effort. It will prove invaluable in its second." 

Read the full speech here. Watch the Vice-Chancellor's speech here.