“I think it’s really important for us to make sure that our youth realise the importance of science and technology,” she said on Monday.
“We’ve seen the science sector come together along with what is [happening] in manufacturing and the ways to take science from the lab to make it be used every day.
“I hope that I’m going to be in a position to support the government to be able to find the best information, the best knowledge from across all the science sector in Australia.”
Dr Foley, who was inspired as a schoolgirl by American physicist and television personality Professor Julius Sumner Miller, has identified science as critical to overcoming bushfires, the COVID-19 virus and building a sovereign capability for Australia to manufacture onshore in difficult times.
She is the second woman to be appointed to the job following Professor Penny Sackett, who held the role from 2008 to 2011.
During her four decades in the industry, Dr Foley has spoken up about the lack of advancement of women in the sector and fought to encourage young women to study science, especially physics, IT and engineering.
“It’s going to be terrifying leaving CSIRO after 36 years but I also know that I can reach into not just CSIRO, but the whole of the science sector to support me,” she said.
Dr Finkel, who most notably led the federal government’s review of energy policy in 2017, has come under attack from environmentalists and Green groups in recent months for promoting the use of gas as a transition fuel towards a low-emissions economy.
Dr Foley said there was no doubt climate change was something that “has to be dealt with” but warned there was not a single solution.
“We’re going to have to see over a long time a whole range of different things and approaches that have to come together,” she said.
“Alan Finkel … has identified gas as a transition to being able to deal with the future and I guess my role is to see how to build on that, to be able to make sure that we’ve got what’s needed into the long term, because it’s not as though we can swap things over overnight.”
‘Cathy is an inspirational role model for her peers and the next generation.’
Australian Academy of Science president John Shine
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Dr Foley had the background needed for the job at such a pivotal time.
He said the role she would play in building a “brighter future” following the COVID-19 pandemic had never been more important.
“Dr Foley has a big task ahead to drive collaboration between industry and the science and research community as we look to create jobs for the COVID-19 recovery and for the future,” he said.
Mr Morrison said Dr Finkel had been a “valued and respected voice to government” and would continue to make a significant contribution to the Australian and international science communities.
Australian Academy of Science president John Shine said Dr Foley had made outstanding contributions to Australian science from discovery to commercialisation and in influencing policy development.
“Cathy is an inspirational role model for her peers and the next generation,” he said.
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Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra