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New chief scientist steps carefully on climate change


Physicist Cathy Foley has been appointed Australia’s next chief scientist, taking over from Alan Finkel, with her three-year term to begin in January.

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Physicist Cathy Foley has been appointed Australia’s next chief scientist, taking over from Alan Finkel when his five-year tenure ends in December.

Dr Foley, who has spent the past two years as the CSIRO’s chief scientist, is the second woman appointed to the role.

She has been at the national science agency for 36 years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said as Australia recovered from the coronavirus, the role of chief scientist 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,” Mr Morrison said.

Dr Foley, whose work has focused on the physics behind superconductors, is an outspoken advocate of attracting more women to science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Her three-year term begins in January.

Dr Foley is keeping her powder dry on the issue of climate change, which has bedevilled her predecessors.

“I think everyone agrees climate change is something that has to be dealt with and it’s not something which has a single solution,” she told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

“We’re going to have to see over a long time a whole range of different things and approaches that have to come together.”

The current chief scientist has attracted some criticism for suggesting gas will play a crucial role in the transition to renewable energy.

“I guess my role is to see how to build on that to be able to make sure we’ve got what’s needed into the long term,” Dr Foley said.

“It’s not as though we can swap things over overnight, we have to actually work towards that, and have a real methodology which consists of a whole range of components.”

The Australian Academy of Science, where Dr Foley is a fellow, welcomed her appointment.

“Dr Foley has made outstanding contributions to Australian science from discovery to commercialisation and in influencing policy development,” academy president John Shine said.

“Cathy is an inspirational role model for her peers and the next generation.”

The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering also toasted the appointment.

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