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Address delivered during FORUM III

by Professor (Ms) Sylvia RUMBALL
Member of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO representing Science
Director, Science Policy Unit, Assistant to the Vice-Chancellor (Equity)

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New Zealand welcomes the opportunity to take part in this World Conference on Science and congratulates UNESCO and ICSU on their initiative in calling this important meeting. I extend our delegation's gratitude to the Government and people of Hungary for hosting the Congress.

Background   Back to top

New Zealand is one of the last countries in the world to be settled by humans. First populated by Maori, the indigenous people, approximately 1,500 years ago, European settlement commenced as recently as 200 years ago. In 1840 a Treaty was signed between the Maori tribes and the British Government. This document, known the Treaty of Waitangi, is acknowledged to form the constitutional basis of the country.

New Zealand is in the South Pacific and comprises two main islands and many smaller islands, and lies 1500km from our nearest neighbour, Australia. Our population is 3.6 million. We have a special mix of geographical, biological and climatic features with a wide range of biological diversity, many species not being found elsewhere. The climate is temperate, which makes it ideal for our large agricultural and horticultural industries. Fisheries also form an important part of the national economy.

Much of our flora and fauna evolved in isolation and were therefore very susceptible to the introduction of plants and animals from other countries. As a consequence many of our native species are now threatened with extinction. Maintenance of our biodiversity is one of the major issues facing New Zealand and we have been a world leader in using off-shore islands as wildlife sanctuaries.

The uniqueness of the New Zealand situation is further reflected in the knowledge systems that have evolved to promote social, cultural and economic development. The traditional knowledge of the Maori people provides a holistic framework that highlights the interrelatedness of natural phenomena both tangible and intangible.

Our dominant culture is Western and we have had a lively interest in Western science and technology almost from the beginning of European settlement. It has had two strands and a proud record. One strand is a strong centralised emphasis on the application of science and the other a more independent pursuit of scientific knowledge for its own sake. One of New Zealand's famous sons is Ernest Rutherford, the physicist. Some claim that the first person to fly an aeroplane was not Orville Wright of America but a New Zealander called Pearce who was experimenting with a heavier than air machine at the same time. New Zealand is strongly involved in international programmes, particularly those concerned with the Antarctic and climate change.

The priorities   Back to top

Many of the problems and challenges New Zealand faces are shared with the world. There are, however, several which are more specific to us and these I will highlight.

Firstly, in this global knowledge society, we need to develop a national innovation system which works for a small developed nation. Secondly, we need full participation of indigenous people and of women. There is a pressing need to ensure that Maori people play a full part in our scientific and technological enterprise. This need is coupled with current efforts, within the framework of the Treaty of Waitangi, to settle historic grievances and reduce socio-economic disparities between Maori and non-Maori. There is an equal need to recognise and encourage the participation of women of all races by removing the inhospitable environment which has often faced aspiring female scientists.

Thirdly we need to preserve our wealth of biological diversity.

The responses   Back to top

Our responses to these challenges are varied.

In the area of biodiversity New Zealand has two key agencies, one dealing with the conservation of endangered species, the other concerned with the environment and sustainable development. Science has an important role to play in this national biodiversity strategy.

In seeking to develop our national innovation system the New Zealand Government sees itself as performing the following roles:

  1. Understanding how innovation systems operate
  2. Developing a vision for the future
  3. Recognising the need for a highly skilled workforce
  4. Encouraging an interactive and networked environment
  5. and, implementing policy to accomplish its vision

In so doing, the Government has adopted the foresight approach, which seeks to determine society's needs and priorities with respect to science. Over 100 sectors and groups within New Zealand have thought about their aspirations for the future - the year 2010 was chosen - and how scientific and technological research and development could enable them to meet those aspirations. This process has seen the publication of a ‘Blueprint for Change’ which establishes a framework within which government investment in research and development is directed. Within this framework, the Government is encouraging integration of scientific effort between industry, research institutes and universities. The intent is to develop a larger high-technology export sector to replace our current over-dependence on commodity trade.

Included in this framework are the dual goals of Maori development and Maori advancement by which the Government hopes to make progress on the third challenge of increasing the participation of Maori in New Zealand science, as well as removing disparities between Maori and non-Maori.

The New Zealand delegation supports the need for a global Declaration on Science and the Use of Scientific Knowledge, and the need for a Science Agenda which sets out the issues facing us and recommends an agreed common course of action. In particular we will focus on issues in the documents bearing on the challenges before our country. Because of our land-based industries and our focus on matters of biodiversity, we have a special interest in biotechnology and the whole question of scientific ethics. In giving our support we also acknowledge that the priorities for change will differ from country to country. Above all the delegation believes that the Declaration should be a landmark document, a moral statement powerful in its arguments and persuasiveness.


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