​Knowledge is still power: Alan Finkel

Australia's chief scientist believes the best way to move through the future is to remember the past and fill people's minds with knowledge.

There is no point in getting to the future first if it is not the future we want, or if it is a future that has left half the country behind in order to get there, according to Australia's Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

Speaking at the Knowledge Nation 2016 summit in Sydney, Finkel described his ideal nation as one where all children leave school filled with knowledge and aspire to deepen their knowledge their whole lives long.

"Australians already have many runs on the scoreboard that we just don't hear enough about. Look at fintech, international education, mining technologies, and clinical trials to name a few," he said.

"But there are still too many children in schools today without a properly qualified and supported science teacher. There are too many ideas with commercial potential that never leave the lab.

"There are too many workers in professions highly exposed to automation and global competition looking to the future with concern. Of course that weighs heavily on our minds today."

Finkel said that governments can only enable, and that it is then up to people to take the lead and exercise their imagination to achieve their dreams.

"We have the knowledge and we've made the national commitment to harness it -- your task is to convert that know-how into the steps we can take today," he said.

The national commitment Finkel was speaking of -- the federal government's AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda -- is an agenda the Minister for Industry, Innovation, and Science Christopher Pyne gave great acclaim to when he also spoke at the Knowledge Nation 2016 summit Thursday.

Last month, Finkel was announced as the deputy chair of the Innovation and Science Agenda board that is tasked with overseeing the delivery of the nation's innovation agenda. According to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the talent on the board -- which is chaired by private equity veteran Bill Ferris -- represents innovators and entrepreneurs with a proven record of success.

In one of his first reports since assuming the role of chief scientist in January, Finkel found that as of 2011, 2.3 million Australians held qualifications in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), with men comprising 84 percent of the STEM-qualified total.

"The most striking finding in my mind is the range of occupations that people with STEM qualifications have pursued," Finkel said at the time.

"We have people with physics doctorates working as financial analysts, we have chemistry graduates running farms and making wine, we have IT graduates planning cities. There are no limits on what a STEM graduate can do, and we shouldn't impose them."

Out of each of the STEM fields, mathematics was the one with the fewest qualified people, with little over 27,000 individuals. Between 2006 and 2011, the number of STEM-qualified individuals in Australia grew by 15 percent, a trend Finkel hopes will continue.

"When I look to that future I see a world of opportunity for Australians with STEM training," he said. "I see a STEM-powered economy that Australians can forge, if we have the confidence and the capability combined."