Gig Guide: Recognition for Simmons; new Human Rights Commissioner


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

A leading Australian quantum physicist has been awarded one of the world’s most prestigious science prizes, while a critic of the Australian Human Rights Commission has been appointed as its next Commissioner by the federal government.

Professor Michelle Simmons has been awarded the Bakerian Medal and Lecture 2022 by the Britain’s Royal Society for her “seminal contributions to our understanding of nature at the atomic-scale” through quantum technologies. The Bakerian Medal and Lecture is the premier lecture in physical sciences and began in 1775.

Michelle Simmons
Michelle Simmons has won a prestigious British science award.

Professor Simmons is the 2018 Australian of the Year and current University of New South Wales Scientia Professor of Quantum Physics.

She and her team at Australian startup Silicon Quantum Computing are racing to build a quantum computer in silicon at the atomic scale but have already achieved several quantum world firsts.

Professor Simmons will travel to the UK to deliver her lecture and has received a prize of £10,000 ($A18,639).

Australia’s next Human Rights Commissioner will be Lorraine Finlay, a West Australian lawyer, human trafficking expert and former state public prosecutor with ties to the Liberal Party.

Ms Finlay has previously criticised the Australian Human Rights Commission and Australian racial discrimination law. She replaces Ed Santow who spent several years investigating and warning on the dangers of emerging technology to human rights.

Ms Finlay is currently a lecturer in law at Murdoch University and a human trafficking expert with the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Australian Mission to ASEAN. She also worked as a state prosecutor after two years as an associate to then-High Court justice Dyson Heydon.

Ms Finlay is also a former Western Australian president of the Liberal Women’s Council and has flatly refused to consider gender quotas for candidates. She participated in right-wing think tank the IPA’s campaign against enshrining an Indigenous voice to Parliament, saying it was “patronising” to Indigenous people and a “form of political segregation”.

She will begin her role as Human Rights Commissioner in  November.

Ms Finlay and colleagues wrote in 2016 that the AHRC’s conduct had been “disgraceful” in the handling of an alleged discrimination incident involving Queensland University of Technology students.

She also criticised the increase in the number of claims the AHRC had taken on, saying it needed to exercise “better judgement” in assessing complaints.

Ms Finlay called for section 18C – the Australian law which makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin – to be “amended, repealed, or struck down”.

On Sunday, Ms Finlay was appointed to the role of Australian Human Rights Commissioner for five years by Attorney-General Michaelia Cash.

The AHRC welcomed the “Government’s decision to fill the role of Human Rights Commissioner” after it had considered not appointing a standalone Commissioner.

“My Australian Human Rights Commission colleagues and I look forward to working with Lorraine Finlay upon her commencement as Human Rights Commissioner in November,” Commission president Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher said.

Ms Finlay replaces former Commissioner Ed Santow, who had led rights issues around technology, and repeatedly warned about the risks of algorithm based and surveillance technology.

“I am honoured to be appointed as the Human Rights Commissioner and am looking forward to building on the substantial contributions made by my predecessors in the role,” Ms Finlay said in a statement.

Chief Executive Women welcomed a record 194 new members to its organisation, which has advocated for gender balance since 1985. Among them are Australia’s chief scientist Dr Catherine Foley, e-safety commissioner Julie Inman Grant, incoming Governor of South Australia, Frances Adamson, and current Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young.

Brenton Philp has been promoted to Department of Education, Skills and Employment deputy secretary of early childhood and child care.

Several other departments have named assistant secretaries, including Health’s Natasha Ploenges, Foreign Affairs and Trade’s David Higgins, Home Affairs’ Brett Liebich, and Treasury’s Vera Holenstein.

Tom Stace, a former professor at University of Queensland Australia, has joined Sydney-based quantum computing startup Q-CTRL as principal quantum control engineer. Mr Stace was deputy director of the arc centre of excellence for engineered quantum systems at the Queensland university.

“I’ve known and worked with Tom as a colleague for nearly 20 years and am absolutely thrilled to welcome him to Q-CTRL,” said chief executive and founder Professor Michael Biercuk. “Our ability to attract senior scientists of his calibre to advance our work speaks to the exceptional team and environment we have built.”

Darren Needham-Walker has left TechnologyOne and moved to Advanced Mobility Analytics Group, a Brisbane based startup. Mr Needham-Walker joins as CMO and brings two decades of technology sector experience to the predictive analytics firm.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia’s chief data officer Christian Nelissen is set to jump to rival NAB to fill the fellow Big Four’s data chief role.

Target Australia has a new technology general manager, appointing Samantha McIntyre, who had been group chief information officer of the Sussan group and an IT solutions manager at Bega Cheese.

“As a young nervous newly graduated tech student in the early 90’s working on the help desk at Target I never dreamed that I would one day lead tech for this company,” Ms McIntyre wrote on LinkedIn.

Financial services technology firm TransAction Solutions has promoted John Griffin to chief operating officer. He moves up from head of services.

Australian cryptocurrency micro-investment platform Bamboo has announced new hires from leading fintech firms. The company said it had “strategically recruited three team members” as it finalises a series A round.

Josh Thillagaratnam, former head of digital marketing and sales at Xero, joins Bamboo as chief marketing officer, while Colton Dillion joins as a director with three years’ experience at rival investment platform Acorns US. Anna Cheng, who led growth at Spaceship, also joins in an advisory capacity.

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