Official opening of the Sunshine Coast Guidance Colloquium - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Official opening of the Sunshine Coast Guidance Colloquium

20 Oct 2013

20 October 2013

It now gives me great pleasure to introduce this morning’s keynote presenter Professor Maxwell Bennett.

Professor Max Bennett is a Professor of Neuroscience, University Chair and the Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney.

He is an ideal keynote speaker given the Colloquium’s theme (Surfing the Synapses – Making Connections) and the importance of understanding the relationship between young people’s environmental experiences and the impact they have on their developing brain.

We are most fortunate to be able to bring Professor Bennett, a University of the Sunshine Coast Adjunct Professor of Neuropsychiatry, to the Coast to share his research with you today.

Max’s books and papers are concerned with research on the formation and function of synaptic connections between cells in the brain, on the history and philosophy of the brain sciences, and on science policy.

In addition to his core discipline, Max dabbles in philosophy, history, politics, you name it – he is one of those rare individuals who is the complete scholar and working with him is a truly enlightening experience.

As you have seen in Max’s biography, he has initiated many organisations to promote science and brain research such as the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies (the main lobby group for science in Australia), the International Society for Autonomic Neuroscience, and Brain and Mind Research Asia/Pacific.

After you get to know Max and have first-hand experience of seeing his passion for the amelioration of diseases of the brain and mind, it won’t surprise you to learn that he also initiated contact with me.

He suggested that USC give consideration to establishing a Queensland Mind and Neuroscience Institute here on the Sunshine Coast.

Max proposed that USC establish an Institute not unlike the Brain and Mind Research Institute that he founded some seven years ago at the University of Sydney.

It didn’t take long for USC to be convinced that the Sunshine Coast needed such a facility and that the University campus would be an ideal location.

Why the Sunshine Coast? 

Well - The population of the Sunshine Coast is one of the most rapidly expanding in Australia, placing additional burdens upon local health services along with the commensurate growth in the population of adolescents and children.

The Sunshine Coast has a split demographic profile with significantly higher numbers of people under 25 and over 65 than the national averages.

This demographic aligns with the burdens of disability occurring in both younger and older Australians due to psychiatric and neurological disorders.

We are well aware of the national challenges with caring for older Australians in the coming decades. The Sunshine Coast will soon have the highest concentrations of people with dementia in the nation.

We also understand that rates for suicide are consistently higher for the Sunshine Coast than most other regions in Queensland and have been above the state rate for some years. And this statistic is, of course, a direct lead-in to the work you people do.

So why USC as the site for such a facility? 

USC strives to be relevant to its region through its core activities of teaching, research and engagement. The establishment of a Queensland Mind and Neuroscience Institute would afford an excellent opportunity to advance all these aims.

The development of the Sunshine Coast University Hospital provides exceptional opportunities to establish a Queensland, regionally based mind and brain research and clinical service centre.

The $2bn plus investment in the University Hospital presents a major strategic opportunity for USC to strengthen its position in health-related degree programs, to boost graduate employment outcomes and build research capabilities and outputs.

A mind and brain research and clinical service centre will be a positive asset to USC, the University Hospital, and the healthcare industry and to patients locally, nationally and internationally.

USC already has a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs in mental health professions. For instance nursing, mental health, occupational therapy, psychology, counseling and social work.

These will continue to expand over the coming decade as demand for graduates and USC’s capacity ramps up.

Much of USC’s research is real world and applied with a focus on strategic research aimed at generating outcomes of benefit to the wider community.

This will also apply to our research focus in mental health.

The new facility would bring together in the one entity basic and clinical research related to diseases of the brain and mind, as well as quality clinical practice and workforce development.

USC has been reaching to organisations in our region, such as local government, Regional Development Australia, the Department of Veterans' Affairs (Veterans and Veterans Families Counseling Service), and not for profit organisations like United Synergies.

As many of you may be aware, United Synergies is the lead agency for the new headspace Maroochydore facility that opened in February. USC is a consortium member and will seek to continue to engage with these types of initiatives into the future.

We see headspace having a strong relationship with the Queensland Mind and Neuroscience Institute, focused on mental health.

We have established a Foundation Board for the new Institute, chaired by Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston AC, AFC (Ret’d).

Max, and a number of other senior Australians (such as Professor Pat McGorry AO, Director of Clinical Services, Orygen Youth Health) have accepted our invitation to serve on the Institute’s Foundation.

Angus, Max and the Board will be instrumental in guiding the development and strategic positioning of this new facility.

We are confident USC offers an ideal site to attract world-class researchers and leaders in the mental health field and to ensure a balance between research, teaching and clinical outreach.

And for the past two years we have been pursuing the establishment of a new brain and mind clinical and research facility.

In doing so we have received very active support from Max, who is undoubtedly one of Australia’s most prominent leaders in the mental health field.

So it is my great pleasure to introduce Professor Maxwell Bennett for the delivery of his keynote address – ‘Childhood Abuse:  Stress, Depression and Suicide Later in Life’.

USC Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Hill