What matters to you?

4 September 2012

Six leading lights of the University of Sydney community are sharing what matters most to them for the final month of the 'What Matters' campaign, which asks members of the public in Australia and around the world to cast their votes for what is most important to them.

Each month since April, five new 'Leading Lights' from the University of Sydney community have talked about how their work has made a difference to the world, with diverse topics ranging from maintaining a healthy diet to educating tomorrow's Indigenous leaders, lowering smoking rates, and advancing Australia's relationships with China and the US.

Tens of thousands of people globally have visited the What Matters site, with a significant proportion also casting votes on what matters to them.

During August, the University also took the What Matters campaign to the streets of Sydney's CBD and the Chatswood business district with interactive visual displays that enabled members of the public to vote on topics of importance to them.

There were more than 12,000 interactions over two weeks at the voting sites, with 'solving climate change' the most voted-for topic, followed by 'keeping our economy strong', 'support for the arts' and 'meeting global food demand'.

This month's leading lights include:

Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research): Academic research

"Academic research nurtures the human spirit and responds to the needs of our communities," says Professor Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney.

"The quest for discovery is inherent to the human condition - it made men get in ships and sail off to discover the edge of the world, it drove us to climb Mount Everest and to go to the moon."

According to Professor Trewhella, academic research is a vital resource for society. Without funding, the resource and all the benefits it provides are lost.

"If we don't fund academic research, we're taking away the ability to advance our understanding of our world, to develop new methodologies and technologies that can improve our quality of life," she says.

Professor Annamarie Jagose, Head of the School of Letters, Arts and Media, and Senthorun Raj, law student and NSW president of Amnesty International Australia: Marriage equality

While Senthorun Raj and Professor Annamarie Jagose are both passionate campaigners for social justice and anti-homophobia, they don't see eye to eye on same-sex marriage.

Raj believes it's an issue of social justice, while Professor Jagose thinks the campaign for same-sex marriage is a red herring that distracts us from the real and unaddressed conditions of social inequity.

"Marriage equality is an issue I think of justice and fairness, particularly about enabling citizens here in Australia the same opportunities to have their relationship recognised regardless of their sexual orientation," says Raj.

For Professor Jagose, the real issue of anti-homophobia is bigger than the same-sex marriage debate.

"For me it's actually such a tiny extension of small privilege to such a minority demographic that I'm kind of quite flummoxed by how marriage equality has come to represent the end game of political achievement."

Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, Director, Centre for Disability Research and Policy: A better life for people with disabilities

Professor Gwynnyth Llewellyn, whose research is at the forefront of studying how employment can improve community integration and understanding for people with disabilities, it's time for a 'fair go'.

"Australia at the moment is around 25th of 29 countries, at the bottom of the league table if you like, of employing people with disabilities," says Professor Llewellyn.

"We need to find ways such as requiring employers to take young people on and give them a chance too."

Professor Llewellyn is now working with the World Health Organization on guidelines for rehabilitation for people with disabilities, and heads the University's new Centre for Disability Research and Policy, which launched earlier this year.

Professor Colm Harmon, Head, School of Economics: Better economic policy

Professor Colm Harmon, whose research focuses on how economic policy is aligned to the political environment, is concerned that governments sacrifice policies for long-term economic gain for the sake of three-year election cycles.

"For such a fast-paced economy, choices become very focused on the here and now over the future, and in a sense doing the thing that's right for your long term gain," says Professor Harmon.

He also believes that Australians should embrace their strong economic position and remain confident about the future.

"You have to be very careful that you don't overstate the negatives. The media have a role to play in this, the opposition have a role to play in this in being honest about how the economy is doing. But policymakers also have to ensure that they start to focus their attention on the people who need help and encourage the people who are in good shape."

Professor Rick Kefford, Director, Westmead Institute for Cancer Research: Closing in on a melanoma cure

Known as the 'Australian cancer', melanoma affects Australians at 10 times the rate of most other countries.

"It's also the Australian cancer because it has such a disproportionate impact on young Australians. So, for example, it's the commonest cause of cancer death in young men and young women," says Professor Rick Kefford.

While many melanomas can be cured with surgery, a significant number of patients experience secondary tumours in their bloodstream and lymph vessels. Once these secondary tumours occur, most patients die within 12 months.

"I am deeply distressed by the amount of human suffering that this disease still causes in this country. I'm proud of the steps forward that we've made but we've got a hell of a long way to go. What matters to me is getting there."

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