His adopted country makes him a Companion of the Order of Australia, our highest honour.
But Ian Frazer might never have got here if a little-known government policy under consideration this week had been in place at the time.
The same policy could have stopped other UK stars, including spray-on skin inventor Fiona Wood and Australian of the Year and quantum-computing legend Michelle Simmons. Announced last year, the Skilling Australians Fund levy would compel any employer, including universities, to pay $1800 for every overseas employee here on a temporary-skills visa.
The fund would be available to states and territories to skill-up local workers competing with overseas labour — a laudable aim.
But why tax universities — the very places that are already providing so much of the nation’s education and training — as part of it?
It’s a tax on knowledge and it doesn’t make sense.
More than any other sector, university talent is global and mobile.
Curing disease or making drought-resistant crops takes big teams, collaborating across national boundaries. If we are to hold our place on the world research and innovation stage, we must recruit the world’s best and invest in our own stars.
The academic workforce thrives on exchange and the benefits flow both ways — talented Australians go overseas to earn their scholarly stripes, international stars come here and enrich our teams.
For a small-population nation like ours, it is even more important that the exchange of research talent flourishes.
Stymieing academic movement also directly contradicts the intent of recent government initiatives — including the Global Talent Visa, and changes to the skilled occupations list made last year.
Education is our third-largest export, just after iron ore and coal. A big part of what makes Australia an attractive study destination is the quality of our research.
International students often look to research rankings to make their decision on where to study.
These students can choose anywhere in the world to study. They don’t have to come here.
So risking the mobility of researchers undermines our international education sector, which is worth $32 billion every year.
At $1800 a head, over $15 million would be cut from universities every year. This comes on top of $2.2 billion of cuts imposed just before Christmas, and another $4 billion in the years before that.
The government predicts more than 90 per cent of the million new jobs to be created by 2022 will need a post-school qualification.
Australians will need more, not less, access to education to meet the demands of a rapidly changing job market.
Giving universities access to the fund would be an improvement but, ultimately, taking money just to put it back in makes for an unnecessary money-go-round.
As the Senate considers the legislation today, a simpler solution would be to exempt universities from paying into the fund in the first place.
We should find ways to train and educate Australians at a time of skills shortages in the economy, but that takes investment and considered policy settings — not another tax.
Catriona Jackson is deputy chief executive of Universities Australia.
As published in The Daily Telegraph on 8 May 2018.