Australia is selected to become host nation in 2012 to the world championships of innovation: The Microsoft Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals.

It’s part of the Aussie national spirit, attitude and way of life; it’s seen as vital to our nation’s health, wealth and wellbeing; but Australians believe it’s not harnessed or rewarded in our society enough1. It’s our imagination. But what if our imagination had the power to change the world for good?

This was the opportunity outlined by The Hon. Peter Garrett, Minister for Schools Education, Early Childhood & Youth, today as he announced Australia will become an “Imagi-nation” by taking centre stage as host for the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals.

Australia’s winning bid for 2012 represents its first time hosting the worldwide finals of Microsoft’s annual global student innovation competition, once described by Bill Gates as ‘the Olympics of the software world’, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2012. The Imagine Cup 2012 will challenge students to come up with ideas to help solve the world’s toughest problems – inspired in part by the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals - and to use the power of software and technology to help bring those ideas to life.  This year, the Imagine Cup has attracted over 300,000 student registrants from more than 100 countries. The worldwide finals will take place in Sydney in July 2012 where more than 400 student finalists will compete.

Mr Garrett delivered the address this morning (May 5) at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum to an audience that included Imagine Cup ambassador, young Australian of the Year and youngest person to sail solo, non-stop and unassisted around the world, Jessica Watson; 2005 Australian of the Year, Dr Fiona Wood; industry bodies including Australian Computer Society Foundation; The University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enable Society (IBES), and Business Events Sydney. Mr Garrett praised the competition’s ambition to harness the collective and magical power of imagination and technology through collaboration, and all that this can achieve. Mr Garrett said the 2012 Imagine Cup is a fantastic learning opportunity for students from right around Australia.

“I encourage Australian students to get involved in Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2012, using software and technology to help improve the world we live in,” Mr Garrett said. “The Australian Government is committed to revolutionising Australia’s education system through greater student access to information and communication technologies.”

Jessica Watson applauded the nation’s progressive and diverse culture, and said: “Imagination forms the backbone of our Aussie spirit, pride and determination – the Imagine Cup provides our youth with the ideal opportunity to dream and achieve.

“To me, the Imagine Cup is important because it sends a clear message to young people and students that anything is possible and that we can be the spark that makes great things happen,” Watson continued.

Pip Marlow, managing director, Microsoft Australia said, “The Imagine Cup is all about harnessing the power of ‘what if’. Every discovery, every invention and all exploration is based on a willingness to imagine and a unwavering desire to seek out answers.

“Imagination and ideas have the power to solve problems but, in a modern, digital society, technology is now a great enabler.  Australia is a natural choice for the worldwide finals – it lives and breathes the values of the Imagine Cup – innovation and inventiveness; collaborative citizenship and entrepreneurialism; optimism and a strong belief in a better future enabled by technology.

“We have the brightest and smartest talent in Australia, and in hosting the worldwide finals here next year, we hope to help inspire a new generation of student inventors and imagine-makers,” Marlow continued.

Imagine Cup ambassador, Professor Fiona Wood, who is world-renowned for her patented invention of spray-on-skin for burns victims, and was the 2005 Australian of the Year, said Australia’s hosting of the Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals is a real opportunity to celebrate the country’s significant contributions to science and technology and harness its future innovation: “We owe it to our next generation of innovators to support them in any way we can, giving them the means and the access they need to create the breakthroughs of tomorrow,” said Professor Wood.

The University of Melbourne’s Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society (IBES) said having Australia host the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2012 Worldwide Finals was a timely opportunity for students to begin thinking about what a broadband-enabled future looked like.

“High speed broadband networks offer an incredible platform for innovation. The Imagine Cup will help spur innovation by bringing together the best and brightest students from around the world to work on the types of broadband applications and services that super-fast broadband networks of the future will deliver,” said Dr. Kate Cornick, Executive Director, IBES.

Mr Garrett’s address led today’s opening of Australia’s Imagine Cup 2011 national finals, which will see five teams battle each other in the bid to represent Australia at the Imagine Cup 2011 Worldwide Finals in New York on 8-13 July. Entries include the Brain Speller, a tool to aid communication between patients and carers; Mum2Be, a program designed to improve infant and maternal health and safety; Global Aid, a tool to educate people in developing countries about medicines and vaccines that promote public health; the m-Safeguard, a mobile phone application that integrates communications and resources to aid people in the midst of a disaster zone; and Social Alert, a mobile application that works to manage two-way information coming from people within or near disaster zones.