How Mathematics Can Inform Policy – Or Not

Professor Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland


Professor Hugh Possingham

The University of Queensland

Hugh is a conservation scientist and mathematician who has held positions in the university, public and not-for profit sectors. He is a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences and a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. He completed his D Phil at Oxford University in 1987 as a Rhodes Scholar and has most recently been the Chief Scientist of Queensland, and the Chief Scientist of The Nature Conservancy, a global conservation organisation operating in 79 countries.

A winner of two Eureka Prizes, his most significant contribution to conservation was the co-development of Marxan, a piece of software that was first used to rezone the Great Barrier Reef, and has now been used in almost every country in the world to inform the expansion of their marine and terrestrial protected area systems. Hugh has worked with all levels of government and many not-for-profit organisations, pro bono, to improve the state of Australia’s threatened species and habitats.

He has supervised over 200 honours students, doctoral candidates and postdoctoral fellows, and has published over 650 peer-reviewed publications – some of which he can actually remember.


Thursday, 13 July6PM AESTProf. Hugh PossinghamQueensland University of Technology and onlineView lecture recording


Talk abstract

Hugh will discuss several key examples of how the application of mathematics to real-world systems has impacted policy and management … or not. These stories include the rezoning of the Greater Barrier Reef, the creation of a network of Commonwealth marine parks, the Brigalow Declaration, the Long Paddock Statement, Threatened Species Policy, EPBC Act biodiversity offsets, Monitoring and Evaluation, NSW biodiversity policy reforms, state forestry policy and regional planning. In many of these examples, mathematics was an essential element of achieving on-ground benefits for species and ecosystems. However, good mathematics does not necessarily translate into good outcomes, and the most sophisticated and complex mathematics – the sort that we love to do in university maths departments – was not necessarily the most useful.