Wednesday, 18 June 2008
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2008-2009
Consideration in Detail
If you want to make a second speech, we can do that. I will sit down and you can make the speech. That is no problem. Commercial Ready was closed to new grants from 28 April, the date that the minister mentioned. All existing commitments are being met, and they are worth about $200 million over four years. The total budget savings, as you will see from the budget papers, are $707.2 million over the four-year period. One piece of evidence—and I know the member in his second question asked about evidence based decision making in relation to Commercial Ready—was a report of the Productivity Commission. It is ironic that the coalition is saying, ‘Well, you should listen to the Productivity Commission.’ The Productivity Commission, in its report of last year called Public support for science and innovation, found:
There is robust evidence indicating that the Commercial Ready program supports too many projects that would have proceeded without public funding assistance.
I am answering a question with a question back to the coalition: is it the coalition’s view that the government should listen to some Productivity Commission advice and not to other Productivity Commission advice, to all advice or to no advice? The fact is that Commercial Ready was subject to that budget decision. We needed to do that for reasons of managing a budget fiscally responsibly, and we are doing that. The budget made significant savings and that was always designed, as members opposite would know, to put downward pressure on inflation and therefore downward pressure on interest rates.
If time permitted I would expand on that greatly, but I want to provide information that is of greater value perhaps here in this particular forum. Almost three-quarters of the savings from Commercial Ready in 2008-09 had already been earmarked in the election policy Clean Energy Plan to tackle climate change to offset the government’s new $240 million Clean Business Australia package. Then, of course, there is the Enterprise Connect network. It is another initiative with $251 million to provide a national network for manufacturing centres and five separate but interlinked innovation centres.
The shadow minister did ask what other programs are available. Other programs are the R&D tax concession, where businesses have got sufficient income, and the R&D tax offset, where they do not have sufficient income. Then there is the Comet program, which I recall was introduced by the previous government as part of Backing Australia’s Ability in 2001. So there are other avenues and other opportunities for business to access innovation programs.
Fundamentally, the government has announced a major national innovation review, and that is being chaired by Dr Terry Cutler. This review will report in the next few months. We have been concerned about inadequate support for innovation in this country and as much by the fairly ad hoc nature of the innovation programs. I think even members opposite would agree that although Backing Australia’s Ability pulled in a number of ideas from different places—and that is okay—we can do better than that by having a national innovation system. That is why Senator Carr has initiated that work. Dr Terry Cutler is very competent in this area and I fully expect that we will have a very useful report so that we can take Australia well and truly into the 21st century by building a modern innovative economy.
In relation to the auto industry, I think it is pretty important that the coalition indicate whether or not they actually support the funding of $35 million from the Commonwealth for the hybrid car. They like to criticise it, but I just cannot get an answer from them. If they really want to criticise it, tell us that they oppose it and here is an opportunity to do so. (Time expired)