House debates

Monday, 17 August 2015

Ministerial Statements

Science and Innovation: Building Australia's Industries of the Future

3:31 pm

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the minister's statement. At the very outset, I want to thank the caucus for giving up 19 minutes of their lives! If I did not already, I owe all of you a big thankyou. I welcome the minister's statement. There was nothing particularly wrong with his speech. I accept that the minister and the member for McPherson at the table have the very best of personal intentions when it comes to science. But the test in this area is not words but actions.

When it comes to science there is only one party in this parliament which is truly committed to matching its words with actions—the Australian Labor Party. Labor believes that the promotion of science and technology will create and maintain jobs of the future in this country. Labor believes that research, innovation and a fundamental respect for scientific evidence are at the heart of Australia's future prosperity.

Innovation is not just important to new industries; it is essential for all industries, both emerging and mature. They need to update, compete and modernise. Labor do not accept the false distinction between new and old industries and the role of innovation. We believe innovation is the lifeblood of future prosperity. That is why it is front and centre of our economic plans and programs for the future. We believe Australia should be a science nation, competing with rest of the world and winning. We share a national commitment to science and to an Australia that nourishes the intellect of our people to build a smarter, more creative and more agile economy.

Science gives us a new and better sense of ourselves—new energy, new spirit and a new concept of our place in the world and our future. Science demands that we are self-critical, dissatisfied with the status quo, intent instead on moving towards a more prosperous future. Science is the enemy of dogma and it is an instrument of progress. Science lifts living standards and it frees us from ideology. Science will develop faster, more accurate and less invasive ways of diagnosing patients and of treating them. Science will redefine the very cities we live in and the way we work, learn, farm and live. Science will unlock future sources of energy and design new forms of communication. Science will reveal things about our planet's past that will change the way we understand our world and our universe. Above all, science and technology will be the difference between Australians designing, refining, operating and maintaining the machines of the future and being replaced by them.

No government can predict or dictate future discovery. Instead the parliament's responsibility is to foster a culture of ideas and of inquiry and to respect learning and knowledge. But, in less than 'two great years', this government has tried to cut $3 billion from science, research and innovation. It was not 'two great years'! We have seen: the CSIRO cut by $114 million; the Australian Research Council cut by $75 million; the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation cut by $27½ million; competitive research centres cut by $80 million; the Research Training Scheme cut by $173 million; and Commercialisation Australia abolished, with $260 million cut. The National ICT Australia Limited is to be abolished, with $84 million cut. We have seen Geoscience Australia cut by $16.1 million. The Defence Science and Technology Organisation has been cut by $120 million. And do not forget that notorious low point, earlier this year, when the Minister for Education and Training went to war with NCRIS, holding hostage $150 million in funding in an attempt to ram through his unfair plan for $100,000 degrees. Holding a political gun to the head of some of Australia's most eminent researchers—that was the fixer's fix. Nobel laureate Brian Schmidt summed this up perfectly when he said:

… this is not the way a grown-up country behaves.

Make no mistake: the science race—the race for the jobs of the future; the race to the top—has begun. It is a global contest where we should aim to be up there with the top players. Given Australia is a relatively small player, some might argue, 'Why do research here at all? Let's just import all the technology we need in the future.' The answer, though, is that Australia must be able to continue to produce the brilliant discoveries and technologies that directly benefit us. We must be able to adapt research done overseas. It is only countries with a strong research base that can effectively import science, build on it and adapt it for their own purposes. This is why we have set a great national goal, aspiring together—government, universities, research centres and industry—to dedicate three per cent of our national GDP to research and development by the end of the next decade.

Three in every four of the world's fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge. In the United States, 60 per cent of their 2020 workforce will require skills held by just 20 per cent of their current workforce. Australia is better placed, but not much better. In classrooms today, about 40 per cent of our teachers teaching science and maths to Australian students between years 7 and 10 do not have a tertiary qualification in that discipline. In our schools, participation in science subjects has fallen to the lowest in 20 years, and maths and science literacy has fallen over the past decade. Just as importantly, countries in our region continue to improve their results. The world is not waiting for Australia; it never has. We need to lift our game.

We need a new cooperative engagement with science, research and innovation. This is why Labor will work to ensure that every school teaches coding—computational thinking. This is not just about introducing a new subject. It is not about making 11-year-olds go out to work, as the Prime Minister said in a particularly famous answer he gave to a question about coding. It is about giving the next generation of Australians a whole new mindset and skills set. Labor will support better training for 25,000 current science, technology, engineering and maths teachers, because we want our hardworking teachers to have the skills and the confidence to help more students fall in love with science. We will create 25,000 new scholarships for STEM graduates to become great teachers, because we believe in what Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, calls sending the elevator back down—helping the next generation up. We will write off the student debts of 100,000 science, technology, engineering and maths students upon graduation, to encourage more Australians, particularly women, to have the opportunity to study, work and teach in these fields.

Labor's commitment to science travels right along the line—research, concept, discovery and product. It is true that Australia excels at discovery. In medical research, for example, we account for one per cent of the world's expenditure but produce three per cent of the world's output. Despite this success, we are second last in the OECD when it comes to research collaboration for small and medium enterprises, and we are last for large firms. We need to work together to bridge the divide between what our scientists discover and what our businesses use. We need to stop good ideas, unfulfilled breakthroughs and frustrated innovators falling into a void or—even worse—heading overseas. This means helping our businesses to harness good ideas and supporting our scientists to develop and deliver more of them. Labor will create a $500 million smart investment fund based on the proven success of the former Innovation Investment Fund, and we will establish a partial guarantee scheme, Startup Microfinance, to encourage crowd funding for new innovators. We want to ensure that great Australian ideas are born here, grow up here and create jobs here. In the 21st century, I believe that Australia can be a society of lifelong learning and innovation. With our remarkable open democratic culture and livable cities, we can be the new research centre of our region, the start-up capital of Asia and the science capital of the Asia-Pacific. It is time for us to seize this opportunity.

Science cannot be shunted away in one department nor viewed as a boutique industry for a niche market or an add-on to a title halfway through the first term of a government. Science needs a minister and a government that understand that it is the engine of productivity and jobs growth across all current, existing and future industries. Science will be at the centre of a Labor government, not just in words but in actions. Each year a Labor government that I lead will hold a cabinet meeting in cooperation with the Chief Scientist, the Commonwealth Science Council, the Australian Academy of Science and other relevant science sector representatives. We will break down the idea of an ivory tower. We will bring cabinet down from the hill and, together with scientists, really listen to each other and work with each other.

Whether we recognise it or not, science already pervades every aspect of our lives—every industry and every activity. We cannot separate the things that we dig out of the ground from science. Our resources sector is successful because it values and utilises science. In the future, this interdependence between science and everything that we rely on will continue to grow. Science will underwrite jobs in health, education, construction, ICT, mining and agriculture, as well as the jobs our children will do—in many cases, the jobs yet to be invented.

No conversation, discussion or statement about science—about our commitment to actions not words—could be concluded without testing a government's commitment to science. In particular, there is no clearer sign of commitment of a government to science than their willingness to adopt and use the evidence provided by science. Of course, I speak of climate change. You cannot claim to be seriously committed to science when you ignore the science of climate change. Labor take climate change seriously because we take science seriously. Just as science is essential to identifying the challenge of climate change, it is essential to developing the solution. That is why Labor are so disappointed in the announcements last week by the government.

Last week we learnt that the majority of the government's proposed emissions reductions will come from: an unspecified safety mechanism, an unknown energy efficiency plan and an unannounced vehicle efficiency policy; and there is a miscellaneous category called 'technology improvements and other sources'. The government say that they are banking on technology and innovation breakthroughs, yet the same government still intend to abolish ARENA, leaders in climate change and innovation. They have already tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, and now they are trying to dictate its work in a most unscientific manner. They are cutting the funding for the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, and they are slashing money from every Australian university. You cannot say that you are committed to science if you ignore the evidence and shoot the messengers. Instead, all that this reflects is a Liberal Party stuck in the past, captive to a nostalgia that things are about as good as we can reasonably expect and that any change is likely to be a bad thing. Despite what they believe, the world will not stand still. Science is the way forward—the lifting of the productive capacity of our economy and our people.

Labor believe in a better approach to science: new cooperation with states and territories; new collaboration with industry, fostering a knowledge-based culture in our workforces; new programs in our schools, TAFEs and universities; new engagement with the community, students, parents, teachers, employers, entrepreneurs, small and big business alike, city businesses and farmers; and new international partnerships. I want the next election to be a contest for the future of science in this country. I want it to be about competing visions for science in our schools and for research, innovation and commercialisation. I want Australians to choose Labor, because Labor has chosen science.


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