House debates

Thursday, 24 June 2021


Industry Research and Development Amendment (Industry Innovation and Science Australia) Bill 2021; Second Reading

4:19 pm

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm speaking in support of the amendment moved by the member for Chifley. This bill seeks to amend the Industry Research and Development Act to rename the independent statutory board known as Innovation and Science Australia to Industry Innovation and Science Australia. There are also some consequential amendments to other Commonwealth legislation because of that name change. But that's about it. The fact is that this amendment bill does nothing to advance the interests of industry, increase innovation, encourage greater investment in research and development expenditure by Australian companies or prioritise scientific research. The bill is very light on policy because this government is very light on encouraging industry research and development, particularly at a company level. The Morrison government thinks that it can disguise its failures to industry and investment around innovation and science with another marketing campaign, like the trivial name change.

Australia is home to some of the best universities in the worlds. Overall, we're ranking sixth throughout the world for the quality of our universities. I'm proud that I have a university in the electorate that I represent, UNSW, which has the world-leading centre for the development of solar power and other renewable energies. The Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics at UNSW is the largest and best known internationally renowned university based photovoltaic research group in the world. I want to give a special mention to all of the staff and researchers working at UNSW's Australian Centre for Advanced Photovoltaics—in particular, Professor Martin Green, who leads the centre and has been referred to as the 'father of photovoltaics'.

Professor Green is credited with leading a UNSW research team over decades that has achieved enormous reductions in the cost of photovoltaic solar systems and, importantly, a huge reduction in the amount of emissions that would have otherwise been spewed into the atmosphere worldwide. Among his many breakthroughs, he invented the PERC solar cell, which accounts for at least a quarter of the world's solar cell manufacturing capacity and has a rapidly increasing market share due to its greater efficiency over other types of cell. The PERC cells pioneered by UNSW now reflect 50 per cent of world production. That is an amazing statistic.

The fact is that 50 per cent of the world's solar cells that are produced today is technology that was invented by Australians, invented in our university system by Australians, and is now being commercialised all over the world. In fact, there's not a company throughout the world that is manufacturing solar cells that is not using the technology that was pioneered at the University of New South Wales. You often see these companies listing on the Nasdaq in New York. When they have that ceremony the first time a company that is selling on the Nasdaq, is trading on the Nasdaq, there's the ringing of the bell and there's the obligatory photo. In all of those photos, there's someone from UNSW in them, because the technology that is developed at UNSW is in every single solar cell production facility throughout the world.

The PERC solar cells are now becoming a commercial standard throughout the world, with sales exceeding $10 billion in 2017 and predicted to exceed US$1 trillion by 2040. God, that is something that we should be enormously proud of—$1 trillion worth of sales around solar cells, in technology produced here in Australia in our university sector. That pioneering work has seen Professor Green become the first Australian to win the prestigious Global Energy Prize for his research, development and educational activities in the field, beating the likes of Elon Musk to take out the award.

As part of its broader culture of innovation and research excellence at UNSW there is, of course, Sunswift, which is the solar racing team. It was established 25 years ago and is now Australia's top solar car team. Over that time, the Sunswift team has combined innovative research with practical engineering skills to create clean energy transport solutions that have seen UNSW set the Guinness world record for the lowest energy consumption achieved while driving across Australia in an electric car. Since its formation, Sunswift has produced six solar cars and established a world-class reputation for fast tracking careers in industry, research and development. It's innovation and research at its best, in a world where sustainable transport technology is playing an ever-increasing role in shaping our society and our future.

Despite these significant achievements at UNSW and other leading universities, according to the Global Innovation Index, Australia is ranked 23rd among the group of 49 high-income economies. And isn't it a shame, given this technology that we're producing here in Australia, that there's not more government support—that our government isn't prouder of these achievements and is not boasting about these achievements or supporting them with grants, with innovation, with taxation subsidies to particularly promote the development of an electric car industry here in Australia?

We know the technology is innovated here, but to produce it we have to go overseas. This opportunity for jobs and investment in Australia is wasted because, up until a few months ago, this government's approach to electric vehicles in Australia was that they were bad and that they were something that we should try and avoid in the future.

Photo of Anthony AlbaneseAnthony Albanese (Grayndler, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

They'll destroy the weekend!

Photo of Matt ThistlethwaiteMatt Thistlethwaite (Kingsford Smith, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Republic) Share this | | Hansard source

As the Leader of the Opposition in the parliament says, they came out with the claim that they were going to ruin the weekend and destroy the future—that tradies would be put out of work if they moved to electric vehicles. It's ridiculous. It's insane, really, that our government is not supporting these innovations being developed in our universities. Any other nation in the world would be very proud of this and would be saying: 'What can we do to boost your industry? We'll invest in it, we'll get the private sector to invest in it and we'll make sure that we create jobs here in our country, not have you go overseas to commercialise your technology.' But that's sadly lacking from this government when it comes to support for research and development for innovation in this country, and the best that it can come up with is a name change. It's quite pathetic.

As a nation we've gone backwards in our rankings when it comes to our university sector, falling, since 2018, three positions. The Go8 figures indicate that Australia scores below average for its income group for knowledge and technology outputs. Over eight long years of a divided coalition government being in office, Australia has lost an estimated 90,000 jobs in manufacturing, and there are 140,000 fewer people doing apprenticeships or traineeships than there were when this government came to office. Think of those opportunities for Australia in innovation and in job creation that have been squandered under this government. Labor agrees that the government needs to think more about links between industry, innovation and science. The facts are clear, and the facts are that we're falling behind.

The Morrison government needs to spend more time addressing the problems that it has created and less time on marketing and spin, but unfortunately that's all this bill is. It's a situation of marketing and spin, and it won't deliver. It won't deliver the necessary stimulus and the necessary encouragement for greater investment in research and development by Australian corporations. It's one of the many areas, along with labour productivity and business investment, that Australia is falling further and further behind on. We're actually going backwards under this government. The amount of dollars that Australian corporations are devoting to research and development has fallen as a proportion of GDP by about 1½ per cent since this government came to office. That's going backwards. That's not something that we should be proud of.

We should be going the other way. We're a wealthy nation with high living standards and incomes. Particularly at this point in time in our economic development, when we're coming out of a recession and the government is looking to stimulate the economy, an area where you're going to get productivity improvement and growth in the future is investment in research and development and job creation. But this government isn't interested. It's all about the announcement and the spin rather than the delivery. And that's the great shame of this particular piece of legislation: like everything that this government does in this area, it's a wasted opportunity. That's why I'm supporting the amendment that has been moved by the member for Chifley.

Debate interrupted.