Senate debates

Monday, 16 March 2015

Matters of Public Importance

Higher Education

4:49 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

My time on this is short; I will stick to the motion. I think it is fair to say that what the minister said yesterday on Insiders really was most unfortunate. Linking the 1,700 jobs of scientists, linking the NCRIS to the higher education changes proposed by the government which are currently evolving further, was not a good thing to do. They are distinct issues. It was wrong to do so. I was very grateful that Senator Cory Bernardi was critical of linking the two together. I dare say that his intervention as a member of the coalition probably had some real sway in the government seeing sense enough to say, 'No, we need to keep funding NCRIS and not link it to the higher education changes,' because it is a stand-alone matter.

Senator Ryan made the point about NCRIS that its importance cannot be understated. It has led to collaboration with industry and it has led to innovation. It has created jobs and high-tech industries. Catherine Livingstone, a senior business leader in this nation, was very keen to ensure that NCRIS funding continued. It will do so for another 12 months from 1 July. That, of course, is welcomed. I see that as a bridge, pending the outcome of the review by Philip Clark into NCRIS. I understand that a final report by Mr Clark is due to be tabled sometime in September. That gives us time. It allows the report to be a bridge for long-term funding of NCRIS because this fund provides the backbone of research infrastructure in this nation. When you consider the cost is something like two per cent of the $9 billion of government investment in science research and innovation each year, it is a very small amount; but it carries an enormous punch in terms of scientific research and innovation, collaboration with industry and, of course, our university sectors.

Our international reputation would have been seriously damaged if funding had ceased. NCRIS facilities are part of an international network, and users come from over 28 countries. If you shut down a facility, it is very hard to start it up again without enormous cost. The potential for this causing great damage to our scientific community and to our research facilities would have been enormous. So I am looking forward to the Philip Clark review. I understand that Mr Clark has undertaken a very comprehensive review, and congratulations to the government for appointing Mr Clark to do that. But, if we want to be the clever country, we need to make sure that we have this funding on a long-term basis, not year by year, not piecemeal. It needs to be on a long-term basis so that we can truly be the clever country for the 21st century.


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