Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda

As someone with two sisters who are scientists—Meg, my middle sister is a former AIDS researcher, now a winemaker and is Australia's first female master of wine and we are very proud of her and Amy, my little sister, is a world renowned neurologist and is a particular expert in stroke—I have a very strong interest in science, research and innovation. As a result of living with my sisters for so long, watching their careers flourish, watching their expertise grow—in AIDS in the case of Meg, in viticulture and in neurology in the case of Amy—I do have a very strong interest in science, research and innovation, particularly in women in science, research and innovation.

As we know, there is parody now between women doing undergraduate degrees and even postgraduate degrees in the field of science yet, when they get to the postgraduate level and are moving their way through the ranks, they tend to run into a plug at that middle-ranking level and we see very few if any women in the senior ranks of science. So I do have a very strong interest in these matters after sitting around the dinner table with them over many years talking about their areas of research and interest.

My experience with my sisters as well as my experience with my community here in Canberra where we have world-class research science and innovation institutions has highlighted to me the importance of science, research and innovation to Australia's future prosperity. It is quite ironic that we are standing here today debating the importance of STEM. With all due respect to the member for Forrest, those opposite have done nothing but attack science since the day they were elected. The scale of this government's attacks on science is breathtaking. It is quite extraordinary. When I was listening to the member for Forrest and listening to her talking about those figures, I was wondering where she was actually getting them from given that there have been substantial cuts in funding to the national science and research institutions—I will come to that later.

Under the Abbott government, for a year Australia did not have a science minister looking after the interests of science, research and innovation, which sent a very strong message to the science community—it certainly was not lost in my community. Those opposite may talk a good game when it comes to the importance of science, research and innovation to Australia's productivity, to our prosperity in the future, to our growth but for some time there was no science minister, which just went to show how seriously they take STEM. The lack of a dedicated science minister was truly symbolic of the government's attitude towards STEM, science, research and innovation. After attending a number of events with the Chief Scientist, Ian Chubb, I got the impression that he was tearing his hair out about the fact that there was no science strategy for this country under the Abbott government. There was no science minister for some time and there was no strategic approach to science. The member for Forrest mentioned the strategic approach called Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia’s Future that was recently released and, reading about it, it is all good. It talks about the fact that science is infrastructure and is critical to our future.

Mr Chubb said we must align our scientific effort to the national interest with a focus on areas of particular importance or need and do it on a scale that will make a difference to Australia in a changing world. In this strategic approach, he has outlined his vision for developing better capacity and capability through strategic investment, through good planning and through long-term commitment. The paper focuses on building competitiveness, on supporting high-quality education and training, on maximising research potential and on strengthening international engagement. As he said, it gets back to the fact that he was tearing his hair out for so long under the Abbott government. We are the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy. Other countries have realised such a strategy is essential to remaining competitive in a world reliant on science and science trained people. The member for Forrest may have outlined through a number of points how this government is committed to science, research and innovation but, as Professor Chubb said, we are the only OECD country without a science or technology strategy and we are also, I imagine, one of the few if any countries around the world without a science minister for some time under the Abbott government.

I have highlighted the lack of a strategic approach on national science, research and innovation and also the fact that we did not have a science minister for some time but I also want to talk about the government's cuts to science research, cuts that had a significant impact on my community. This government, in its two budgets so far, has cut more than $3 billion from science, research and innovation. Canberra knows all about these cuts because this government cut $1.2 billion from science and research agencies in its first budget including almost $115 million from the CSIRO here in Canberra. These cuts saw nearly 1,300 jobs lost from CSIRO, the world famous, world renowned national science, research and innovation institution. The government maintains it is a big supporter of and advocate for science, research and innovation yet it has cut billions of dollars' worth of funds—a lot here in my electorate—and cut 1,300 jobs from CSIRO, which was the largest number of job losses in the organisation's history. And as we know, this organisation has been going for some time—for decades—going right back until the twenties, from memory. We also saw jobs lost from Geoscience Australia, from ANSTO and from the Bureau of Meteorology—all agencies that are really very lean and mean, so any job cut has a significant impact on them.

I know in the case of Geoscience that the job losses had an impact on the tsunami warning team. What a really bright idea—cutting jobs from science, research and innovation that not only have a significant impact on our nation's productivity, prosperity and growth but which also have a significant impact on the safety of the AsiaPacific region, particularly in the intelligence they provide on the tsunami warning system.

And the cuts did not stop there. Cuts were also made to the Australian Research Council and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation. The Cooperative Research Centre also had its funding slashed and NICTA had its funding cancelled altogether.

Under this government, we have also seen the abolition of the Innovation Investment Fund, the abolition of Enterprise Connect, the abolition of Industry Innovation Precincts, the abolition of Enterprise Solutions and the abolition of Researchers in Business. So, here we are: the member for Forrest, as I said—with all due respect to the member for Forrest—has put up this motion about how this government is a friend of science, research and innovation, and how it has made significant investment in science, research and innovation. But what have we seen? We have seen 1,300 jobs cut from CSIRO. We have seen $3 billion cut from science, research and innovation institutions and a range of other funds. We have seen $115 million cut from the CSIRO here in Canberra. We have seen NICTA funding cancelled. And we have seen the Innovation Investment Fund, Enterprise Connect, the Industry Innovation Precincts, Enterprise Solutions and Researchers in Business all abolished. So I just wonder how committed this government is to science, research and innovation when all it has done since it has been in government is to slash and burn in every way in this sector, not just in terms of funding and grants to the institutions but, most importantly, into the jobs and skills which will build our productivity and build prosperity for the future and which will enhance Australia's growth, both here and overseas.

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