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Tuesday, 20 September 2011
Page: 6505


Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:38): My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Given the recent job losses in Australian manufacturing, how can the government have confidence in its policy settings and investments?

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:38): I know the opposition is always willing to learn. We do our best to inform them, and this will be yet another occasion for that. Senator Pratt has asked a very good question. I think we have to start from the premise that we appreciate the fact that the high value of the Australian dollar is making it very tough for manufacturing and the families it supports. We are going through one of the biggest structural changes our society has seen, probably the biggest structural change we have seen in our economic history. We face a situation in which we have some options available to us. One of the options the opposition seems to be pursuing is that we should give up, but that is not one the government favours.

We take the view that we should be confident—and we are confident—that the policy settings are right. But we always recognise that a lot more needs to be done. We recognise that for business today there is a simple message: innovate or perish. We understand just how important it is to build the capabilities of individual firms. We understand how important it is for our firms to move up the value chain to seek out new industrial processes and to seek out new industrial products. The economic statistics are pointing to the fact that the economic fundamentals of this country are actually very strong. This might surprise you, but the last national accounts showed that in terms of gross value added we had a growth in manufacturing of 2.8 per cent in the June quarter, or one per cent growth for the whole year across the manufacturing sector. For metal products, that growth was actually 9.7 per cent. That is a surprising set of statistics, but that is what is actually happening.

We work on the basis that we have to live in the real world. We have to understand the economy as it is, not the way we would like it to be and not the way we hope it will be one day. We have to deal with real-world economics, and that is what we do. (Time expired)

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:41): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How does the minister respond to suggestions from the opposition that the industry innovation councils should be scrapped?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:41): We are obviously very disappointed that the opposition has so much to learn. They have yet to understand the importance of collaboration, which is fundamental to building manufacturing industries in this country and to building jobs into the future. That is why the government has established the industry innovation councils, which bring together government, researchers, unions and companies at the most senior levels. It is a great strength of our manufacturing sector that we are able to ensure that people are able to confront issues, not walk away from them. They do not rely on lies and half-truths, which the opposition seems to delight in peddling.

That is why I am so surprised that the opposition now seeks to cut these programs. We know this comes on top of their existing approach to innovation policy, which is to cut support for industry. The opposition is not big on honesty or integrity when it comes to these policy issues. They are not big on coming clean on what their policies mean in the hunt for the $70 billion they need— (Time expired)

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (14:42): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Is the minister confident that there are quality jobs and opportunities for Australian workers in new manufacturing technologies?

Senator CARR (VictoriaMinister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (14:42): The government is confident that the priority of this country has to be high-skilled, high-wage jobs, particularly in manufacturing. Manufacturing does have a great future in this country. However, it will not be like the manufacturing of old. It will be a new manufacturing, based on high technologies, high skills and business innovation. We will make sure that researchers in science at our universities are very much at the forefront.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator CARR: You might regard this as something that should be dismissed easily, but for a million Australians this is an issue of quite profound significance. Twenty-five years ago there was no biotech industry in this country, yet today we see an industry that is worth $25 billion on the stock exchange. We have seen a massive growth in opportunities as a result of our science and research programs, and we want to strengthen the links between our universities, the CSIRO and our other scientific agencies. (Time expired)