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Tuesday, 24 June 2008
Page: 3161

Senator BARNETT (2:22 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr, and it relates to the Commercial Ready program that the minister has been discussing. I note that the minister has accepted that some Australians are ‘disappointed’ in the government’s action. Does the minister believe that Mr Jimmy Seervai, an award-winning inventor who is financially supported by others and who is working on solutions to Australia’s obesity epidemic, is a millionaire? Does the minister believe that he is a millionaire whose company does not need the assistance via Commercial Ready to get its important product to market?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I am not aware of the financial standing of the gentlemen who has been mentioned, and I am not certain that that fits within my portfolio responsibility.

Senator Ian Macdonald —You said that you didn’t want to fund millionaires.

Senator CARR —It is of course all too easy for the opposition to apportion comments to people. The fact is that there was an exchange in the chamber that related to the luxury car tax, which the opposition has chosen to champion. As we all well know, this is a tax that is aimed at supporting extremely expensive motorcars, and the opposition wishes to save money for people, who are often millionaires, who do buy these vehicles. If that is the type of thing they want to be in, so be it.

I have been asked a question about Commercial Ready. The Commercial Ready program provided assistance to industry to commercialise technologies. As a statement of principle, it is a program objective that was supported by the government and continues to be supported by the government. As I have indicated already today, this government has introduced spending commitments of some $2.3 billion to tackle climate change initiatives and there has also been support for medical research commercialisation and other commercialisation programs, which are financed through the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

I am more than happy to discuss the particular specifics of any case that the senator wishes to raise, because it may well be that there are other program opportunities for individual businesses to approach the department about. So I do urge senators, when they have had representations made on these questions, to ask what approaches have actually been made to the department of innovation on these issues. I spoke recently of one particular company that has been given considerable press coverage. When I made inquiries and asked about the information, I was advised that this particular company approached the department, under its former guise, last October. It made preliminary inquiries and presented some preliminary paper work but took no further action—yet it said to its shareholders that the closure of this program has led to the company being in financial difficulty. That claim would be much stronger if the particular company had actually applied for a grant under Commercial Ready. On this particular occasion, it had not put the final applications to the department to seek assistance under this program.

So I would say to you, Senator, that if you do have representations to make—which of course is a legitimate function of senators and members of the House of Representatives—we are more than happy to engage in discussion with individual companies about what alternative programs are available. But one should not rely upon press reports. Before one engages in these dialogues one should actually check the facts.

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I can assist the minister by providing the exact quote from the minister from Wednesday, 14 May. I will be seeking leave to table this page of Hansard. In answer to a specific question from Senator Abetz, you said:

We had this expectation that we should go on providing assistance and various other measures to millionaires ...

I seek leave to table that page of Hansard. In so doing, I ask: will the minister now apologise to Mr Seervai and the countless other inventors and other small businesses around Australia whom he categories as ‘millionaires’ when in fact nothing could be further from the truth? I seek leave to table the Hansard.

The PRESIDENT —Is leave granted?

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I would be prepared to grant leave subject to checking the document. As you know, it is part of the normal courtesies of this place to show people the document before seeking to table it.

Senator Abetz —It is the Hansard.

Senator Chris Evans —If it is in Hansard, there is obviously no reason to table it, as it is already on the record.

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —With regard to the particular exchange in this chamber, my recollection is that there was in fact an interjection. I was responding to an entirely different proposition from the context in which you have advanced this. As to the financial standing of the individual to whom the senator refers, I am not in a position to know what his accounts are and I am not in a position to be able to say whether or not this individual is a millionaire.