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Wednesday, 9 September 2009
Page: 6108

Senator CROSSIN (2:06 PM) —My question is to Senator Carr, the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. Can the minister inform the Senate how Australia ranks against international educational benchmarks? In particular, how has public support for education been affected by the policies of the past few years? What implications has this had for our performance in school and university education and in research training? Is there evidence that we have made insufficient investment in early childhood education, literacy, numeracy, quality teaching or higher education? How is the government addressing this shortfall, and what expenditure does this involve?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Crossin for the question. The OECD’s Education at a glance report for 2009 is a timely reminder of just why Australia needs an education revolution. It confirms that the Liberals’ years in office were lost years for education. Public expenditure on education fell from five per cent of GDP in 1995 to 4.6 per cent in 2006. It is now well below the OECD average of 5.3 per cent. Not surprisingly, we are also below the OECD average for the number of people with upper secondary qualifications, the growth in the number of people with tertiary qualifications and the rate at which domestic students enter advanced research programs. The OECD confirms that the Liberals invested too little in rewarding quality teaching, too little in the basics of literacy and numeracy, too little in higher education and far too little in early childhood education.

Australia still has a good education system, but the report highlights several areas that need improvement. That is why this government’s education revolution is so important. That is why we are investing $16 billion in early childhood education and child care, $2.2 billion in computers for schools, $2.5 billion in trades training centres and that is why we are investing $550 million to attract, train and retain quality teachers. We are investing $540 million in literacy and numeracy programs. (Time expired)

Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I would like to give the minister an opportunity to finish his answer to my first question and I also ask: can the minister advise the Senate what contributions the education revolution and the government’s innovation agenda are making to research and to research training? What additional support is the government providing to research trainees? What new fellowships have been established for researchers and what are the principles underpinning the design of those fellowships? Do these fellowships address the gaps in the career paths open to researchers, which have frequently forced Australians to pursue careers overseas in the past? And what efforts have been made to give our research effort a more international focus?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The education revolution is building viable career paths for Australian researchers. That is why we are doubling the number of Australian postgraduate awards for research trainees and increasing the stipend. That is why we have introduced the Super Science Fellowships for early career researchers, the Future Fellowships for mid-career researchers and the Australian Laureate Fellowships for senior researchers. It is my pleasure this afternoon to announce the first cohort of some 200 Future Fellows. The government has committed $844 million to fund 1,000 Future Fellowships over five years. This is an important element of our program to internationalise Australia’s research effort. One-fifth of the inaugural Future Fellows are either Australian expatriates coming home or overseas scholars. Their desire to work in this country— (Time expired)

Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question in relation to innovation. Can the minister inform the Senate how the government’s investments in education and innovation are helping to cushion the Australian economy against the worst effects of the global recession and position us to take full advantage of the global recovery? What is the relationship between private and public sector investment in research, particularly during these downturns? What steps has the government taken to ensure that the research and innovation pipeline in Australia does not shut down as a result of the crisis? How does Australia’s innovation capacity and performance compare internationally?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —We know that private sector spending on research and development follows the business cycle—it increases when GDP rises and contracts when GDP falls. The government has acted to counter this cycle by investing an extra $3.1 billion in research and innovation in this year’s budget, and that does not include the new R&D tax credit, which is worth $1.4 billion a year to business. This investment is designed to ensure that Australia retains and increases its R&D capabilities through the global downturn. Australia has risen from 18th to 15th in the latest World Economic Forum global competitiveness index, thanks mainly to the improvements in macroeconomic stability delivered by this government. Yet the index suggests that we are still underperforming on innovation, thanks mainly to 12 years of Liberal Party neglect. Our investment in the national innovation— (Time expired)