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Monday, 29 October 2012
Page: 12353

Mr GRIFFIN (Bruce) (11:11): It is a privilege and a pleasure to stand in the chamber today to speak about an area of government endeavour that I think is incredibly important to the future of our nation, and that is science and research. It is unfortunate that we are in a situation where the arguments being put are going to be at loggerheads, but the fact is that it is an area about which there should be more debate in this parliament.

Scientific research involves endeavours that try to create an economy that is smart, that provides jobs for the future, that provides jobs which are of high quality, that provides the opportunity for people to realise their capacity and that ensures Australia remains at the forefront of research internationally. These are all important goals. I guess the question is: how do we get there? And I think there are other questions, such as: where have we been, and what does that say about the way forward into the future?

In terms of the motion moved by the member for Melbourne, I cannot do anything other than agree wholeheartedly with his point (1), which:

… affirms that science is central to our economy and prosperity and that government investment in research is central to maintaining and growing Australia’s scientific capacity;

That is an absolutely central part of what needs to occur with respect to scientific research and investment into the future. But I guess this is where we will start to differ. The questions then are: how do we do it, and what has actually been done? When we talk about the question of what will be occurring into the future—and mention was made of MYEFO and the announcement made by the government at that time—we can say that there have been some adjustments and that some of those adjustments have led to, if you like, cuts into the future with respect to what was projected to be expenditure in some of these areas. What we firstly need to understand is: let us not gild the lily here.

Scientific research is expensive. It is expensive because it is important, and it is expensive because it goes to the question of expending now in order to make excellent and important discoveries into the future. Sometimes that expenditure will, on the face of it, be large; but it is important. On the question of what has been occurring around funding—and here I pick up on points made by the member for Higgins—I will go to a recent press release from the minister responsible, Senator Chris Evans, where he says:

This Government has invested more than $43.2 billion in core university funding from 2008 to 2011—that's a 50 per cent increase on the previous four years under the Howard government.

In the four years from 2012 to 2015 we will invest a further $58.9 billion—that's $30.1 billion in additional funding for universities, more than double the level of funding under the last four years of the Howard government.

So when we look to the question of what has been done in this area, we can say firstly that this government has an exceptional record with respect to funding for the university sector. It has an exceptional record in terms of supporting research. Is there more that can be done? There will always be more that can be done in this area. Frankly, from my point of view, there will always be more that should be done. But I think we also have to acknowledge what has been done and what is being done. And so, from that, I again quote the minister:

Close to $880 million in ARC Discovery and Linkage grants and $154 million in CRC grants will support the research effort, ensuring continuity for ongoing projects as well as new investment in key scientific and research priorities.

The perceived problems in the motion which relate to aspects of what was being talked about as to what might happen have largely not come to pass. With respect to some of the issues around grants being frozen, and the funding for this year and the future has largely been maintained, and that has occurred in very difficult budget conditions. When we look at Sustainable Research Excellence funding—which was mentioned—this year's SRE funding has not changed. SRE funding will be indexed from the 2012 level of $163 million dollars and adjusted upwards to achieve the government's objective of $300 million in 2016.

The move is forward, the move is upward and the move is onward to ensure that we do put significant support into the scientific and research sector. Can more be done? Yes. Should more be done? Yes. When will that be done? In the years ahead. But there is absolutely no doubt that the commitment of this government with respect to the scientific and research sector is there for all to see. When we look at the record of the previous government, we can show that in fact what they did then was nothing like what they said they would do.