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Wednesday, 30 June 1999
Page: 7957

Mr BILLSON (4:35 PM) —The attack today on the government is an attack by the member for Dobell on the government for having some ideas. It is an attempt to mask the fact that the ALP are a policy free zone, that the leadership is AWOL, that they are absent without leadership. The attack today is on the government not only for the ideas it has put forward in the past but for daring to propose new policy innovations and inviting the sector and those with an interest in it to have a contribution.

Mr Lee interjecting

Mr BILLSON —The member for Dobell is probably struck by the embarrassment of the revelation that he is trying to hide the ALP's lack of policy with an attack on the government for having one. What an amazing MPI! It is a dark day for the ALP today. They are not only trying to argue that governments should not have ideas; they are actually suggesting that because they do not have any they somehow have the high moral ground. It is a fascinating time in Australian politics and is probably why this has been such a good week for the coalition.

Nowhere is there such a genuine commitment to developing an ideas economy than here in Australia. You have heard the minister talk about the plethora of ideas and the integrated strategy that the government is pursuing to create and commercialise knowledge and ideas in this country. It is not just a single idea; it is not just the member for Dobell actually picking up the government's ideas, mucking around with semantics and then offering them as something new. This is actually an integrated, multiprong strategy by the Howard government to inject new vitality and to support excellence in research and development in this country.

Let us run through the comprehensive program. We have talked about a supportive economic and entrepreneurial climate. Nothing happens unless there is a prospect of return. The government has made sure that those foundations are in place. You look further into the government's program and you see strategic financial support for R&D—support where there is an idea, support where there is homework and a business plan for commercialisation, or where there is a need for a bit of extra work just to complete the idea so it can go to the marketplace.

The member for Dobell holds up a card saying that the ALP wants to bring back tax rorts—150 per cent R&D tax concessions, where the goal is not the commercialisation of ideas but getting a tax break. So the whole motive of the ALP's proposal is driven by a tax break, whereas the government is putting forward serious financial support for genuine ideas at a number of stages in the process of design, development and commercialisation.

We move on to the next prong of the government's strategy, renovation of research infrastructure—another commendable initiative of the minister at the table, and again something the member for Dobell is trying to pick up. The legacy that Labor left us pointed to an urgent need for investment in research infrastructure. I will come to that point in a minute.

Another prong of the government's strategy is talent development—having the people with the skills exercise their skills and their gifts and their knowledge in this country, trying to make sure that there is a place for them, a fertile environment in this nation for our best minds to excel. You have heard some examples of that from the minister at the table.

But there is more. We have another prong to the strategy, a focus on commercialisation. It is about having business and the idea generators work closer together so that the innovations and the insights that bring us hope for opportunities into the future become a reality. That is the great contrast between what this government is doing and what the ALP is talking about. This is research reality that the coalition government is trying to prove, where the outcome matters, where benefits for the Australian community matter, where making a difference in our lives matters, where opening up new opportunities and new solutions for future generations matters. That is the basis of our policy. What does the ALP offer? It offers a tax rort, a tax incentive so you can chase a tax outcome. An idea? Oh, you mean there has to be an idea in it? Well, we had better whip around and talk to somebody if the tax break actually has to have an idea attached to it. The coalition starts with the idea and we work on making it happen.

But there is more to the strategy: improving the links between the idea generators and business. There is a suggestion from those opposite that having research people, having universities, having some of our best minds working with business is somehow bad. What an amazing proposition!

Mrs Gallus —Crazy.

Mr BILLSON —It is absolutely crazy. It is an extraordinary contribution from the member for Dobell.

Mr Lee interjecting

Mr BILLSON —He is saying it is hardly a new idea. It is a new idea to you, member for Dobell, because that wasn't even in your rebadge of the good things the coalition is doing, calling them an ALP policy. You didn't even get to that point. You might be able to pick that up and call that a policy, although I think there might be some intellectual property problems with your policy. You might need to talk to the minister at the table about ownership of ideas, otherwise you might have a real problem. So even that is on the table from the coalition strategy.

But it goes further. There are specific initiatives in the areas of biotech, medical research, marine research, greenhouse and global warming areas and alternative energy. It is not just a single, narrow portfolio driven by a union constituency approach to R&D; it goes across many portfolios in this government. This whole-of-government strategy is about making sure research effort delivers outcomes for the country. There are a number of portfolios within government that can make a contribution. The government recognises that. The member for Dobell should read more of the material the minister at the table makes available and he would get a sense of that as well.

Then we get to the point of this MPI today. The ALP are criticising the government's vision and commitment, but everything the shadow minister, the member for Dobell, said disproves his claim. Everything that he said highlights the fact that the ALP only has shallow allegations and close to idea theft from the coalition. The member for Dobell has problems with intellectual property ownership as he shops around for an idea someone else has generated, and then offers nothing to replace what we are doing. It is retro research. He wants to go back to tax rorts, where tax concessions are the goals of research. Forget the ideas, just go to the tax concessions. That is the only new thing he offered compared to things the government is already doing. What a great endorsement of the government's program by the member for Dobell!

His attack is on our latest instalment. The minister has released a paper with some more suggestions about how to drive this further. The latest paper is a discussion paper: New knowledge, new opportunities. It is about promoting excellence in research training. There is support out there from those who should know. The Australian Research Council's Professor Vicki Sara says:

The paper is an important step forward for the development of Australia's innovation system. Importantly it recognises that basic research contributes to the innovation system in a fundamental and long-term way. It recognises the link between research and economic growth and jobs and also the social and cultural benefits research brings to our society.

An endorsement from those who know, an endorsement from those who are interested in joining the government in its effort to renovate and restore and revitalise R&D in this country. But why do we need to renovate it? Look at Labor's record. After 13 years of Labor what did the government inherit? It inherited an R&D situation in this country riddled with problems. Business expenditure was heading south. GDP was 25 per cent lower than the OECD average in terms of share of GDP on business R&D. Let us look at where our position was on the league ladder of R&D. Australia slipped from 18th to 24th under Labor in regard to business expenditure on R&D among OECD nations alone. We inherited this problem. This decay that we inherited the member for Dobell seeks to defend, wants to go back to. What is it, member for Dobell? Have you worked out a way to go backwards even more quickly? Have you got a new way of sending us down the tube even faster than before? Is that the only innovation you can offer us?

Then we look further. The ability of the CSIRO to effectively undertake research was compromised by Labor's $60 million cut to its triennium funding. Under Labor the research infrastructure at Australia's universities was cut to the extent that the Boston Consulting Group estimated that we needed a $125 million injection just to get the infrastructure in our universities.

That is the legacy Labor left us, and the member for Dobell wants to go back there. Why? So he can ruin it completely? Is that your goal? Is this a greenfields approach to R&D—wipe out everything that we have in our R&D effort in this country so you can start again on ideas that have been proven to fail? But the big crime of this, which the member for Dobell seems to forget, is that more than half of the postgraduate students who started their course in 1992 did not finish it in six years. What a waste of resources. The ALP is trying to defend that. That is like building half a road and saying you are done; that is like getting halfway through an operation and saying, `Six years on, we might finish it if it is stimulating.' What a funny way to run policy. So we have inherited that situation.

There have been constructive steps across portfolios to make a real difference, and this is the latest instalment that the coalition government has to offer. There is something that the member for Dobell can do, and that is get on the train towards a better future for this country. He can think about what needs to be done to support the R&D effort in this country and also about what we can do to make sure our nation in the future hits above its weight in terms of R&D success and commercialisation so we can enjoy the prosperity that this nation rightly has at its feet. But you have to do something constructive and productive to do that: you have to put the policies in place to make a difference. Labor are AWOL—absent without leadership. (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —The discussion is now concluded.