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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17160


Mr MARTYN EVANS (1:40 PM) —The Chair and the Deputy Chair of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Science and Innovation and the member for Herbert have quite properly drawn attention to the broad nature of the committee's report entitled Riding the innovation wave and to a number of specific recommendations which it made. I would like to draw attention to some other areas which were brought out in the evidence but which did not necessarily come across in some specific recommendations.

The first area I will touch on is the general question of research and development about research and development. This was an issue which I raised during one of the hearings. Because we spend literally billions of dollars supporting research and development and commercialisation of research in this country, I think it is vital that the government also ensures that it undertakes adequate research about the nature of research and development in an ongoing way in this country so that it can adequately develop its programs of support in the future to ensure that it is supporting it in the best possible way. The only way do that in 2003 and beyond is to guarantee that it is done on a proper scientific basis. Therefore, we should—although we are yet to do it adequately, in my view—ensure that there is proper research about research and development in this country to guarantee that the work we do is put on a proper scientific footing.

We have a lot of very expensive programs out there, a lot of tax concessions and a lot of grant programs, but do we have enough adequate measurements about those programs and their success? Do we have enough research about the programs that we sponsor to support research and development to ensure that we know properly how we are measuring this, what the success rate is and whether we are undertaking the right measures to support this in the right way in the future? I think it is a challenge for us to measure and assess these things in the future and to ensure that we are funding and supporting this in the right way. That is not to say that we are not, but we need to ensure that in the future we do.

The other area that I think we need to focus on is infrastructure support. Government can help science provide much of the infrastructure. While companies can take the initiatives about what research they do to support their own profit driven initiatives in the company, science can be supported by government in large-scale infrastructure which is not profit driven. For example, the proposed cyclotron facility in Melbourne is a massive piece of capital infrastructure that no one company or group of companies could ever support on a private basis, but which government can support and must support if it is ever to be built. Of course, it will drive a lot of private profit driven research, a lot of capital infrastructure and, hopefully, private investment in the future, as well as some very good basic science around research in universities in the meantime. Hopefully, it will eventually lead to public good outcomes and some private wealth creation and jobs that go with that way down the track in ways that we can now not even begin to imagine.

Of course, the same applies to gene sequencing technology. That will now be something which individual companies can afford. A few years ago gene sequencing technology was something which only governments could afford. That kind of infrastructure has to be provided publicly one day if it is to be part of an industry in the future. There are many other examples of how government must support infrastructure in science and invest in the infrastructure if we are ever to realise both the public good outcomes and the private gain outcomes, which support job creation and wealth creation in society. I think it is worth emphasising again in 2003, because we soon forget these things, how 50 per cent of the wealth in our society, 50 per cent of the job creation and economic gains in our society, come from investment in science and from research and development. Without remembering that and repeating that to ourselves almost every day in this building, we will forget the value of science and R&D. How quickly we forget that in this country and in other Western countries. It is only in the last 50 or 60 years that that lesson has started to be learned; in 2003, it is easy to forget that lesson. Since World War II, at least 50 per cent of the wealth creation in our societies has come from investment in R&D and from investment in science and technology. We can easily forget that lesson all too quickly. I suggest members repeat that lesson to themselves at the mirror every morning as they comb their hair or shave; it is a lesson we do not want to forget ever again.

Mr NAIRN (Eden-Monaro) (1.45 p.m.)—I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted.


The SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 102B, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.