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Tuesday, 7 February 2012
Page: 60

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (17:43): I welcome the opportunity to briefly speak on the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2011. In a moment I am going to respond to some of the comments just made by the member for Indi. Before I do, I will get to the purpose of this bill. The purpose of the Australian Research Council Amendment Bill 2011 is to amend the Australian Research Council Act 2001 by adjusting the existing funding caps and inserting a new funding cap for the 2014 financial year. This bill provides additional funding to the Australian Research Council as part of the standard budget process.

This is important legislation to ensure that the Australian Research Council can continue to support high-quality research throughout Australia. Of course, it is important that we ensure that this money is well spent. The Australian Research Council not only supports quality research and research careers but also helps the government measure its research investment and assure taxpayers that their money is being invested wisely. The future of our country, our prosperity, our quality of life, our place in the world, our very existence is very much dependent on the quality of education of our people, on the research commitments we make and on the knowledge and innovation arising from that research. Australia has some of the finest research institutions in the world, such as the CSIRO. In my own region, the Defence Science and Technology Organisation is an outstanding example of a research facility. We have wonderful medical research facilities right around the country and we have many people in the private sector simultaneously and equally carrying out very important research. In addition and very importantly we have universities around the country carrying out research every day on different matters affecting the lives of people not only in Australia but also right around the world. It is a strength and an asset which we should not overlook.

Australian research has brought not just important innovation to us all but national pride. Now more than ever we live in a highly competitive world and innovation will become even more critical in giving Australia a competitive advantage. A very clear and real example is the competition faced by Australia's automotive sector. It is with respect to that sector that I want to respond to the comments made by the member for Indi, who talked about manufacturing in this country.

Manufacturing is incredibly important to the livelihoods of so many people in so many communities wherever you go because, quite frankly, it underpins the livelihoods of many other sectors. I am acutely aware of that because in my own region manufacturing is still the largest employer, underpinning many other industries and the advanced manufacturing arising from them. Advanced manufacturing relies on research. In particular the automotive sector in this country, which is part of the manufacturing fabric, employs 46,000 direct jobs nationally and another 200,000 jobs indirectly. This sector is vital to the economy of South Australia, the state I come from. I represent the region where, for over 60 years, the GM Holden plant has underpinned the economy. For the member for Indi to talk about patronising people in the manufacturing sector, when the opposition's policy, if elected, is to cut another $500 million from the automotive sector at a critical time when it is under intense pressure from overseas suppliers to build cars in this country, is hypocrisy at its worst. To say that we are patronising the manufacturing people is absolutely ludicrous.

In recent weeks I have seen total disarray on the coalition side, from state and federal MPs, on their views and policies with respect to the assistance they will provide manufacturers in this country, particularly in the automotive sector. I have listened to debate, comment and interview after interview from members opposite and it is clear that not only do they not have a policy but also they are in total disarray and in conflict with one another with respect to their position on this issue. The fact is that the $500 million which they would cut if elected to office is money that will be used to help vehicle and component makers get cleaner and greener products onto the market, the very thing research and development brings to this country, the very thing that will make manufacturers much more competitive and their products more saleable. Yet the area they are going to cut has a direct bearing on research investment in this country. They come into this chamber and pretend that they are taking a stand on behalf of our manufacturing sector. It really is hypocritical.

Put simply, research is critical if we are to address the challenges that face our nation and the world—climate change, treating and eradicating disease, and improving productivity in the workforce, whether through the application of new technology or industrial arrangements that put workers in a mental 'space' where they will work more efficiently. Research helps us meet the eternal challenge of better understanding the world we live in. Research dedicated to improving our understanding of history helps us define our future by learning from our past. Research also helps us analyse the impact of social and economic policy.

Recent trends in higher education highlight the growing importance of Australian Research Council funding. It has been said that there now appears to be a stronger emphasis on teaching in university, rather than researching. However, scholars also have an important role to play in providing solid, objective information to inform public policy initiatives and programs.

The Australian Research Council is an important element of our higher education system. The 2010-11 financial year marks the completion of the first decade of the Australian Research Council. It is important to provide funding to strengthen Australia's research workforce. In 2001-02, the Australian Research Council administered a budget of $270 million. By 2010-11 that had grown to $714.5 million. Australia has a proud tradition in research of contributing to significant change. The bionic ear, otherwise known as Cochlear implant, is certainly one of our most significant contributions and the Australian Research Council funded the innovative, investigator-driven research that underpinned this invention.

I understand a project started last year examines the effect on language development of children with Cochlear implants being in an oral environment. This research will provide information for parents and professionals to promote the best possible outcomes for children. Research is not just about innovation; it also helps us understand and assess the outcomes of earlier work.

I expect that at some point in the future someone will stand in this House and speak of the breakthrough in medical treatment achieved through stem cell research. In November 2010, then Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator the Hon. Kim Carr announced that Stem Cells Australia had been awarded a $21 million grant under the Special Research Initiative in Stem Cell Science. There is much evidence to suggest that the government's investment in research today will bring improvement to the lives of many people tomorrow.

The Australian Research Council has supported work that has made a difference to the lives of Australians in a diverse range of areas. These include research into the use of chemical residues from bomb blasts, in an era of homemade explosives, which will help catch terrorists; research that will improve predictions of Australian rainfall extremes using Indian Ocean surface temperatures; research that will allow us to successfully manage copyright in the digital age; research of strategies to improve child development and family wellbeing in disadvantaged communities before crime or serious behaviour problems emerge or become entrenched; research that has provided insight into the human appetite for protein, which can predispose us to obesity and other problems; research into the design of offshore structures that can survive catastrophic weather events like Hurricane Katrina; research of strategies to preserve the world's coral reefs; and research of minerals technology being used by global mining giants, saving money and increasing profits. These are just some examples of the research projects currently carried out by the Australian Research Council. I could refer to many more. I am pleased to say that only last week, in a hearing of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, the Environment and the Arts, we heard from some of the scientists who are carrying out this research. What they are doing and the information they are providing the government, which in turn will be invaluable in assisting us with developing policies for the future, is a credit to them.

I want to talk briefly about some of the research being carried out in my home state of South Australia under Australian Research Council grants. The University of Adelaide was awarded $19.85 million in funding commencing in 2012 for 60 projects, and $47.28 million for 71 projects in 2011. I also note that the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics is based at the University of Adelaide's Waite Campus, with additional research nodes at the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and the University of South Australia. The centre was established in 2002 and is jointly funded by the Australian Research Council and the Grains Research and Development Corporation. Flinders University in South Australia was awarded $3.42 million in funding commencing in 2012 for 12 projects. It is interesting to note that Flinders University hosts the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training, which is jointly funded by the Australian Research Council and the National Groundwater Commission. This is an area I have a personal interest in, and I understand the importance of this area of public policy. The centre, which also has research nodes at the University of New South Wales, the Australian National University and the University of Queensland, was established in June 2009 with Commonwealth funding of $29.5 million over five years. The ARC has awarded the University of South Australia $6.66 million in funding commencing in 2012 for 22 projects, including a Discovery Indigenous scheme. It is important to note the role the Australian Research Council has been and is playing in attracting more Indigenous Australians to academia, as well as the role that it plays in keeping more women in research careers. To enhance support for world-class female researchers, Prime Minister Gillard announced in 2010 that two new Australian Laureate Fellowships would be offered to highly ranked female candidates. Strong role models undoubtedly help attract people who do not come from backgrounds traditionally associated with research.

I can also talk about the centres of excellence that have been funded under this program. I understand some 25 centres of excellence have been established over the years, ranging from things like climate change to the history of emotions, from cognition and its disorders to plant cell wall biology, and so on. Again, these centres of excellence provide invaluable advice for government policy setting into the future.

In the time I have left to speak on this issue I want to talk about two people associated with these Australian centres of excellence. One is Peter Hoj, who was chief executive of the centres from 2004 to 2007. Peter is now the Vice Chancellor and president of the University of South Australia. Since his appointment to that role, taking over from Denise Bradley in 2007, he has done an outstanding job. I have worked with Peter on a number of different projects in the region and not only am I pleased to see that he is now in South Australia working for the University of South Australia—a university that has a campus in my own electorate—but also I commend him and his team for the work they are doing in engaging so many additional people in university vocations and university education. In particular the work they are doing on community engagement between the university and the broader community is something that they can all be proud of.

The other person I want to comment on is Professor Peter Buckskin, who I understand has now been appointed to the council. I know Professor Peter Buckskin through his work in South Australia, both in the education sector and as an adviser to state and federal governments over the years. I am pleased to see that Professor Buckskin has been appointed to the council. I wish him well in that role and I think he will make a fine contribution. I commend the bill to the House.