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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 234

Mr CONROY (Charlton) (18:40): I applaud the member for Hasluck's commitment to baseball and kid's health in general. It is lovely to see that. There is no higher place accorded in the political pantheon than to those leaders who have created jobs and reshaped their economies for the better. Alongside national defence, there is no higher obligation on a government than to support and promote the employment prospects of its citizens. That is why FDR's 'new deal' and John Curtin's white paper on full employment stand as some of the greatest achievements in politics.

Last week, the Prime Minister sought to reboot the government's agenda in a desperate attempt to convince his colleagues that he is the right man for the top job. While he only succeeded in winning a temporary stay of execution, I have some helpful advice for the embattled Prime Minister. If you genuinely want to reboot, you should start by outlining a plan for jobs and employment. If you really want to change, Prime Minister, start with your approach to higher education, science, research, innovation and industry, and adopt a responsible approach to the challenges facing our economy and our environment. If you want a place to start, Prime Minister, do it in the Hunter.

The Hunter is the largest regional economy in Australia. We have a diverse mix of resources, manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, defence, energy and service sectors. The port of Newcastle is the largest coal export port in the world and mining is a fundamentally important part of the region's economy and will be for some time to come. I am proud of that role. We are also a region built on manufacturing. Our landscape is dotted with towns born from an industrial giant, the source of employment and livelihood for generations.

It is no secret that mining and manufacturing sectors, including those of the Hunter, face significant issues. In many ways, our region is reflective of the national economy and so too the strength and challenges we face concern our nation as a whole. It is also no secret that the Hunter is a resilient region. We have survived the transition from being reliant on BHP to becoming a diverse economy, and we have done this on the back of our ability to innovate and collaborate. Organisations such as Hunternet, the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources, CSIRO, HMRI, the Slingshot program and the University of Newcastle play an important part in connecting businesses and industries, an approach proven to foster innovation and technical progress.

We know that when businesses and academics embrace innovation as part of their core strategy and when government policies maximise their opportunity to do so, wonderful things can happen. As our economy undergoes major structural change, the future success of many Australian industries will rely heavily upon their ability to innovate. Those who develop new ideas and integrate new technologies and employ modern competitive ways of doing business will be out in front.

Regional Development Australia Hunter is a key body working in our area to progress our regional economic priorities. The Hunter Innovation Scorecard initiative, now in its second year, is a unique measure of the region's commitment to innovation and promotes our capabilities in research, education and industry. This year the region was benchmarked not just against Australian regions but against the 190 regions in the European Union. The results demonstrate that we are right to be proud of our region's economy and the players within it. The Hunter ranked 70th for introducing new or significantly improved methods and processes, 72nd for introducing marketing or organisational innovations, 25th for innovative businesses collaborating with others and 37th for businesses innovating in-house. The Hunter is the only regional area in the country to measure its capacity to innovate in this way and RDA Hunter should be commended for this achievement. I am less complimentary, however, towards the contribution of the minister for regional development and Deputy Prime Minister, who writes in this year's scorecard:

I also strongly believe that regions which are prepared to innovate and try bold, but well thought through, approaches to difficult challenges will 'make their own luck' into the future.

Let us be clear: instead of saying innovative businesses are making their own luck, the Deputy Prime Minister should admit that their success is now likely to be in spite of, rather than a result of, the federal government's investment in innovation and industry policy. His government's actions demonstrate that they have left industry on its own to compete against the rest of the world.

Labor believes that our future competitiveness lies in the skills and ingenuity of people. Under the previous government we put in place policies to stimulate entrepreneurship and foster innovation, but this government is actively working against this cause and the results could not be more dire. The Abbott government has abandoned Labor's 10-year innovation strategy and has slashed more than $3 billion in funding from science, research, innovation and industry. They have scrapped numerous innovation and research programs including Enterprise Connect, Commercialisation Australia, industry innovation precincts, the Enterprise Solutions Program, the Innovation Investment Fund and the Australian Industry Participation Plan. We also saw the Prime Minister kill the automotive industry and the 250,000 jobs that rely upon it. Worst of all for the Hunter, the government has abandoned Labor's $1 billion plan for Australian jobs. Under our plan, $500 million was provided to established innovation precincts to enable government, industry and research organisations to collaborate. These precincts—or clusters by another name—will build on the world-class examples we see overseas of how to foster collaboration and thereby competitiveness in your local economy.

I make no secret of my belief that the Hunter would have been extremely well placed to established an innovation precinct and, while I am disappointed that the government has replaced the program with an inferior scheme and slashed the funding available, I believe an opportunity remains for the region to be considered under the government's Industry Growth Centres Initiative. There is nowhere more suited to host a mining, energy or manufacturing centre than the Hunter region, and I call on the government to establish an industry growth centre in the Hunter.

Why am I focusing on this? It is because we must support as many Australians as possible to obtain jobs. Unemployment is a cancer that eats away at communities and families. In my first speech in this place I talked about the impact prolonged unemployment can have on families and I included a personal example. Full employment must be a fundamental objective of government and policies must be established to support this objective. I am proud that during the last Labor government close to one million jobs were created in Australia. It is a truly remarkable figure given that this period was a period in which the world the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. It is worth noting that before the last election the current Prime Minister promised his government would create one million jobs in five years; however, in September 2013, the unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent. Today it is 6.1 per cent and heading further up, and we have already seen the RBA forced to reduce interest rates to emergency lows to combat this high and rising unemployment. In the Hunter region the statistics are even more grim. The Hunter Research Foundation has found that the current unemployment rate is around eight per cent—the highest for over a decade—and it has almost doubled since late 2013. Let me repeat that: under this right-wing, neoliberal Liberal government, unemployment in the Hunter region has almost doubled in the financial year 2013-2014 over 2,200 workers lost their jobs in the Hunter. That is 2,200 families across our region whose lives have been shattered by this devastating news. The Newcastle Herald reported just last week that coal production jobs have fallen below 20,000 for the first time since 2010. And, because of this government's refusal to support Australian jobs and allow Australian companies to bid for contracts to build naval supply ships locally, and their tardiness in bringing forward work to combat the shipbuilding 'valley of death', over 900 jobs will be lost at the Forgacs shipyard imminently.

That is why we need an urgent review of innovation and industry policies in this country. Sophisticated economic theory recognises the strong and sophisticated role that government has in promoting employment. We do not have time for economic flat-earthers who spout out-of-date economic theories that have been discredited in the broader economy. It is time that this government embraced this more modern economic theory.

In his rallying of the troops last week, the Prime Minister referred to sunset and sunrise industries. He effectively boasted of destroying the car industry. But the truth is that this government has set the sun on so many industries and, through its policy idiocy, has stopped the rise of so many others. The Hunter region can thrive but, without the necessary investment in its culture of innovation, it will wither and die. Should the Prime Minister wish to send a genuine signal to the people of Australia that he has listened and heard the issues that are important to them, he must address his shameful record on jobs and industry, and I call on him to start with the Hunter.

I started by applauding FDR and I will finish with a quote from him on the importance of this task:

Not only our future economic soundness but the very soundness of our democratic institutions depends on the determination of our Government to give employment to idle men.

No truer words were ever spoken. Thank you. (Time expired)