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Tuesday, 30 October 2012
Page: 12645


Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (21:40): This week the Prime Minister and her cohorts have been desperately begging us to talk about the infamous Asian Century White Paper. Adjournment debates are scheduled for five minutes, which provides more than enough time to comprehensively detail the merits of this paper. I have had a look at it, and let me say there is no shortage of grandiose statements, aspirations and plenty of catch Labor phrases like 'pathways', 'collaboration', ' regional and global value chains', ' pillars of productivity', 'sub pathways' and 'people-to-people engagement'. But I just want to list some of my favourites. The paper notes that:

A world-class school system is essential to Australia’s success in the Asian century.

Well, this is one of the grandest motherhood statements I have heard in my almost 11 years in this place! I would have thought that a world-class school system was essential to Australia's success in any century, be it an Asian century, a European century or an American century.

But it gets better. The white paper also wants Australia to be one of the top 10 richest countries by 2025. Well, isn't that just fantastic! It is a great aspiration, and it is something we would all like to achieve, but for some reason I do not think that writing that statement in a glossy white paper is going to achieve that goal.

Possibly my favourite objective in the white paper is that the government wants one-third of board members of Australian's top companies to have a 'deep knowledge' of Asia. I simply ask the question: what on earth does the composition of company boards have to do with the government? Sure, we want to harness the opportunities that come out of Asia, but we do not want to stifle the management and administrative decisions of private enterprises. But that is effectively what this is suggesting. It is urging government influence and manipulation of the board composition of private organisations. It would be funny if it were not so serious.

The white paper was accompanied by no fewer than 21 press releases, including one titled 'Boosting innovation in the Asian century'. The report and the accompanying releases talk, for instance, about the importance of R&D, commercialisation and international scientific collaboration. But this is the very government that has forced changes to public support for business R&D, and that has provoked outrage from industry and even from trade unions. It led one expert observer to conclude that they have ushered in 'the worst environment for government support for R&D in this country for the past 25 years'. It is also the very government that has uprooted support for commercialisation activity by abolishing, including without any advance warning to applicants, the highly successful Commercial Ready and COMET programs, and then leaving this crucial facet of the innovation process unsupported by the government for 18 months before eventually stumping up a fraction of the previous funding through a substantially inferior program. It is the very government that slashed tens of millions of dollars for science education programs for primary and secondary school students, before eventually being shamed into restoring these programs by Nobel Laureate Professor Brian Schmidt and the coalition. And it is the very government that has abolished the International Science Linkages program, which for more than a decade provided funding for the same international science exchanges, information sharing and collaboration that the government now tries to pretend it has always recognised the merits of supporting.

So farcical was its ineptitude on this subject that we had the Keystone Cops style sight at an estimates hearing of the then science minister, Senator Carr, trying to deny he had axed a program and eventually being dragged—along with the embarrassed public servants around him—into admitting that all funding to it had been discontinued. This is just another distraction, another farcical attempt of the government to pretend it has some policy and some ideas for the future prosperity of this country. It is bankrupt of ideas. The very policies that have fostered science, that have fostered innovation, have been gutted and will continue to be gutted. It is all well and good making great motherhood statements, but it is a cruel hoax when actions fall far short of the actual sentiments expressed.