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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 7154

Mr COMBET (CharltonMinister for Industry and Innovation and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency) (20:49): That was quite exhausting.

Mrs Mirabella: I'm sure you can deal with it, Greg.

Mr COMBET: Thank you, member for Indi; I appreciate that. There are a lot of matters covered there, across quite a vast array of portfolios; I will do my best, in due course. I think it is important, given we are doing consideration in detail in relation to the Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education, that we say a few things broadly about the appropriations. The starting point, as was traversed to some degree by my colleague the Minister for Small Business, is the current economic environment. We are in a position in Australia where we have the economy currently growing at slightly in excess of four per cent.

Mrs Mirabella: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker: the questions were very specific. There were quite a few, covering a number of issues. If the minister is trying to avoid answering the questions—because he does not know the answers—by providing general answers, that does no credit to his current position. I would ask you to direct him to be directly relevant.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: There is no point of order. The minister was at the beginning of his response to the member's question. The minister will be given the opportunity to respond.

Mr COMBET: I was just observing the fairly important fact that the economy is growing strongly. Unemployment is around five per cent, interest rates are coming down, the budget is in surplus across the forward estimates and we have a low debt to GDP ratio. Inflation is very moderate indeed and we have massive private investment. These are strong economic circumstances. All of that is very important in the context of the questions asked and for the appropriations for this portfolio. The appropriations for the bill associated with the portfolio total over $20 billion for the 2012-13 period. It is rather important, I think, that I pay some attention to the matters contained in the appropriations.

Firstly, in relation to innovation and boosting productivity in industry—the member for Indi asked about the Manufacturing Technology Innovations Centre, which was a feature of the budget. It is a $29.8 million initiative. In brief answer to her question, I can say that it is the subject of consultation in the Prime Minister's Taskforce on Manufacturing—a number of the specific elements of how the innovation centre will be developed. Appropriations for the innovation and industry part of the portfolio also include $1.2 billion for clean technology programs. The first round of funding under those programs has been announced and will lead to significant investments in clean technology and energy efficiency in businesses. I announced a number of those a week or two ago.

The appropriations also include provision for the research and development tax incentive, which will deliver about $1.8 billion, we anticipate, in support of business research and development in financial year 2012-13. There is provision for Commercialisation Australia, which helps businesses—particularly small- and medium-sized enterprises—take technologies they have developed to the marketplace. Enterprise Connect is provided for, which is also very important in the small- and medium-sized enterprise sector in providing business advice and assistance to help businesses find ways to improve their business models, their productivity and their efficiency. There are other improvements provided for in the appropriation bills too for Australian industry participation policies.

On the issue of science and the research sector, the budget contains a boost in funding for science and research in universities of more than $126 million in 2012-13. That has resulted in a record $1.72 billion investment to support university research—a fairly important matter, particularly as we have to find support for innovation and encourage the interface with industry to become more competitive. The total amount of support for science, research and innovation now stands at almost $9 billion, which is a 35 per cent increase since 2007. There is also a record investment in higher education reflected in the appropriations—for example, an extra $4.5 billion to support the growth of undergraduate places, remembering that this is a government that uncapped university places. Some $3 billion in improved indexation has been preserved as well.

The budget contains further very important commitments in the area of higher education. The member for Indi made some comments in relation to science. The position of Chief Scientist is of course a very important office within government. The budget makes targeted investments in maths and science in particular. Professor Chubb, the Chief Scientist, has been addressing that and has made recommendations to the Prime Minister as to how we might best go about improving the uptake and performance of students in maths and science fields. We are keen to improve that approach and we take the chief government scientist's advice very seriously. There is, in fact, in the budget a $54 million science and maths package. There are also measures to strengthen and better target investment in apprenticeships. There are measures supporting landmark reforms of the national training system as well—very significant measures to increase the uptake of people undertaking vocational education and training. That, in brief, is an overview of measures in relation to the portfolio area that are very important from an economic standpoint, and we take them very seriously.