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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5438


Senator TROETH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (5:53 PM) — I should say at the outset of the government's response to the second reading debate on the Research Agencies Legislation Amendment Bill 2002 that the government does not accept the opposition's condemnation of its supposed failure to develop and set in place a coherent, national, all-of-government approach to research and development policy. The Labor Party might still be searching for a research and development policy, but the government does have a comprehensive policy for science and innovation and, as Senator Carr correctly remarked, it is called Backing Australia's Ability. But that is only the latest in a series of major measures introduced by this government to boost research, innovation and commercialisation. Perhaps the opposition needs a history lesson on this.

Since 1996 we have established extremely sound economic foundations, a range of research and innovation initiatives and a forward-looking innovation policy, which is backed up by a substantial financial commitment. The Investing for Growth statement, which was released in December 1997, increased support for business innovation by providing $1.26 billion over four years from the year 1998-1999. The government's response to The virtuous cycle, the report of the Health and Medical Research Strategic Review, injected a further $614 million into health and medical research over six years from 1999, which doubles the National Health and Medical Research Council's annual budget by the year 2005. Again, the National Innovation Summit, convened by the government and the Business Council in February 2000; the subsequent Innovation Summit Implementation Group report on innovation, Unlocking the future; and the Chief Scientist's review of the effectiveness of Australia's science, engineering and technology base were all fundamental in developing Backing Australia's Ability.

We are just 18 months into that program, which is a five-year plan to rebuild our capabilities in science, technology and engineering. It is a significant milestone for innovation and science in Australia which extends our ability in strategic research; enhances our ability to create innovation driven companies, jobs, new products and services; and ensures that all Australians will gain maximum benefit. It brings together the largest group of measures to foster innovation ever assembled by an Australian government. It crosses five portfolios and it represents a whole-of-government approach to science and innovation, which we regard as crucial in building our national prosperity. To do that we are working cooperatively with industry and the scientific community to make the role of science and innovation a key priority, given the enormous contribution that it makes to the quality of life that we enjoy, and we are seeing the results of our efforts.

In response to Senator Carr's comparison of Australia's efforts in the OECD, I should point out that government financing of research and development in Australia is around 0.70 per cent of GDP. This is comfortably above the OECD average of around 0.65 per cent of GDP and up there with the heavyweight OECD economies of the USA with 0.74 per cent, Japan with 0.58 per cent and Germany with 0.78 per cent. We are continuing to build on that momentum. We have put in place $5.1 billion in support of science and innovation in the year 2002-03—an increase of 5.8 per cent on the previous year and the highest amount ever spent by the government on supporting science and technology.

The range of government spending across all portfolios will generate ideas, stimulate creative research, produce skilled people and provide the essential infrastructure necessary to build our strength as an innovative nation. We continue to set the pace in policy settings for science and innovation. The government remain focused on commercialisation. In particular, the Backing Australia's Ability initiative provides $79 million in pre-seed funding to take proposals to the venture capital ready stage. There are many other ways in which I could respond to Senator Carr's remarks, but I simply wish to say that we will not be accepting his second reading amendment.

Question agreed to.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lightfoot)—I remind honourable senators that, under a sessional order agreed to on 20 June 2002, after the second reading I shall call the minister to move the third reading unless any senator requires that the bill be considered in the Committee of the Whole.


Senator Carr —Mr Acting Deputy President, on that point, given the time, I will not pursue the question in the committee stage. There are some matters I will have to take up in estimates hearings.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Thank you, Senator Carr.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.

Bill read a second time.