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Thursday, 14 November 2002
Page: 6379


Senator TIERNEY (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Alston. Will the minister please outline to the Senate the government's commitment to driving forward its blueprint for information and communication technology innovation in Australia? Is the minister aware of any alternative policy proposals?

Opposition senators interjecting


Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I was busy yesterday, you know that. Innovation is a very important issue. It is the engine that creates jobs. It inspires small business. It creates opportunities at all levels. That is why we have just introduced into the lower house some legislation on venture capital, which is a critical ingredient if you are going to be able to commercialise good ideas. We have gone further with our $3 billion innovation action plan, Backing Australia's Ability, and $129 million from the government and another $96 million from the private sector for a centre of excellence. Those sorts of initiatives are absolutely crucial and they are very policy specific. They are honouring commitments we gave well before the last election, so there has been a carefully thought-out strategy on innovation. We have made sure that there are more places created in schools, and we have ensured that funding is available at all levels.

I am asked, by way of contrast, whether there are any alternative policy proposals. We would all have to say that there is a crying need for new policy alternatives. If we believe in a healthy democracy and we want the other side of the parliament to be taken seriously, we expect them to have policy initiatives. This was recently identified as a crying need by none other than someone called Craig Emerson. I confess that I had barely heard of him until last week. Do you remember that he was the guy that put in the job application? When he saw that all the dogs were circling, he said, `I've done nothing for 12 months, but I'm interested in the top job.' Mr Emerson—


Senator Faulkner —Dr Emerson.


Senator ALSTON —or Dr Emerson, as Senator Faulkner has pointed out—

Opposition senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senators on my left! The last few minutes have been very rowdy. I ask you to come to order. Senator Heffernan, would you please remain seated when the President is on his feet.


Senator ALSTON —What Dr Emerson had to say in a caucus paper recently was that too often Labor policy statements are heavily qualified and lose their meaning with the general public—in other words, the usual plea: `No-one knows what we stand for.' So let us see what he says in his innovation policy document.

Honourable senator—Has he got one?


Senator ALSTON —Yes, he has. There is a preface to it. Senator Carr's so-called policy discussion paper on research has the same introduction—buyer beware:

Policy options canvassed in the policy discussion paper are not meant to be exhaustive, nor is Labor advocating them at this stage.

But it gets even better:

Ultimately all these policy areas will be integrated but seeking to do so at this early stage of developing ideas would be overly ambitious.

So just to make it perfectly clear, he ends by saying:

Creating a vision for the nation is the vital first step. The first step then needs to be followed by a series of further steps ...

Pretty powerful stuff, isn't it? In other words, Labor have no idea and they have no intention of turning their mind to policy issues. Just to show that they do not learn, poor old Senator Lundy, you might recall, got a wake-up call a few months ago about the inadequacies of her web site. We have given her plenty of opportunities to rectify it. But what has happened? We have gone back and had another look at it and we see that, under `ICT industry development', it is still blank. And what do we get under `Innovation'? We get a speech from November 1999 about spaghetti and meatballs. They are still on about Knowledge Nation. We know it sank without trace, but this seems to be about as much as they can come up with. There is simply nothing there: no innovation ideas; IT statistics are out of date. Crikey.com has pointed out that Mr Tanner, who is nominally the shadow minister for communications, has 1998 election statistics on his web site. It really is a classic example of others doing policy homework, while Labor are asleep at the wheel. (Time expired)


Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.