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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 3030

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) (1:40 PM) —I thank senators for their contributions to this debate. I think there are some matters that require some response. First of all let me draw the chamber’s attention to the fact that this budget includes $22 billion worth of investment in nation building and infrastructure. This investment will provide an economic stimulus in the short term to build jobs during a global recession. It will also build critical infrastructure, which we will need for future productivity as the economy recovers and we move forward to ensure the prosperity of this nation into the future. The Nation-building Funds Amendment Bill 2009 is required to give effect to the government’s infrastructure program as well as to investments in a new broadband network and transport infrastructure such as ports, roads, rail, hospital and higher education. The government will also be investing some $4.5 billion in the new Clean Energy Initiative.

The Clean Energy Initiative will encourage further research and innovation in clean energy technologies that will play an important role in Australia’s transition to a low-pollution economy. The Clean Energy Initiative will help accelerate the development and deployment of carbon capture and storage, solar energy and other forms of renewable energy. Of course, the government stand in sharp contrast to the Greens. We are not going to turn our backs on the coal industry. We are not going to turn our backs on the coal communities of this country. We are not going to turn our backs on an industry of this significance in terms of its contribution to both the economy and our society. We are ensuring that we are able to meet some of the greatest challenges this country has ever faced, in terms of climate change, in a responsible manner that ensures we have jobs for people into the future and we are able to provide the economic security that our people rightly deserve.

This bill provides funding for these priorities. It repeals the crediting of some $2.5 billion from the 2007-08 budget surplus to the Education Investment Fund, which was to occur on 30 June 2009. These are propositions that we made clear at Senate estimates; there is no secret about this approach. We made it very clear right from day one that we were able to support an expansion in infrastructure spending for the higher education and research sectors in quite considerable terms. We also said that the future commitments to the EIF program would be conditional on the macroeconomic circumstances of the time, and I do not believe that anyone in this chamber can seriously argue that the economic circumstances of this country have not changed, as they have throughout the world, since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in the United States last year.

What we said, and remain committed to, was that we were going to have a massive expansion in capital programs in all sectors of education in this country. So, on top of the largest single modernisation program in schools that this country has ever seen, we have also seen the government allocate some $5 billion in the last 18 months to higher education and research infrastructure in this country. How does that stand in comparison to the previous 11 years of coalition government? In that period the coalition invested $1.1 billion. So, in 18 months, we allocated $5 billion; in 11 years the conservatives of this country allocated $1.1 billion. And we see the crocodile tears from those opposite, as they say they now want to ensure there is adequate funding for a range of other programs on top of what is, in this current budget, the largest single investment in research and innovation that this country has seen for 30 years. Have we heard anything in support of that? Not one word.

We note that the government—in terms of draw-downs over the next four or five years, on top of what we have already spent—were only indicating commitments to some $4 billion in EIF funding. We have seen that in posts right across the teaching and research sectors of this country. On top of that, very substantial sums of money are also going for medical research, so that is in addition to what I am arguing in regard to the particular use of this fund. It is not credible for the opposition to claim their concerns about these matters in the context where not only do we have these additional commitments to those we already made but total funding commitments in the context of what is a $5 billion spend. The balance of the EIF will be some $2.4 billion, plus investment earnings estimated to be around $630 million over the forward estimates, and there will be further additional investments in VET, in universities and in research.

What has been put to us by Senator Milne is clearly fanciful. Four hundred million dollars is going to clean energy research in this budget alone. She gives no acknowledgement of that whatsoever but makes spurious claims about what is still available for future investments in higher education, in research and, of course, in ensuring that we have the capacity to provide the answers to some of the challenges that this country currently faces in terms of our climate action program. There is more than $6.5 billion in the Education Investment Fund for education and research, of which $4.1 billion has been committed in the 2009-10 budget and in terms of the nation-building package announced by the Prime Minister on 12 December 2008. There is a substantial proportion of funding available for future commitments on top of that.

The Rudd government’s performance in regard to higher education, research and innovation is second to none in this country. In 18 months we have demonstrated that. You had 11 years, and in 18 months we have surpassed your record by a figure of $5 billion to $1 billion, so I find it extraordinary that these spurious claims could be made by coalition senators, aided and abetted by the Greens, on this matter. I commend the bill to the chamber.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.