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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7898


Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (18:53): I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I rise this evening to make some comments on the Australian Research Council's annual report 2011-12. The ARC is a great organisation. Its mission, according to page 16 of the annual report, is 'to deliver policy and programs that advance Australian research and innovation globally and benefit the community'. Its three key objectives are: to support excellence in research; to build Australia's research capacity, particularly through supporting early careers researchers; and policy and evaluation to provide informed, high quality policy advice to government and enhance research outcomes through effective evaluation. I am sure that if Senator Macdonald were here this evening he would have a lot to say about the research that goes on in our universities, particularly around the area of climate change.

However, tonight I want to make some commentary on other types of research into science. Some of the projects that were supported through the ARC funding rounds last financial year are around the National Centre for Groundwater Research and Training. We have heard in recent weeks about the importance of research into groundwater, particularly in the coal seam gas debate, and how little we know about our water resources going forward. Obviously, the Murray-Darling Basin debate, which is currently occurring, also needs highly specialised social scientists and hydrologists and the like who can provide us with guidance as legislators going forward on the best way to manage our rear sources in that regard. Some of the other areas that the ARC funds through the National Competitive Grants Program go to biological science, my old favourite mathematics, physics, chemistry and earth sciences as well as the social sciences et cetera and the creative arts. It is broad ranging. These grants actually drive research throughout our community.

I also want to talk about the role of this government in supporting science research, and here I would like to refer in particular to an article on higher education in the Australian today. In relation to the ARC, whose annual report we are considering right now, the article states:

THE Australian Research Council has confirmed that all funding announcements are on hold as the Gillard government seeks budget cuts.

I would like to directly quote the Australian Academy of Science policy secretary, Bob Williamson, who said in the same article:

We understand the government wants a balanced budget but attacking the science budget isn't the way to do it. Science represents the future, including the future of the economy beyond the mining boom.

The ARC's role in assisting our nation with science research and development and, hopefully, the commercialisation of that research and the technological advancement that it will bring to our society is something that we obviously support.

The government's decision to halt those funding announcements will have severe implications for these grants and this research going forward. When we are looking for collaboration in research, it is the business partners who will be teaming with universities and their teams of researchers who look for certainty. So announcements like this from the government actually put at risk those things. The minister himself said:

World class science and research is crucial to Australia's future competitiveness.

I could not agree more, minister. Again, Minister Evans said:

Australia's universities and industry research facilities need to be world class to compete with the rest of the world, particularly with rapidly expanding capacity of the Asia Pacific.

Having just travelled back from the Asia-Pacific with the Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Committee and having seen China's commitment to commercialisation and focus on science research, I could not agree more.

The reason that we are in this parlous state is that this government is big on the rhetoric of education and infinitesimally tiny on delivery. We have the home insulation scandal, the school halls rip-off, the $67 million wasted on administration costs for the set-top box, the carbon cop office makeover and the NBN network blow-out. These are very real impacts over the course of this government, not to mention the $22 million a day it spends on interest repayments for its debts that mean it is unable to facilitate the science research that this nation so desperately needs. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.