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Transcript of interview with : ABC Radio National: 26 May 2015:Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), foreign investment, Australian industry, and marriage equality

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Minister for Industry and Science

Interview with Fran Kelly, ABC Radio National Breakfast

26 May 2015

Subjects: Cooperative Research Centres (CRCs), foreign investment, Australian industry, marriage equality

JOURNALIST: Scientists from around the country are in Canberra this week to celebrate twenty five years of the CRC programme which was launched by the Hawke Government to improve collaboration between industry, researchers and the community. Absolutely, you’d think, the right direction for any country. Well over the past eight years, the CRC programme has suffered successive budget cuts. The number of CRCs, as we heard yesterday, has been halved. A review of CRCs has recommended they continue, but suggest a change of direction. Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane overseas the CRC research programme, Minister, welcome to Breakfast.


JOURNALIST: Today, there are half the number of CRCs that were there in the final year of the Howard Government. Has the programme lost its relevance do you think?

IAN MACFARLANE: No it hasn’t, but it does need to move with the times and we’re doing that. I mean, there’s still $731 million being put into CRCs and if we look back over the time that they’ve been in existence, some $4 billion has gone towards more than 200 CRCs. CRCs were always designed to mature, they were always designed to become self-sufficient and the reality is, that we are as a Government, focusing on five key areas. We’ve also set up the Growth Centres and the CRCs will be part of that, not immersed in it but helping it. There are a number of streams that we are using to drive what is the key, and the key is collaboration and commercialisation. So CRCs still play an important role. There are still more than 30 of them. I’d expect most of those to keep going. I don’t expect any radical change, but I do expect a good slice of them to align with the Growth Centres and they key goals that we’re chasing in the areas of natural advantage in Australia, like agriculture and agribusiness and mining technology and those sorts of things. Manufacturing and medicine and medical technologies, so … [interrupted]

JOURNALIST: Why limit them though Minister? Why, I mean the thing about CRCs is in a sense, they were organic and they responded to new ideas and research and industry tossing in, you know, need, and the community coming up with relevance, and I notice that the Miles Review, the recent Miles Review into CRCs, did suggest in terms of limiting the focus of CRCs, moving away from public good CRCs. Do you think that is necessarily a good idea, given these public good CRCs have given us in the past, you know, new research and important research on things like drought, or floods or …

IAN MACFARLANE: … bushfires.

JOURNALIST: Bushfires, those kinds of things?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, look …

JOURNALIST: Mental health even?

IAN MACFARLANE: We’ve taken that into consideration, and the moment we are, well we’re going to announce a couple more CRCs today so, you know, they are still going on, and David Miles also said that we should look at using CRCs for short term projects, and so like a CRC research, have them set out on a

three year task. So there will be further CRCs, there is, as I say, money in the programme going forward.

But the thing that is driving science at the moment needs to be collaboration and commercialisation. We don’t do collaboration at all well in this country. We want business to use science … [interrupted].

JOURNALIST: Isn’t that what the CRCs are all about?


JOURNALIST: Collaboration, that’s the point of them?

IAN MACFARLANE: Exactly right and could I say, they’ve been around for a long time and the situation hasn’t improved. So, hello, maybe we need to do something slightly different.

JOURNALIST: Well, maybe not cut their funding? In the latest Budget they lost $27 million.

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, I mean, let’s look at where we’re going with CRCs. As I said, there’s $731 million. We put $188 million into Growth Centres which are going to be like super CRCs but very focused, very corporate orientated and will produce collaboration and commercialisation outcomes that we badly need in Australia. So, look. CRCs have a place, we’ll continue with that. We’re going to fine tune them, we’re going to align them with our strengths where possible. We do need to do this better and just saying well we’ve been doing CRCs for (almost) thirty years means they’ve got a place, I think everyone understands that there is an evolution, and that evolution is to use science to make manufacturing in Australia more competitive.

JOURNALIST: On another issue, there is a federal report this morning suggesting that Chinese linked companies are interested in buying Fortescue Metals, Australia’s third largest iron ore producer. On the face of it, do you have any concerns about Chinese companies buying into one of our relatively high cost iron ore producers like Fortescue?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look firstly Fran, I don’t speculate about what may or may not be going on in individual cases, other than to say that Australia is built on foreign investment and that foreign investment comes from all parts of the globe. It’s what has built this country; it’s what has built our resource industry. Those matters will be dealt with and if there are potentially any conflicts, then that’s what the Foreign Investment Review Board’s there for. I’m sure Treasurer Joe Hockey will take a close interest. I’m not aware of specific offers that are being made, the resource industry is an industry that continues to see foreign investment and that’s been good in creating jobs for Australians.

JOURNALIST: The ACTU has released some ReachTel polling talking about jobs. It commissioned six marginal seats across the country and it found a clear majority of voters don’t believe the Government is doing enough to create jobs. I wonder if you, particularly in your portfolio, feel a little responsible for that in a state like South Australia which is losing its car industry, it’s not going to get to build the next generation of subs, so that … [interrupted].

IAN MACFARLANE: … That’s not right Fran. And you can’t … [interrupted].

JOURNALIST: Well is it going to build the next generation of subs?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well let’s see what the competitive process brings and I can tell you right now, knowing what’s going on, it is very competitive. So look … [interrupted].

JOURNALIST: … But it won’t be building the subs, will it, South Australia?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well, it may not build the first few but let’s not rule out, you know, there are a lot of submarines to be built, and there’s a lot of work to be done and in terms of the way things are done in the world today, producing components or putting components together is very much the modern face of manufacturing. You don’t just build everything in the one spot. So I am still optimistic that Australia will have a substantial programme in terms of providing jobs for submarines. But it all depends on us being able to produce a competitive tender. Now in terms of our current record, it’s a shocker. Three times the cost to build an Air Warfare Destroyer here in Australia compared to building it in Spain. If we are serious about doing that in Australia, we need to produce a competitive tender. That’s what the current process is all about. We’ve got the French, the Germans and the Japanese all putting forward their best bids, and let’s see how that comes out. But let’s not rule out anything.

JOURNALIST: Ok, I don’t want to get too bogged down in subs, but I do want to ask you though, do you think that even if - we don’t know who is going to win this competitive tender - you’re quite right, but if Japan’s the winner though, do you think that there’d still be room for a significant amount of the build of these subs to go on in South Australia?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well as the Industry Minister, of course I do. I mean, I am an optimist and I take great pride in Australian industry and there’s some fantastic Australian manufacturing going on. But manufacturing in Australia is evolving. We are moving to the next phase. We started off at the beginning of the last century basing industries around agriculture, we then went to what is euphemistically known as the metal banging industries after the Second World War and we’re now getting into the sophisticated high value manufacturing and that’s why we’ve set up the Growth Centres, that’s why we’re rejigging the CRCs, that’s why we want to put science at the centre of industry policy, that’s why we want to use science to make Australian manufacturing competitive again. There is an evolution and we need to get on the front of that wave.

JOURNALIST: And can I ask you on another topic Minister, on marriage equality. Debate on a Greens Bill should begin next month or early the month after, now you voted against same-sex marriage I think in 2012, is that still your position?

IAN MACFARLANE: Well look, my job as a House of Representatives Member is to represent my seat and the voters of Groom are still opposed to same sex marriage and that’s my job down here. I don’t see this as the issue, look they don’t come and talk to me about this every day; in fact they don’t come in every year and talk about it. I think the last time I had someone in my office talk about this was about eighteen months ago, it’s not a front line issue [interrupted].

JOURNALIST: … Nevertheless it is a national debate. Well what’s your view on it in terms of within your Party Room then; do you support a conscience vote in your Party Room?

IAN MACFARLANE: At the moment we are concentrating on the issues about jobs and getting our economy going. This is not a front line issue for me Fran but at the moment the Party’s saying we are continuing with our current position. Look, it is a debate that is going to go on and everyone is going to listen to it, but seriously, I’m not going to be distracted by it.

JOURNALIST: … I understand it’s not a front line issue for you and you’re busy as the Minister for Industry and Science, I understand that. But it is a debate that will come to your Party Room and we had two Liberal MPs, quite senior MPs yesterday, in fact three, say it should be a conscience vote. All of you are going to have a vote in your Party Room, no matter your portfolio, no matter how busy you are in other areas. When it comes to that vote in you Party Room, do you think it should be a conscience vote on this.

IAN MACFARLANE: Well when it comes to the Party Room I’ll listen to the debate Fran, Really, it’s what the Party Room decides in the end and whether it’s a conscience vote or whether it’s a decision that’s taken by the Party Room and then a vote after that, let’s have that discussion in the Party Room and I’m quite open to the discussion.

JOURNALIST: Ian Macfarlane, thank you very much for joining us.

IAN MACFARLANE: Always a pleasure Fran.