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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29418


Mr ENTSCH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources) (4:55 PM) —I appreciate your consideration, Mr Speaker. Some weeks ago, an independent body assessed the bids by our cooperative research centres for consideration either for extension of funding or to be included within the CRC process. This assessment panel is very independent of government, and it needs to be that way. It works through specific criteria. As a result of that assessment, of the 52 centres that were assessed, 19 were unsuccessful in getting through the first round. Understandably, there was an outcry about the fact that two of those that were unsuccessful—the reef CRC and the rainforests CRC—had not got past the first stage. It provided very fertile opportunities for the opposition to somehow suggest that this government was in no way committed to environmental outcomes and that it was more focused on commercialisation than the public good. It gave the opposition a great opportunity to run headlines attacking the government over the process.

I had grave concerns about the outcome and the future of both of these organisations, as did my colleague the member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay. I made contact with the CRCs, and I discovered that in both cases their funding applications were, you could suggest, ambitious. Of a $200 million pool, between the pair of them they were applying for $130 million. In the case of the rainforests CRC, Professor Nigel Stork conceded to me that he was aware that his application did not fit the criteria, but he had been hoping that maybe it would stumble over into the next round and he would have an opportunity to get further private support. In the case of the reef CRC, it was conceded by Professor Russell Reichelt that they had misread the process, it was far too generous and they were looking at another way of doing it.

I have got together with my colleague the member for Herbert. We are working with universities, industry and the CRCs to find a way in which the long-term future of both of these organisations can be guaranteed. We have been working very hard over the last couple of weeks. I have put in a primary draft, which has gone to the relevant ministers: Minister Nelson, Minister McGauran and other ministers who have an interest in this.

I was disappointed to see today in a press release from Senator Carr, who had gleaned something in estimates, the suggestion that absolutely nothing had been done and that there was absolutely no consideration whatsoever being given to finding a way through this problem with the CRCs. It concerns me that people like Senator Carr are maybe wishing that these things are going to fail. This also bothers those people who work within the CRCs, because they start to get a bit concerned about their own future. It is important to be able to confirm that there has been a lot of work going on with the CRCs, the universities and industry, working towards a process where we can not only guarantee the long-term future of both of these invaluable institutions but also strengthen them further. To put out press releases of this sort of nonsense is highly inappropriate and grossly inaccurate. I totally refute them.


The SPEAKER —Order! It being after 5 p.m., the debate is interrupted.