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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6458

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (Minister for Resources and Energy and Minister for Tourism) (5:32 PM) —Let me start with the question from the member for Kingston going to the issue of energy security, which also brings into play the question raised by the member for Mayo. The life of existing coal fired power stations is a matter that will be determined by those who have invested in those operations. Their operation is not a matter determined by government. But we all understand that, in the context of the debate about moving to a low-emission economy, the requirement of government is to consider the medium- to long-term needs of Australia from an energy perspective. That is why I have commenced the process with the preparation of the green paper, which hopefully will be released in August, leading into a white paper later this year that will consider Australia’s medium- to long-term energy requirements. That is about not only assessing our current energy use which means we have a dependence on coal fired power stations for 82 per cent of our electricity, but also considering the potential growth in demand for energy and how we will meet that energy requirement, with a potential growth in the use of all energy sources in Australia other than nuclear, which is not permissible under the current government. If the opposition, such as the member for Mayo, has a policy of developing a nuclear power plant in the seat of Mayo, then I would be pleased to be advised, and so would his electors and so would the electors of South Australia, especially in the seat of Kingston.

The issue of an energy white paper is a very serious one because it goes to the heart of two questions. Firstly, should the investors decide they no longer desire to continue to operate their coal fired power stations, are we capable through technology of bringing on new investment in coal fired power stations in Australia, because some of those existing coal fired power stations are in need of major investment from a maintenance and development point of view? Secondly, what other energy options do we have in Australia, such as the facilitation of the development of the gas industry and the renewables sector?

In going to the issue of mine safety, I give regard to the work commenced by the previous Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, the member for Groom. We have continued the national process to develop a safer working environment for mine workers in Australia. It is historically a very dangerous section of industry. I continue to make progress on that front and I am pleased to say that an amount of $3.3 million was allocated over four years to progress the implementation of the National Mine Safety Framework. That will be further discussed at the Ministerial Council on Minerals and Petroleum Resources in Darwin in July this year. The importance of that project is not only to be seen from Australia’s perspective but also the possibility of extending those outcomes to countries such as China through the Asia-Pacific Partnership, because our engagement with China through the Asia-Pacific Partnership has also included a mine safety initiative.

I go to the issue of the tourism industry. I am serious about trying to clean up the mess left by the previous minister on the tourism front. For that very reason I initiated the development of a long-term tourism strategy report. I was pleased to receive that report—now best known as the Jackson report—last Saturday afternoon in Melbourne at the Australian Tourism Exchange. It was an exchange well attended despite the current global financial crisis. That is the biggest travel trade event in the Southern Hemisphere.

Mr Ian Macfarlane —Not to mention the swine flu.

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —As the member for Groom correctly indicates, the attendance in the context of the current swine flu epidemic clearly indicates that the industry is well supported in both Australia and internationally. In fact, there were more than 1,000 buyers and sellers of Australian tourism products in attendance—virtually the same attendance as last year when the economic situation was very different. The Jackson report represents an important contribution to the ongoing consideration of a national long-term tourism strategy. (Extension of time granted) I will now properly consider a range of recommendations in that report and I do not intend pre-empting the consideration of that report by an interdepartmental process.

On the issue of tourism research, I came to the conclusion some months ago that there was a serious lack of attention given to it by the previous government. For that reason, I initiated a process with my department to bring to a head the importance of tourism research in Australia. There were serious inadequacies both within my department and within Tourism Australia, especially with respect to supply-side issues. I intend to guarantee that the outcome of that research is rigorous and independent. We have to make sure that we have the best available research for the tourism industry in Australia because it is a key part of the Australian economy. The economic capacity of the tourism industry is something that did not receive proper attention from the previous government.

I also intend to ensure that there is no waste or duplication of effort. It is about time Tourism Australia and the department developed a closer cooperative arrangement with the pooling of capacity and the sharing of potential research activities. The Jackson report made a range of recommendations on how the issue of tourism research could go forward, but the most important issue was its view that we need to improve our performance on the research front. The report says that there needs to be a far stronger emphasis on supply-side research and goes on to argue:

The TRA and other research agencies are not equipped to support a more intensive supply-side research focus.

The report then raises the issue of the potential consolidation of research functions with a range of possible options to achieve that outcome.

I simply say that I am going to achieve an outcome that means we have better research capacity in the tourism sector in Australia and a closer working relationship, not only between my department and Tourism Australia, but also with industry. Industry is looking for some assistance on the research front, especially on supply-side issues—issues totally ignored by the previous government, not only from a labour market point of view, the issue of skills, but also from an infrastructure point of view and from an international point of view with respect to the need for Tourism Australia to develop far closer working relationships internationally, for example with our embassies and with Austrade. All too often, the representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in association with Austrade, are pursuing a range of investments which do not include strategic investments in the tourism sector in Australia. Investments in the tourism sector are just as important as investments in other areas of my portfolio, such as resources and energy.

Mr Ciobo —What about the ATDP, though?

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON —Concerning the ATDP, historically a program used by the coalition for pork-barrelling purposes, I have returned a sense of integrity to project selection under a new program called TQUAL. TQUAL is specifically focused on encouraging regions to think regionally and tourism operators in regions to cooperate in promoting their research and in investing in innovation and research and development. The ATDP program was a lapsing program under the previous government. We have decided to refocus it and not only put in place appropriate funding over a two-year period, but also ensure that projects are selected on the basis of merit and not on the basis of the electoral pendulum, which was all too often the practice of the previous government with respect to the Regional Partnerships program and, it would seem on the face of it, some projects selected under the ATDP program.

On the CRC, let’s deal with a few facts. The CRC sought funding for a third round. No CRC has ever been granted funding for a third round. So to actually achieve a third round would have been a first. (Extension of time granted) If I have any criticism of the performance of the industry with respect to potential for funding of the CRC, it goes to the fact that it was too little, too late. To be fair, in late 2007, the CRC management team sought to clean up its act. There had been divisions in the industry and, in some instances, a failure by leading institutions within the tourism industry to give the CRC the support and encouragement it should have been given. I give credit where credit is due. They did seek to reposition themselves and improve their performance during the course of 2008. When it came to actually progressing an application for a new round of funding, they found it difficult to achieve because of the previous performance of the CRC and I might say that a third round of funding is unheralded.

The intent of the CRC program is to provide one or two rounds of seed funding and then for the business sector of Australian industry to assume its own responsibilities to develop sufficient research and development innovation outcomes to enable the CRC to proceed free of government funding. The failure of the CRC to develop a sustainable model now requires that I give serious consideration to how we can pick up the slack and work more closely with industry to meet its needs.