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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11505


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (11:10): The march of civilisation is inextricably linked with the development of technology and its widespread adoption. Perhaps the height of man's productivity prior to the industrial revolution was the peak of the Roman Empire, but that of course is for the scholars to debate. However, it was the industrial revolution that changed forever the direct ties between man and the land. Successive waves of technological uptake have forever changed the ratios of those producing food, fibre, shelter and goods to those who consume those products. That is the dividend of technology. It is this efficiency that frees up the human mind and endeavour to provide the luxuries of life, and by 'luxuries of life' I mean anything that is not essential to sustain life. In terms of human development, it is technology that is the currency that underwrites our unparalleled standard of living.

Individual nations and communities have some choices. They can choose to resist change and try to protect and extend technologies and jobs that have been left behind by efficiencies, either in our local economies or abroad. They can sit back, let change wash over them and adjust to those changes as they happen. Or they can choose to be at the cutting edge of change, make the tough decisions to encourage investment and risk taking and accept the temporary downsides and risks as a part of the path to success. Whichever path a nation chooses, one thing is sure: change is both inexorable and inevitable.

The Australian government, under Malcolm Turnbull, has clearly signalled, with the appointment of Christopher Pyne as the Minister for Innovation and Science, that Australia is in the last group, seeking to be on the cutting edge. So while jobs in traditional areas are shrinking and this causes local anxiety, at the same time our nation has never supported more jobs

I had the privilege recently to lead a bilateral delegation to the US, where the benefits of a dynamic and well-funded research sector are clearly demonstrated. From their highly-sophisticated defence research and development platforms through to government owned, but privately operated, research establishments—like the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the buzz that is Silicon Valley—the US is bursting with ideas and enthusiasm. It is this path that the current government have chosen as the best for Australia.

Often we hear criticisms that Australia is underinvesting in scientific research when in fact we are committing $9.7 billion of taxpayer dollars per year to research. That comes on the top of a very significant history of delivering great scientific breakthroughs throughout the world.

The bigger question for Australia is: why we have been able to generate the breakthroughs, but so often have been unable to develop the product? Why indeed is it so difficult to raise sufficient capital in Australia to turn those ideas into finished product? After all, Australia was responsible for most of the major science behind photovoltaic cells, wi-fi, spray-on skin and black box flight recorders. We are 13th in the world for the number of patents registered each year which, considering our population, actually puts us at or near the top of the tree.

Historically we have been responsible for some of the biggest innovations the world has ever seen in agriculture: the Ridley strippers, followed by Sunshine harvesters revolutionised grain harvesting worldwide and yet, tellingly, there is no longer a harvester made in Australia—they are all imported.

During the wide-ranging meetings arranged for our US delegation, it became apparent that there is a far higher appetite for risk in the US than here, and that there is a far greater acceptance of the chance of failure. It is part of the conversation Australia must have as to why this is the case.

It is a fact that in Australia our biggest pools of moveable and flexible capital lie within the superannuation sector. And whilst overseas funds look to Australia to invest in a wide range of industry it seems that our funds are move conservative. Is it caused by a difference in the Australian character or is it caused by the rules and regulations within our superannuation sector? While I am unlikely ever to support compulsory investment targets for superannuation funds, we certainly must consider the incentives and disincentives for investment in our development sector.

I am especially pleased to report that the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry, which I chair, has just commenced an inquiry into technological opportunities and barriers to adoption in our agricultural industries. Already we have received more than 80 submissions and, while I have plenty of reading to do yet, there is no doubt that we are bristling with ideas and enthusiasm, a new enthusiasm that is feeding off the excitement of the government's progress on freeing up the trade barriers which have for many years denied our agricultural access to some of the best and fastest growing markets in the world. Certainly the enthusiasm and the innovative heart that I witnessed in Germany, the US and other places is due to be reflected here in Australia. I support the government's drive on that path.