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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21390

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (2:27 PM) —On this `Universities Meet Parliament' day, my question is addressed to Senator Vanstone, the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training. Is the minister aware of the fact that in 2002 Australia was ranked 13th out of 22 OECD countries when it came to expenditure on R&D? We spend 1.48 per cent of GDP on R&D—well below the OECD average of 2.17 per cent. Will the minister today assure the Senate that the R&D package that will follow Backing Australia's Ability—which is due to run out in 2005-06—at least maintain, if not increase, the final year's level of investment in R&D and will that enable universities to continue their valuable research programs?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank Senator Stott Despoja for her question. She has a long-standing interest in education, albeit her views are almost diametrically opposed to mine and, consequently, to the government's. As we have been concentrating slightly on the United States earlier in question time—I do not hold that against you, Senator. As I often say, the voice of dissent is the bell of freedom. I welcome your different view, Senator. I thank you very much for bringing to everyone's attention the Backing Australia's Ability program. As to the details of your question, I will get an answer from Dr Nelson and I will give it to you as soon as I possibly can.

Senator STOTT DESPOJA —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for that undertaking, and I suspect the presence of vice-chancellors is having a good influence on us both, but I also ask the minister, when she speaks to Dr Nelson, to get an undertaking from him. Will he provide new funding—additional funding—under that Backing Australia's Ability II package and will he give an undertaking that the government will not decrease that final year's allocation for research and development in our universities and thus they can continue those valuable programs that they are already providing under BAA I?

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —Senator, you can speak for yourself as to whether you change your personality and behaviour depending on who you are in front of. I have a number of redeeming features, some of which are hidden but one of which is always obvious: you get the same person on Monday as you do on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. But thanks for tipping us off that you are Miss Goody-Two-Shoes on some days and not on others. I am not going to ask Dr Nelson for an undertaking. An undertaking to people with legal training might mean a bit more than it does to you. I will refer your question to him. If he has something that he wishes to pass on to you, I will be the conduit for that to come back to you.