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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1470

Senator PRATT (2:33 PM) —My question today is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Can the minister please outline to the Senate what action the government is taking to strengthen career opportunities for our researchers and to secure top talent for Australia’s future? What is the minister doing to make sure our research sector ranks among the best in the world?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Pratt for her question. I inform the Senate that today I announce that the government will invest more than $143 million to support 200 talented researchers through the Future Fellowships scheme. The new fellows and their universities will receive the funds they need to undertake research of the utmost importance to our nation. Their projects include new technology to tackle climate change, new initiatives to improve Indigenous health and new ways of coping with the effects of drought. This is a testament to the value of our investments in the Australian research sector.

The Labor government established the Future Fellowships scheme to remedy the neglect of the former Howard government—neglect Senator Mason has so aptly identified in this morning’s Australian. It was a bleak time—Senator Mason, I think you would agree—under John Howard for Australians who were undertaking research careers because, once they completed their PhDs and their postdoctorates, they had nowhere to go. I think you will acknowledge also, Senator Mason, that the reforms that the Labor government introduced were overdue.

We have allocated $844 million over five years to support 1,000 leading mid-career researchers through the Future Fellowships scheme. We understand that a world-class research sector needs a world-class research workforce to sustain it. A world-class research sector is vital for boosting our productivity, for protecting our environment and for improving the lives of all Australians. That is why we are fostering the next generation of researchers, that is why we are doubling the number of Australian postgraduate awards, that is why we are increasing stipends by 10 per cent and that is why we have created the Super Science Fellowships for early career researchers. (Time expired)

Senator PRATT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister please outline to the Senate what action the government is taking to address the neglect of research in previous years?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I know that Senator Mason would be embarrassed for me to acknowledge that he is an unusual Liberal. Firstly, he is unusual in the fact that he is a decent man. Secondly, he reads; he is a Liberal that reads. He even reads books. He has shown remarkable insights into the failures of John Howard. We understood the thrust of what he was saying. That is why we increased support for research and innovation by 34 per cent. We know the legacy of John Howard, the legacy that left $1.6 billion of cuts. He left a litany of comments about how universities were never to be trusted, that they were the hotbeds of radicalism. (Time expired)

Senator PRATT —My further supplementary question is: can the minister outline to the Senate what importance the government is placing on genuine engagement with the university research sector?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —This government acknowledges that engagement is critical. But our view is that such engagement has to be on the basis of respect and constructive dialogue. Senator Mason has drawn our attention to the Leader of the Opposition’s new policy on what he calls ‘engaging creatively’ and he wants to do it with our universities. I think we should all live in fear of an opposition bent on Abbott’s style of engagement.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, you will refer to people in the other place by their correct title.

Senator CARR —Mr Abbott’s style of engagement follows the legacy of John Howard, which saw the $1.6 billion cuts under that government. And in the last election Mr Abbott’s legacy was a further $1 billion cut promised through the Liberal Party election. In the days before the election we saw the Liberal Party was not interested in universities. (Time expired)