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Tuesday, 24 September 2002
Page: 4730


Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by ministers to questions without notice asked today.

I particularly note that the Minister for Finance and Administration has stated that a representative of Microsoft did not travel with the group. That raises a question about the capacity of the department to give answers to questions, because in the information provided by the department they have clearly stated that a representative of Microsoft actually did travel with the group.


Senator Faulkner —So someone is misleading.


Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL —So someone is misleading the parliament. I would suggest, Minister, it might be worth your while doing some more research and development on the answer; I suggest you do some more research and development in respect of this question. Perhaps, if you apply yourself to it, you may double the effort of this government's research and development contribution to the nation's economy, because the reality is that there are two multinational companies that have been funded and the interesting thing about what has occurred with the Microsoft and Boeing representatives is that they were both on programs that finished up visiting the town where their head office is located; they both visited Seattle—


Senator Ian Campbell —Scandalous!


Senator GEORGE CAMPBELL — Scandalous! It would be scandalous if you were only looking at this in isolation. But, when you compare this with what you have done in terms of research and development in this country, when you compare this with the decision of the minister to in fact suspend the funding of the R&D Start grant program from 1 January this year and the announcement that it probably will not start again—it probably will not get out of the sin-bin until the first quarter of next year—and when you compare this with the fact that you are allowing these sorts of programs to continue to run, you have to raise the question of where the government has set its priorities in terms of research and development.

This program substantially funds the executives of companies to go on overseas trips. We have that compared to the R&D Start program, which is about funding the research and development capacity of small- and medium-sized enterprises in this country. They have all been seriously disadvantaged as a result of the decision by the government this year to suspend the R&D program. Yesterday and today we heard Senator Alston waxing lyrical in his response about Backing Australia's Ability. The reality is that Backing Australia's Ability, despite being a $2.9 billion program, was back-loaded in terms of the funding. The central feature of that program was the R&D Start program, which is now in suspension. It is now in the sin-bin for one reason and one reason only: if it had been allowed to continue under this year's budget, you would have had to come in here and admit you had a budget deficit. That is why the R&D Start program was suspended.

That is why other programs in this department were cut: to ensure that you were able to come in here in May this year and demonstrate that the budget was in surplus. But you did not cut programs that in many respects were superfluous to our R&D effort. We have had the situation, for example, of the minister of this department going out and claiming that we are one of the best performers in the OECD countries on research and development when all of the evidence proves the opposite. That is an absolute outrage. We are down at the bottom of the ladder in all of the OECD statistics in terms of our R&D efforts. But this minister has gone out and manipulated the figures to try and demonstrate that we are doing very well when we are doing very badly.

The R&D performance of this government has been appalling. It has been appalling since you came into office in March 1996. It has gone backwards from that point in time. We are now spending less on research and development as a nation than we were at the end of 1995—not a very good performance at all from a government that goes out there and claims to be— (Time expired)