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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1283

Senator ABETZ (2:43 PM) —My question is to Senator Carr. I refer him to his embarrassing and rambling answer yesterday. Can the minister inform the Senate exactly how much new money the Labor government has committed to the new square kilometre array, or SKA, telescope bid?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I want to thank the shadow minister for his interest in the SKA. It is belated but welcome. It is, of course, unfortunate that the opposition felt that they were not able to support this project. It is unfortunate, from their responses yesterday, that they felt it necessary to belittle this project.

This is a major piece of scientific infrastructure. This is a project of immense importance which this government has determined to pursue with vigour. This is a project which the former government failed to pursue with any vigour and which the former minister for science failed to embrace. This is a project that the former minister chose to ignore, in fact, because the former minister did not appreciate how significant Australia’s role in radioastronomy is, did not appreciate how significant this piece of infrastructure will be to world astronomy, did not appreciate the leading role that Australian radioastronomers have and did not understand the industrial and research implications for this project. Professor Brian Boyle, as an example, through CSIRO has led a team that has been able to demonstrate that to the world. Recently in Germany we signed a memorandum of understanding with the Max Planck Institute—

Senator Abetz —Mr President, I rise on a point of order to do with relevance. I asked a very simple question: how much new money has the Labor government put into this project?

The PRESIDENT —I did listen carefully to the question. I am struggling to find some relevance in the answer. Senator Carr, I would draw your attention to the question.

Senator CARR —It is obviously difficult for the opposition to come to grips with the fact that the world understands that Australia has an important role to play in this bid to secure this very important piece of infrastructure.

Senator Minchin interjecting—

Senator Faulkner —You put 49,000 other bits of dollops of money in too, Nick.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Faulkner, the question was asked of Senator Carr, not you, so I think you should let Senator Carr answer it.

Senator CARR —As you can see, Mr President, I take some relish in answering it. I would have thought that an answer like this should have gone through the government’s tactics committee because it is the sort of question we enjoy answering. It demonstrates that this government is committed to international collaborations on major pieces of research infrastructure. It is true that the previous government did undertake some projects in this area. However, the previous government failed to acknowledge the role of the SKA in terms of its pursuit of international collaboration. It failed to appreciate the significance of this piece of infrastructure. It failed to understand just how significant this piece of infrastructure is for industry and for manufacturing in terms of skills development. This is a project which will last for 50 years; it is a 50-year commitment. This is a project which Australia is uniquely suited to pursue, although I note that the international community will have to choose between Australia and South Africa. So the bid is quite important. I invite the opposition to support the government in its determination to secure this project for Australia.

Senator ABETZ —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It ought to be asked of the ‘Minister for Imitation’ because I remind him that the only money that has been committed to this project has been the $105 million committed by the former coalition government. I have a media release from former Minister Bishop indicating exactly that. Is the minister aware that trying to take credit for someone else’s work, plagiarism, is one of the most serious crimes for a scientist or a researcher to commit? Has the minister sought approval from the former science minister, Ms Bishop, to regurgitate her work and take credit for it? As Ms Bishop would say, ‘You’ve been a very naughty boy, Senator Carr, very naughty.’

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, if you have any further comments you wish to make, you may.

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you check standing order 73 in light of the question and the subsequent question to see whether they comply.

The PRESIDENT —I will check, Senator Brown. I am quite sure that the initial question complied. I am not quite so sure about the supplementary question.

Senator Chris Evans —I am not sure overacting is the same as a question.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Evans, that can apply to members on either side of the chamber. Senator Carr, do you wish to add anything further?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I do not think Senator Abetz should try humour; he is not good at it. He ought to stick to what he is good at, and that is rolling his leader.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Carr, that is not relevant.

Senator CARR —In all seriousness, this bid is extremely important in terms of global scientific infrastructure. This is a project for which $117 million has been provided. We are working with the government of Western Australia to enhance that and additional sums of money have been allocated for that. There is a major international forum to be launched on 9 April in Western Australia with Premier Carpenter. I will be participating in that and we will be pursuing this bid with all the vigour that the Australian government can muster. I would invite the opposition to support this bid. (Time expired)