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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28320

Mr JULL (2:15 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Trade. I refer the minister to the outstanding success of Australia's trade in knowledge. What factors have contributed to this success, and are there any alternative policies that may be available in the area?

Mr VAILE (Minister for Trade) —I thank the knowledgeable member for his question about Australia's exports in knowledge based technology. The House would be interested to know that last year we exported over $30 billion worth of knowledge based technology out of Australia across a whole wide range of areas, including education services. The point should be made that Australia is already a knowledge nation, and that has been acknowledged by any number of international institutions, particularly the OECD. It was interesting to note that in a speech the Leader of the Opposition made recently he said:

Our headline value, our headline priority, our headline commitment is to the Knowledge Nation.

Thank goodness for that, because the Labor Party have gone out initially and talked down the strength of our economy. Now they are talking down the intellectual capacity of this country: they are making out that Australia is a dumb country whereas it is not a dumb country, it is a smart country—and we are already proving that.

Knowledge Nation as a proposal is coming from the Australian Labor Party, which brought us Investing in the Nation—remember that program?—Community in Nation, Shaping the Nation, Creative Nation, Our Nation, and who could ever forget Working Nation? All these programs managed to do was break the nation, and they brought us 20-plus per cent interest rates, high levels of unemployment and skyrocketing inflation.

It is time the Labor Party stopped talking down the intellectual capacity of Australia and started promoting it because Australia is being recognised significantly as one of the smart countries in the world. You would only have to ask one of the 140,000 overseas students that have come to study in Australia, to study and learn from the knowledge based industries in Australia, why they are coming to Australia to learn and are not going to other countries. They recognise that Australia already is a knowledge nation.

Australia exports $4 billion worth of educational services from universities not just based in the capital cities but right across Australia: universities like the Charles Sturt University in Wagga, in the seat of Riverina, and in Farrer and in Calare; and the James Cook University in Townsville, in the seat of Herbert, and in Cairns, in the seat of Leichhardt. These are very important export earnings that are being generated out of a knowledge nation that we already are and that we have already established in this country. Interestingly enough, we are going to claim credit for that because, if you have a look at the statistics, in 1991, when the Leader of the Opposition was a minister in government, we earned $995 million from education exports. Last year, in the year 2000, we earned $4 billion from knowledge based exports. Those knowledge based exports go across all sorts of smart technology based industries and, as I say, we rank very highly in the world in these.

An OECD report that has been released recently has indicated that the critical issue in this whole debate is that the key to benefiting from new technology, from information and communications technology, is not how much you manufacture and export; it is how you have policies to use it. And Australia is ranked number two in the world in the application and use of ICT across all our industries in making us much more competitive with the rest of the world. Where I started was with this: we already send $30 billion worth of knowledge based exports out of Australia. Australia is already a smart country. It is time that the Australian Labor Party stopped talking it down and stopped telling the Australian people that it is a dumb country.