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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29409


Mr PRICE (12:19 PM) —I enjoyed the contribution on the Taxation Laws Amendment (Research and Development) Bill 2001 from my friend the honourable member for Tangney—


Ms Julie Bishop —Curtin.


Mr PRICE —Sorry, the honourable member for Curtin—the putative pretender premier of Western Australia. I think we can be thankful that today's debate is not being broadcast, because on the one hand you have government members saying that this bill is something akin in significance to Moses bringing the tablet of the Ten Commandments down from the hill and, on the other, the opposition being trenchantly critical of the government's performance. I think the people of Australia would be disappointed that, in the area of research and development, this parliament is unable to come together in a bipartisan approach— something beyond politics—in the national interest. I was fond of saying that, by and large, defence was such an area. We have seen the departure of Minister Moore, whom many considered perhaps the most incompetent Minister for Defence, and his being replaced by a defence minister whose sole objective is to make defence an issue of partisan policies—causing, I think, a reassessment of Minister Moore's contribution.

We on the Labor side will always be very searching about issues of research and development. Fundamentally, the Labor Party is always concerned about jobs and people's opportunities in life and we do not consider that workers are just hewers of wood and bearers of water. Research and development has always been important. I thought the central theme of what the member for Curtin was saying was that, in Labor's time, business research and development was not very respectable by OECD standards. I think that is true. I do not think we have ever claimed that it was magnificent. What we did claim was that there was a significant improvement in business research and development.

I was talking about the Labor Party's commitment to jobs, and quality jobs. I can give an example from Western Sydney of just how contemptuous the government is about people from Western Sydney and their opportunities, and that is the savage cutback in the number of training places at universities for postgraduate students. There has been a cutback across the board; I am not saying that Western Sydney is somehow unique. But where it is unique is that the University of Western Sydney has the highest percentage of cutbacks in positions. This is a relatively young university, but 50 per cent has been cut: 341 places. It ranks second in terms of percentage, only outdone by the WA Catholic University of Notre Dame in the home state of the honourable member for Curtin. It ranks second in percentage terms and second numerically in places.

Here is a young university trying to build up its research and development and 50 per cent of those places have disappeared. I think it is an absolute tragedy for the gifted and talented young students from Western Sydney. We can talk as much as we like about research and development but the starting place for a lot of research, particularly fundamental research, is at the universities. If you are hacking and slashing in such a vindictive way at the University of Western Sydney, what future do we have?

I am very proud to come from Western Sydney. It has an economy of $55 billion a year and is the third largest economic region in Australia. But we have a serious problem with IT jobs in Western Sydney. For the rest of Sydney, 20 out of 100 jobs are in IT related fields. In Western Sydney, there are only four. Let me quote from Jim Bosnjak, the Chairman of the Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board, someone I claim as a friend and I know others in this House claim him a friend as well. He said:

Sydney today faces the prospect of being fractured by the knowledge divide. The knowledge jobs and high tech investment are being led to inner Sydney, while the traditional support industries are being left to Western Sydney. This is a situation which must be addressed if both Sydney and Australia are going to realise their international potential for economic development and employment. Bold leadership from the government, innovative investments from industry and a united community are essential if Western Sydney is to maintain our mantle as an economic powerhouse. The doorways to change are our people and our land. The key to these doors is knowledge.

And what has happened in the University of Western Sydney? Fifty per cent of training related positions have been cut. There will be 50 per cent less this year compared to last year. That is an absolute disgrace.

I know a number of government members have spoken about the 150 per cent syndicated research that was provided by the Labor government. Government members claim that this was subjected to abuse, although I do not believe that they have really established that case. But I would not argue that it was fault free. All I say is this: if you talk to a number of innovators and entrepreneurs who got in there and developed companies—and not only developed in Australia but exported worldwide and often established company presences overseas—they will tell you that that 150 per cent R&D syndication was absolutely vital to the early years of their success. They spent on R&D not single digit amounts; it was not an argument about three per cent, five per cent or six per cent. They would spend 20 per cent, 30 per cent or 60 per cent of their revenue on research and development, and that 150 per cent R&D syndication was vital.

We often think of ourselves as the lucky country, and we are, but we are not so lucky that we can avoid opportunities that are presented to us, because they do not come back a second time. We do not get second chances at these things. The honourable member for Curtin quoted extensively from some newspaper reports. I would like to quote from an article in the Australian of Tuesday, 22 May by Jeremy Horey:

Our dollar is not languishing at just over $US50 cents because the world is sick of hearing about our sporting success. Our dollar is low because we are slipping down the OECD rating in every single important economic indicator that has anything to do with innovation. We know that the way to build a modern innovative and creative economy is to invest in education and in research and development. These two things provide the foundations on which to build a new economy, but there are other factors as well. We need to encourage people to take risks in starting new businesses. We need to reward those who succeed, not tax away their gains. We need to treat the capital gains of people who build new businesses in a special way.

And the article goes on. It is not the case that the federal government on its own, whether Labor or Liberal, by passage of legislation will single-handedly change the landscape. We cannot achieve things on our own but we can show the way and we can make investment. We need business and the research sector to assist and to participate and to be involved.

There are a few things I wanted to cover but I do not want to miss out on discussing the Technology, Employment and Learning Corridor—the TELC—in greater Western Sydney. I know that this will be of great interest to the Minister for Finance and Administration because he takes an interest in all things concerning Badgerys Creek.

This report—and I have the report here—was commissioned by Western Sydney Labor members of parliament. We asked the Greater Western Sydney Economic Development Board to develop a proposal that looked at creating a high-tech park on the Badgerys Creek site. They have put together an excellent report for us. This report has been endorsed by Labor members from Western Sydney and also by candidates. The 1,700-hectare site at Badgerys Creek is the largest single remaining site in Commonwealth ownership. This proposal looks at attracting those high-tech jobs that I was talking about. Remember that divide in Sydney: in Western Sydney only four jobs out of 100 are IT related; in the rest of Sydney 20 jobs out of 100 are IT related. We are not going to be able to address that overnight, but the board has been able to establish that, if a federal Labor government and a state Labor government got together and worked on developing this Technology, Employment and Learning Corridor, we could create up to 100,000 jobs directly and 300,000 jobs indirectly.

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister Anderson has said that the government supports the concept, but not at Badgerys Creek. The problem is that there is no other similar site. It would be a balanced development. In other words, it would not only have industry but also have some housing and some retail outlets. And it is not just about developing factories or employment centres but also about having facilities for learning, training and working all on the one site. I think it is an absolutely exciting proposal. I am confident that, when we complete our consultation with stakeholders in Western Sydney, we are going to get overwhelming support not only from the local councils but from the alliance of mayors, from WESROC, from the University of Western Sydney and I would hope from some other universities as well.

Yes, there would be some cost to the Commonwealth and, no, it is not documented, but this is not a feasibility study. Clearly, a feasibility study would need to be undertaken, but this report gives flesh to a real concept that creates an exciting jobs agenda in Western Sydney and also an agenda for Knowledge Nation. People in Western Sydney would see that this is a very appropriate use of these 1,700 hectares. After all, the government has decided not to proceed with making Badgerys Creek the default second airport site for Sydney and has decided to revisit the issue in 10 years time. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a huge opportunity cost in terms not only of the $155 million that has already been spent but of just leaving this land sitting idle when it could be creating and contributing to Knowledge Nation.

The foreword of the report contains a quote from Kim Beazley, the Leader of the Opposition, when he launched the Knowledge Nation report. He said:

Australia has two choices: We can be a Knowledge Nation or we can be a poor nation. To those who say we can't afford to meet the challenge laid down by this report, I say we can't afford not to. I commit the Australian Labor Party from today to the long-term agenda of this Report, and I pledge all my energies and my every working day to achieving it ... It says that Australia must be a leader and creator—not just a follower and user of other people's ideas—if we are to succeed in the new world we find ourselves in. We must create new industries, transform the old, and create jobs and future prosperity for every Australian. Becoming a leader in the `knowledge world' will take a sustained national investment effort.

I agree, and it will not be achieved overnight.

In the short time remaining, I want to refer to a couple of things. Firstly, as the chairman of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Telecommunications Reform, I know that we were repeatedly told that all Australia could ever aspire to was to be a niche player in the communications field. I think there is some validity to that. I notice that others have mentioned Nokia, the company from Finland. If you believe that Australia, with two per cent of the telecom resources of the world, can only be a two per cent player, how does Nokia fit into that equation? Clearly, Nokia is a multinational company and has a stake far larger than the communications economy of Finland would suggest. I think too often we have tended to sell ourselves a little bit short.

In the program developed for communications equipment back in 1988, we actually had a mechanism for forcing manufacturers to spend at least five per cent of their turnover on R&D. This is a very modest figure, given that communications really is high-tech. As modest as that program was, it actually worked. They were forced to spend it, there was annual accounting and there was transparency. The industry plan which I wrote for the ministerial advisory committee looked to lift our exports in communications from something like $200 million—this is in 1992, of course—to $2 billion.

I know we never achieved $2 billion worth of exports. To that extent, people can be highly critical and say the plan failed. But I understand we achieved something like $1.6 billion of exports, and I do not see it as a real failure to lift exports from $200 million to $1.6 billion per annum. I understand that the momentum of those changes has now been significantly lost, more is the pity. I repeat that surely research and development ought to be an area where the major political parties can come together in a bipartisan way in the national interest. I fear that that is a dream. But I can promise the Australian people that the Australian Labor Party will never lose our passion for research and development creating the jobs of the future for our future generations.