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Thursday, 12 November 2015
Page: 8499


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (15:58): I thank Senator Sterle for stepping in at very short notice to take the chair while I speak to this motion.

This motion on employment and job losses goes to the very heart of what we did not see from the old, Abbott, government and indeed do not see from the new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, and it would seem that it is the same old same old. In fact, what we are now hearing from the government are slick phrases, so we have gone from the old, negative three-word slogans to slick phrases in response to almost everything, or batting back of answers, such as, 'We're just having a discussion; we can't possibly comment on that.' We heard the word 'agile' a number of times in question time today, and we have heard 'nimble'. It is almost as if it is a joke.

But it is not a joke, because this motion, put up by Senator Carr, goes to the very heart of what is missing in the Turnbull government. Despite there being a change at the very top of the government and despite there being some new faces on the front bench, it is the same old, same old. It is a government that simply lacks any kind of plan for the future of Australia and continues to have thought bubbles, whether it is about imposing a big, fat, new tax on Australians through an increase in the GST to 15 per cent or ripping penalty rates off Sunday workers as though making people poor is going to create more jobs. Even if it did create more jobs—and the economic evidence is out on that—it would simply create more low-paid working Australians. It is a government that has attacked pensioners and families and has absolutely no plan around innovation for Australians.

It is serious. We are facing a downturn in the mining industry and we need new innovations. We need new technologies. We need smart-thinking people. All of that has been a fight. We had a fight over our research grants early last year, when, as with many of the things that people have taken for granted in Australia, we came to the brink. We had scientists saying that they were losing their innovation and their ideas overseas because the government could not stump up the money. At the eleventh hour, the government came forward and rescued some of those world-class Australian institutions that have been providing Australians with science and innovation.

In this motion, Senator Carr says that it is a failure of the government. It clearly is a failure of the government to articulate a comprehensive innovation policy so that Australia has the high-skilled, high-wage jobs of the future. We have seen here in this place, time and time again, the government dumbing down our economy and our skills. Take the whole sad and sorry saga of submarines, which you, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, would know a lot more about than me. What a sad and sorry saga that has been. The opposition, during the election campaign, made those commitments to South Australia. That is high-end technology involving hundreds of high-skilled jobs which the Australian government should be doing everything it can to protect. But, no—it wants to attack penalty rates in hospitality on the weekends, thinking that is going to create more hospitality jobs, which of course it will not. It turns a blind eye to high-skilled jobs that create benefits that flow right across the economy. We cannot be a dumbed-down nation, but that is what we have with this government.

For 18 months, we did not even have a science minister. Imagine being a country that did not have a science minister, when we know that the jobs of the future are in the STEM area, that science should be something we are proud of and that innovation, new technologies and new inventions are things we want to keep in our country. We know the government was hell-bent—who knows; it probably still is hell-bent—on trying to shut down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is financing high-risk innovation in this country where the banks will not lend a hand. In Western Australia, we now have something the government is trying to claim credit for, interestingly: groundbreaking wave technology funded through the very organisation that the government wanted to shut down—the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. I heard the government a couple of months ago saying what good technology it is, because now it has got to the point where that wave technology is so successful that it cannot be ignored. It has got to the point where even those on the other side, who do not believe in facts or science and who certainly do not believe in clean energy, cannot ignore its success. That was funded by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation—the very corporation that the government wanted to shut down.

This government has a history of ignoring innovation. Take wind farms—what is wrong with wind farms? The government has attacked and attacked them, saying they are ugly and a blight on the landscape. Indeed, Senator Cormann, I think, was one of the people who wanted to prohibit investment in wind farms. Wind farm technology is something that we should be leading the world on. Germany is a leading wind farm technology nation, but we call them a blight on the landscape. We call them ugly.

Even with the old Prime Minister gone and a new Prime Minister in place, nothing has changed. We should be at the forefront of technologies like wind and wave, but, no—they just want to pretend that none of that exists. That is why we want the smartest and brightest in the land being encouraged to go to university, do the STEM subjects and be our leaders of the future. But what did we see the government do there? They are trying to discourage young people from going to universities with the $100,000 degrees. That is not off the table—it is shelved. It is in the back pocket for a time when they can convince the crossbench that it is time to bring it back. What thinking government—what government who were planning for the future—would say to students, 'You can go to university, but do you know what? It is going to cost you $100,000 at least.' Because that was so unpopular it has been shelved, but it is there, make no mistake. Again, that just kills off innovation. It does not promote skill and innovation, unlike Labor, which is committed to providing degrees in the STEM area without imposing costs, because Labor recognises that innovation is what drives Australia—real innovation that is planned out and thought out, not a thought bubble.

I like to watch the comedy TV program on the ABC called Utopia. It used to be on on Thursday nights. It is a take-off of what happens in government departments. It is very, very funny. The last episode of Utopia had the minister coming in and demanding of his department, 'Give me something new I can go out there and promote to the voters.' The minister wanted something new and innovative. The staff literally had to pull something from thought bubbles—make it up—so that the minister could go out and announce it.

The very next day, the new Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, said to the new innovation minister, Mr Pyne, 'Let out your inner revolutionary!' It was like an episode of Utopia. I could not believe it. I thought Mr Turnbull must have seen that last night and said, 'Ah, that's a good idea, there's a new thought bubble!' Actually, Mr Pyne was a bit surprised. But it went on, again mirroring an episode of Utopia, when Mr Turnbull said to Mr Pyne: 'Let that inner revolutionary out. Give me some ideas. And don't worry about the money.' This is a government that has just clawed back money from our pensioners, clawed back money from our health system, clawed back money from education, slashed the ABC, slashed the SBS and broken promise after promise—a government that tries to tell us it is fiscally responsible—and what does he say? 'Don't worry about the money, Mr Pyne, let me worry about the money.'

Those of us on the Labor side in this place know that it does not work like that. You present to the cabinet fully costed proposals and you argue your corner. You say what it is going to cost and you argue your corner. You work out where the funding is going to come from and you put your bid in. You do not sit back and let your inner revolutionary out! And Mr Pyne describes himself as a conservative, so I am not sure where that inner revolutionary is. You do not just have thought bubbles, throw them on the table and let someone else cost them and find the money. Good government does not work like that. If that is the best the Turnbull government can do, we are in deep trouble. That is not comprehensive innovation. It is not comprehensive policy to say to your innovation minister, 'Let out your inner revolutionary.' That is a joke. It was like an episode of Utopia—and the link was strong because it came the very day after that episode.

We want Australia to be a high-skill, high-wage economy. And who could forget the thought bubble from Mr Hockey when he was the world's worst treasurer—followed by the new world's worst treasurer. He said to Australians, 'Just go out and get good jobs with good pay.' It was just another thought bubble. There was no plan. At the same time, they were trying to take penalty rates off two-thirds of Australians who earn them. 'Just go and get a good job with good pay and you'll be able to afford a house'! We get these throwaway statements. There is no plan to provide good jobs. At that point, we did not have a science minister. And now we have an innovation minister who is being encouraged to let his inner revolutionary out, not to have a plan. And that was his response—that good jobs somehow just come from the air.

And today in here I heard Senator Birmingham say that somehow they were going to grow jobs. How do you do that without a comprehensive plan? They are not seeds that you just put in the ground and water and hope they pop up. It is crop failure over there! The Turnbull government has crop failure in terms of jobs. They have no idea how it works. It requires a long-term plan. It requires the skilling up of young workers. It requires ready access to university. It requires matching our smartest people with our best universities and enabling them to study unencumbered by the thought that, at the end of their study, they will have a debt of at least $100,000. That is not how you encourage innovation.

As I referred to at the beginning of my speech, we have seen the deliberate and hostile actions of the government. It seems to hate Australian workers. It certainly hates Australian unions. None of us on this side would be under any misapprehension about that. And yet unions, when they work in partnership with industries, are innovators. If you get industry and unions working together, you will get good innovation. But that lot over on the other side have so demonised unions that it is never going to happen. So they are leaving one of the strong partnerships, one of the groups that can bring innovation to the table, out of the equation. They have seen the Australian shipbuilders, proud members of the AMWU, in this place. I think this was the sixth, seventh or eight time they have visited. They have a great story of innovation to tell but it just falls on deaf ears with those opposite. That is where we should be getting our young people. We should be having apprenticeships. We should be giving opportunity for the development of good technology with ships built in Australia. Those opposite need to get on board and honour their election commitment on those subs. There is no getting away from it. I was horrified when I saw Senator Johnston, with a Liberal Party flag, outside our Defence base in South Australia making that very commitment—and my apologies if it was not you, Senator Johnston, but I am fairly certain it was you.

Again, we see this dumbing down, this cowardice, of the government in blaming job losses on workers and unions but never on themselves. And then there is the government's own inaction. We have had the closure of the car industry in Australia, which the government actively talked up—we will never forget that—with Mr Hockey goading the car industry to leave Australia. Again, the government does not seem to appreciate that it is not just the factory that will stop work; it is all of those other elements that contribute to the car industry; it is all of the component makers. What is the plan for them? Not only will we lose the making of cars in the factories but we will also lose the subsequent component makers. Where is the plan for that? There is nothing—absolutely nothing—one the table from this government. It is sad.

There is nothing agile about those opposite. There is no innovation or creative planning. Never mind the thought bubbles, there has been no sitting down with industry, including trade unions, to map out what the future looks like in our sectors—whether it is in agriculture, where there can be real innovation, whether it is in high-end manufacturing, which we should be proud of in Australia, or whether it is the amazing work that the CSIRO has done in Australia. There have been many first-in-the-world innovations that have come out of the CSIRO—which is absolutely under threat as this government slashes and burns its funding. You cannot move forward as a country if you let go of the CSIRO, and it will not be the case that the private sector picks it up. Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, you and I know full well that the private sector always cherry picks what it chooses to invest in, and of course it wants a fast return for its dollars invested. The private sector is never going to contribute to long-term planning—never. That is not the way the private sector works.

We have seen in my own state how Premier Barnett is decimating the Department of Agriculture and Food. That workforce has been slashed by two-thirds. All of that innovation with crop development, all of that innovation with working on the land and all of that innovation with water conservation will just go. Mr Barnett thinks that somehow the private sector is going to step in. Well, it will not. The private sector will never invest in the sort of research that the department has done—research which takes a long time to generate. It will not do that; it will be there for the fast buck. That will be bad for a state that is very reliant on its agriculture sector. Those opposite should be up in arms that a Liberal government in Western Australia is dumbing down its agriculture department, led by the department's director general and by Minister Bastan—who has no idea. He was like a rabbit in the headlights when he got the agriculture portfolio. WA led the nation with its top-crop wheat program. The innovation there was amazing. That is all going to go, because you can bet your bottom dollar that it will not be picked up by the private sector.

It is time for those opposite to get a plan. It is time for them to get rid of the thought bubbles and to get a real plan that puts Australia back to where we belong—at the top of the tree, not at the bottom. There is innovation in a whole range of areas: climate change—something they are very scared of; innovation in manufacturing—something that we should be world leaders in; science—with the CSIRO; and a whole range of technologies. These are not thought bubbles.