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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3855

Senator FURNER (2:44 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Carr. Will the minister update the Senate on the implementation of the government’s new Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme? How does it further the objectives outlined in the government’s innovation strategy ‘Powering ideas’? How does the scheme fit into the government’s broader education revolution? How will it contribute to Australia’s long-term prosperity and the wellbeing of Australian families and communities?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —I thank Senator Furner for his question. It was my great pleasure this morning to announce the first successful projects under the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme. This scheme supports research of national and global significance by researchers of international standing. One object of ‘Powering ideas’ is to create viable career paths for Australian researchers. We have already increased support for research trainees with more Australian postgraduate awards and higher stipends. The government has established 1,000 new Future Fellowships for midcareer researchers, and the Super Science initiative announced in last month’s budget includes 100 new Super Science fellowships for early career researchers.

In September last year I announced that the Australian government will be spending $239 million over five years on a new Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme to replace the Federation Fellowships scheme. The aim of the education revolution is to transform every stage of the learning journey from preschool to postdoc and beyond. Each Australian laureate fellow will lead and mentor a team of postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers. One of our first two female laureate fellows will be a fine example of the young women in science. All of the fellows will work on projects that promise real benefit to Australia, whether in economic, environmental, social or cultural terms. They will help us combat superbugs, build safer infrastructure, create lighter materials and strengthen our democratic traditions. They will bring us a step closer to meeting the practical needs and fulfilling the aspirations of families and communities around the country and around the world.

Senator FURNER —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate how the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme contributes to the internationalisation of Australia’s research and innovation efforts? Given that Australia produces around three per cent of the world’s research, what steps is the government taking to ensure that we have access to the 97 per cent of research that is done elsewhere?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —‘Powering ideas’ identifies increasing international collaboration on research and development as a national innovation priority. That is why the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme is open to outstanding researchers everywhere regardless of nationality. The 15 inaugural Australian Laureate fellows will include overseas scholars, Australians who have been working overseas and Australians who have built international reputations from home. All will be based at Australian universities during their tenure as Australian laureate fellows. Australia cannot solve every problem on its own. We must be able to draw on the best minds in the world. This scheme will attract more researchers to Australia and enable Australian researchers to participate more fully in international networks. This is a key to tackling the big challenges before us, so many of which demand global solutions. (Time expired)

Senator FURNER —Mr President, I thank the minister for that informative response. I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain to the Senate why new investments in research and innovation were such an important part of last month’s budget? How can these investments help shield Australia from the global recession and prepare the country for the better times ahead? What specific role will the Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme play in this process?

Senator CARR (Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research) —The total Commonwealth allocation for research and innovation in the year ahead will be $8.6 billion. That is a 25 per cent increase on the previous year. This is the biggest increase and the biggest commitment on record. A recent OECD report confirmed that global patent activity and R&D spendings have moved in lockstep with GDP over the last three decades, increasing during periods of growth and collapsing during periods of recession. The Australian government is determined to counter this cycle. By keeping the innovation pipeline open now, we can give Australia a head start in the race to secure the jobs and the industries of the future when recovery comes. The Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme will allow the research team it supports to take more risks and develop bolder ideas. (Time expired)