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Thursday, 3 December 2015
Page: 9861

Senator KIM CARR (Victoria) (16:12): On behalf of Senator Ketter, I present the report of the Senate Economics References Committee on Australia's innovation system together with the Hansard record and proceedings and documents presented to the committee.

Ordered that the report be printed.

Senator KIM CARR: I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This is a report of the committee, and I would like to thank the committee for the diligent and detailed way in which these issues were considered, and the submitters, who produced 185 submissions to the inquiry. I would also like to thank Professor Roy Green, who was employed by the committee and has provided insightful commentary and reflections from a basis of profound knowledge of the innovation debate. I thank his work for the committee and the recommendations that he has presented in a report that has gone to the committee itself.

The committee began its inquiries in March of last year, when the national innovation system had a very different configuration. The then system was driven by a suite of measures that Labor established in government under a 10-year agenda: Powering Ideas. Shortly after the committee began its work, the government's 2014 budget dismantled or defunded many of the measures and the programs developed under that agenda. As a consequence, over $3 billion has been taken out of the innovation system by various actions of the current government.

More recently we have seen, however, a change of Prime Minister, and again the government wants to talk about innovation. I can recall circumstances which recently were highlighted by the remarks of Catherine Livingstone, who indicated that she had seen the debate around innovation go from the 'sublime to the ridiculous'. She said that we had a situation until recently where the word itself was not to be used in submissions. This was a position, she said, where we 'have gone from the word innovation being banned to suddenly being compulsory, regardless of context'. I have spoken to senior public servants informally who advised that they could not put the word 'innovation' in cabinet submissions, because it would not get through the door. What a difference it makes now. As Catherine Livingstone says, the renewed national discussion around innovation has seen the fashion renewed for all things innovation, which has diluted the focus on the task at hand. She indicated to a recent BCA meeting that we need to ensure that the national discussion on innovation starts from a systems approach and that, if we do not do that, we will be talking about the style of rooms rather than the house that it is actually necessary to build.

We have seen the situation where, for instance, the Innovation Australia board was slated for dismantling by this government. I say this in the context that next Monday the government is about to make an innovation statement. But only recently the former minister approached the Innovation Australia board to tell them that they were to be abolished, only to be informed that there was actually an act of parliament protecting them, which the minister did not appear to be aware of.

At recent Senate estimates we went through the membership of the Innovation Australia board and discovered that, of the 15-person board, only five positions were filled, there was a sixth position filled by an ex officio departmental official and there were 10 vacancies. That is as at 22 October this year. So on Monday, when we get to look at the innovation statement that this government brings down, we might want to see it in the context of the cuts that have occurred and the treatment of innovation under this government.

The position that the 85 submissions—from industry, from universities, from the public research agency, from public offices like the Office of the Chief Scientist—put to this committee highlighted the importance of all elements of the innovation system, human and institutional, to ensure that we have a systemic approach to rebuilding our innovation system in this country so that we can ensure that we do not just take an ad hoc position, in terms of little slivers of the innovation system, but that we look to what drives innovation in this country. Such an approach should allow the process of encouraging the transformation of our economy, firm by firm, and ensure that, industry by industry, we are able to develop an approach to innovation in which the government's role is essential to driving social change and ensuring the modernisation of Australian industry and the Australian economy. That will not happen unless government is able to provide the necessary resources to ensure that we can cover in a proper manner the types of issues that are addressed in this report, rather than the cost-cutting approach we have seen by this government. I have no doubt that, next Monday, the government will spend some more money, but it will go nowhere near the detail or the extent necessary to rebuild the innovation capacity that we have lost as a result of the budget cuts over the last two years. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted.