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Wednesday, 12 August 2015
Page: 5065

Senator WANG (Western Australia) (11:04): I thank my colleagues for their contributions in this debate. I do not want to run the risk of repeating all their points so I will try to keep my contribution really brief. I thank my colleagues for supporting the Medical Research Future Fund Bill 2015. This is a very important step in the right direction for our country.

As I said in my first speech, research is our strength. We have strong track records in research and innovation and we are doing a good job today in many institutions around the country. To name a couple from my home state of Western Australia: there are the Harry Perkins Institute and the Telethon Kids Institute. They are doing wonderful jobs. They are involving kids—and grandmothers sometimes—to visit their labs to educate them and bring them up to speed with what is happening in the scientific world.

Having said that, the research sector does face some challenges. As Senator Lazarus just said, there is probably a lack of funding in the research sector, particularly when the venture fund capital is drying up. I think it is the government's role to make sure we fund the research sector adequately. There are also some other technical challenges and red tape that I think could be improved or streamlined. For example, at the moment, the researcher applies for, let us say, a government grant, and usually if they are lucky they get a three-year grant. We are slowly seeing more five-year grants being approved, but the approval rate of applications is just about 10 per cent. That seems pretty low to me, and also the researchers have to apply for the grant every three years. That means that every three years they have to spend two or three months trying to finish the paperwork to lodge their application. It seems to me that two or three months every three years would be better spent if they were working on their projects.

Also, research is important in the country especially in shaping our future. We are very unique in the sense that we occupy a very huge land with a small population, so we have to be very innovative in businesses like agriculture and defence. Also, as Senator Lazarus just mentioned, we cannot compete with our global competitors on energy costs and labour costs, so we have to be very innovative in manufacturing as well. That is why I think this research fund is the right step for the future. I do hope and I am very confident it will be a success story.

I think in the future we need to think about rolling all the government funding programs for research and innovation into one big fund to make the process a lot easier for researchers and scientists to apply for grants, and also to make probably a minister for research and a department for research to coordinate and encourage collaboration between scientists and researchers in different fields. Someone who works on researching agriculture can find some other researcher who works on marine life. They may find they can collaborate. They may find their work can complement each other's. That potentially is a saving and potentially is an efficiency gain for taxpayer money as well. So I congratulate the government for the good work, and I thank the opposition, the Greens and all the other colleagues who want to support this bill.