Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Fostering competitive and innovative Australian industries: speech to the 44th ALP National Conference 2007, Sydney.

Download PDFDownload PDF


28 April 2007

Chapter 5 - Fostering Competitive and Innovative Australian


Senator Kim Carr, Shadow Minister for Industry, Innovation,

Science and Research


Comrades … this Conference sees delegates arguing passionately - indeed, stridently - about the things they believe in.

One of the things in which we all believe is the need for a constructive, forward looking, activist industry policy …

… an industry policy that suits the times we live in …

… an industry policy that provides the foundation for a prosperous economy and a fair society into the future.

That’s why I was so pleased earlier this week to stand beside Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard launching Labor’s New Directions paper for innovation, competitiveness and productivity.

Because innovation policy is industry policy for the 21st century.

Invention will be the foundation of Australia’s future prosperity.

An abiding goal of the labour movement and the Australian Labor Party is to ensure that the Australia we pass on to our children is a better Australia than the one we inherited - fairer, stronger, more self-assured …

… an Australia in charge of its own destiny - or, as Kevin Rudd likes to say, a country that makes its own luck.

Seldom has the threat to Australia’s future been greater than it is today.

And seldom have we had a Government as ill-prepared and ill-equipped to deal with the challenges we face.

The current mining boom represents a once in a generation opportunity to build a better Australia for our kids - and it’s an opportunity the Howard Government is squandering.

They have built nothing. They have nurtured nothing new. They’ve invested nothing in the future.

Instead, they’ve hidden a Thatcherite ideology behind the veil of free market economics to claim the Government has no role in planning for the country’s ongoing prosperity.

Labor’s industry policy is market based. Our Platform makes that abundantly clear.

But the free market takes no responsibility for ensuring that any particular country maintains a diverse economy, protecting itself from the shock of a downturn in any particular sector.

This is not a criticism of the market. It is simply that this is not the market’s role. It is the role of governments.

Governments have a duty to look to the country’s long-term economic and strategic interests.

But the Howard Government does not have a strategic vision.

The Howard Government has no plan for maintaining a balanced economy; strong across all sectors; providing fulfilling, highly skilled and well paid jobs for our kids.

It has no industry policy.

All it has is a complex maze of disconnected programs administered by public servants who know they are at the bottom of the bureaucratic food chain.

This is in large part because the Howard Government doesn’t believe in its heart that we must make things in this country, as Kevin Rudd does … as Labor does … Comrades, as we do.

Manufacturing directly employs over a million people in this country and could employ many more. It is critical to the economy.

Yet, I would bet that very few Coalition Ministers realise how many service sector jobs are reliant on a manufacturing base.

Few would be able to tell you that manufacturing accounts for 41 per cent of Australia’s business R&D.

No doubt many would be surprised to hear that manufacturing businesses are the most likely to undertake innovation.

They have to be. They’re competing in an environment that’s only getting tougher.

In today’s world, Australia cannot compete globally on the basis of cheap mass production. Instead, Australian industry needs to be smarter than its competitors.

Elsewhere in the developed world there is a real sense of urgency about competitiveness and innovation.

Around us our Asian neighbours increase their R&D spending at an incredibly rapid pace.

Unlike the Howard Government, Labor understands that complacency is simply not an option.

We say that the national government must sit down with industry … must roll up its sleeves … and must ensure that Australia can maintain a position of its own choosing in the international marketplace - not a position foisted on it by others.

That’s what Labor’s New Directions paper for innovation is all about … It’s what Labor’s industry policy is all about.

The sad fact is … while the Howard Government has been riding the wave of prosperity built on the mining boom and Labor’s economic reforms … our innovation indicators have been faltering:

• Business spending on R&D under the Howard Government has grown at half the rate that it grew under Labor.

• Australia’s productivity compared to the US has retreated, losing virtually all the relative gains of the 1990s.

These trends can be reversed, but not by this government.

Only Labor has the solutions because, frankly, only Labor is willing to admit there’s a problem.

Labor has a clear plan. We’ve set out a ten-point strategy covering the areas of:

• knowledge generation,

• business R&D incentives,

• technology take-up,

• international collaboration,

• government procurement,

• university/business links,

• improving the skills base,

• establishing innovation priorities,

• strengthening national governance, and

• streamlining programs.

As part of Labor’s plan for innovation, we will bring responsibility for industry, innovation, science and research together within one Department.

This move acknowledges both synergies between these policy areas … and the need to break down the cultural barriers that currently exist between Australian business and our world class research


Innovation is where white coat meets blue collar and we need to strengthen those relationships.

Our science and research institutions themselves - which have been undermined by the Howard Government at every turn - also need to be strengthened.

Labor has recognised the fundamental contribution science makes to the nation’s wellbeing by announcing that we will restore the Chief Scientist to a full-time position.

Labor will also establish Industry Innovation Councils for key sectors of the economy.

These policies are just part of our effort to make sure Australia has the brain-power to handle any challenge the future may bring … including the challenge of climate change.

The only science in John Howard’s approach to climate change is political science.

Comrades, Labor’s plan is to ensure Australian industry can compete in a world where good ideas are the most valuable commodity.

We are offering sustainable prosperity, increased security, and renewed hope for all Australians.

Above all we are offering dignity - the dignity of having steady, meaningful and properly rewarded employment; the dignity that comes when nations take responsibility for their own destiny.

Comrades, it’s Australia’s destiny to win the world’s respect through intelligence, creativity and hard work.

Labor has the policies, the leadership and the resolve to help Australia fulfil that destiny.