National Science Week

It gives me great pleasure to rise this afternoon—

Senator Conroy: I can't believe it—three out of three!

Senator McGRATH: Senator Conroy has won the lotto of life. Every time he is on duty in the chamber he has to put up with one of my speeches. Congratulations!

Senator Bilyk: And me.

Senator McGRATH: And Senator Bilyk too. Congratulations! I think you need to be nicer to the Labor whips because clearly they do not like you if they are forcing you to listen to me. Be nicer to the whips.

Senator Bilyk: I am a whip.

Senator McGRATH: You should be better at your job then. I am going to say some very interesting things on what the government is doing for science. I am sure Senator Conroy will listen with excitement. This government is absolutely committed to putting science at the heart of industry policy, and the funding that goes across the government is testament to that commitment. Senator Carr said before that he thought there was no advocate for science in the government. I think all members of the coalition are advocates for science and all members of the coalition are advocates for innovation and building a smarter and stronger Australia.

This year alone we are spending $9.7 billion on science, research and innovation and $5.8 billion over the next four years on science and research in the Industry and Science portfolio alone. And there will be $3.1 billion for CSIRO over the next four years, with funding increases year-on-year over the forward estimates. This is the Liberal-National coalition government investing more than $731 million over five years for the competitive research centres to continue their diverse range of research. There will be new investments of almost $70 million to secure operation of vital scientific assets and promote the benefits of science in the community. In addition, the Liberal-National government will invest $12 million to improve the focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics or what are called the stem subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects—in secondary education through the Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda.

We probably should—and it would be very handy to—have a look at Labor's record in relation to science. In 2008, Labor cut $63½ million from CSIRO over four years. The then science and innovation minister, Senator Kim Carr, admitted that the cuts had to be tough 'because we are fighting a war on inflation'. These cuts led to job losses and the closure of some research laboratories. The CEO of CSIRO at the time said:

We are seriously disappointed—

This was with the government's decision

but that is their call and we disagree with it.

Labor also cut $2½ million from ANSTO, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, in its 2010 budget. Labor cut $40½ million from the competitive research centres in the 2011-12 budget leading to three agriculture competitive research centres being abolished. Labor budgeted for the construction of the RV Investigator, a new bluewater research vessel for the CSIRO, but provided no funding for its operation.

I suppose if you take Senator Carr's words on value, when he talks about having advocates for science, he takes the Labor definition of advocates being those people who talk about it but do not deliver or, if they do talk about it, they actually cut funding for it or do not supply any funding for it. It was this government that provided the $65.7 million in last year's budget required to get the RV Investigator on the water. This government will talk about delivering and will actually then deliver our commitments and our promises made to the Australian people in relation to science and innovation. For Labor, sadly, it was all about the next front page.

The coalition government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, was elected to fix Labor's debt and deficit disaster and return the budget to surplus. That means that in all areas we have had to make a contribution in terms of returning the budget to surplus. Labor's debt is already costing about $1 billion a month in net interest payments—and that is borrowed money. No country can go on paying the mortgage from the credit card and that is what Labor, in terms of their approach to economics, had been doing during their term in office.

Labor cut $6.6 billion from 2011-12 to 2016-17 in funding to higher education and research while they were in office, including more than $3 billion in their last year in office alone. Labor cut $563.7 million from a sustainable research excellence program by changing the rate of funding for the sustainable research excellence program itself. Labor cut $324.9 million by increasing student contributions for existing maths and science students by the removal of grandfathering provisions. Labor also cut over $1 billion by reinstating band 2 student contributions for mathematics, statistics and science units for new students. Labor made no provision for the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Future Fellowship Program for research talent beyond 2015. Labor was happy to let Australia's research efforts fall off a funding cliff.

But Labor, as identified by Senator Carr, like to talk and like to advocate but are not very good at providing the money. In the Leader of the Opposition's budget in reply speech this year, he promised over 100,000 free science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees over five years, but there was no funding whatsoever. So we have got a Labor Party in opposition who believe in governing by press release and in worrying about the next day's front pages rather than worrying about where the money is going to come from or indeed worrying about how they are going to help contribute to the mess that they left in office after the Australian people voted them out in 2013.

Science is vital to Australia's future, particularly given the strong impact of science on industry, the strong link between scientific thinking and industry explains why science is in the Minister for Industry and Science's remit. We are developing a strategic approach to science policy which will adopt a whole-of-government outlook to ensure that all portfolios work together to focus our resources and to deliver jobs. It is the coalition's belief that this will inspire young Australians and inform them and their parents of the importance and of the value of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry and Science, Karen Andrews, who is the member for McPherson on the Gold Coast, is actually an engineer, which has traditionally been a very male dominated profession, and is one of the leading advocates for getting more women into traditional male professions such as engineering.

We have also established the Commonwealth Science Council to advise on areas of national strength and priority as well as current and future capability and to suggest ways to improve connections between government, research organisations, universities and business. The Science Council meets twice yearly and acts as a source of advice for the government as it develops a comprehensive strategy for science. The Science Council is chaired by the Prime Minister, with the Minister for Industry and Science as deputy chair. The Minister for Health, the Minister for Education and Training as well as the Chief Scientist are standing members. Five eminent scientists, researchers and educators and five business leaders make up the majority of the Science Council to ensure discussions and to address the need for industry and science to work together closely to boost the competitiveness of Australia. The contribution of scientists and researchers is critical to lifting our productivity, creating jobs and building on our competitive advantage in key sectors. Australia's ability to compete in global markets in all sectors depends on our ability to move up the value chain, producing high-quality, innovative or niche products. Connecting science to industry is therefore the cornerstone of our industry policy and indeed our science policy.

In conjunction with the Science Council, the government has also established the National Science, Technology and Research Committee. The committee is chaired by the Chief Scientist and members include the CEOs of government research agencies and senior executives from the Department of Industry and Science, the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Training. This committee has been tasked by the research council and provides an operational perspective compared to the Science Council's strategic perspective. The Industry Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda includes initiatives to encourage and target innovation and collaboration in research and development. The government is going to provide just under $100 million—$97.6 million to be precise—to pursue global excellence in areas of competitive strength. In addition, we are investing more than $100 million per annum in the Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Programme to connect researchers and businesses to develop and commercialise home-grown ideas. The Australian government will also support businesses to innovate and engage in research and development through the R&D tax incentive, which is expected to provide over $1 billion in tax offsets for eligible companies in 2015-16.

The government also strongly believes that we must promote the science agenda in schools to those who are going to move into the sector in the future. As part of the competitiveness agenda, the government is providing additional support to foster school students' interest and competency in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This will better equip students with job-relevant skills and provide an additional $12 million to assist to develop and implement innovative online curriculum resources in mathematics, to enhance computer programming skills across the curriculum, and to provide seed funding to pilot an innovation focused PTEC-styled secondary education initiative. It is also the aim to increase student participation in summer schools for science, technology, engineering and mathematics students.

The government is very proud of its record in the science, technology and innovation space. Support for science and research in the industry and science portfolio, as indicated in my opening comments, will total $5.8 billion over four years. Broken down, this includes more than $3 billion for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, CSIRO, to continue its work across a range of industries; $768 million for the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation; $485 million for Geoscience Australia; and $168 million for the Australian Institute of Marine Science.

The government has also made new investments of $97 million for securing the ongoing operation of vital scientific assets and promoting the benefits of science in the community including $28 million for Science for Australia's Future to continue to support the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science, National Science Week and Questacon educational campaigns. I think many people in this chamber and in the other place often speak to school students who are coming through the houses of parliament. Without wanting to dis their enthusiasm for parliamentary democracy, often it is the case that the students are far more excited about having just come from Questacon or about their visit to Questacon. I must praise Questacon for the work it does for visiting school students, especially from my home state of Queensland. There will also be $49.1 million for permanent and safe disposal of used Australian nuclear fuel and $20.5 million for operating the Australian Synchrotron in 2016-17.

The government believes strongly in what are called 'industry growth centres'. The government is going to provide $225 million to pursue global excellence in five areas of competitive strength: food and agribusiness; mining equipment, technology and services; oil, gas and energy resources; medical technologies and pharmaceuticals; and advanced manufacturing sectors. On a personal note, in relation to medical technologies, as someone who suffers from severe and extreme sleep apnoea, my life is made sometimes a little bit easier by the use of a CPAP machine, which was developed mainly by an Australian. I give thanks to that person for those nights when I am able to sleep.

There have been stories in the media in relation to cuts that have had to be made. It must be emphasised that any cuts that have been made have been because we need to restore the budget to a sensible financial position after the reckless financial indifference of the former Labor government between 2007 and 2013. We are committed to returning the budget to surplus as soon as we possibly can. However, we are not going to go around the country waving blank cheques or even signed cheques without ensuring that the fiscal rectitude that was demonstrated through the Howard-Costello years but needlessly ignored in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Swan years is put in place. This task of restoring the budget to surplus has meant that the government, operating in a very difficult fiscal environment, has been forced to make a number of decisions affecting all areas of government.

But some of the things we have been able to do include focusing on sharing the science and research responsibilities. Under the make-up of the government, these are shared through the Industry and Science and the Education and Training portfolios. The Minister for Industry and Science, my fellow Queenslander Ian Macfarlane, has responsibility for science research policy, industrial research and development, and key scientific agencies such as CSIRO. The Minister for Education and Training has responsibility for research policy in relation to universities, research infrastructure and research grants and fellowships.

One of the really good programs that the government have been working on and bringing about—and I mentioned this briefly in my opening remarks—is the Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Program. The Entrepreneurs' Infrastructure Program includes Research Connections, which aims to bring businesses and researchers together to develop new ideas with commercial potential. The services will include access to advisers who can link businesses to appropriate research institutions, and matched funding to bring research capability into the business for specific projects through the Accelerating Commercialisation component of the program.

The Commonwealth Science Council, which advises the government on areas of national strength and capability and on ways to improve connections between government, research organisations, universities and businesses, also will play a role. This council, which meets yearly, acts as a source of advice for the government. In terms of where the government's policy agenda takes it, it would be more appropriate for the government to listen to the Science Council than to the former minister, Senator Carr, whose period in office did not leave a marked effect or an improvement on the science sector in Australia.

This government is absolutely committed to putting science at the heart of industry policy. The funding that the government has committed across a range of areas is a strong commitment to that. You will find that every member of the coalition is a strong advocate for science and is a very strong advocate for ensuring that science, industry and innovation come together so we can build a stronger Australia which has a healthy and strong economy, as long as we can get the budget back under control.