Securing an Innovation Future - Speech in Parliament

In many areas of policymaking we have clear and admitted divisions between us and the government, but here they are trying to blur the lines. Under Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister we hear much talk of optimism, of exciting times. But that masks an unwillingness to grapple with the real issues facing Australia: our real productivity challenges, in respect of which innovation is the key. We agree on this much. But we have heard two speakers—two assistant ministers, as they are now called—talk around the problems. I understand the assistant minister who led off this debate for the government talking about exciting times—they are exciting times for him, as they are for the new Prime Minister, but they are not for many Australians.

These are not times in which we can be as confident as we should be about our future, because the work is not being done. We have before us a government which has a rhetoric that is full of confidence. But it is misplaced confidence, because the vision for the future is empty. We see a profound failure to invest—indeed, to have confidence in our people and in ideas, as we have seen from the contribution of the assistant minister in particular—and a failure to have confidence in our future direction. This is a stark contrast with Labor's record—Labor's record in government and Labor's continuing leadership in opposition under Bill Shorten.

On the Labor side we have a record in terms of innovation that we are very proud of. Under the previous Labor governments we built a national approach to fostering innovation, with a 50 per cent increase in our investment in research and science and innovation over the period of Labor government. We will come to what has happened under this government shortly. Under Labor we saw a massive expansion of involvement in higher education, the critical building block of a successful innovation future. We saw the commissioning of the vital McKeon review, which had a road map to build on our world-class medical research capacity and steer it towards commercialisation. This matter has been briefly touched upon by government speakers but is an area where we have massively underachieved as a nation, where we have not done justice to the great basic research work that has been done through enabling it to be exploited to the benefit of the Australian community. This is a challenge where it is critical that we do more than simply speak hollow words about the enabling role of government. We need to think clearly about what that role should be.

Ten minutes from the newly-minted assistant minister, and he had nothing to say—perhaps the hackathon will solve this problem. But it was not a contest of ideas, because the government offered just one: that government should do less. Government has been doing less under this government, and it is not looking very pretty. We have seen Enterprise Connect, a fantastic support for more than 30,000 businesses, ripped apart. We have seen Commercialisation Australia, which was doing good work in expanding the commercialisation of great Australian ideas, fall apart. It is important to acknowledge the new responsibilities, of innovation and start-ups, of the shadow parliamentary secretary, the member for Chifley. Though they are new formal responsibilities, the member for Chifley has been leading this debate and leading a high-level engagement with the start-up community in our universities for quite some time. He offers a template that government members should be following.

The Leader of the Opposition's budget reply speech sets out a road map that could be a bipartisan road map to a bold innovation future. The start-up year is one idea. The investments in higher education, providing certainty to enable the sort of research that we need to secure an innovation future, is something that is at the core of this government's failings and at the core of the failings of the now minister for innovation, the former failed minister for education. We see the agenda to boost STEM and support coding. We see in Labor's plan a real vision to underpin an innovation future, and on the other hand we see a failure to invest, and a vision of government that is almost non-existent. We are seeing the critical impact of cuts to CSIRO and the effective dismantling of the cooperative research centre network. A new minister and a new Prime Minister with new rhetoric cannot match the reality.

As the member for Greenway said in leading off the debate, we have a government here which is long on ambition but short on commitment. We have a government that is shirking the productivity challenge that Australia faces because its only answer is to resort to ideology—the ideology of a government withdrawing from economic activity and the ideology that says the answer to every problem is to depress wages, not to invest in people or in their ideas.

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