Federal Parliament - Budget

24 May 2021

Dr ALYI appreciate the member for Fairfax's intent in bringing this motion, I really do. But I do believe the member needs to acknowledge that it his government that has presided over successive cuts to the CSIRO that have—and that continue to—impact on its capacity to foster innovation and research. Under former Prime Minister Abbott, this Liberal-National government cut $111 million from CSIRO in 2014, leading to the loss of 11 per cent of its research staff and an overall loss of 12 per cent of its total workforce. In the five years or so since then, the CSIRO now has 215 fewer research staff than when this LNP government first took office. The 2015 staffing cap on the Public Service has left the CSIRO, the institution responsible for the invention of technologies like washing liquid, Aerogard and wi-fi, unable to keep up with the demands of its own scientific capacity.

The member also needs to acknowledge that most research and commercialisation happens at universities, and this government has brought universities to their knees, with funding cuts of around 10 per cent in last week's budget alone. The Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, Professor Brian Schmidt, said universities had been 'left to bleed' in one of history's biggest spending budgets for other parts of society. He said:

There is nothing of note for our universities, except for $1.1m to support industry PhDs and additional flexibility for student visa holders when it comes to working hours. This is not only a real shame but a missed opportunity; universities are vital to our future prosperity.

I want to illustrate the real impact of this government's decimation of research capacity in Australia with a WA example—ClearVue technologies. ClearVue originally developed their technology with Edith Cowan University, my alma mater. They developed a prototype of clear glass solar panels that can be applied across a range of sectors—in building, agriculture and renewable energy. They are now trialling it with another university in Western Australia, Murdoch University, and last month launched the world's first clear solar greenhouse, located at the university and constructed with their patented, innovative, energy efficient and energy generating photovoltaic glazing panels. It's a mouthful! The greenhouse will be used to conduct agricultural research aimed at addressing the current drive for renewable energy and global food security. The Treasurer said in his budget speech last week that this government wants to see more innovation commercialised in Australia. To me, those words are empty. They are completely empty when their new patent box announcement excludes the clean energy sector and innovations like those of ClearVue. You cannot say you support research and innovation and exclude an entire sector in which Australia has the potential to lead the world.

Our country lags well behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to investing in research and development. As a result, Australia ranks 22nd in the world on the Global Innovation Index, and we're going backwards. It's a real shame and a real kick in the teeth to all of those smart, inventive researchers in Australia who are having to look elsewhere for ways to commercialise their innovations.

This government likes to talk about innovation. It likes to use words like commercialisation, but they've failed over eight long years to ensure adequate funding for fundamental research that is essential for applied research and commercialisation. It is simply the case that this government's talk about research and commercialisation is just that—talk. Empty words, announcements and media opportunities are all shadowed by a long history, an eight year history, of successive cuts to the institutions that generate research and commercialisation. While I respect the members putting forward this motion, they really need to understand exactly what they are doing to decimate research and commercialisation in Australia.