UNIVERSITY OF NEW SOUTH WALES
THURSDAY, 30 APRIL 2015
SUBJECT/S: Abbott Governments cuts to science and research; Justice Minister’s Ministerial Directive; AAA credit rating at risk from the Abbott Government’s unfair budget; Marriage equality.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It's truly uplifting to be here at the Vision Centre, seeing the great work that this organisation's done over many years to help people, both in Australia and throughout the world. In 50 countries, millions of people being helped, tens of thousands of people being trained to make sure that people have better sight and that we apply science and technology to delivering great outcomes for people. I'm here today visiting the centre with local member Matt Thistlethwaite, my Parliamentary Secretary and also senior Shadow Spokesperson on Higher Education and Research, Senator Kim Carr.
It is clear within minutes of arriving here and seeing the remarkable and special work that's being done, that we see the future of Australian health care, the future of Australian research and indeed the future jobs of Australia being invented literally in front of our eyes. Australia needs to go down the path of high skilled jobs, providing needed services to the rest of the world. The number of PhD students here, the number of researchers, optometrists, creates this real centre of learning not just in Australia but throughout the world.
When people talk about what is the future, what does Australia look like in 2025 and 2050, the great work being done by this research centre does point into future. It shows us the path, high skills, solid investment in research, Australian ingenuity, combining to answer questions about health care both in Australia and throughout the world. That's why the Abbott Government's last Budget and its ruthless cuts to aid, to research funding, to education, take Australia exactly in the wrong direction.
This CRC, this vision centre, is an Australian champion success story both in terms of the people it helps, the fairness it gives to our health system but also to our much-needed jobs and dollars for the Australian economy. This Budget of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey's needs to do much more to support research and education in Australia. What we see is that this organisation's had to cut jobs in Australia and around the world, we see forgone opportunities, we see the research future not being as bright.
The Labor Party that I lead sees that this centre is exactly the battleground for the future of Australia. Labor supports greater funding for research, we support making science a national priority. We support making sure that our universities are attracting students who get there on the basis of hard work and good marks not on whether or not they can afford to go to university.
So Labor says to Tony Abbott no more cuts to research here, don't slash the future of Australian jobs and high skilled manufacturing in this country. We will fight further cuts to research and higher education of the Abbott Government and I might just ask my colleague Senator Carr to talk further about what’s at stake and the remarkable work that we've all seen today. Kim.
SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HIGHER EDUCATION, RESEARCH, INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY: Thank you, Bill. The CRC Program has been running in this country since 1990. About 209 CRCs have been funded in that time. It's been incredibly successful in building the links between industry and our universities. Yet this Government has cut the CRC program by $80 million. Not just that, they've taken away the principle of public benefit research from the CRC program and they've also cut the aid budget.
Now those three things coming together mean that a CRC like this one is put in a no-win position. They provide an incredible service here not just to Australians, not just to the possibility of every child in this nation, but to many, many millions of children around the world. That’s what we mean by public benefit research, being able to provide a service so that people are able to get ahead and not be limited by the fact that they're vision impaired and this is a Government that has failed that fundamental test of good economic sense and humanitarianism.
Now in the past when these types of situations have arisen, where a CRC has sought money and not been able to get through the CRC selection processes, Governments have made it their business to ensure that there are alternative funding sources available. Now that's what happened with the Reef CRC in Queensland, given the importance of the Great Barrier Reef to this country. That's what happened with the bushfire CRC given the importance of understanding research for bushfires in this country and that's what should happen here with the vision CRC.
I'm calling on the Prime Minister in this Budget to actually do something rather than just talk about problems. This Government has a responsibility, has yet to respond to its own review into the CRCs which we all understand has demonstrated the great strength of what is a fundamental part of the Australian innovation system. It's up to the Government to act and not dither.
The current Minister for industry has had proposals on his desk since November last year for funding for the manufacturing CRC. We've seen it in resources, a similar sort of problem. This is a Government that dithers, cannot act and this Budget is an opportunity for them to actually take some positive steps to ensure that Australia has a future in these high-tech, high-skilled industries like the vision CRC provides us.
SHORTEN: Thanks Kim. Are there any questions?
JOURNALIST: So this institute does work throughout the world. How do you see it putting that at risk, not just in Australia?
SHORTEN: The Abbott Government has made election promise breaking cuts to the foreign aid Budget. This CRC is providing programs and assistance throughout many parts of the world. For instance, in Vietnam, programs to help expand better eye care have now been put on hold because of this Government's reversing its promises in making cuts. The challenge of good eyesight and maintaining good eyesight is a challenge in the rest of the world and it’s a challenge in Australia.
If the Abbott Government continues with its programs of cuts to this institution and to science and research funding generally in Australia, we're going to see worse health outcomes for young Australians and indeed for people throughout the world. When Australia's really good at something and eye research and the work being done here, we're amongst the best in the world, why on earth does Tony Abbott want to run an anti-science agenda of cuts which will hurt people in Australia and everywhere else.
JOURNALIST: How would Labor pay for the restored funding to CSIRO and this institute?
SHORTEN: Well, since I've become leader of the Labor Party, I've made it clear that I regard science and research is a key policy priority for Labor. We know that the path to the future for jobs depends in large part upon proper funding of science, research and innovation. We will have a lot more to say about science funding and our initiatives before the next election but in this Budget, what we do say to Tony Abbott is don't break any more promises, don't make swinging cuts to education and science as you've done, because all you're doing is jeopardising the future of Australia.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, an idea for an inquiry into the AFP in relation to the Bali Nine has been put forward. Would you support that?
SHORTEN: Well I think a lot of Australians are legitimately or were legitimately concerned after 2005 as to whether or not actions caused the arrest of these men and put them on the path towards where they've ended up in terms of execution. Labor put in place new guidelines which meant that the police, who've got a job to do to discourage drug offences, aren't caught in the middle, making decisions which might go to life or death or indeed relations between countries.
Labor put in place guidelines and we believe that at least would provide certainty that what we've seen couldn't happen again. Now we've found out that in the last 24 hours that the current Government has reversed some of the protocols that were put into place to try and prevent the tragedy which we saw happen in the early hours of yesterday morning. I think the Government does need to reconsider its position. Labor certainly doesn't want to see this issue of recriminations be politicised.
What we do want to make sure is that what happened in the early hours of yesterday morning can't happen again. We're willing to work with the Government but we do think that the Government need to make sure that they're not putting police in the middle of all these issues and that the Government needs to explain its actions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the AFP operates under the 2009 guidelines which Labor itself put into place and the Ministerial directive actually makes no difference?
SHORTEN: Well I don't agree entirely with that analysis. You're quite right in your question that Labor put in place measures to try and prevent what we saw yesterday but there is a role for the Minister to make decisions. There is a role for the Minister to do their day job and take responsibility.
I think it's difficult for our police, they've got a job to do to make sure that drug offences don't occur but I also think that at some point the Minister needs to be involved in making decisions and protocols because some of these issues and decisions need that level of oversight.
JOURNALIST: But if you go with that logic then a Minister can override the 2009 guidelines that you've put into place?
SHORTEN: Well, the Minister has a role in it. This argument that the Government of the day has nothing to do here and it's not involved with these decisions when they're of key level of sensitivity, I think absolves the Minister of any responsibility and as I say, and as we said yesterday, what happened yesterday morning was a tragedy. Labor completely opposes and condemns the decision that was made in Indonesia. There were protocols put in place. I want to make sure, and I think Australians want to be reassured that there's a sufficient level of oversight when these incredibly crucial decisions of cooperation between jurisdictions are being made.
JOURNALIST: Should Tanya Plibersek have publicly raised the issue of same-sex marriage while you were out of the country?
SHORTEN: Tanya and I are both very committed to marriage equality. I voted for it when it last came to the Parliament and I've spoken about the issue of marriage equality. I believe that we've waited too long to see marriage equality in this country. Now I certainly have a view, though, that the best way to win the argument on marriage equality is to convince people not force them. But Tanya's got a very long track record of speaking on this issue so I'm entirely satisfied that this is an important issue and that the Labor Party is committed to achieving marriage equality.
JOURNALIST: Do you think she said it while you were away, though, to boost her own popularity as a leader, potential leader?
SHORTEN: Not at all. Tanya's spoken about this issue previously and so therefore I don't think that anything she’s said is any different to what she's said before and as for my position, I’ve been a forthright and strong supporter of marriage equality. I think we've waited too long in this country for marriage equality. I do believe that the best way to achieve it, though, is not to force people to agree with it but to convince people and that's my proposition.
JOURNALIST: So you would prefer a conscience vote rather than binding vote?
JOURNALIST: And Senator Carr, what is your preference, what would you like to see happen?
CARR: These are matters that will be discussed at the National Conference. Bill's position I think has been articulated and carried by the last National Conference and I’d be very surprised if the position that he's taken at this conference will be any different.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, why do you support a conscience vote then?
SHORTEN: Well I support marriage equality, let's put the priority of matters. I cannot see an argument which would say that people in a loving relationship shouldn't get married if that’s what they want to do –
JOURNALIST: But this argument’s about a conscience vote -
SHORTEN: I appreciate that and I don't mean to take longer than 10 seconds to answer a proposition but these are important issues, as your questions and interest in the matter have indicated. So I do support marriage equality. I don't think there is an argument which can seriously say that it's the wrong thing but what I also recognise is that other people have different views. I think the challenge - and I think Australian politics can benefit from this - is to convince people not to force people. So, yes, I am a supporter, a strong supporter of marriage equality but, yes, I also believe we need to convince people not force them to vote for it and I think the challenge is in the Government's court. What are they going to do, compel people to vote against marriage equality when they believe in it? And I think that's the challenge here.
One other point which I just want to go to is that we've seen in the lead up to the Budget very worrying comments from a range of important financial analysts about the state of the Australian economy and also our AAA credit rating. I think many Australians recognise that in the last Budget Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott just called the economy wrong. They've cut pensions, they're interfering with the ability of working-class kids to go to university. They proposed a GP Tax on sick people because that's the only way they think they can fund medical research. They really fundamentally damaged business confidence in Australia and all the indicators show from around the time of the last Budget business confidence has flat-lined. Unemployment's up since Tony Abbott got elected and the Australian Dollar is going down to a point where it's nearly at parity with the New Zealand dollar.
There are plenty of challenges in the Australian economy and now the latest bad news for Australians is that our AAA credit rating is under threat because of the actions of the Abbott Government and their inability to convince Australians and have a proper program for economic reform in this country. So I do think that it takes a special kind of incompetence in Australia by the Abbott-Hockey Government to wreck confidence, to challenge and cut families, and at the same time put in danger our AAA credit rating. The Abbott-Hockey Government have got to do much better than they’ve done for Australians so far.
JOURNALIST: What would losing the AAA credit rating mean for Australia?
SHORTEN: Well I think it would be a complete international downgrade of confidence in the performance of the Australian Government. There are millions of Australians going to work every day working hard, there’s hundreds of thousands of mums dropping their kids off at childcare this morning. You’ve got great researchers here doing world champion work to help both Australians and people overseas retain better sight.
They all deserve to be led by a Government who understands what’s going on and can navigate a path to the future. The Abbott Government’s attack on science, their cuts to education, their attack on pensioners, the GP Tax, nearly everything they’ve done is taking Australia in a direction we don’t want to go and so the AAA credit rating I think, if that was to go would be the last nail in the coffin of this Government’s economic performance.
JOURNALIST: Surely you would agree that the iron ore price is out of the Government’s control?
SHORTEN: Undoubtedly commodity prices have fallen. But what I also have to say is there are things which are in control of this Government. They don’t have to break their promises, they don’t have to have slashing cuts, they certainly don’t have to be killing business confidence. It is within their control to not cut the pension, it is within the control of the Government not to cut funding to this CRC. It’s within the control of this Government not to cut family payments. It’s within their control to make sure that families are not worse off as a result of proposed changes by the government into childcare.
This is a government who got the economy wrong last year with their extreme ideology and broken promises. Australians are now paying the price and they need to do much better than they’ve done so far and Australians expect far more of Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey than we’ve seen for the last 600 days.