ABC NEWS RADIO
FRIDAY, 13 JANUARY 2017
SUBJECTS: Education Investment Fund.
SANDY ALOISI: A political brawl is unfolding about whether to pay National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) using a $3.4 billion university infrastructure fund. The Government last year announced that it would be transferring money from the Education Investment Fund (EIF) to mostly cover a $3.7 billion hole in funding for the NDIS. Now it’s been revealed legislation will be needed to transfer the funding, but it will have to pass a hostile Senate. The Shadow Science and Research Minister is Kim Carr and he joins us now. Mr Carr good morning to you.
SENATOR KIM CARR: Good morning.
ALOISI: Will the Opposition support the move?
CARR: Well last time the Government tried to do this we said no, because it’s so important for us as a country to be able to fund the strategic new infrastructure that allows us to have the new technologies, to make the new discoveries and new jobs of the future.
Science and research is critical to the prosperity of our nation and we’ve said all along that these dedicated monies should be spent for the purposes which the Parliament established these funds.
ALOISI: Well the funds at this point are uncommitted, so essentially one could say that they are not needed. What good are they doing just sitting there?
CARR: Well the Government have frozen the funds for three years and tried to use this money to privatise roads, the parliament said no. What the government has then done is establish a series of reviews into the future of research infrastructure in Australia and all of the reviews have come to the same conclusion that there is a legitimate, real and urgent need for the public to be able to invest in the future infrastructure of the nation. Which includes our science and research infrastructure.
ALOISI: So what have the universities had to say, are they speaking to you?
CARR: Well they are, I have written to all the Vice-Chancellors. I am speaking to a very significant cross-section of Vice-Chancellors who have highlighted that this is a position that they do not support. The legal position that the government has tried to advance is clearly flawed and last night the Minister for Finance has conceded what the Labor party has been arguing all along. That is that you cannot raid these trust accounts to spend on any purpose that the government determines it must be money spent on purposes for which the parliament has appropriated this money. So the universities and our science agencies understand how important it is public investment in the future infrastructure needs of the nation and they are opposed to these measures.
ALOISI: Well the government seems fairly steadfast that it wants to transfer that money to cover the hole in the funding for the NDIS but it does need to pass the Senate. Have you been in any talks with the cross bench about this?
CARR: Well, last time round that this happed we were able secure the support of the cross bench, but the government is not quite saying that. You should be aware that the position that the government advanced just before Christmas was that this money should be used not just for the purposes you have eluded but also – and I quote: “to reduce the Commonwealth’s debt and future borrowing requirements”. So the government is doing a pea and thimble routine here. It has made an assertion that it doesn’t need legal support of a parliament, it doesn’t need a legislative instrument and it has gone on to say that it has got this other purpose which is a false dichotomy, given that they are putting $50 billion aside for tax cuts to the wealthiest companies in this country. And then they say that we are really using this to pay down debt and for budget purposes.
This is a fund that was established in 2009 for the purposes of ensuring that we had modern, strategically vital research infrastructure for this country and government has an obligation to ensure that we are able to protect the future of the nation by investing in our science and research infrastructure.
ALOISI: So whilst I take your point for anyone listening to you Kim Carr, if they say that there is some money sitting there and not being used, why would a member of the public assume that it would not be a good idea to help a funding hole for the NDIS?
CARR: Because if you want to have future medical discoveries, you want to have new discoveries which lead to new technologies which lead to new jobs you know how important it is to invest in our research and development capacity. Even the Government’s own National Commission of Audit found that quality research infrastructure was critical to Australia’s future and therefore the government is negligent to suggest that we can ignore this whole area and assume that nation building infrastructure only goes to roads, bridges or things of that type. It actually involves future investment in the new discoveries, new technologies which I say lead to new jobs.