RADIO INTERVIEW WITH LEON COMPTON
WEDNESDAY, 13 JULY 2017
SUBJECTS: POLITICAL ATTACKS ON SCIENCE, THE FAILURES OF NEOLIBERALISM, WHY AUSTRALIA NEEDS A SPACE AGENCY.
LEON COMPTON: Kim Carr is the Shadow Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and he is in Launceston today to talk to business and unions about energy supply and prices, among other things. Kim Carr, good morning to you.
SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH: And good morning to you.
COMPTON: Kim Carr, let’s start with the science underpinning fluoridisation in water. You represent the scientific fields, the NHMRC is definitive about its health benefits. What does it say about our respect for science in Australia in 2017 that so many people in Queensland can be persuaded that fluoride should be removed from their water?
CARR: Well what we are noticing in a number of places around the industrialised world is that there is a growing group of agitators, who are often connected to right-wing groups, who are saying that there is a lack of confidence in public authority.
Now of course this turns back what has been a development over one hundred, two hundred years now in public health where the overwhelming view on scientific evidence is that governments have the responsibility to look at the general good for the community.
Just think about what has happened with our water supply and the changes that have occurred from having proper sewerage and drainage in our cities which just improved the level of public health more generally. Because it could only come about through collective actions by government. We have seen of course a dramatic improvement of public health as a result.
Now we have seen groups of people challenging the rights of public authorities to make decisions irrespective of the evidence because they are mistrustful and they are able to work within an environment – quite often now generated by some political organisation – who are suggesting for instance on climate change, on vaccinations, on a range of matters, that we should essentially distrust science, we should distrust people that argue the public good.
COMPTON: What should we do in response?
CARR: We have got to stand up. It’s a key responsibility of public officials and people like me is to provide leadership, provide confidence and defend the importance of science in our community in assisting governments make decisions on behalf of the collective good, the public good. The public has the right to expect that their politicians will make decisions on the basis of sound, empirical evidence.
But this notion that somehow or other each one of us can individually look after these things is all right if you’re wealthy enough. It is good enough I suppose if you have the capacity.
But for the overwhelming majority we don’t have that opportunity, and we know what happens in circumstances where you lose the public good element from decision making. It’s the poorest and most vulnerable that suffer and they are the ones least able to defend themselves.
COMPTON: And yet we have a situation in Federal Parliament at the moment where a number of elected members disbelieve the science on things like climate change.
We have had situation in Tasmania – I don’t know if you recall the super trawler debate a few years ago – where our peak fisheries management body said the science could support a certain volume of fish being harvested by a super trawler yet people turned on and attacked that organisation for its view as well. It’s not just the rich or the right who are doing this.
CARR: No. There are elements within the Green movement, for instance, who decided to smash up the CSIRO and their experimental work with agriculture that might have actually improved our crops and improveD our capacity to feed the world.
There are a range of people who attack nanoscience, who attack operations in a number of areas, so it is true that those who look back to some idealistic time, some sort of peasant based culture from the 18th century where we were somehow or other autonomous and able to sustain ourselves in a different way.
The reality of those times was very different. When you look at the historical evidence it is simply not the case that it was paradise. We actually need to look to progress based on our capacity to work together, to build a better life, a more prosperous life, in which our country is able to share the benefits of new technologies, and share prosperity and I mean genuinely share, and that means prosperity in terms of health and wellbeing.
COMPTON: It perhaps would lead me to ask questions about one of potentially being the corporatisation of that benefit, but that might have to be a subject for another time.
CARR: I accept that the nature of scientific evidence is that there is no sort of holy tablet handed down. These things are invariably able to be tested, but the principle should remain that we should be guided by empirical advice, evidence, rather than some quasi-religious notion about the capacity of people to look after themselves and be free from public intervention when it comes to basic issues of public health.
Remember, when it comes to the question of vaccination for instance there are rights that have to be respected for all people and my grandson has recently entered into a crèche in Melbourne and I want to know that he is going into that environment and not going to be subjected to dreadful diseases which could be prevented as a result of someone else not to inoculate their children.
Now we simply have responsibilities to one another to get the public good from these circumstances and governments in particular have a responsibility to protect the public good and to ensure that our people can enjoy the best quality of life that this country can sustain.
COMPTON: Kim Carr is our guest this morning. Happy to take calls. 1300222963 is the number if you have a question for Kim Carr. A question perhaps from a different angle Senator, your politics – there was a time I think it is fair to say when the part of the political spectrum that you represent, the leftist part of Labor if you like, was seen as being in decline in Australia and within your own party.
Yet now we find the rise of policies being espoused by Jeremey Corbyn and Bernie Sanders perhaps resetting the political compass. What are the lessons for your party from the rise of those players?
CARR: For me, the times suit. There is no question that there is a growing disenchantment with some of the fallacies of neoliberalism, and there’s no doubt that people are saying some of the things that were undertaken in terms of privatisation and deregulation in the 1990s and through to recent times have not served the public very well at all.
When we look at energy prices, increasingly people are saying the privatisation of basic public assets has not served them the people of this country very well because individuals now act in their self-interest, companies act in their self-interest, rather than the public good.
So there are now increasing numbers of people recognising that it’s important for our politics to respond to the pressures to ensure that the benefits of this nation are in fact spread more broadly …
COMPTON: Can we just talk about the how – about what that looks like in Tasmania in 2017 in terms of the public policy settings that you would espouse?
CARR: One of the reasons I think there’s a disenchantment with politics is that there’s a growing number of people who think that the economic and political system doesn’t work for them.
There are increasing numbers of folks who think the rules are stacked against them, so you find increasing numbers of blue-collar workers, for instance, who find that globalisation has not produced the results that were promised – free-trade agreements that were said to be some sort of panacea have not produced the results that were promised.
So they want to know whether not just themselves but their kids and grandkids are going to be able to enjoy quality lives, and they want to know whether or not the struggles they went through to produce the working conditions that we enjoy and are proud of are able to be passed on.
COMPTON: But what does that mean in a practical policy sense? Are you talking about returning to tariff barriers that protect …
CARR: No, no. We need to be very realistic about what can be achieved. What we do know is that the Government is there to work with people to produce, as I say, a quality of life. But when it comes to the price of energy, for instance, we know that the energy market simply is not working. It is not fit for purpose.
We know that people are now faced with price rises in their homes of 20 per cent. We know that for industry energy prices rises of more than 100 per cent are quite common. We know that if we want to maintain baseload energy supplies we are going to have to think differently if we want to keep the Bell Bay smelter and the other great industrial complexes across this nation.
I want to be able to see a nation that produces steel, that produces chemicals and plastics, that can sustain modern industrial life. We want to be able to ensure that we produce steel not just for our navy but for our infrastructure projects.
People are entitled to say that in a country with this incredible wealth why can’t there be full employment? Why can’t there there be high-skill, high-wage jobs for Australians?.
COMPTON: But how, Kim Carr?
CARR: The Government could do more to use its resources to ensure that the economy actually works for people.
So when it comes to Government procurement, when it comes to the provision of electricity or when it comes to the gas market, the Government can use the power vested in it on behalf of the Australian people to ensure there is a more prosperous but equal share of resources.
So that we can make sure that the country as a whole can benefit, rather than relying upon sending jobs offshore and allowing individual companies to benefit from their abuse of market power.
COMPTON: Even if that threatens the international agreements that we have signed?
CARR: It doesn’t have to. We’ve got to be more creative in the way we approach these questions. There’s this assumption that you can’t do anything but the United States can. The Americans can make changes to their procurement policies to exclude Australians but we’re not allowed to take any action. That just doesn’t make any sense at all.
We are a country that has in the past been regarded as the great social laboratory of the world. We were a country that led the world in so many ways. In our arts, in our sciences. I want to see all of that continue, but we know that to do that we’ve got to have economic prosperity.
Our economy’s got to work, but it’s got to work for the benefit of all Australian people, not for the benefit of just a few.
So when it comes to our international agreements, yes, there is plenty of scope for Australian governments and state governments to work together to ensure that we’re able to provide goods and services for Australian people at reasonable prices, that we’re able to provide work for our people, that we make the best use of the resources this country has to offer.
COMPTON: The Government today have announced that there will be an investigation of a space program for this country. Kim Carr, do we need a space program?
CARR: Of course we do. I set up a whole series of measures back in the 2009 budget and we managed to increase funding for science and research overall by well in excess of 50 per cent. The Liberal Government then cut these things back in 2014 …
COMPTON: But why do we need a space program?
CARR: There’s $500 billion of space work being done around the world at the moment. We want a share of that, and we want people to be able to recognise just how important space is.
Everyone knows that you get in your car and look at your GPS. But every aspect of the work we do, whether it be in agriculture, whether it be in weather systems, whether it be in ensuring that we’re able to participate in space technologies …
COMPTON: But other countries are developing all these technologies. Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to buy them?
CARR: That’s the same attitude we’ve got when it comes to our steel. People will say it’s cheaper but it’s actually not cheaper in the longer term. We’ve got to develop our own capabilities to work internationally.
We’ve got some of the best scientists in the world in astronomy. We are world leaders. Why shouldn’t we have the capacity to develop the industrial capabilities that flow from that? For instance, the SKA [Square Kilometre Array], the international telescope? Why shouldn’t we be able to have the jobs that flow from that?
Why do we have to rely on other people when it comes to building our satellites? Or launching them? Why do we have to be a mendicant state, when we have the ability and the innovative skills to attract the investment to ensure we’re able to take advantage of it?
Only two countries in the OECD don’t have a space agency. Last year even New Zealand established one. But in this country what are we going to have? Yet another committee. We’re getting a big mirror out and this Government’s going to look into it.
They’re not capable of making serious decisions anymore because they’re too busy fighting among themselves. All they do is throw up distractions to try to get us to look somewhere else because they can’t manage to govern the country.
COMPTON: Kim Carr, it’s been good to see you. Thanks for coming in.
CARR: Thank you.