Radio Interview, Radio National Drive with Jonathan Green


SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government’s Competitiveness Agenda, Shipbuilding Inquiry, Future Submarine Contract, ALP Senate preselections.

JONATHAN GREEN: Converting ideas into commercial profit: that is the aim of a $400 million competitiveness package announced today.

TONY ABBOTT VOICEOVER: We are determined to try to ensure that we get more commercial bang for our research dollar. That’s why we want to put science at the centre of industry policy

GREEN: Senator Kim Carr is Labor’s Shadow Industry Minister. Senator, welcome. 


GREEN: Ian Chubb [the Chief Scientist] has talked about today’s ideas as a bold set of proposals. Does that accord with your view?

CARR: If Professor Chubb was taken literally, you might have that view. But I think he would be somewhat disappointed. I agree entirely that we need to be bold, which is what he said – that we need to be bold. But he won’t find much that’s bold in this package.

I would have said many, many times throughout my time as Minister that we need to put science and research of our industrial transformation. That’s what the Government has repeated today. But the difference is that we had a 10-year innovation strategy, backed up by serious money.

This is a Government that’s taken $9 billion out of the higher education, research, innovation and industry programs, slashed money to the CSIRO, and slashed money to our industry programs,  got rid of Enterprise Connect, got rid of Commercialisation Australia, and produced a document that is a fraction of what we were actually doing.

For instance, their Industry Growth Centres are really a rehash of our Industry Innovation Partnerships. We had 12, they’ve proposed five. They’ve proposed $188 million, we had $500 million. You’ll find that pattern repeated throughout this document.

What we’ve found with this Government is that they’re finding it very difficult even to use the word “innovation”.  They announced this competiveness agenda after General Motors announced it would cease manufacturing, they put off its formulation for some time, and its announcement has been delayed several times. The Competitiveness Agenda in reality has very little real detail behind it.

GREEN: But $10 billion is pretty serious money –

CARR: What I’m saying to you is that they have cut the better part of  $7 billion out of the universities’ research programs and another $2 billion from the industry programs. So this is a Government that has essentially launched a crusade against what they call industry welfare, and have sought to denigrate the need to build innovation capacity.

In July, the Business Council of Australia’s report really savaged the Government’s approach. It really gave them a wake-up call. And what we’ve found is that the Government has tried to respond to that in this announcement. But I’m afraid it’s very limited by comparison to what they have leaked to media outlets in the past six weeks. It’s very limited in terms of any financial commitment to back up important understandings of why science and research should be treated so seriously in this country.

This statement could have been better, and the Government could have been taken more seriously, if they had actually had some more serious money behind it, and not sought to cut so dramatically our universities, our science agencies, and our innovation programs.

GREEN: They might have some serious money if you and your fellow Senators would pass their Budget.

CARR: No, that’s the whole point. What we are blocking is their cuts to programs. That’s exactly the issue that’s before the Senate. The issue of innovation, of building opportunities for Australians is serious business, and you can’t do it by taking away the economic opportunities – as we’re seeing with the Government’s attempt to offshore our submarine program, as we’re seeing with their quite vigorous attempt to remove Australia from the international automotive industry, and as we’re seeing with the Government’s attempt to take money out of our textile industry.

There’s not much commitment when it comes to applying science, which requires the Government to act as an enabler to actually develop Australia’s ability. You can’t have a serious innovation strategy if you don’t have enough physicists. You can’t do it if you don’t have the research infrastructure. And that really troubles me.

The PMSEIC announcement – the Science Council announcement – wouldn’t have come about if we hadn’t asked a question in the Senate about why the Prime Minister has not had a meeting of the Science Council in the first year of the Government. Why is it that the Government has no Science Minister, no science strategy, no industry strategy, no commitment to providing the capability that this country needs to secure high-skilled, high-wage jobs for the future.

GREEN: Kim Carr, the Senate inquiry into shipbuilding shifted to South Australia today. The evidence there was about the economic cost of buying submarines from overseas.

CARR: It’s the same situation that we’ve seen with the automotive industry. These are really decisions that governments make that cost this country dearly. Some people will tell you that it’s cheaper to buy from off the shelf, from overseas. Well, it doesn’t work because there is no overseas company that’s prepared to produce the vessel that we actually need, as distinct from what they build for themselves, which is an entirely different set of circumstances.

What the Economic Development Board in South Australia has shown is that there’s a $20 billion direct investment into the national economy if we build subs in Australia, but there’d be a $29 billion loss to the national economy if they’re build overseas. That’s a huge hit for the sort of high-skilled jobs that we need. It’s a big hit for our strategic interests because the sort of vessels that we need to serve our interests for the next 30 years require us to meet the strategic requirements of  a Australia, not the strategic requirements of a foreign country – in the case that’s been speculated, Japan.

GREEN: Just to end on a personal note, Kim Carr, your preselection for another Senate term: is that the sort of fast-tracking of factional powerbrokers that the ALP should try to reform, should try to stamp out?

CARR: I would have thought that my preselection demonstrated that the Labor Party wanted to ensure that we’re ready for an election, whenever that’s held, and that the clear confidence of the Victorian branch was there because we will need to be able to ensure that our best people are available to serve this country. And that’s why we think that we’ll be able to make that contribution.

GREEN: Why wouldn’t we test that confidence with a vote of the membership?

CARR: I personally am not the slightest bit fussed by that, and have argued it for some time. But the current rules in the Labor Party required the preselections to be undertaken in the way they were, and 98 per cent of the preselection committee took that view as well.

GREEN: Would you argue for a change in that process?

CARR: I have. In my book Why Labor I actually argued that very case. The point, though, is that you operate within the rules. That’s the way the party operates.

GREEN: You can see, though, that for yourself and for Stephen Conroy, for a party looking to reform, a party looking to remove old influence, that perhaps that’s not a good look if you two just walk through to another term.

CARR: It’s not just walk-through. You go through due process, but I might say to you that if the truth be known rank and file preselection in the terms that you’ve outlined would actually strengthen the hand of people that have public standing and have experience. It’s not something that I’m the slightest bit worried about.

GREEN: It might also throw up new faces but I guess, Kim Carr, that we’ll never know.

CARR: We will in due course. But the point is that we look to building support for the Labor Party because we think that Mr Abbott’s Government should be removed from office as soon as possible, because they’ve broken so many promises and they have undermined this country so badly in their first year in office. We expect that in an election – which could be held at any time, as you appreciate, given the way the Senate operates – they need to be held accountable for that.

GREEN: Kim Carr, thanks for your time.

CARR: Thank you.


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