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ABC NewsRadio interview

8 December 2015

Subject: National Innovation and Science Agenda, science technology engineering and mathematics


Journalist: Karen Andrews, the Prime Minister is talking about an ideas boom. It’s seen as admirable, it’s widely supported, Labor says ‘it’s our idea as well’ but it’s hard to define exactly what is going to be done, where that billion dollars is going to go and what it will achieve. Is it possible to narrow it down a bit, beyond the terms like ‘Ideas Boom’?

Karen Andrews:  Well I think there are certainly some very key issues that are addressed in this National Innovation and Science Agenda, and if I can speak particularly about science to start with and start right at the beginning of the process.

One of the things that is being addressed is STEM and additional funding being put towards encouraging more people to take up studies in science, technology, engineering and maths and we’re looking at providing support from kindergarten through the school years and then of course later onto university.

Journalist: But can I interrupt you there because that’s been the national chorus for years and years, we need more students taking up those STEM subjects.

Karen Andrews: What we’re doing is focusing on the early years and relying in part on the work that’s been done overseas which has started to demonstrate that we need to be focusing on two key areas. One is the kindergarten so that we’re encouraging children from their very early years and secondly a very critical age group is for those who are in years 5 to 7 because we know if they’re not engaged at that point then we either won’t get them back in to STEM or they won’t continue.

So what we are doing with this package is targeting those two key areas in particular and of course supporting more women to take up careers in STEM.

Journalist: But they’re ambitious goals and you’re putting aside, I think, only $13 million for that task?

Karen Andrews:  No, there’s more money that’s going into STEM than that. I mean there’s certainly the money to focus on women and the early years but there is additional funding going in, it will be close to $100 million.

Journalist: But in the past as I say this is such a familiar theme and seemingly it hasn’t worked because the Australian numbers are not impressive in terms of STEM enrolments. Will that change now?

Karen Andrews: It makes it all the more important that we focus on this issue now and that’s why there’s additional money going into STEM. It is  a long term process if we start with children who are in years 5 to 7 now it’s 10 years plus before we will reap the rewards but if don’t do anything, if we continue to just talk about STEM and pay lip service to it we will go nowhere near solving the problem.

Journalist: Is there a problem particularly in funding science that it’s so fluky, it depends on which government's in but beyond that it depends on who’s running the government because last year Tony Abbott took $110 million away from CSIRO and yesterday the Prime Minister handed $100 million back to CSIRO, it’s hard to know where you are.

Karen Andrews:  Well there was certainly an efficiency dividend that was applied to CSIRO and quite frankly many businesses would be very comfortable if they only thing that they had to deal with was a relatively small efficiency dividend to become more effective and more efficient in their businesses.

Journalist: But isn’t an efficiency dividend just a cut in the budget?

Karen Andrews: It’s certainly a reduction in the funding and I’m not going to walk away from that at all. What we required of CSIRO is to look at ways they could become more efficient and we adjusted the funding accordingly; it’s as simple as that. Now CSIRO to its very great credit has taken that onboard they have a new CEO in there, Larry Marshall, who is doing great work with the commercialisation of research, doing great work with collaboration between CSIRO researchers and industry and that’s where we’re going to reap the rewards into the future.

Journalist: Can I leave science there and go to politics because there is a news poll out today which shows that the Government is sailing along comfortably two party preferred ahead of labor but the Prime Minister's numbers have taken a bit of a hit and if you look back over the last two weeks the trouble for the Prime Minister has come principally from your state of Queensland with Ian Macfarlane and Mal Brough in the political spotlight and in the news. Do you think Queensland is harming the Prime Minister?

Karen Andrews:  There are certainly a couple of issues that are bubbling on in Queensland and I’m not going to walk away from that either. But I think that given time they will sort themselves out and the important thing is not to be hasty. Both of the issues that are related to Mal Brough and Ian Macfarlane will take time to resolve. When I’m in Queensland I can assure you that people aren’t coming to me and talking about Mal or Ian they’re actually talking to me about issues that affect them.

Journalist: I’ll leave it there. Karen Andrews, thank you very much.