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ABC RN Drive with Patricia Karvelas

9 December 2015

Subject: National Innovation and Science Agenda, Islam

E&OE

Journalist: Now the Government’s Innovation Agenda has sparked many a headline about startups and tax breaks. But there are also big changes and serious money promised for science and research.

There’s still a lot of detail to be worked out though. Karen Andrews is the Assistant Minister for Science, she’s been travelling with the Prime Minister today in Perth and she joins us now. Thanks for coming on the program.

Karen Andrews:  Hello Patricia how are you?

Journalist: Good. You held about ten weeks of consultations for the Innovation Agenda. Was that enough for such a sweeping set of reforms and really for an injection of funding we haven’t seen from the Government for a long time?

Karen Andrews: Well what I’d say to that Patricia is certainly the serious work of pulling together all of the consultation did take place in that ten week period of time and additional consultation did take place with key stakeholders during that ten week period. But with for example the changes with Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths, so STEM, that consultation has actually been taking place all of this year.

The Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, released a paper on STEM and both he and I travelled the country talking to people about STEM and what their responses to his paper should be and what the Government’s response should be.

Journalist: The Government will put $200 million back into the CSIRO after you previously cut $140 million from it. On one count the organization was set to lose I think 1400 jobs, can you clarify the net change in funding and jobs for the organization with this new agenda?

Karen Andrews:  Well it’s fair to say that there was an efficiency dividend so there was a reduction in funding to the CSIRO but prior to any announcement with the National Innovation and Science Agenda there had already been a commitment through the forward estimates to record funding for the CSIRO which was $3.1 billion over the forward estimates so that was a significant increase that they have achieved.

Now there would be many businesses, and you spoke previously about small business in particular, many of those businesses would quite frankly be delighted if they only had to deal with a reduction in their income of a couple of percent.

So yes the Government did require CSIRO and other agencies to look at efficiencies going forward. The CSIRO has taken that on, there is a new CEO there Larry Marshall who is doing fantastic work with collaborating with industry, looking at commercialization of the research that’s being done with CSIRO and that’s where the opportunities are for CSIRO quite frankly to come into its own into the future.

Journalist: Ok so what will the job implication be at a net level, do you have that number?

Karen Andrews:  Look I don’t, the figures that are being talked about in terms of the funding proposals under the National Innovation and Science Agenda are $200 million in the CSIRO innovation fund.

Now that will be used by the CSIRO to look at spin offs and start ups from research that CSIRO has done and other research agencies. Now of course we would be hoping that there will be significant job opportunities that will come out of that. That is impossible to quantify at this point in time because we don’t know what the success of those spin offs and start ups are going to be.

Journalist: That’s a bit unusual isn’t it for the Government to go into a new policy where you have no idea what the consequence might be?

Karen Andrews: Look, that’s an interesting way to ..

Journalist: It is, because usually you are able to predict it really much more pointedly the consequence but with this package we keep hearing well we’re not quite sure how it will pan out

Karen Andrews:  I think that’s definitely part of the agile and nimble economy that Prime Minister Turnbull is trying to generate into the future and I think he’s made a big step forward with the Innovation and Science agenda that’s just been announced. And yes in the past there has been a tendency to quantify absolutely everything that’s possible and of course leave ourselves open to attack when those figures aren’t met every single time.

What we’re saying is that for example with the CSIRO innovation fund that we are injecting $200 million into that fund, that money is what will be available to CSIRO to work with spin offs and start ups and to generate further income that they will put back into CSIRO and potentially other research agencies. Now what will be the net benefits of that? I guess we don’t know but we would be hoping to maximize the opportunities for jobs growth out of it.

Journalist: On RN Drive my guest is Karen Andrews, she’s the Assistant Minister for Science and she’s spent the day in Perth with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull really selling this new Innovation Agenda.

You’re changing the criteria for university research funding, many researchers might welcome the end of the so called publish or perish kind of culture but it is at least objective and relatively easy to measure. You’ll consult before announcing a new approach but what should researchers expect from the changes?

Karen Andrews:  Certainly the new metric, and we will be going through further consultation on that, but certainly the new metric will be looking at what will the impact of that research has been. So effectively the impact on society and future research commercialization opportunities of the work that’s already been done.

Now there’s widespread support across the universities already that the current metric where it really is publications and citations does not reward at all those researchers who are more at the applied end than the basic end of research. It doesn’t do anything to encourage researchers to go out and commercialize their work and that is a really big missed opportunity for us here in Australia.

So the new metric is going to have to take into account what the impact of the research really is so researchers will be under an obligation to commercialize their research.

Journalist: Why do we need to spend $13million to encourage girls or women to work in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics?

Karen Andrews:  Because, you probably already know Patricia but I’m a Mechanical Engineer, it was something that when I actually went into engineering I was actually the first graduate from Queensland University of Technology in Mechanical Engineering along with one other girl. Now that was a number of years ago but sadly very little has changed.

Journalist: In fact it’s slipped in some areas hasn’t it?

Karen Andrews:  Yes, absolutely. So what we’ve got to do is make sure we increase the number of girls taking up science and math at school and then going onto university or to go into vocational education and training to study those STEM subjects even further and go into STEM careers. Now why are we doing that?  Because women are underrepresented and we know that certainly when we look at the jobs of the future 75% of them will require STEM skills. We need to maximize the pool of talent that we have here and to do that we have to make sure that we increase female representation so hence there is money specifically in this agenda to attract and retain women into the STEM careers.

Journalist: If I could just take you to another topic before I let you go. I’ve seen you standing next to Tony – look it’s not my fault Tony Abbott has been in the headlines all day, Malcolm Turnbull in the press conferences out of Perth today and I watched them all and this question has come up really more than STEM and science and innovation unfortunately, I’m sure you probably see it that way.

Do you think Australia is in denial about the massive problem within Islam as Tony Abbott wrote in an Op Ed piece today?

Karen Andrews:  I don’t think we’re in denial at all because I think that most Australians certainly understand that there is an extremist, and a violent extremist, group there as well and we are appalled by that as are many other the majority in fact of the Muslims in our communities as well. So I don’t think we’re in denial I think we understand there is an issue.

Journalist: So do you think that it’s wrong to call for, a politician particularly an ex-prime minister I suppose, to call for the reformation of Islam?

Karen Andrews:  Well Tony Abbott is entitled to his views and you would have heard the Prime Minister saying exactly that at the couple of doorstops that he’s had already today in Perth and I agree, he is absolutely entitled to his point of view.

Journalist: He might be entitled to them, everyone’s entitled in a free society to their own views, but Karen Andrews do you agree with his views?

Karen Andrews:  I am very very focused on making sure that we don’t play into the hands of the violent extremists so we cannot do anything to allow them to achieve what they are trying to achieve and we can’t give them what they want so I’m not going to do anything to keep the conversation going about a topic that I don’t think quite frankly that we should be discussing. It is up to Tony Abbott to say what he wants to do, the Prime Minister has done I think an excellent job of addressing those questions and I really think that that’s where the discussion should end.

Journalist: So why do you think that we shouldn’t be discussing it?

Karen Andrews:  I don’t think we should continue to discussing it, I don’t think it should be today’s headlines. I think there are many other important things in this country that we should be discussing today and of course science is one of them.

Journalist: You are very good at talking about science. Karen Andrews thanks for joining us for the first time on RN Drive, I’d love it if you could come back.

Karen Andrews:  I’d love to come back, take care.

ENDS