Q&A at the Science Meets Parliament National Press Club address, ABC News

National Reconstruction Fund, National Quantum Strategy; National Robotics Strategy, Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence, Manufacturing.

DAVID CROWE: Thank you, Minister, for those remarks. There are so many aspects of science to ask you about. We’ll go to the questions from the journalists here on the floor in a moment, but one of the most pressing issues, I think at the moment is the AUKUS announcement from last week. Of course, when that was announced, that was described to the people of Australia as a major investment in new industry and new jobs and science is fundamental to it. I wonder about your thoughts on what the implications for Australian science and industry are out of that commitment to nuclear powered submarines, and particularly the level of Australian industry participation in that project when we know it sort of hinges on major partnerships with the US and the UK as well. 

ED HUSIC: I guess the absolute starting point on all this is that regardless of what colour Government is in, national security is always the threshold. It’s always the starting point focus of any Government because everything that we want to do in our lives is founded off a bedrock of a sense of security, so clearly we took that very seriously. 

We also took on board the fact that we needed to replenish defence capability and there were arrangements that had been made by previous administration which we supported and we wanted to honour in good faith and deliver on exceptionally well. And I think a lot of people too, David, recognise for people who are in our Defence Force, that commit themselves in the national interests to give us that ability to live our lives in the way I referenced a few moments ago, we are hugely grateful, all of us, for what they do in terms of our service. 

I also add in terms of honouring and service, there are a lot of Australian businesses that focus on being able to support defence as well. They obviously do it because they want success in terms of their businesses and all the jobs they support, but I also want us to have faith and also respect their contributions in the nation’s defence, and they’re doing great work. And their work is recognised the world over and there are other governments that actually use them to support their defence activity too. So, the investment that we make through AUKUS will also give us a huge opportunity – as much as we’re working closely with our strategic partners in the US and the UK, it also gives a huge opportunity here in terms of investment in advanced manufacturing capability, investment in job creation and skills. The commercial spill-overs of that will be significant as well. And what we want to do is make sure that that investment, as much of it as we can possibly ensure, stays onshore because it will obviously sustain longer-term growth and jobs opportunity as well. And so getting that right will be very important and we’re very focused on that as a Government on being able to maximise this not just in terms of meeting our threshold responsibilities when it comes to defence, but also opening up those opportunities to build greater capability and to tie in with the National Reconstruction Fund where defence is signalled as a priority area that we want to back as well. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you. The next question is from Jess Malcolm from The Australian. 

JESS MALCOLM: Thanks, Minister. Jess Malcolm from The Australian newspaper. AEMO has warned of a looming shortfall in the nation’s energy market within two years unless new supplies come online. I just want to ask you how you see the role of gas and whether you’ll commit to gas playing a vital role in the nation’s transition towards renewables. 

ED HUSIC: Currently, industrial users make up half of the gas demand in this country. They use it not just – and I think it’s a really important if I can take the opportunity just to reinforce this point -  it is not just as an energy source but as a feedstock, particularly for the chemical sector and plastics and others. While they’re waiting for alternatives to emerge, it will play an important role. 

Clearly, we want to find new ways to generate energy that have less of an environmental impact, reduce emissions and do so in a way that also gives us a chance to grow jobs. But there will be a number of things that have to happen in the meantime for that to occur. Again, the National Reconstruction Fund dedicates $3 billion towards having growth capital available for the manufacture of low- or zero-emissions technology for use here in this country to help us meet those targets and that was factored into our emission targets as well. So, we want to be able to back that, but there will be some that cannot necessarily flick a switch and move so we do see gas as important. You’ve heard the Prime Minister emphasise this very clearly from our perspective but where we can find new ways to meet the energy needs of industry, we’ll definitely do so. 

In relation to shortfall, just to make sure I thoroughly answer your question, obviously we take on board the views of the ACCC. They play a very important role in being able to pick some of that future movement. We had a Heads of Agreement last year where Australian gas suppliers said they would put forward 157 petajoules and offer that to the market to help meet that predicted shortfall, that prediction being made last year. There are other investments that can be made by industry notably in Narrabri. As much as it’s contentious, it’s gone through the science and the economic feasibility and in the context of the east coast market, provide a lot of gas for use here to meet our needs in the interim. So, there is certainly, we think, a supply there, but we will always be mindful of anything that changes. Again, we’ll follow the numbers and the stats as is emerges. 

DAVID CROWE: Next question is from Julie Hare. 

JULIE HARE: Julie Hare from the Australian Financial Review. Thank you, Minister. There was a story in the AFR this morning that said Australia could or should jump-start its nascent battery sector by piggy-banking on the United States Government $550 billion Inflation Reduction Act. The American Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has indicated as much, and so I’m just wondering whether you could confirm whether this is under consideration and how it would work; and, if not, how the Government plans to get the sector up and running when many senior people in the critical minerals sector say Australia is far too behind to compete with South Korea and China. 

ED HUSIC: Well, I can tell you a lot of countries are thinking of alternatives to the current arrangements, not the least of which our friends in the US. I met with the Biden administration in late January and talked about ways in which we could link together the work of the Inflation Reduction Act and the National Reconstruction Fund, and they’re very keen to see that work advance. Very keen to see how we lean into various parts of the battery value chain. It’s not just about mining and refining. The big challenge is obviously in processing and seeing what we can do there. Once that material is processed, embedding it into manufacture. That is the next step. Thinking of systems and integrations with the software because it’s not just you create the battery. There’s a lot of software to make those things work incredibly efficiently and there’s also thought to be given around recycle and reuse. There’s a lot of stuff that we can work on and there’s a lot of thinking being done on that. 

So providing the capital platform through the NRF, plus what I referenced in my remarks to you all around the development of National Battery Strategy and the consultations have kickstarted on that.

The investments we want to make in the creation of battery precincts and the standing up of a Powering Australia Industry Growth Centre to mentor other businesses means that we are looking at that. 

And the other point just in reference to your question around the Inflation Reduction Act, our friends in the US know they can’t do it all. They want to work with people on this and hence the discussions that we had. And as you may be aware, there’s this concept that they often refer to as friend-shoring, which is working with trusted partners on different elements of the value chain and seeing who can contribute. And in Australia’s case, because we have a trade agreement with the US, it gives us entree straightaway to be able to contribute. 

But energy storage systems are really important for us right now. If we have these minerals, we need to convert them into energy storage systems given we are proud of the fact that we have the highest level of rooftop solar penetration in the world. But the storage we lag in. So, residential, commercial, industrial, being able to see that happen -  really important. We’ve got some great companies here. I notice Recharge are here and they’re represented today. There are others that are focused on this issue and Energy Renaissance who I met with up in Tomago and Gelion are another one and there are other players as well, and please forgive me for not mentioning them all. But they are growing. 

So, for those naysayers, if I may respond to your point, who say we can’t get it done - if I can be very direct with you all, uncharacteristically: we don’t need the loser talk. What we need is what I said earlier. Faith in our know-how. There are companies that are doing this right now who believe we have the potential to do it. We want to work with them. It’s not just that the Government goes in and does it all. Industry and us and also people in the science and research community – the collaboration will be really important. Our neighbours in Indonesia are thinking about this and want to work together. I’ve spoken with them too. There’s a huge opportunity. And the other great opportunity is to leave that loser talk that condemned us to the last in manufacturing self sufficiency and be able to do much better. Ambition will be a very powerful force multiplier for us, I may say. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you and the next question is – 

ED HUSIC: Thanks for getting me worked up, too! 

DAVID CROWE: Next question from Anna Henderson. 

ANNA HENDERSON: You’ve spoken about the positives of the AUKUS deal in the science sector. The Labor Party platform says that Labor will act with urgency and determination to rid the world of nuclear weapons. So, do you agree that Australia needs to sign and ratify that treaty on urgency and will that include in Labor’s action on this stopping US submarines and B52 Bombers rotating through Australia from being nuclear-armed? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think we’ve been quite clear these are nuclear-powered subs. They have a very important capability role to play. We’ve also and the US knows of our treaty commitments and our firm positions on those –

ANNA HENDERSON: I think though, just to point out what I’m talking about is the US-owned subs and Bombers that are rotating through Australia and have capability to be nuclear-armed –

ED HUSIC: I heard you.

ANNA HENDERSON: Thank you. I thought you weren’t getting to the point. 

ED HUSIC: I was responding. There are treaty obligations that cover this. I might also certainly invite you to raise this with the Defence Minister and the Foreign Minister as well. But we’ve said all along we see in terms of the role of the subs and what’s powering them and our treaty obligations, we will not only honour those as a Government, but we expect that to be observed as well by our partners. 

DAVID CROWE: AUKUS is such a major issue at the moment. You’re the first Cabinet Minister to speak to us at the club since Paul Keating’s address last week which, of course, raised some huge questions about AUKUS. Since then we’ve had former Cabinet Minister Kim Carr, former New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, former Environment Minister Peter Garrett all question AUKUS. So, there is now this live debate about whether at the big-picture level it’s actually a worthwhile initiative. What do you say to members of the Labor Party and members of the community who may have questions about AUKUS, sovereignty and the sheer scale of the commitment that’s been made? 

ED HUSIC: So, we had this issue that we needed to confront, which is that we had an ageing fleet that needed to be replaced. An assessment was made about what we actually required that would meet the longer-term interests of the nation and respond to defence capability needs. There were some gaps as well that had to be attended to. So you’ve got a Government that’s thinking that through carefully and as I said, earlier, considering that the threshold issue for any Government is the security of the nation, so attending to that responsibly very critical for us. We think we’ve done it. We’ve all seen some of the reaction of people. 

I have enormous regard for what Paul Keating has done. He’s dedicated the bulk of his time, particularly as a Prime Minister, to thinking about security from within our region, from Asia and building agreements and understandings with our neighbours either economic or defence. It was a pretty big deal the one that he made, the security arrangements with Indonesia that people didn’t think would be able to occur. But I think that agreement had a fundamental role in reshaping the thinking of Indonesia and how we looked at them and we opened up a much better dialogue with that nation that’s right on our doorstep, a hugely populous and economically powerful one, and transformed it. So I respect what he has done and had to say in times past and I don’t think we’re that brittle or soft as a nation that we can’t as a democracy listen to different views. 

Now, there are elements I understand where certainly Paul is coming from. As a Government we’ve had to make a call and that is what we’ve done, but I would hate to think as a country that for people that have served the nation that they may take a sharper view on this that’s contrary to us. But it doesn’t mean that we have to sort of shrink into a ball on the floor as a result of it. It’s much healthier as a democracy to contemplate different viewpoints. We have had to take those on board. We are in a position as we have to make a decision. We have done what we believe is right for the nation and we will now go to make sure that we bring that decision to life. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you. The next question is from James Riley. 

JAMES RILEY: Minister, thanks for the speech. I also want to ask you about AUKUS. In relation to the National Quantum Strategy, our AUKUS partners, the UK Government, just dropped 2.5 billion pounds on their national quantum strategy so I wonder if we can expect a similar size or pro rata. But I also wanted to ask you, from a dual-use context, obviously there’s the commercial side and the defence side of something like quantum. You flagged the NRF and the Critical Technology Fund as important to national security. There was a defence innovation review carried out by the previous Government. It was never made public. It cost taxpayers $2 million. A severely redacted version was released last week. My understanding is that your Government hasn’t seen that. As the Industry Minister and as someone who has carriage over quantum wouldn’t you like to have a peek at that report, and what are you going to do to get it opened up? 

ED HUSIC: There’s a lot in there, right? So let me just cover off some of those things. Yes, we were very committed in terms of the development of a National Quantum Strategy. There’s a lot of work that’s been going on externally and I referenced some of it in the speech that we do need to get done and to coordinate it a lot better and see what can be done to scale up efforts. We’ve seen the growth of the firms within the sector that are in quantum technologies, not just providing quantum sensing, but also in terms of communications. Computing will be huge and obviously we’ve got to deal with cryptography and encryption. There’s a lot of potential there. What do we do to grow that, particularly in terms of quantum computing? If we get that right and some of the work, for example, that SQC is doing, where they might be able to manufacture chips at subatomic level, this is profoundly important for longer term. What that will be able to do when paired up with AI and having that raw processing power will answer some of the toughest questions we have not been able to do based in classical computing right now, so it’s very important. 

I am yet again going to thank one of our guests here and the Chief Scientist Dr Cathy Foley. Thank you, again, Cathy, for your work. Cathy has an abundance of energy and we’re applying if very actively on a lot of projects not the least of which is the National Quantum Strategy. Cathy led the consultations around that and has had a longstanding interest in this area, and I’m very grateful, Cathy, for your leadership there. She’s presented that report and we’re contemplating it now. 

When we release it, I’m going to do something different. I think we’re tired of glitzy reports with big price tags that manage to get a bit of coverage or a lot of coverage but then don’t seem to deliver. What I have asked out of the quantum strategy is give us the longer-term vision and thought about what needs to be done and then the components within that, we’ll build those out and work through how we attend to those. Either we’ll build those components concurrently or in sequence. We will work that out. It’s really important. 

The Critical Technology Sub fund of $1 billion within the NRF is to make sure that for those firms that have got that skill, got that capability, that they don’t feel that they have to go offshore to chase capital, that we’ve got this here. That we build the skills, so again they don’t have to leave offshore to get skills. And we can grow a sector that will have a profound economic impact longer term in both the civil and defence sense where AUKUS, particularly pillar 2, will expect and it will make a better contribution for the nation if we’ve got those capabilities there. 

In terms of the Defence report, if I can be completely frank it’s not something that I’ve got carriage for. I take on board your points and I know you’re very keen for that level of transparency, but I might need to direct you to the relevant Ministers to do that. So, how is 50 per cent answering your question go, is that all right? 

DAVID CROWE: It’s better than what we sometimes get, I’ve got to say. 

ED HUSIC: Thank you. A little bit of validation on the stage is helpful actually. 

DAVID CROWE: Next question is from Paul Karp. 

PAUL KARP: Paul Karp from The Guardian. Thanks for your speech, Minister. Julian Hill has warned that the military applications of artificial general intelligence could result in mass destruction and the technology has only got scarier since he said that. The latest version of ChatGPT can explain memes and it even contracted a human to pass a CAPTCHA test for it. Can I please ask what work is going on in Government to counter the harmful implications of artificial intelligence and do you support a call for an inquiry into AI or an international convention to prevent harmful uses of it? 

ED HUSIC: Thank you for the question because I’ve been watching in terms of artificial intelligence development for quite some time as a parliamentarian. In fact, just over five years ago, I was urging Governments to think about the ethical implications and the use of artificial intelligence and urging that we think around that and that we also invest. Where we get the ethical frameworks right, artificial intelligence will play an important role in getting things done. A number of us for some time pointed to generative AI being able to, in time, do a lot more of the work that we thought wouldn’t be possible to do. We were pointing, for example, Chris Bowen and myself for a number of years about how artificial intelligence potentially could do the work of journalists. We were not cheering that on. We were just saying. I’m reading the room. I wasn’t encouraging that.

PAUL KARP: Not Guardian journalists. Please continue. 

ED HUSIC: Exactly, exactly. Now that I’ve agreed to that and offended all your colleagues. But we were looking at the way in which generative AI might be used in terms of journalism or other work and some of the uses that you outlined. So I quietly, about a month ago, asked the National Science and Technology Council to consider the pathways that got us to this point, how the technology will evolve, the sort of generative AI, some of which is being captured around ChatGPT, and to think around what the implications are and how Governments should respond. That work is being done and it’s being headed by distinguished Professor Genevieve Bell who once sat on the board of Intel. That work will be tested by colleagues. It will be peer reviewed as well. The National Science and Technology Council is made up of some of the nation’s most pre-eminent scientists, so we are expecting that report shortly to help inform policy work and to do that. 

Now, obviously Parliament has its own power to determine what inquiries it does in either the House or the Senate, but we are certainly thinking through that. Last week, we launched work that’s being done by the National AI Centre in bringing together industry around the responsible use of AI so the Responsible AI Network, or RAIN as it is called, has been brought together. So, you’ve got CSIRO, academics, industry, thinking around some of these issues you’ve highlighted in your question as well to take that to the next level too. So, there’s a number of things that are occurring, not the least of which is getting our Prime Minister’s National Science and Technology Council to give us some of the best advice we can get in terms of where this is going and how Governments should be thinking about policy response. 

DAVID CROWE: Should we expect laws at some point to govern the use of AI because Silicon Valley believes in nothing so much as creative destruction? It’s a new technology that can wipe out jobs but inevitably raises questions about how it’s regulated. Does that inevitably mean a law must be developed to regulate how AI is used? 

ED HUSIC: So, I think there are a number of case studies in this country. In terms of some of the challenges that you mention around automation, the big thing about technology has been that people have seen that automation might lead to being able to allow people to use the skills that they actually trained up for and get rid of what’s sometimes described as dirty, dull and dangerous work, but there’s an employment impact around that. And I often urge that you shouldn’t just look at technology as plug into the wall, switch it on and everything will be right. It takes a lot of thinking around application. It’s people that think about the application of technology. We want the technology to work for us, not the other way around. I think it’s been one of the things that’s held back technology in terms of this country because it’s not just policymakers. It’s been business as well thinking through when you invest in technology, what are the impacts on your firm, your employees, on customers? 

The other case study obviously that people think about a lot is Robodebt and the way that was done. Now, the technology performed in the way the technology was created. What let people down was the processes of Government not thinking through the consequences of the use of that technology, not providing, for example, the feedback loops that allow people that were experiencing huge stress getting these debt notices – how did you give them a sense of calm about it and be able to contact someone to deal with that? So, it’s technology and process. It’s people and the tools that need to be worked out. 

Having said that, we are all using AI. It’s embedded in a lot of what we use right now. It’s not that there’s been a dramatic shift from one scenario to another. We have done what normally happens with technology. We slowly embed it in our lives. And there may be in time an expectation when the quality and the confidence around the use of technology occurs that will expect AI and automated decision making to grow at scale and Governments will potentially, there’s a scenario, be questioned about why they didn’t use AI to do that. I’m not thinking about that myself. This is stuff that Henry Kissinger and Eric Schmidt wrote about in terms of some of their work around the age of AI and saying to Governments, “Get your act together on this and to businesses, instead of letting the technology run away from you all without regard to the consequences.” Because I think to the point of your question, a very long way of answering it, it will trigger calls for regulation. It will trigger a necessity for protection and if we don’t get it right, you’ll see the type of response that’s come out of what you’ve seen with Optus and Medibank. If businesses don’t get their frameworks right, the community expectation, absolutely understandably, is that Governments will step in, and then there’s a whole debate about are you being too tough or too soft. Better to think ahead and get it right that way. 

DAVID CROWE:  The next question is from Ben Westcott. 

BEN WESTCOTT: Thank you very much for your speech, Minister. Ben Westcott from Bloomberg. At the risk of being accused of loser talk, in your speech you mentioned a number of ways in which Australia is sort of failing in terms of industry, things along the lines of poor commercialisation of research, low OECD ranking in R&D spending, low OECD ranking in manufacturing self-sufficiency, economic complexity 91st out of something like 103 countries. Clearly, that is not a problem that’s happened over 10 years. This has been a multigenerational problem and to Julie’s point, we’re starting to fix it now at a time when international competition has started to ramp up, particularly in areas like green technology and battery manufacturing. Why do you think that you and your Government can be the ones to change it? And when your time as Industry Minister eventually ends by what metrics should we measure your success? 

ED HUSIC: Let me write the metrics of my success and I’ll come back to you! This is the reason why I go to the point about valuing Australian know-how, because it is not just a cute throwaway line. It is trying to provoke culture change. It is culture; it is the sense of how we always get things done that drives decisions in an orthodox way. What I’m trying to do, what I’m trying to encourage – and you’ll obviously judge my success or otherwise on this – is to jab people in the ribs if you don’t mind me saying and to try to get people to think differently about how we go. 

Now, I’m not doing this in a vacuum because there are a lot of people in this room who do that every day and they do it by showing how to get things done and do it against the odds, against expectations that say no, someone else will get it done better. I tried to reference some of the examples of how we’ve been able to do that and also talk about relative to our population, our scientific contribution is very high. But the decisions that get made by policymakers, Governments, by investors, by us all, as customers potentially, they do influence success. And so, I think if we have that opportunity, we have this moment in time where we can think about how we make those decisions and we can alter that path, I think this is a big point at which we need to do that. 

Now, sometimes the environment that you are trying to do or encourage that culture change – is too tough. I accept that. We lived through a pandemic. We actually had to do things differently because the way that we did them in the past could not thrive or survive in a lockdown environment where there was a lack of trust, where there was anxiety, and where you couldn’t do things. Simply could not – businesses could not operate the way they did. So, they had to think carefully. 

You will often hear the digital transformation that occurred in some businesses, in the space of 12 months they did 10 years of digital transformation because they had to. Now, I think and I would urge that we don’t need to have that kind of burning platform to change. I think we’ve had that moment in time. Now we can think: how do we do things differently? Other countries will back themselves and, as I said, other countries will back our ideas quicker than we did. So being able to put those forward and start that process is really important. I absolutely accept at the heart of your question is that challenge but what makes us think we will be different. Has a Government been talking like this for any period of time in recent memory? No. There was one in Bob Hawke who said in 1989 we couldn’t just keep having our people leave our shores and just import our technology. At different points Governments have got it. We’ve got to go through that process again and there is a very big reason why we do it, not a political one-liner but actually it is a chance for longer-term prosperity and wellbeing if we get it right. That will be the metric. 

DAVID CROWE: The next question is from Melissa Coade from The Mandarin. 

MELISSA COADE: Hello, Minister. Melissa Coade from The Mandarin. I am so happy that my colleagues asked about Robodebt and metrics because it segues perfectly into what I will put to you. You also made the point in your last response, which is when you referred to jabbing people in vacuum; that can be done in a more sophisticated way. 

ED HUSIC: Not the first time someone has told me that!

MELISSA COADE: In late 2019 a report commissioned by the former Government to improve innovation indicators was handed over to your predecessors. You green-lighted the publication of that report. I have asked your department about the possibility of a Government response to that report and their direct answer to me was that while the department was committed to driving innovation and making the economy more productive and competitive as per your agenda, they would only speak to the stakeholders involved in the review in delivering the agenda. A response to that report wasn’t on the horizon. That is what I took from reading between the lines. Does the Labor Government intend to formally respond to that review; and, if not, why? 

ED HUSIC: In terms of report, if we do these things, we should think about them and they offer opportunities to learn. So, I’m absolutely on board with that. 

In terms of the bulk of our agenda right now, we’re clearly focused on some big things that we said as a Government we would do. I’m more than happy to have a look at how we respond to that. I have a tendency, if I can just say to you, I take on board those reports and we embed them in work as we go. I’ll often get people say, “Oh, we need to do a policy on this” or “We need to get an industry policy out” or this and that. I would rather for the energy that is expended in getting that work done. Let’s just get stuff done now practically. I appreciate that reports give us an opportunity to learn and in terms of strategy work, give us a longer sense or a longer term view about what needs to be done and how we sequence work. So, it’s a very mechanistic response I’m giving to your question, but it’s one designed to give you confidence in the way in which we’re trying to work, in a deliberative considered way that we’ll go through it. What I’m more than happy to do is go back and look at that point and where we can, to respond. But I can assure you a lot of the thinking that we do and the framing around policy development does take into account other work, as it does in talking with people in the industry, in academia, in science and research as well about how we can best serve the nation in the way that we develop policy.

MELISSA COADE: Minister, that report, the objective of it, was to improve Government decision making, so does your Government plan to respond to this plan to improve Government decision making? 

ED HUSIC: I’m absolutely happy to consider that and see how we firm that response up and provide that response publicly. 

DAVID CROWE: Next question is from Tahlia Roy. 

TAHLIA ROY: Tahlia Roy at the ABC. Minister, will your Government commit to a promise made by the previous Government for their strategic space update; and, if not, is the space sector treading water, I guess, without any Government direction at the moment? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think a number of things. I don’t necessarily think that just because a former Government, if you can appreciate, has decided to do something doesn’t mean that I automatically or us as a Government automatically takes that on board. In some cases, we’ll make those assessments case by case. In terms of space, there will be a huge opportunity. For instance, with the National Reconstruction Fund, I’ve seen in particular our political opponents, who haven’t wanted to engage constructively around the National Reconstruction Fund, make a whole series of claims about what will or won’t be supported. 

I took on board, for example, the Senate inquiry into the National Reconstruction Fund recently, that talked about the value of us opening up the fund for investment in space. And I can assure you that the National Reconstruction Fund will be open to support investment in space activity, particularly through the priority area of enabling capabilities but could easily go into a lot of other areas as well. We also honoured previous decisions that have been made and we announced some of those from former programs of the previous administration. I have taken a view that I’m not going to politicise the decision making around some of the decisions that were made in grants by previous Coalition administrations. It’s why we tested and then approved Modern Manufacturing Initiative grants because my view is business and industry needs certainty to develop momentum. So we have done what is responsible, rather than the political take or partisan take that we confronted when we went out of office and when we had an incoming Coalition Government. 

We do think there are opportunities for the space sector. I don’t necessarily think and it’s certainly not been something I’ve rushed to adhere to or honour a previous Government’s commitment on the particular review that you referenced in the question, but we definitely do see that either through the grants or through the NRF architecture that we’ve set in place, there will be room to support for the sector. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you. I’m sorry, we’ve got to go to our last question. Last question from Andrew Tillett. 

ANDREW TILLETT: Andrew Tillett from the Financial Review. Thanks, Minister. I would like to ask you about your attitude towards research and industrial collaboration with China. We’re now in a phase where we’ve got a stabilisation and bilateral relationship. The Chinese Ambassador here has spoken about wanting to work with Australia on things like climate change, battery technology; our borders are open, so there’s the chance for the free flow of people between countries. Yet at the same time, we see a sort of decoupling between the West and China. We have concerns about groups like ASPI about Australian researchers working with Chinese military scientists on projects. We have Monash University earlier this year ending an agreement with COMAC, a Chinese aerospace company because of concerns. What areas do you think are off limits in collaborating with China and what areas do you think are right for cooperation and collaboration? 

ED HUSIC: Well, I think particularly in having dealt with the science and research community and their primary motivation is for obviously the advancement of human knowledge, its application in the way that does good - provides for improved wellbeing. There is that huge motivation and inspiration that exists that I think not just Australian scientists and researchers but there will be obviously people in the region and in China that have that. I think the most obvious area of collaboration will potentially be around, for example, health outcomes and being able to work on that or in terms of anything with respect to environment will be clear. 

We will as a Government take a case-by-case view about how that collaboration will evolve or will take form. We will be very careful about how that plays out. And in terms of coming to you about what happens, clearly around defence, national security, we’ve taken positions in times past. Governments of other political persuasion have taken positions on broadband and wireless communication or telecommunications equipment, so you do need to, on an individual instance, make those calls as a responsible Government. I think that will continue. And I think it’s not just opportunity to work with China. I also look at what we can do with our near neighbours. 

You talked about Monash I think it was a few moments ago. They did tremendous work. In the first visit the PM visited Indonesia. A lot of the collaboration between Indonesia and Australia notably through Monash in reducing mosquito-borne disease up to 90 per cent of some of these settlements in Jakarta was something that both countries were enormously proud of because of that huge benefit in terms of quality of life. Similar to some of the stuff I mentioned in the speech around the development of the HPV vaccine. 

There are also some near neighbours I want us to focus on too. I can say to you I’m looking at the global science diplomacy approach undertaken by the previous Government. I think there’s scope, Andrew, for us to re-imagine how that operates. It was probably a bit heavy on building or reinforcing relationships with traditional partners at, I think, the risk of working in the Asia-Pacific region. So, we are looking at that within my portfolio about how that plays out. That will probably provide the bigger platform, Andrew, for some of that collaboration that you do. 

The other thing that we’re doing too is we flagged support in our last budget for the establishment of a regional office and an international science office through the Australian Academy of Sciences, who are championing that proposition. So, there will be ways in which within the region that our science and researchers - scientific community and research community - can work together and we’re very keen for that to happen. And to be frank with you, one of my big priorities is how do we, across the science and industry portfolio, strengthen regional relationships? Because I think there is a huge opportunity within ASEAN and the Pacific to work closely together. We haven’t done enough of it. We can do a heck of a lot more. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you. Well, we’ve covered a lot of territory there in the speech and in the questions and answers. In a short moment I’ll present the Minister with gold membership of the National Press Club because, of course, you are welcome back any time in the future. 

ED HUSIC: Thank you. 

DAVID CROWE: Thank you for your address. Please join me in thanking the Minister.