Transcript of joint doorstop at Questacon - The National Science and Technology Centre, Canberra

Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio, CFA, Questacon, Environment portfolio, climate change, superannuation, plebiscite


I'm really delighted to be here.

Yesterday I had the honour of being sworn in as the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

Today, on day one, I'm with the Assistant Minister Craig Laundy here at Questacon, the nerve centre of our national science education program. And this is about saying that science matters, that innovation matters, that the National Innovation and Science Agenda is fundamental not just to the future but to now.

It's about inspiring young Australians and Australians of all ages, of all walks of life to be engaged in science, to realise that their future is dependent upon science and to be excited about the opportunities of being involved in science.

More broadly, Questacon attracts almost half a million people a year. It's where our children come to live and learn about the way things move, the way chemicals interact, the basics of life and how they themselves can be engaged in science.

We want more young scientists, we want more young innovators, and we want young people, whether they are engaged in any walk of life, to feel that science is accessible to them.

At the highest level, the Industry, Innovation and Science portfolio is about creating jobs and giving people a sense that they have a long term job future in this country.

It's – in terms of industry – about the current jobs.

Innovation is about the emerging jobs.

And science is about the future jobs.

I will be the Minister for Innovation and Science with personal responsibility – Industry is fundamental as well, giving everybody a sense that their jobs matter and their jobs can be secured.

Craig Laundy, who has an extraordinary business history, will also play a critical role.

And his role will involve protecting the interests of Australian business through taking control of the anti-dumping agenda.

Creating new innovation opportunities for existing Australian businesses, because innovation isn't just about tech start-ups – they are fundamental, they are at the heart of that agenda – but more significantly still, innovation is the critical driver of productivity in Australia.

Sixty per cent of Australia's productivity comes from innovation.

And existing businesses often feel that it doesn't apply to them. It does.

And Craig's experience will be fundamental in that role.

And then we go to science. And science is absolutely essential to our future jobs, our future prosperity and our future quality of life.

Everything we have around us has been created in some way by people who had imagined the future, and so on that front I am delighted today to release the Chief Scientist's National Research Infrastructure Capability Paper. That is about the next Synchrotron, the next Square Kilometre Array – of ensuring that great science is backed by great scientific infrastructure.

And with great scientific infrastructure, we have great scientists. People will be attracted to Australia.

So the pathway forward is that this portfolio is about jobs.

The current jobs, the emerging jobs and the future jobs.

And the National Innovation and Science Agenda is fundamental.

For myself, we have an amazing Chief Scientist in this country with Alan Finkel, but I want to be the chief scientific advocate.

And this comes from my background of working with McKinsey, of working in telecommunications, in the digital space, start-ups, from having being fortunate to be engaged in start-ups in my prior life, and then of working in the innovation space before coming to Parliament and then through the Environment portfolio.

So it's a great opportunity, it's a great honour.

But at the end of the day, what matters for ordinary Australians is that they can innovate in their own businesses.

Whether it's a mechanic who will be able to reach out and conduct their work in a way which is safer and more efficient, or reach out to new business opportunities.

Whether it's a coffee roaster, such as we've seen in south east Queensland, where they've developed new types of capsules, new types of blends, new products.

Innovation is about something for every Australian, and science is about our future. Craig?


Thank you Greg, it's lovely to be with you today, and I too had the honour yesterday, like Greg of being sworn into my new portfolio. Very, very happy and excited about it, the Assistant Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science.

I look forward, Greg, to working with you. It's a thrill to be here in Questacon.

Greg mentioned the 500,000 visitors that come here every year – I can tell you safely that my children are amongst them. They definitely have been over the last three years.

But look, as Greg mentioned, I'm thrilled to work with him and work with industry in the area of anti-dumping legislation, also case management, but – and I think this is very important – on the back of free trade agreements. Free trade means also fair trade.

It's also – as Greg very kindly mentioned, my background is obviously not political, it's commercial – it's a real thrill to look at innovation as it applies, not only in the tech start-up space, but as it applies in every business, across the board, day to day.

Greg mentioned the stat – 60 per cent of the productivity increases that will happen this year in Australian businesses will be driven by innovation.

That's business across the board from start to finish.

Greg, I look forward to the work ahead, I look forward to working with you, to turning great outcomes.

Because through innovation comes increased profitability for businesses, increased employment opportunities.

And obviously with the mantra, with the theme we took to the electorate of jobs and growth, our portfolio is a key essential to delivering on that for the Prime Minister and the Coalition team.


I'll just make one brief comment about a Victorian issue before taking questions.

We see developments in the CFA issue in Victoria – my message to Daniel Andrews is that he has a responsibility to protect the rights of volunteers.

He has turned his back on the volunteers. We will not turn our back on the volunteers.

And the Prime Minister has said that our first piece of legislation will be to deal with the CFA volunteers and to protect their rights, and we will do that.


Minister, first, did you request your departure from the Environment portfolio, did you request this portfolio specifically, and why?


My approach has been to work with the Prime Minister and to indicate that I loved the portfolio I was doing, because that was about science and innovation, but I'd be delighted to take this up as a broader possibility.

So, I'm very relaxed about those different roles because I believe in science, I believe in innovation, and, let me say this, I could not be more thrilled about what we've achieved in the environment space.

We have laid out a foundation which I believe will be the structure for Australia's climate and reef policies going forward over decades and will stand the test of time.

And I couldn't be more excited about the current opportunity. This is certainly one of the portfolios that I have always wanted to do and I can't think of a better fit for myself going forward.


So, you requested the switch?


Well, no, what I'm saying is that all conversations with the Prime Minister are private. I've indicated that I am open to any roles but this absolutely the best and most exciting role I could possibly have.


Are you concerned about the combining of the Energy and Environment (indistinct)?


No, I strongly support that and I've quietly argued for that over a long period of time. I feel as if my work is done – that setting up the Emissions Reduction Fund, setting up the safeguards mechanism, putting in place the Renewable Energy Target, and the next phase was to combine Climate and Energy policies.

And so it's my absolute great friend – indeed, my best man – Josh Frydenberg, taking that on, that's the next wave of reform.

So the architecture is in place and I looked at what's happened in some of the European jurisdictions, in particular at the United Kingdom, and my view was that the natural evolution after we put in place the CEFC changes, the Reef Fund, the Clean Energy Innovation Fund, was to bring Energy together and I think that is a great move and I think it's now in great hands.


Are you not concerned, though, that a former resource minister is taking over the Environment portfolio – do you not see a conflict there?


Not at all because Josh is somebody who believes deeply in the challenge of energy transition and dealing with the reality of the economy we have, but the opportunities for the future.

He and I have talked about it at length over many years and in detail since he's been the Energy Minister and in extraordinary detail since he's taken up the current role.

Only yesterday we did a handover at the Environment Department and he spoke powerfully and with knowledge about the energy transition that Australia has to face – but whilst not making Labor's mistake of driving up electricity prices.

Labor wants to drive up electricity prices, Bill Shorten wants to drive up electricity prices, we want to make sure that Australian businesses and Australian families live within an environment where they have lower electricity prices than would otherwise be the case under Labor but lower emissions – and we've already seen that through Emissions Reduction Fund.


Do you acknowledge the criticism during and after the federal election that the theme of innovation was a bit of a flop for the Turnbull Government and scared a lot of voters – do you agree with that?


Look, I'll let others comment on that, but I think innovation is incredibly important but my job and Craig's job is to make the point that innovation is about jobs for Australians of all walks of life.

As I say, it could be a coffee roaster, it could be a mechanic, it could be a small business, or it could be the new exciting businesses.

And in a previous life I was in the private sector and my work with McKinsey, my work in start ups, my own personal engagement in the start up space recognises the jobs that can come in that area.

But it's also about mining services in Queensland or Western Australia.

Innovation matters for everybody because it's about productivity – and that's about more jobs, better jobs, better wages, and more profitability.


George Christensen has indicated he will cross the floor if the superannuation changes go to Parliament. Does this signal what could be a problem for three years for the Government with such tight numbers?


Look, I apologise, I haven't heard the comments but what I will say is that the Prime Minister and the Treasurer have set out a need for reform and I think there is a broad acceptance of that reform.

I'll leave them to the details but we've committed to making sure that we have a fair system and then they'll work on the details with others.


But what about on the numbers? I mean, with such a slim majority, if someone does cross the floor or there's a bit of a problem there, are you not concerned about that?


Well, every parliamentarian matters and every parliamentarian should matter, and that's the nature of a democracy.


There's now considerable talk with – and this is out of respect for the fact that you’re the one government minister who's speaking publicly today – but there is now a considerable discussion suggestion the plebiscite on same-sex marriage would be pushed to next year.

What's your view on how quickly the Government should deal with this issue and if it goes to next year, mightn't the Indigenous referendum in May further delay it?


I haven't heard that information so I'll be cautious in responding to it.

Our commitment is to hold a plebiscite. The details are naturally for the Attorney General and the Prime Minister.

But this is about giving every Australian the opportunity to have their say. Every Australian has the right to a say.

It's a powerful exercise in democracy and I actually believe deeply and strongly in that democratic moment.

The details as to the how, I'll leave that for the Attorney General. But the fact as to the why, that this is a case for all Australians to be engaged in a grand democratic process – that's a fundamental commitment.


Can I just ask you, minister, do you personally support Kevin Rudd's bid to become UN Secretary General?


Look, again, I certainly won't pre-empt matters which would be before the cabinet.


We're here at Questacon today. One of Labor's positive policies is to reduce the admission prices for the Questacon. Will you go ahead and make that commitment as well?


Look, I'm not going to make sudden decisions on the run or the Director will need oxygen. We've done a liquid oxygen experiment and I'm not about to turn that into a living reality for the Director without having had any discussions. It's not been not been one of our proposals.


Minister, are you concerned about Matt Canavan's comments yesterday saying climate change has been over-hyped – some of the impacts of climate change – are you concerned that someone in Cabinet has those views?


People are entitled to their views but my view and our view is very clear. Our policy, our belief – of the Prime Minister and myself and the Environment Minister is that climate change is real and significant and important.

But what matters then is that we have policies that actually reduce emissions. And we're reducing our emissions – we're going to meet and beat our 2020 target, we're on track to meet and beat our 2030 targets, and we're doing it without driving up electricity prices.

And so the real debate here is that Labor and Bill Shorten want to drive up electricity prices, and that's bad for families but it's also bad for Australian industry. Thank you.