Glass half empty…



‘Cockatoo’, as a democratic institution, allows members to freely express their views, as long as they’re not defamatory or ridiculous. A Canberra-based member filed this report on Minister Carr’s Press Club address.


We the Government and the APS knows betterAt his National Press Club speech on 3 September to address innovation and the inclusion of the arts and humanities into science funding, the Minister repeated that Canberra and its officials know more about innovation, competition and the logic of business and what makes good research than do businesses or the universities.


He said the car industry employs 60,000 people and needs to be assisted to make cars people want, despite its self-interest failing to do it. So far, he said, it has not performed. Ditto for the textiles sector which also needs structural support even as he described its high level of innovation and flexibility.  He finds we do not have enough PhD graduates being injected to help smarten up industry especially in the SME sector. Minister Carr sees the need to cajole SMEs into sponsoring doctoral candidates for the future workforce even though most SMEs do not need science PhD graduates to make their business work.


Government officials will assess universities’ claims for funding under new national research “mission” statements. Officials, under Minister Carr’s conception of industry development, know more than industry about business and will pay grants for business to live up to Government goals. 


Throughout his speech – on nearly all occasions where a sectoral issue was addressed – it was the reverse of usual business dynamics. Government directs, business invests, because Government knows best.


The problem which escaped no one is that the Rudd Government has not stated clear industry and innovation goals, reasons for those goals, and related incentive-based and regulatory commitments to achieve them. It has spoken atmospherically, not concretely, and under current language is unlikely to be so.


If the car industry is as Minister Carr says “strategically important” does this mean continued taxpayer-funded jobs for a sluggish manufacturers and dollars for corporate losses, or does it mean paying what it takes to have an indigenous vehicle manufacturing capability in case our sea-lanes and imports are cut? If so, a strategic autarky in an uncertain future world is the goal, then let’s hear it for what it is, not just a revisitation of policy ideas now, as one senior official said at the speech, which were coming out of the ALP in 1995.


What he means is that the Government is rich and intends to pay those it sees as allies, but cannot yet find the words to do. Perhaps they will emerge from the Review season.


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