Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:27 :30 ): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Science and Information Economy—

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order!

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: They're just picking on me again, Mr President; it just doesn't cease. I have a question about the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics.

Leave granted.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: As members here would recall—although some were quite young and were not here at the time—the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics was established in 2003 and the state government established that with some core financial investments that were provided annually from the South Australian government, the Australian Research Council and the Grains Research & Development Corporation. My recollection is that in 2010-11 or 2011-12, the state government's contribution was $1.8 million for the year. The Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics is renowned around the world as one of the world's leading research facilities particularly in the area of grain technology.

In 2012, the South Australian government advised the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics that it was reducing its annual investment from $1.8 million down to $0.26 million—so, from $1.8 million to $260,000. The flow-on effect of that has been that the Grains Research & Development Corporation has now advised the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics that, due to this drop in equity funding, it will from next year withdraw core equity investment and only fund the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics on a project basis.

This means that the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics will lose the financial base to protect, and generate value from, the intellectual property it has developed over the last 11 years. They are also in danger of losing key scientific staff and the essence which has made the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics successful. My question is: given that food and wine, but particularly food, is one of the government's seven strategic priorities, why did the government reduce its funding to the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics by $1½ million in 2012 to only $260,000?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:29 :50 ): I thank the honourable member for his question. Indeed, over the past 10 years of government, this government has invested, I am advised, $20.75 million to the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics, contributed to the facility at the Waite and also influenced the corporate structure, ensuring easy collaboration with industry and other research providers.

It is involved in investment leverage of up to about $148 million and in world-renowned research. It has agreements with multinationals, such as our agritech companies. In recent years, we have had to make very difficult and challenging funding decisions, and we have had to reduce some of the funding for the Centre for Plant Functional Genomics. I find the Hon. David Ridgway and the opposition to be total hypocrites in this space.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink: How is that?

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: I am asked the question, 'How is that?', so I look forward to outlining that. We see that the federal Liberal government will slash, over this state's forward estimates, $898 million from South Australia's budget, equivalent to 600 beds from health, abandoning $320 million in Gonski agreements in relation to education—they have been slashed. We also have $27 million of funding for concessions, our road supplement money, roads in the regions—the Hon. John Dawkins is always going on about country roads—they have been slashed. This federal Liberal government has slashed funds from South Australia's budget, and these slashes will have a profound impact. In relation to science and research—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: Yet they laugh. They think that this is funny. They think that the damage that these cuts are going to have on ordinary South Australians is a laughing matter. In relation to the cuts to science and research, we see that the 2014 Liberal commonwealth budget outlined wideranging cuts to federal science and research programs. This will have a very negative impact on research activity here in South Australia. Any reduction in research funding will increase the competition for the remaining funding in South Australia.

The commonwealth expects savings of around $845 million over five years by abolishing a number of programs from 1 January 2015, including Commercialisation Australia, Innovation Investment Fund, Enterprise Connect and Industry Innovation Precincts, just to name a few. The federal Liberal government has also made cuts to the budgets of CSIRO, the Australian Research Council, Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC).

In relation to Australian Research Council (ARC), they have applied a one-off 3.25 efficiency dividend, which equates to around $75 million slashed and, of course, those reductions hamper Australia's ability to attract and retain the best and brightest researchers. In relation to our CRC program, the federal Liberal government will cut $80 million from the CRC program over the forward estimates. Also, clean energy programs—

Members interjecting:

The Hon. G.E. GAGO: These are the cuts that the federal Liberal government made to research here in South Australia. These are the cuts that the colleagues of these people sitting opposite me have slashed from our science and research agenda.

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink, please, I respect your right to speak without interruption, so please respect the minister's right. The Hon. Mr Ridgway.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 14:36 :33 ): Supplementary.

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: Given the cuts that the minister has outlined, can she explain to the people of South Australia why it is a sound investment to invest $2 million a year into the member for Waite to be minister, yet take $1½ million a year away from the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics which is in the electorate of Waite—so you have a very clear choice.

The Hon. G.E. GAGO (Minister for Employment, Higher Education and Skills, Minister for Science and Information Economy, Minister for the Status of Women, Minister for Business Services and Consumers) ( 14:36 :56 ): I would challenge the opposition in light of this very hypocritical concern for science and research. I would like to see what the Liberal opposition has done in approaching their federal colleagues to overturn these dreadful cuts to our science and research budget, including the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation.

The commonwealth has cut $27.6 million from ANSTO's budget and also to the research and development (R&D) tax incentive program. The commonwealth will reduce the amount of assistance available to industry under this program by 1.5 percentage points. This will have a particularly harsh effect on small to medium enterprises, which of course we know make up the bulk of South Australia's economy, and comes at a time when Australia needs to obviously boost its expenditure, not slash and burn.

So I would challenge members opposite me, if they were really genuine about doing something and if they were really sincere about wanting to do something about science and research, I would like to see telephone calls and I would like to see the correspondence that they have sent off to their federal colleagues urging them to reverse these hideous cuts to our science and research agenda.

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