Release type: Transcript

Date:

Transcript: Interview — 4BC Breakfast with Neil Breen

Ministers:

The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business

Topics: University Research Commercialisation Action Plan; Australia’s Economic Accelerator; unemployment rates
E&OE-------------------------------------

NEIL BREEN:

The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, as you know, he was at the National Press Club this week. And it was a big, sort of, an election speech, if you like. And it got hijacked by Peter van Onselen and then other journos, trying to get their moment of fame about how much bread costs and all that sort of stuff. A lot of the serious things in his speech were missed and need to be discussed and fleshed out. But he's going to tip out a lot of money with his theme: building national resilience. He announced the Government would fund a $2.2 billion University Research Commercialisation Action Plan. The centrepiece is a 10-year, $1.6 billion competitive program called Australia's Economic Accelerator. Stuart Robert is the Federal Minister for Employment, Workforce, Skills, Small and Family Business - he’s on the line. Good morning, Minister.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Neil, how are you?

NEIL BREEN:

I'm well, thanks. It's a bit hard, isn't it, when the agenda gets hijacked by grandstanding questions and all of those things. And all the air got sucked out of that Prime Minister speech the other day.

MINISTER ROBERT:

A week’s long time in politics, Neil. Sometimes lunch is a long time in politics. It is what it is; it's a big game.

NEIL BREEN:

Oh, it is, it is. It absolutely is. Hey, this University Research Commercialisation Action Plan. When I read about these things, Stuart Robert, I'm going to be very honest with you, my eyes can glaze over, because I think: oh, some bugger’s going to stacks of money to do some PhD and it's going to come to nothing.

MINISTER ROBERT:

One of the challenges is, we do great stuff. So we're sixth in the world for blue sky research, like finding stuff. But we're not really good at turning that into jobs and into industry and into companies - we drop down to 26th in the world. We think about WiFi, Neil, CSIRO developed that; the black box was done by our defence scientists. But they're few and far between, these great Aussie inventions. And it's because when you create some research, you’ve got to bridge a technical research valley of death. So the accelerator program is about breaching that, assisting researchers, connect with industry, give them enough funding to get through, look at their product, build it, expand it, widen it, commercialise it and then get it into the market, so very, very practical. 

NEIL BREEN:

Okay, that makes sense. It makes sense that we come up with the big ideas, like some of them will turn out great, some not so great. But then it's about turning it into an Australian product, homemade products, so we retain the wealth here, rather than being made in other parts of the world after we've come up with the idea.

MINISTER ROBERT:

That's it. Most of our great research gets taken over, sold, picked up by venture capitalists overseas. We want to build it here. It's why we want to use the main venture capital fund out of CSIRO, worth 150 million bucks for them, to allow them to commercialise in the latter stage. And then this accelerator program, will take up to 100 ideas every year to give them enough funding, and then go to a second stage to take, say, mid-thirties, with $5 million of funding in each. So we want to see tens and tens and tens of great research ideas commercialised, corporatised into jobs and national wealth.

NEIL GREEN:

One of the things, Stuart Robert, that we've been hearing about this week, because it was, you know, interest rate decision week from the RBA, and interest rates are saying the same. And they're talking a lot about unemployment and the Prime Minister's quite bullish about an unemployment figure which has three in front of it, I think he said, by the end of the year. That's pretty bullish.

MINISTER ROBERT:

It is. But the Reserve Bank Governor, Dr Lowe, who is not considered a bullish individual, he came out yesterday to say 3.75 by the end of the year is the Reserve Bank's forecast. And we've seen they've been very conservative all the way through the pandemic. Now, this is great, we are looking at the lowest level of unemployment in 50 years. Full employment - it means every Australian who wants a job can get a job. It also means, though, we've got to make sure, that those on JobSeeker payment are fulfilling their mutual obligation and are ready to work, hence our unprecedented investment in training and skilling Australians.

NEIL BREEN:

One of the things with that number, there's got to be some underemployment going on though because, you know, cafes, bars, that industry, it's been really doing it tough and we know they're struggling to open the doors and keep them open. Is underemployment a problem?

MINISTER ROBERT:

It's getting a lot less of a problem and coming down substantially. Every month, of course, we track the employment numbers, we look at youth unemployment, we look at underemployment, we look at employment for women. Over a million Australian women have got into the employment market since we came into office. So we track all those. And of course, you've got the gig economy coming through, and different people wanting to work in different ways. So it's a complex affair, the employment market. The key thing is, Australians who want to work, there's every opportunity for them. And there's no excuse for people not wanting to work if they want to.

NEIL BREEN:

Employment Minister, Stuart Robert, look, I've got an idea for a PhD that you might be able to give me some funding for. Do you want to hear it?

MINISTER ROBERT:

This will be good. Mate, fire away. If it's surfing on the North Coast of New South Wales, the conversation’s going to go badly though. 

NEIL BREEN:

No, no, no, it's not. It's the ability to send texts to a colleague bagging our boss in derogatory terms, that prevents the text from being leaked to the media. I want to develop research into that. Can you fund me?

MINISTER ROBERT:

Well it was actually CSIRO that developed WiFi. That was the basis for the sending of any messages and where it sits. And there was a time when SMS, which is a simple messaging service, was simply 156 characters or short message service which was very innovative at the time. And now, of course, we've now moving to wide spectrum communications, which is great. But everyone does it. Everyone sends a whole bunch of messages around. It's commonplace. Billions, every single day. All because, Neil, all because Australian scientists developed WiFi. How good’s Australia?

NEIL BREEN:

Yeah, very good. Well answered. Stuart Robert, Employment Minister, have a good day.

MINISTER ROBERT:

Thanks, Neil. Cheers.