SUBJECT/S: Turnbull Government playing catch-up on innovation; Malcolm Turnbull’s bungling of the NBN; Union Governance





KIERAN GILBERT: With me now we have the Shadow Small Business Minister Michelle Rowland. As the representative for Labor on small business matters you would welcome this initiative to give tax breaks to start-up companies?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: I welcome the Turnbull Government playing catch-up with Labor in this important policy area and we know that in this area, Malcolm Turnbull is Labor-lite. We’ve already announced three tranches of innovation policies including for start-ups we have important tax breaks, we have entrepreneurial visas, we have STEM, we have matching university skills to the outputs we need to see in this space and we also have an important focus on the regions and today Bill Shorten is going to make a significant announcement in relation to big data and the challenges and opportunities there. So we welcome Malcolm Turnbull playing catch-up in this area.

GILBERT: He’s also going to establish a special committee of Cabinet to deal with the innovation agenda. That is something new as well as relaxing migration rules for foreign students who study in this area to facilitate them staying on, to keep their know-how in maths, technology, science, to keep that here. Do you welcome those measures?

ROWLAND: I welcome any measures which have a focus on innovation which we haven’t seen for the last two years. Again, I point out, one of the key drivers of productivity in our economy is in the ICT sector, something this Government has ignored for two years. And what we need in order to ensure that this thrives is an important backbone, and a backbone that can actually sustain Australia into the future, and here I’m talking about broadband. Under Malcolm Turnbull’s stewardship, we had a blow-out in timing; he had initially proposed that everyone would have minimum speeds by the end of next year and that promise didn’t last until the end of 2013. He’s doubled the cost from $29.5 billion to $56 billion, and in addition to that he’s spent taxpayers money buying back a second-rate copper network that John Howard privatised last century. And when you hear all this talk from Government Ministers about how they want to replicate other countries in our region and other countries that are doing it well, look at them, look at Singapore, look at South Korea, look at Israel even. All of these countries are based on having the highest quality fibre broadband networks. Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister couldn’t even get that right, completely bungled it, so we wait to see how his big talk in the area of innovation translates.

GILBERT: Bill Shorten is going to announce measures to toughen Labor’s position on union corruption, is this an effort to pre-empt the outcomes of the trade union Royal Commission so that you don’t look like you’re playing catch up yourselves when it comes to that issue. Certainly it’s been a bad look for Labor and its brand over the last two years.

ROWLAND: Kieran, we’ve always said that there is no room for any criminal activity, or any misconduct, or any misuse of union member’s funds at any time. We didn’t need a Royal Commission to be able to tell us that and to define Labor’s policy in this area. But let’s remember this, we put this challenge to Malcolm Turnbull: we are putting forward a package to ensure that we have greater transparency and oversight, not only of trade unions, but also on the entire system of donations. It’s a test for Malcolm Turnbull to see if he will agree to decrease that threshold to $1000 and we will see whether or not he will put his money where his mouth is on this one as well.

GILBERT: But what really does that mean because we all know that Labor gets the line share of its funds from the unions anyway so it’s not really that much of a compromise from Labor, it’s an effort to try and stick it to the Liberals. How is that an effort to crack down on union influence in the Labor Party?

ROWLAND: This goes to donations generally Kieran, and can I just say even if you want to take into account, we know there’s been declining union membership over the decades, have a look at the statistics which show a real correlation between having a better standard of middle class living and union membership. Unions continue to play an important role in a number of important social policy areas and economic areas that we take for granted. Everything from Occupational Health and Safety, to Medicare and compulsory superannuation. There are big challenges for the unions including things like domestic violence leave, they have an important role to play there.

GILBERT: One of the other areas here is that Shorten wants to make ASIC the security and investment commission with its coercive powers, the authority that looks over the most extreme contraventions of the Registered Organisations Act. If you’re going to do that, why not just support the Building and Construction Commission for example, wouldn’t those measures  be the right thing particularly given most of the contraventions are coming from that sector.

ROWLAND: Two reasons, firstly the ABCC is purely designed by the Government for political purposes. It’s not aimed at getting long-term outcomes. Secondly, we want this to become a whole-of-industry, whole-of-economy solution. And we also want to ensure that we have enforcement mechanisms in place, we need to make sure that we have appropriate funding so that we don’t just pass law and that it isn’t able to do what it’s intended to achieve. So we are very much committed in a most objective manner to achieving the best outcome in this area, not just a short-term political gain as the Liberals have always sought to do in this area.

GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, we’re out of time. We’ll chat to you soon. Appreciate it.  

ROWLAND:  Cheers.