Transcript of Interview: SKY News Live AM Agenda

Interview

PFI008/2015

28 October 2015

Topics: Tony Abbott's Thatcher lecture, innovation agenda

David Lipson: Joining me now from the Sky News centre is Paul Fletcher, Government frontbencher and the Minister for Major Projects. Thanks very much for your time this morning. First, on Mr Abbott's comments regarding refugees in Europe—are European countries, in your view, making a catastrophic error with the policy on refugees?

Paul Fletcher: Well, I guess the first thing I'd say is obviously Tony Abbott as a former Prime Minister of Australia is somebody of very substantial international stature. I think it's an honour for him that he is giving this lecture, and I think it recognises Australia's stature. And clearly what he has been doing in this lecture is talking about Australia's experience, including the work that he led, including in the policy that we took to the 2013 election and then executed on in relation to the management of people arriving by boat, including our policy commitment to turn boats back where safe to do so, and detention on Nauru and Manus Island.

So I understood him to be making the point that there are lessons from the way that Australia has managed this issue, and I think it is an appropriate recognition of Mr Abbott's stature and indeed Australia's stature that he is invited to give a speech or a lecture of this significance.

David Lipson: Is it appropriate for a member of the Government, such a well-respected member of the Government to be giving such a lecture, urging European countries, allies of Australia on what it should be doing when it comes to refugee policy?

Paul Fletcher: Oh look, I certainly don't see anything inappropriate at all about a very senior politician of Mr Abbott's stature, of course the former leader of the Opposition and former Prime Minister of Australia speaking in this lecture, in the UK, drawing on the policy experience of Australia under both the Abbott Government and the Howard Government—as he notes in his lecture—in relation to this issue of how to deal with people who are seeking to arrive in the case of Australia typically by boat. Of course, the situation in Europe not entirely the same, but some similarities, and to draw out the policy lessons from Australia's experience.

David Lipson: On the conflict in Syria and Iraq, Mr Abbott also urged perhaps decisive action, and that may include special forces, Western special forces on the ground in those countries. This comes after the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter suggested that there may be a ramping up of operations, perhaps, as he called it, direct action in the Middle East. Is the Government considering taking further steps, for example special forces boots on the ground in these countries?

Paul Fletcher: Look, I'll leave any comments on that to the Prime Minister and to Defence Minister Payne. Simply to say that clearly the Syrian situation is an exceptionally difficult one, and one of the points Mr Abbott made in his lecture overnight was that because of the strong control of our borders in Australia that the Abbott Government achieved, and Prime Minister Turnbull has reiterated his comments were a couple of weeks ago, we can't take a backwards step on this. It's very important that we maintain our position lest criminal people smugglers once again try and take advantage of weakness, as we saw them do in the years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government.

But the former Prime Minister Abbott made the point—and I think it's a powerful point—in his lecture that it was because of the strong border control, border protection measures that we were able to take and the success we've had on this issue that in turn we were able to then offer 12,000 places for people displaced by the conflict in Syria. People who meet the test of being a refugee, and so that humanitarian action that the Abbott Government announced and that the Turnbull Government very strongly committed to I think is in part a consequence of the clear and strong management that we have shown on this issue.

David Lipson: Okay, well moving on, and the Government has flagged a comprehensive innovation and science statement to be delivered by the end of the year. There's some suggestion in media this morning that this could include tax breaks for companies that collaborate with universities and researchers as well. How would that work, and what would the Government be hoping to achieve with that?

Paul Fletcher: Well look, clearly we are working on a significant policy package in relation to innovation. It's been a clear commitment of the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Industry, Science and Innovation Christopher Pyne has signalled the significant amount of work going into this area. Of course, Assistant Minister for Innovation Wyatt Roy is leading a mission to Israel to learn from some of the policy successes of that nation. Bear in mind that we've already taken significant action, so the disastrous changes to the tax treatment of employee share ownership plans that were introduced by the previous Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Government under then Treasurer Swan, which made it virtually impossible for start up companies in the tech sector in Australia to use a standard remuneration tool of employee share ownership plans incentives for employees. We reversed those changes with effect from 1 July this year.

Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer has announced that we will be introducing legislation in relation to crowd sourced equity funding, using the power of the internet to efficiently raise capital, and it lets you do that in a way that it becomes possible to raise large amounts- small amounts of money from large numbers of people. So capturing the efficiency of the internet in relation to crowd sourced equity funding. So there's a lot that we aren't doing, and at …

David Lipson: [Interrupts] Yeah, the question was about tax breaks though, for companies that collaborate with universities and researchers. I mean, is there scope for that? Is that something that would … I mean, clearly it would help these innovators, help companies, because right at the moment Australia's at the very bottom of OECD countries when it comes to commercialising research. Clearly something needs to be done there.

Paul Fletcher: Australia has a very strong track record in research as you rightly say. Commercialising research is an area where we aim to improve our national performance. We certainly have some great success stories—companies like Cochlear for example which took research done into hearing and addressing hearing disabilities down at Melbourne University and Cochlear is now a company with global revenues of some $900 million a year, so there are some great success stories but we need many more.

Now, in relation to your question of whether there will be tax measures included in the package, I will leave that to the responsible ministers to announce the appropriate time. But simply to note that of course there's a whole range of policy measures that are considered in the innovation space around the world. Different countries have different measures and of course we are having a good look at the different policy settings in countries as diverse as the UK, Israel, the US, Singapore and many other countries because as the Prime Minister has said we're in a very competitive global economy. Every nation, every advanced nation is seeking to spur innovation. We are well placed to do that in Australia. Disruption, as the Prime Minister has said can be an opportunity and we need to treat it that way and the innovation package is a very important part of that.

David Lipson: Okay just briefly, the Prime Minister in Adelaide today, he's taken a very big swipe at Nick Xenophon suggesting that's he's similar to Clive Palmer in Mr- or Senator Xenophon's attempts to pull together candidates ahead of the next election. That seems to me to suggest that the Government's pretty worried that he may make an impact, particularly on Coalition held seats.

Paul Fletcher: Well I think the Prime Minister is making the point that as people make a choice at the next election about a candidate that they want to support, they need to bear in mind that candidates of the Liberal Party, the Liberal National Coalition form part of—assuming we get the outcome we hope for, form part of a government. Whereas if you choose a candidate from an independent or a minor party they're not in the same position to deliver outcomes. So I think that's the parallel that he's drawing. Of course the Coalition works constructively with Senator Xenophon and other crossbench senators in the Senate, but at the same time there are factors that electors should think about, that voters should think about as they determine which candidate is best placed to advance their interests and to speak up for them in Canberra.

David Lipson: Paul Fletcher, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

Paul Fletcher: Thanks David.