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Turnbull Missing in Action on Innovation

Kim Brebach - Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Turnbull Missing in Action on Innovation | Technoledge

This week the agile one, the innovator, the clean energy champion we believed was Malcolm Turnbull delivered his first budget via Treasurer Scott Morrison. We didn't have to dig to find no evidence of these traits. No wonder the word disappointment is now the one most associated with the PM.

The 2016 budget does nothing for Science & Technology

Yet continues the $7.7 billion subsidies for Fossil Fuels.

‘Harnessing the power of innovation and entrepreneurship, to create our own ideas boom, lies at the heart of our plan to support jobs and growth in a stronger new economy.’ Scott Morrison.

When will Malcolm Turnbull put his money where his mouth is?

Little over a week ago, the Guardian reported that a group of religious, education and renewable energy sector leaders had gone to Canberra to persuade Scott Morrison to cut $7.7bn worth of subsidies for fossil fuels in the budget. They didn’t succeed.

The treasurer did nothing of the sort, nor did he reverse the over $1 billion cut made by Abbott to ARENA, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Yes, there’s an extra billion for science and Technology but that was announced late last year, and it’s merely patching up the damage done by Abbott and Hockey who drove Australia’s investment in science down to a 30-year low .

Money for the big polluters today

The Guardian reminded us that last month that almost 50 organisations urged the government to end fossil fuel subsidies, saying: ‘The government is spending money through the emissions reduction fund to reduce emissions while also providing subsidies to pollute through the measures listed above. This makes little environmental and economic sense.’

Nigel Morris, the CEO of renewable energy company Roofjuice, said: ‘It’s time the government started investing in the future, not the past. The fossil fuel sector is on the decline … The only thing slowing down this transition now is the billions in handouts to the fossil fuel sector.’

It’s not the only thing, given that the government pays $2.55 billion from its emissions reduction fund to our major polluters: mining and energy companies. More in the SMH.

$150 billion for submarines in the Distant Future

‘We do this to secure Australia,’ said the Prime Minister, when he announced the submarine decision, ‘to secure our island nation, but we do it also to ensure that our economy transitions to the economy of the 21st century. That we have the technology and the skills and the advanced manufacturing and the jobs for our children and our grandchildren for decades to come.’

The statement is as ludicrous as it is disingenuous, since it’s more about winning seats in the next election than Australia’s security as we show below. The contract sets out a project of rolling builds that sees a fleet built over time, with an old sub pensioned off every time a new one is ready for service. With first sub scheduled to go into serviced in about 20 years’ time, plus the usual delays, it will be decades before we have an operational fleet. 

Defending Australia or pork-barreling?

The Collins fleet of submarines, which have been plagued by serious technical failures from the beginning, has to soldier on somehow. Only 2 of the 6 ‘dud subs’ are seaworthy at any time since they need twice as much maintenance as was anticipated. Worse, there were ‘a number of periods when the RAN had just 1 fully operational submarine available – or less.’ More here.

Maintenance on these aging subs will only become more extensive and expensive, so Australia will be virtually defenceless for a long time. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter also faces years of delays so it’s just as well future wars won’t be fought along conventional lines but in cyberspace, as the computer worm Stuxnet showed: it delayed Iran’s nuclear program by several years.

As Terry Barnes points out in THE DRUM, the real reason for the $150 billion submarine program ($50 for building the subs, $100 billion for maintaining them) is to win more South Australian seats in the upcoming election. And the cost is breathtaking: If you divide the estimated 2,800 jobs created by the program into the $50 billion for building the subs, each job will cost Australia $18 million. Even over a generous 36 years, that’s half a million dollars a year for each job created.

High tech jobs?

Nick Xenophon made the point on budget night that some 200,000 jobs will be lost in the car manufacturing and supporting industries in SA and Victoria next year. He said there was nothing in the budget to address that crisis. ‘For a budget that is supposed to be all about jobs and growth,’ Xenophon said, ‘it's inexcusable that it fails to acknowledge the crisis of manufacturing in this country, not just in auto, but in our steel industry.’

Greens Leader Richard de Natale made the point that there was nothing in the budget for renewable energy either, yet this sector has the potential to produce tens of thousands of high-tech jobs in alternative energy projects. These jobs wouldn’t cost anything like the half million dollar jobs the submarine project will create, and they can be put in place quickly since we already have the technology.

We have the perfect climate for solar power, a big enough country for wind power, and more than enough ocean for wave power. South Australia is already leading the nation on clean energy, which provides one third of its electricity. It would’ve made a whole lot more sense to create more jobs in this industry, many more jobs for far less money, and spend the $150 million on turning Australia into a powerhouse of renewable energy.

In his farewell speech last January, Australia’s outgoing Chief Scientist Ian Chubb presented research which showed that ‘more than a quarter of Australia’s economy existed because of scientific advances made over the past three decades.’ That’s a $330 billion dollar contribution every year (the news.com.au article says $330 million, a gross error).

‘Those same advances account for close to 1.2 million jobs,’ Chubb added, ‘and about $84 billion in annual exports.’ That raises the obvious question: why have our country’s leaders treated Science so shabbily?

Looking ahead with eyes wide open

The wars of the future will be different from those of the past. By 2036, battleships and fighter planes will most likely be unmanned and guided by Artificial Intelligence. That’s a good thing because even today, our Navy is unable to find enough seamen willing to sign up for submarine duty. Sadly, our brand new submarines will be obsolete before they even hit the water.

However, the wars of the future will not likely be fought over a few sand islands in the China Sea, but over access to fertile land and clean water. With the world’s population growing at the same pace as we’re depleting our resources on land and sea, conflicts will arise between the haves and the have-nots. A major part of India is in severe drought just now, with 300 million people relying on water that is delivered by trains, and armed guards protecting dams. That’s a sign of worse to come.

India’s population has grown from 500 million to 1.25 billion in the last 50 years, and many other countries’ populations have grown at the same unsustainable rate. By 2040, the earth’s population is forecast to reach over 9 billion. We live at a time when forward-looking leaders must take action to safeguard our future, action on global warming, on pollution, on renewable energy, on intelligent resource management and on population control.

The challenges are huge, and wasting so much of our money on submarines and jobs for a few votes is a tragedy. Malcolm Turnbull promised he would lead Australia’s transition to a new economy. Instead of supporting the essential innovation he talks about, he’s become trapped in same old ideas and outmoded ways as his predecessor. Malcolm Turnbull has squandered an immense opportunity to give Australia a great new vision and direction at a critical time in our history.


More on this Subject  - Leadership 101 for a PM on P-Plates.

Kim Brebach
Content Chief

Kim loves people and words. He is our lateral thinker, ideas guy and genius story teller. He can conjure engaging technology yarns out of thin air.

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