Question: Fantastic, okay so you just heard from some of the Future Fellows, can you tell me a little bit about their projects and how those specifically can improve the future for everyday people?
Simon Birmingham: Look, the Future Fellows are undertaking research across a wide range of disciplines, but importantly, and most excitingly, their research is focused on areas where we can potentially grow our knowledge in relation to medical research and technologies where we can enhance our knowledge in terms of advanced manufacturing capabilities, areas where there is immense opportunity to create new jobs and new economic opportunities for Australia in the future, and which tie very strongly into the Turnbull Government’s Innovation Agenda.
Question: Can you tell me about how impressive some of these fellows are? I think someone’s 3D moulding some tissues for medical research; that’s incredible, isn’t it?
Simon Birmingham: Some of what these individuals and the universities they’re working in are capable of doing and are researching is quite mind-blowing in terms of its capability and its potential. And we’ve seen from previous Future Fellows the transformative effects it can have through projects like shifting from needle-based immunisation to patch-based immunisation, which can really change and transform the way immunisation is delivered, not just in a country like Australia, but especially throughout the world in developing nations where refrigeration and other things aren’t so available to them. And it’s important to note today that Queensland, in receiving nine out of fifty future fellows, is packing a punch well above its weight in terms of the research capability of Queensland universities and the outcome that is there for Queensland researchers.
Question: How do you think Queensland stands? Do you want us to, you know, pick up even more, not slack, but you know increase in research and that kind of thing, do you see Queensland as a bit of a leader in that kind of thing?
Simon Birmingham: Well importantly our Federal funding programs around research do encourage competition, and do try to bring the best out of different universities and different researchers, and Queensland has clearly come through this competitive process standing well in the bunch in terms of getting nine out of fifty, a very strong result for Queensland, above what its population share would usually be, and a demonstration that Queensland’s universities, particularly here at Griffith University securing three of those places are achieving outstanding outcomes.
Question: What’s the future look like with projects like this on the go?
Simon Birmingham: The future is bright, as Malcolm Turnbull says; it’s an exciting time to be an Australian. And when you come to events like this that is reinforced, that the knowledge and potential of our researchers is vast and immense, and we just need to do more as our innovation statement and strategy seeks to do, to capitalise and to harness that knowledge, and to make sure we turn it into new businesses, and new jobs, and new opportunities that benefit all Australians in the future.
Question: [Indistinct] I did want to have a few questions in regards to the budget if that’s okay?
Simon Birmingham: Sure.
Question: We’re both from Canberra,
Simon Birmingham: That’s right.
Question: So we will consult notes. Okay, so the Government both under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull has said it’s best placed to manage the country’s economy, but the budget is proving a bit elusive. Can you give a trajectory or a deadline on what could come of the surplus?
Simon Birmingham: Well, obviously yesterday the Treasurer outlined a pathway that would see surplus by 2020-21. But really the important message from Scott Morrison yesterday was that this is a steady reform task that we have to undertake, that we need to constrain spending while growing the economy, and steadily bring the budget back to surplus; that there are no silver bullets, there are no easy answers as to how you ensure that we get the budget back under control from the Labor years of chronic and excessive spending; that we need to, as a country, acknowledge and accept that global factors have changed, global economic growth is not as strong as had been forecast, world commodity prices have continued to go down, which has a profound affect on Australian Government revenue, and those factors are undermining the revenue sources that governments traditionally relied upon. We’re trying our best to adjust to that, we’ve ensured that any new spending the government has undertaken has been fully offset in the budget. And so the only change in the budget effects, in that sense, has been external factors impacting on the budget. But we remain resolute in keeping spending under control, in focusing on growing the economy, because they’re the two means by which we will ultimately bring the budget back to surplus.
Question: So you know under Joe Hockey there was a surplus in 2020, do you believe that year could still be achievable to bring it back to surplus?
Simon Birmingham: Well, of course all of that will depend upon how global economic factors play, what we see in relation to commodity prices and the like. We are taking a cautious and conservative approach. We’re not going to overpromise in relation to what can be achieved around the surplus; we’re going to try to keep spending under control, focus on growing the Australian economy. They’re the two things the Australian Government can do, and that’s our focus.
Question: Is it unattainable?
Simon Birmingham: Surplus is certainly not unattainable, but it is a slow and steady process. And so we need to continue to be resolute in growing the economy, keeping spending under control, and that will eventually get us there.
Question: Are you confident that will be within the next five or six years, or are you not sure
Simon Birmingham: Well, we believe we can get there through a steady hand by keeping that spending under control, and by growing the Australian economy. There’s no magic solution, there’s no silver bullet, and nobody should pretend otherwise. That’s why we’ve been very honest and open about the challenge we face in relation to the government budget, but about the fact that the way to fix it is a slow and steady one; which is what Malcolm Turnbull, and Scott Morrison, and Mathias Cormann are very committed to doing.
Question: Do deeper cuts need to be made to reduce the debt and deficit? The best we got yesterday was a $400 million improvement to the budget bottom line, surely we need to do better than this to improve the nation’s finances?
Simon Birmingham: Well, there are two ways to ensure that we bring the budget under control. One is to keep spending under control, and the Government is doing that and has fully offset any new spending measures since the last budget. And the other is to grow the economy. And the innovation statement and our discussions around tax reform, and competition policy, and investments like this in research and innovation in the future are all about how we grow the economy. And it will be a stronger economy that best helps us bring the budget back to surplus in the future.
Senator Birmingham’s media contact: James Murphy, 0478 333 974
Nick Creevey, 0477 644 957
Department Media: firstname.lastname@example.org