Meecham Philpott: Well normally, normally we probably wouldn’t do too much about a building opening in Mackay region, but yesterday it was really quite something different, and it was out at the CQU campus, the opening of the Rennie Fritschy Engineering Building. And it was a big day actually, because the Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, was up here, did some school visits, but was also there for the opening. And I was having a chat with the Minister, and I just said so what brings you here, why is it so important to you


Simon Birmingham: Skilling Australians and more highly skilling Australians is absolutely essential. We know that around 75 per cent of jobs in the future, in the fastest growing industries, will require science, technology, engineering, or maths skills, the so-called STEM skills, so making sure that people have skills in those particular areas, but in general a more highly educated population. Which is why we have supported this enormous growth in university enrolments, around 40 per cent of our population now working towards or having university qualifications that really do then support people to obtain the types of job opportunities and careers that a modern economy needs.

Meecham Philpott: Once upon a time we were known as a rock and crop kind of economy, now we want to be the innovative economy. How important are universities to make that transition?

Simon Birmingham: Universities are essential. We speak about really trying to shift the economy from one of mines to minds, and really that’s part of the key attributes that we’re looking for in our Innovation Statement. That’s not to say that the mining industry isn’t important, it’s absolutely an essential underpinning to our economy and we still see enormous opportunities to grow that in the future, obviously especially in regions like this, notwithstanding current downturns in some of the activity. So we want to make sure though that we use that as a base and a launching pad so that the engineering activities that the mining industry can support then can really drive other forms of innovation. And Malcolm Turnbull’s $1.1 billion innovation statement that he released late last year really does try to restructure a range of tax incentives for start-up business, for venture capital, as well as investing more in targeted areas of our education system, all of it designed to help those types of businesses, the engineering, science, technology and so on, to innovate and create new job opportunities in the future. 

Meecham Philpott: Are we going to get to the point where you’ve got all these students, and they’re coming up with these ideas, but they can still access those buckets of money that the PM’s talked about in the innovation fund?

Simon Birmingham: Well indeed. Look the funds that are there in terms of the innovation fund are spread across a whole range of different areas, starting right from the smallest and youngest children in terms of trying to provide more inspiration in early learning and preschool environment for children to engage in maths and science, investing them right through schools and universities, and as I said into encouraging the type of tax system that better incentivises businesses to have a go, to risk failure sometimes, but to make sure they’ve got the support there to attract venture capital, to attract [indistinct] to invest, and to have those types of systems in place that do allow us to try to get more start-up businesses that can come from all manner of different environments. Many do come out of our universities already, but we’re restructuring our research programs so that there’s greater incentive for universities to collaborate with business, and we know that universities like the Central Queensland University, working out of locations like Mackay, are sometimes just as likely to stumble across a great technological breakthrough by working with local industry and business as those bigger institutions in the big cities.

Meecham Philpott: How do you talk someone who’s worked with their hands pretty much their whole life into going to university, where in their mind they’re saying I was never built to go to uni, I was horrible at school, it just won’t work?

Simon Birmingham: It’s about appreciating that there are such a diverse range of opportunities that tertiary education provides. Now it won’t be for everybody; we recognise that although we’re aspiring to have a more highly skilled economy we’re still talking about around 40 per cent of school leavers and Australians having tertiary qualifications. That means that 60 per cent need to be supported through good vocational education and training pathways, and of course institutions like CQU are outstanding dual service providers there in terms of delivering in the VET space as well as in the higher education and university space. So you’ve got to make sure that you support all the different aspects of the economy, and in that technology and electronics space there are many people who need to have vocational qualifications working alongside those with university qualifications.

[End of excerpt]

Meecham Philpott: Federal Minister for Education Simon Birmingham, who was at the opening of this new CQU building yesterday.

Senator Birmingham’s media contact:                   James Murphy 0478 333 974
                                                                                    Nick Creevey 0447 644 957
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