Christopher Pyne: Everyone’s ready?

Katrina Falkner: Well thank you for coming today. We’d very much like to welcome Mr Pyne and Mr Birmingham for coming and helping us announce the fantastic funding initiative that they are supporting us with. Over the past 18 months we’ve been running an open, free online course for teachers, for primary school teachers across Australia to help them prepare for the new digital technologies curriculum, which is going to be critical for innovation in Australia. We’ve had about 5000 teachers through the course so far, which has been fantastic, but what we’ve found is that teachers really are able to cope well when they have a face to face community to help them go through the course materials.

And that’s what this program is going to help us achieve. It will help us build communities for teachers to be able to learn computer science, to learn computational thinking, and will also help us establish a lending library of state-of-the art digital technologies that we can basically lend out to every school in Australia, which means that any school is able to access the best technology to educate our students.

Christopher Pyne: Excellent.

Simon Birmingham:  Thanks Katrina, and thanks so much for having us along here today. This really is a great example of the Federal Government seeking to back innovation at the University of Adelaide to enhance innovation right across Australia’s school system. Because what we’re doing today is committing $6.9 million out of the National Innovation and Science Agenda to help the University of Adelaide expand this open access program, this MOOC to access more teachers, so that ultimately more than 20,000 teachers will be assisted in developing their information technology capabilities and developing their skills to be able to better inspire and teach students in terms of technology and innovation right around Australia.

And this really is about long term investment, because we know that by enhancing the skills of teachers today, we will have more capable students tomorrow, who are more likely to come to great institutions like the University of Adelaide to study technology or science or engineering, and to build the more innovative and capable nation we aspire to in the future. So I really want to congratulate the University of Adelaide for the initiative and innovation that they have shown in relation to developing this, and indeed for the work that they’re now going to do to help ensure that thousands more Australian teachers have a far better capacity to teach technology, to inspire children to learn science and for them to be able to go on and be our scientific and technology innovators in the future. Christopher?

Christopher Pyne: Well thank you Simon, and thank you for allowing me to be part of this launch today, and congratulations to the University of Adelaide for attracting $6.9 million of funding for their MOOC. I’m obviously very pleased as a South Australian that the first element of the National Innovation and Science Agenda that is being launched is here in my home city of Adelaide. This $7 million is part of the $1.1 billion that we announced last December to really drive innovation and science as a major part of our economy in the decades ahead. This is part of the area that we have allocated to schools and education, so $50 million to support students in ICT, to support teachers in ICT, $14 million to support young students, particularly preschool age students in coding, learning coding and learning how to interact with mathematics and science. So that’s at least a – that’s almost a $70 million commitment to school funding to support science, technology, engineering and maths in schools.

A big part of that is the capacity of the teachers, and so this MOOC that’s being launched today, or being supported to go national today is going to help enable the teachers to get to the students the information they need in the modern economy, and part of that of course is coding, and $20 million of the $50 million is coding, so the Turnbull Government is really investing in giving young Australians the skills they need. We saw recently a survey of Australian students which showed that they felt that they didn’t leave school with the skills that were needed in a modern economy. The Federal Government is addressing that through partners like the University of Adelaide, so I’m very pleased to be here to be part of the first element being rolled out in the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

Simon Birmingham: Thanks Christopher. We’ll take questions on innovation and the MOOC while we’ve got Katrina and anything else.

Question: Katrina, do we run the risk that students, the up and coming students are far more tech savvy than the teachers that are teaching them?

Katrina Falkner: They may be tech savvy in terms of using computer science and using technology, but being able to create their own technology is a brand new skill. And so some students will have that skill, but that’s why we need to get in and really work with our teachers now to make sure that they’re up to pace.

Question: Mr Birmingham, just in terms of higher education, would you support a plan for people to tap into their superannuation to pay for their uni debts?

Simon Birmingham: Seems like we’re getting off of the MOOC and innovation already. But look, that’s a proposal that’s being put to the tax reform agenda and consideration of all of those issues of tax reform, and welcome also to proposals which Government will give proper consideration to, but we have to be mindful that the primary purpose of superannuation is to support people’s retirement income and to prepare people for retirement, and to alleviate the long term burden on our pension system. The Government will be cognisant of that, but we welcome contribution, we welcome the ideas, and really the only person at present who isn’t being constructive in putting any ideas into the tax reform equation is of course Bill Shorten and the Federal Labor Party.

Question: Chris Back says it is a good idea and would be good for budget.

Simon Birmingham: And I said, we’ll have a look at all proper ideas, but we also have to look at it in the context of importance of superannuation [inaudible] for ensuring that the maximum number of Australians can provide for their own retirement and reduce the burden on the pension system in the future.

Question: Deregulation’s an important issue for this university and many others. Are you about to bring that back any time soon?

Simon Birmingham: What we declared last year was that there would be certainty for 2016 to make sure that students, universities, all stakeholders would know that we weren’t planning to change the university funding system for 2016, while I consult with key stakeholders. And that’s exactly what I’m doing, and I’ll be having more to say about that later.

Question: Chris, is there perhaps a light on the horizon for the Holden factory?

Christopher Pyne: Well look I think it would be unwise to raise the expectations, particularly of the Holden workers, that there was a silver bullet for the car industry, to save the car industry in Northern Adelaide. I have been working with Punch Corporation, and encouraging General Motors to engage with Punch Corporation to see if they can take over the Holden plant, as they did to another General Motors plant in Strasbourg, in Europe. And it is quite prospective that that might occur. It requires General Motors to agree of course to sell their property to Guido Dumeray’s Punch Corporation. It’s very early days, and so therefore we have a lot of water to go under the bridge before that is successful. But if we can save the car industry here in Adelaide we will, because it’s about jobs, it’s about growth, and it’s about certainty for those workers into the future. But we don’t want them to grieve a second time for the loss of Holden, and therefore we don’t want to raise expectations unnecessarily high.

Question: Why then would you rip out $800 million from the industry [indistinct] …

Christopher Pyne: [Interrupts] Well we haven’t, that’s just not right. Now, I’ve tried to explain the Automotive Transformation Scheme several times over the last 24 hours. The Automotive Transformation Scheme is legislated until 2021. There are forecasts of course about spending between now and 2021. The three car manufacturers, Toyota, Ford, and Holden, have indicated they’re leaving in 2017. So there is an inevitable saving between 2017 and 2021. If a car manufacturer changes their mind for example and decides to stay here, say Ford decided to stay at Broad Meadows in Victoria or Punch Corporation succeeds in purchasing the Elizabeth plant, and they produce 30 units a year, which is the requirement under the Automotive Transformation Scheme, they will be able to access it until 2021 at least, because that is the law. And that would be supported from the Commonwealth Government. And we don’t begrudge them that at all, that’s what the Automotive Transformation Scheme is for. But if the three car manufacturers leave in 2017 and there is no replacement for them, then the scheme will come to an end because there’s no car manufacturers.

Question: I think my real question is, is it a bit hypocritical given that your Government stopped subsidies for this industry, and now at the eleventh hour in an election year all of a sudden you want to support this industry.

Christopher Pyne: Well the Government didn’t stop subsidies for the automotive industry, that’s just false. As the Asia-Pacific CEO of Holden- GM Holden said, it wouldn’t have mattered how much money the Government promised General Motors in Detroit, they had no intention of staying at Elizabeth. And we haven’t ended subsidies to the car industry; as I just indicated, the Automotive Transformation Scheme is in place until 2021. If you, or I, or anybody else starts a car manufacturing business and produces 30,000 units a year, we’ll be able to access it. The reason why some people think that it’s been closed is because the three car manufacturers have said that they’re leaving. But I, and Simon, and every South Australian, and every Victorian for that matter, who wants the car industry to remain open would welcome someone taking over the plant.

Question: [Indistinct] the Premier is saying exactly the opposite. He said he sat in meetings where effectively Holden was driven away by the Coalition Government, that there was no offer. Completely different to what you’re saying. He’s now saying it’s a big mistake and the Government should realise they have made a big mistake. His words.

Christopher Pyne: Well, I don’t want to play politics with the futures of Holden workers, you know. We don’t want to have this debate again, which upsets the- particularly the people in northern Adelaide all over again. Now, if Jay Weatherill wants to play politics with the futures of jobs in South Australia, I think that’s very disappointing. All I can tell you is what the CEO of the Asia-Pacific for General Motors said, which was that it didn’t matter how much money the Australian Taxpayer gave General Motors in Detroit, they were not going to keep Elizabeth open.

Question: So the Premier’s got his wires crossed has he? He said he was in the meeting.

Christopher Pyne: That’s up to the Premier. I wasn’t in any meeting with the Premier where it was discussed. All I can say is that I’m now the Minister for Industry, the Automotive Transformation Scheme remains in place until 2021. If we can attract a car manufacturer to Australia, whether it’s in Melbourne or whether it’s in Adelaide, I will do that. And if we therefore protect the jobs of workers, that’s a great outcome. We’ve also of course since General Motors announced that they were leaving introduced the Automotive Diversification Programme, the Industry Growth Fund, $155 million in that, and the Next Generation Manufacturing Programme. And I’ve re-phased some money that was the source of an argument between Victoria, South Australia, and the Commonwealth into the Next Generation Manufacturing Programme so we can have another round of those grants – because obviously we’re in the business of creating jobs and growth in the Australian economy. And as the Minister for Industry, I fortunately have a number of levers at my disposal which allows me to encourage that. We are using them, and the Automotive Transformation Scheme is one of those while it remains legislated.

Question: Can we ask Senator Birmingham, as a good loyal South Australian Senator, do you think Holden was driven out and it was a big mistake?

Simon Birmingham: No, I don’t think Holden was driven out. I think as Christopher has rightly explained, the Automotive Transformation Scheme is legislated, is there and available to car manufactures, and was there and available for General Motors, as it would be if they chose to change their mind and stay in Adelaide, as it would be if somebody else buys the plant and starts making sufficient cars under the terms of the ATS in Adelaide.

Question: But given the Australian dollar now, it’s a far cry from what it was even three years ago. A lot of people would say perhaps the Government should have seen this coming, had a contingency, seen the dollar would be far more favourable, and be more receptive to Holden.

Simon Birmingham:  Well I don’t think anybody saw changes in the Australian dollar coming. What the Government tries to run is a consistent policy agenda, and the consistent policy agenda provides for the type of support that Christopher has outlined.

Question: Christopher in terms of …

Unidentified Speaker: Last one please.

Question: … this is an election year, can Jamie Briggs hold onto his seat or is there any contingency plan to replace him?

Christopher Pyne: Well we support Jamie Briggs remaining as the candidate for Mayo. I have every confidence that Jamie will be able to convince the electors in his electorate of Mayo to re-elect him. He’s a part of an excellent Government with a Prime Minister who is obviously restoring confidence amongst the Australian public in our economic agenda. Labor has nothing to offer, and that’s perfectly transparent. And I think when the Australian voter gets to the ballot box they’ll recognise that they want Malcolm Turnbull to remain as Prime Minister, they want the Liberal Government to remain in office in Canberra, and that playing with their vote potentially could see Bill Shorten as Prime Minister and Labor in office. Now, no one wants to do that, and for that reason I believe that Jamie Briggs will be re-elected.

Question: So he’s not damaged goods, and there’s no chance that he will be replaced

Christopher Pyne: All things pass, and Jamie Briggs has paid a high price for a mistake, which he’s admitted, but I think the public has moved on and he continues to be a fine representative for Mayo.

Minister Pyne’s media:     0439 764 809 

Minister Birmingham’s media:         James Murphy, 0478 333 974

    Nick Creevey, 0447 644 957

Department media: