Senator Carr's office spewed forth no less than seven media releases summarising what sort of research and innovation programs a Labor Government would throw money at. Sadly, the words ICT, IT or even digital did not rate a mention. Nor did we hear about R&D tax breaks for ICT projects or programs for attracting ICT investment or anything else that would address our burgeoning ICT deficit that continues to careen out of control toward $15 billion. Instead, we heard about funding programs for healthy kids, environmentally friendly cars, bioterrorism prevention, preserving the decaying CSIRO as a national icon, getting kids interested in science, more research scholarships and a program to bring academic researchers and industry together.
Most of these are worthy causes to be sure, although the CSIRO program (which I still haven't forgiven for choosing cloud seeding over computer research in the 1950s) is debatable. Come to think of it, perhaps the CSIRO should be preserved as a relic of the past. However, allocating $275 million for research into fine wool and textiles with nary a mention of a cent going to research into high technology projects? Please Senator Carr, tell us this is all a bad joke.
Let's see if we can break this down to the fundamental issues. Yes, easier access to higher education so that we can produce more and better researchers is important. Yes, developing ways of producing cleaner and more efficient fuel burning cars is important. Yes, helping industry make more efficient use of research talent at universities is important. Yes, having healthy children is extremely important, and all the better if we can get them interested in science. However, the most pressing industry issue on our national agenda is without doubt our massive annual ICT deficit, which constitutes more than 70 per cent of the current account deficit. Yet, the Opposition doesn't think it's worth mentioning, while the current Government doesn't even concede that it's an industry issue.
Last week, Opposition ICT Minister Kate Lundy refused to commit to a target figure that we might reduce the ICT deficit to during the term of a Labor Government if it wins office. She also hinted that there would be many fighting for a slice of that $8 billion surplus and that ICT is low on the pecking order. It is our belief that she can't make any commitments in a budgetary sense because she knows that an incoming Labor Government would be more interested in spending money on social programs than on an industry that could put this country well and truly on a firm financial footing.
Let's get one thing straight, we are a first world country with lots of intelligent educated people. If we want to have a truly strong and sound economy we must build a decent ICT industry with strong companies that export products to the world and supply the local market. Yet our kids have stopped studying ICT and opting for other courses like commerce, where they know they'll get a job. Is there someone out there in the Government, Opposition or community who has the genitals and intestinal fortitude to pick up the reigns and do what needs to be done. Our next Government, whatever the political colour, needs to allocate huge resources, perhaps billions, to building a real ICT industry in this nation. It may take 10 years, but the way we're going, 10 years from now we'll be discussing the same issue with an annual ICT deficit of $50 billion. Now isn't that a nice thought?