SUBJECT/S: Labor will never privatise public good science, the Government’s half a billion dollars donation of taxpayer money, House of Representatives united against racism, drought.
SENATOR KIM CARR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INNOVATION, INDUSTRY, SCIENCE AND RESEARCH: Thank you very much for coming, this is National Science week and it is appropriate that we are clear about the future direction under a Labor Government. We are pledging that we will not privatise public good research and that we will protect and preserve our public science agencies. The recent dispute about the grant of the $443 million to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation highlights the stark difference of approach between the Labor Party and this Government. 
Only a simpleton would have you believe that you believe that you can save the Great Barrier Reef by holding a weekend party on Hamilton Island for millionaires.  What we have seen is a Government that has been driven by panic.  In November 2014 President Obama made some observations about the threat posed to the Great Barrier Reef and he wanted, he said, to have the Great Barrier Reef available to his grandkids to be able to enjoy and it is one of the great wonders of the natural world. Conservatives in this Government took great offence at that and they said they had it all under control.
Three and a half years later they looked up and found they had done nothing,  so they panicked,  they panicked and handed out a grant to shopfront outfit of $443 million, turning their backs on the people that actually know best in terms of protection and repair of the reef – our scientists in our public agencies, like AIMS and the CSIRO. What this country needs is patient, long term, public science undertaken by the public agencies that are committed and devote their lives to ensuring the public good. Knowing they have the full support of the public.  Knowing that they are fully accountable to the public for the expenditure of the hundreds of millions of dollars.  What we have got is this massive duplication and waste in the circumstances where the Government has sought to get a quick fix for something of such immense international importance that we are finding this is money grossly wasted. 
We are saying that the money should be returned, that the money should be spent with our public agencies, there should be proper administrative arrangements put in place to ensure the proper accountability for the expenditure of public money and so the public can be confident that their great natural asset is being preserved,  repaired by the people that actually know how to do their job  -- not by some shop front outfit that hasn’t got a clue when it comes to the actual job of persevering the Great Barrier Reef. 
TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS: Just briefly so we can go to questions. The Great Barrier Reef Foundation has historically had a role on the Reef but it has been a very modest role. What the Government has now done is made them the gatekeeper for all future scientific decisions of taxpayers money on our most precious and fragile asset. That’s not a decision that ever should have been taken and the best evidence we get of how this decision making took place is the Prime Minister made sure there was no public servants in the room when the money was offered. None in the room, none of the normal methods that we have in making decisions applied. Half a billion dollars handed over and then when it finally got appropriated it was only on the books of the environment department for 24 hours. This is not the way to make decisions about our most precious and fragile environmental asset. What Labor is making clear today is a decision of that nature is not something you would ever see from a Labor Government.
JOURNALIST: The Foundation has said that it can handle the money, why do you think they are not trusted to spend it wisely?
BURKE: Well if it can handle the money they wouldn’t now be advertising a whole series of positions because they don't have the resources to deal with it. It’s also the case that the key expertise that the Government said they had was fundraising ability. They have now got a consultant advising on that. What was meant to be their core expertise, they are even outsourcing that. Historically they have had a role but it has been a modest one. You won’t find me saying that the Foundation should never have any role at any time with anything to do with the Great Barrier Reef. But to make them the gatekeeper of the entire announcement of nearly half a billion dollars of funding  for the Reef just doesn’t stack up.
JOURNALIST: Can you recall a time every when such a large amount of money was handed over to an organisation in a single lump?
BURKE: I certainly can’t, no.
CARR: No. The trouble is that the Government has a hostility to science. They haven’t even got a science minister. They’ve got an associate, assistant minister or parliamentary secretary. They don’t have people who are actually committed to the future of Australian science. Just think what they’ve done to the CSIRO in terms of climate change. Think of what they’ve done in terms of reducing the budget for their science agencies. This is a demonstration once again that their commitment to the fundamentals of patient science, a long-term commitment to science, is just not there.
JOURNALIST: Given the events this week are you still comfortable with Labor preferencing Katter’s Australian Party?
BURKE: We will now work through the principles that need to be applied here. Obviously we have always put One Nation last and the Liberal Party used to always put One Nation last as well and when the by-elections were held the other weekend, Malcolm Turnbull did something that even John Howard wouldn’t do and that was preference One Nation. The reason for not preferencing One Nation is because of the racist element of that party and now that we have someone elected to here because he was elected by One Nation now looking to the next election at going under a different banner we’re going to have to work through that as well because the same principles will end up having to apply. It’s not for me to announce them today but I think that it’s pretty clear where we are headed.
JOURNALIST: What about the CFMEU donation to Mr Katter’s party?
BURKE: I think a lot of us who have worked constructively with Bob Katter over the years were shocked yesterday when he gave that media conference. I’ve worked with him, particularly when I was agriculture Minister. I’ve had a good relationship with Bob but when I saw that media conference I was just shocked and horrified. All the reasons that lead us to put One Nation last need to be applied to any party that’s playing the same divisive, racist games.
JOURNALIST: Mr Burke there are now reports that audio has been leaked that shows Senator Anning’s main goal was to stir up controversy and raise his profile. If by invoking Nazi language that was the case, what’s your view on him using that language to try and boost his own profile?
BURKE: I never believed that it was an accident. So the recording that is being reported simply confirms what I had always presumed. Often that leaves both members of Parliament and the media to having to make that difficult judgement call as to whether or not you allow the attention to be given for the craziness of those views to be exposed or whether you pretend it didn’t happen. This time the media and the entire Parliament took the same view. If we didn’t draw the line at this then there were no lines left. We needed to say enough. The worst moment in this building was followed the next day by one of the best moments in this building. The test for all of us won’t be whether we had a good day yesterday the test for this Parliament is going to be whether any of the dog whistling or racial games continue into the future.
JOURNALIST: If the CFMEU donates another dollar to the Katter’s Australian Party that’s signalling that the line hasn’t been crossed isn’t it?
BURKE: I can’t add to the comments I’ve already given to you on that one.
JOURNALIST: Is the Labor Party willing to work with Senator Anning in the Senate following these comments?
CARR: The truth of the matter is that I can’t recall too many occasions where Senator Anning has ever voted with the Labor Party. He has come into the Senate and demonstrated attitudes which can only be described as fascist since the very day of his arrival. And to add to Tony’s comments, there are some issues that are so important to the future of this democracy that we have to stand up and out them. That’s what we’ve done.
JOURNALIST: You’re calling for the donation to be returned, are you burning bridges with the Foundation which you say is going to be the gatekeeper of the Reef?
BURKE: What I won’t do is burn bridges with the taxpayers who have lost half a billion dollars. That money never should have been to the Foundation. The Foundation responsibly should be giving it back as soon as possible and Malcolm Turnbull should be making sure that that happens. Every day that goes on will be more money that should have been spent on the Reef being diverted to a series of administrative causes and policy judgments that this Foundation doesn’t have the expertise to make.
CARR: It’s gross duplication and waste. We simply do not have the resources to spend in this way, to fix what they believe to be a problem because President Obama made the obvious point that we have a problem with the Great Barrier Reef. The people that do the job are our scientist in our public agencies and our other agencies that are currently operating – our universities, our CRCs – are an established group that have the expertise and have been recognised to have the expertise for a very long time.
JOURNALIST: Senator Carr or Mr Burke, parts of NSW and QLD are experiencing very, very dry conditions of drought at the moment. We’re seeing fires in some of those communities. Are you as an opposition concerned about how those communities are going to be effected going forward into the summer with very dry land and the risk of fire is very high?
BURKE: Of course we are. Of course whenever you have long periods of drought and fires, you want all of Government from every level and every side of politics to work together. That’s what traditionally has happened whenever there has been any form of a natural disaster and I would be stunned if that sort of effort wasn’t made now. Thank you.


Tony Burke