Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:08): First of all, I want to thank Senator Moore and Senator Bilyk for raising this matter for debate today because it gives me the opportunity to highlight some of the exciting new policies being brought forward by the coalition government. Can I start with the $1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, which will help create a modern, dynamic 21st-century economy for Australia. Our innovation agenda will promote a culture of entrepreneurship and place innovation at the heart of everything we do as a nation. We will make it easier for start-ups and new innovative businesses to access early stage capital to grow their businesses by providing a 20 per cent tax offset for investments up to $1 million, as well as capital gains tax exemption. And we will be establishing a $200 million CSIRO Innovation Fund to turn world-leading research into commercial outcomes and to help small CSIRO spin-off companies access capital to grow their business. Our innovation agenda will help transform Australia into a leading innovation nation and position us to seize the next wave of economic prosperity.
This is a debate, and I simply cannot let pass some of the fantasy stories told by the previous speaker in her contribution. She talked about school cuts under the coalition government. As Senator Birmingham pointed out time and time again in question time, there are no school cuts; there is increased funding for schools. What happened was Labor—without any budgeting, without any money—said, 'We're going to spend X amount on schools.' This was not funded at all. We get into government, find there is no money there and so we have to increase the money that is there to do the things that the coalition government wants to do. So Senator Bilyk is wrong on school cuts: there are no school cuts; there are increases. Similarly with Gonski: there were no forward funding commitments for Gonski. That is being contributed by the coalition government.
Senator Bilyk talked about the tax of multinationals. The Labor Party was in power for six long years and did not a thing about the problem that Senate Bilyk now says is such a major concern for the Australian economy. By contrast, the coalition government has already introduced legislation to deal with that. There has been no talk by anyone on our side of politics about a 15 per cent GST, but day after day after day I hear Labor's spokesmen saying nothing else but '15 per cent GST'. The only one actually proposing this, until two days ago, was the Labor Premier of South Australia. He was the only one, until Mr Baird entered the debate; until then, for the last four months the only one who has been advocating a 15 per cent GST has been a Labor politician, the Labor Premier of South Australia.
Senator Bilyk also talked about arts funding. I am delighted today to hear that, out of the minister's Catalyst fund, the Girringun Aboriginal community—based in Cardwell, between Townsville and Cairns—has received funding through Catalyst to the display of the works of the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, and the wonderful painters and contributors they have from that community, in exhibitions in Sydney and at the Monaco art festival. This is made possible not by the Australia Council, not by state governments, but by Senator Fifield's Catalyst fund, which allows the government to fund wonderful, very useful and very worthwhile groups like the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation to display their artworks around the world. I understand from Senator Bilyk that she would be opposed to this, so I will make sure the Girringun Aboriginal community are aware of that.
The subject of the debate does have some credence, because there are things that the Turnbull government will not be changing. For example, we will not be changing the coalition's policy of stopping the boats—a policy that Labor could not even comprehend, but we did. The Turnbull government will continue that policy to save lives and to save having children in detention. Furthermore, the Turnbull government will continue the coalition government's campaign to get children out of immigration detention. When we took office, almost 2,000 children were in detention under the Labor-Greens government that ran Australia; now there are fewer than 100. We are going to continue the policies that have allowed that.
We have abolished the carbon tax, and I can assure you that no coalition government ever again in the future will be reintroducing Labor's carbon tax. We will be meeting the climate change targets that the coalition government have set and which I see that the new Chief Scientist has said are well set and will be able to be met by the coalition's policies. And it is wonderful to see that we are doing something about reducing carbon emissions while the rest of the world just talks about it. We are actually doing it, and we will continue doing it.
We are going to continue the coalition's policy of having a referendum on same-sex marriage. What can be wrong with asking the Australian people in a plebiscite to determine this difficult issue? When you are in a democracy, what can be more democratic than asking the Australian people to do it?
Another thing the coalition will not be changing is our determination to build the infrastructure of the 21st century for our country. The money that the Australian government has put in and has leveraged from others into our infrastructure is just legend. Over the Christmas break I had the opportunity of driving to Brisbane along the Bruce Highway, and I am amazed at the amount of work that has been done. I had heard about it. I had seen media releases about all the work along the Bruce Highway, but I actually experienced it. This is work that the coalition has done which Labor could never do, and that policy of building the infrastructure for the next century will continue.
Could I finish on northern Australia. The coalition government have a wonderful policy on northern Australia that we have been considering for the last 10 years, I have to say, and in earnest for the last three or four years. We had a green-paper process on northern Australia. We had a white-paper process. We consulted everyone. We launched the white paper in June last year. I have to say that the wonderful initiatives in that—including the $5 billion loan facility, the CRC, the new infrastructure, new water policies and a new dam policy—are all happening. We are no longer talking about them.
But, by contrast, what are Labor doing? Let me tell you what Labor are doing. Labor have suddenly decided that they have to set up a northern Australia task force to consult with people on what they should do for their policy. They have not got a policy. They have never had a policy on north Australia. And suddenly they are starting, about five years behind the coalition, on looking for a policy for north Australia. With respect to my friend and colleague Senator McLucas, I think she is in charge of that, but unfortunately the Labor Party in their wisdom have got rid of Senator McLucas from their Senate team and replaced her with a bloke from Brisbane, a union delegate—a union hack from Brisbane to replace northern Senator McLucas. And yet she is given the unenviable task of trying to pull together a northern Australia policy before she leaves the Senate in favour of a Brisbane union hack who is taking her place.
As to this discussion by the Australian Labor Party, I am delighted they have brought it forward. It allows me and my colleagues to demonstrate just what wonderful new initiatives are coming forward under the current government and under Prime Minister Turnbull but also to emphasise that the tried and tested policies that the Australian people elected us on will continue for the benefit of all Australians.