SUBJECTS: The culture in Parliament House; Science in Australia; the Commercialisation of science.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: I was joined earlier by the Deputy Labor Leader, Richard Marles and I asked him, how he hoped the Prime Minister would respond.
RICHARD MARLES, DEPUTY LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well we need to hear from the Prime Minister is just a simple answer to this question; what has been happening from his office in relation to Brittany Higgins? But also, what has he done to inquire about that? And, you know, what’s been really plain about the way Scott Morrison has handled this, is that he is avoiding the really difficult questions which relate to his own behaviour in this. And I think, so much of what we’ve seen play out over the last month- or the last two months, really, which has been so difficult I think for people in this building, but indeed the whole country- women around Australia- has just demanded that we get a very simple, honest reaction from the Prime Minister, which is not about trying to politically manage the moment, but which is about actually trying to respond to what is occurring, in terms of this discussion within our society. And that’s what we need to hear from him now.
GILBERT: There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of having a higher percentage of women in the Labor Party. Do you think that should be extended to female representation among senior staff as well? Within political parties and operations within Parliament?
MARLES: I mean, ultimately, what we want this building to be, is to look like Australia. It will be doing its best work, it will be a fairer place when this building looks like Australia. And that’s not just those who serve in the chamber, but indeed, everyone who works here. And so to that end, obviously, you know, we need to get to a point where there are more women working here. But you know, I think one of the things that has emerged in all this, is that when you look at what has been playing out, over the years when- I mean, it is so difficult, I guess, to look at, as somebody who works in his building, you can understand why women might not want to make this, you know, the place they pursue their career. And that’s a tragedy, if women are making that decision. And which ultimately comes back to this point; this is a really important building, that’s to state the obvious. And it makes very significant decisions, there’s a real privilege in working here. And none of that can be a license to bad behaviour. That actually needs to be a call for this building to be the exemplar- the highest example of a workplace in this country. And obviously, all of us have failed in that. And that’s what must change.
GILBERT: So, in the Opposition Leaders Office, there’s 12 senior staff that are men, seven that are women. Do you think there’s an argument- and I’m not- I’m just saying that as an example, of how there’s representation in the Parliament but should there be more senior staff that are women? Would you look at the quota situation potentially for that, is that possible?
MARLES: I think we need to be doing everything we can to have women working in the most senior roles. I mean, we have used the quota system in terms of women in Parliament, which has obviously been really important to getting to where we’ve got to now. There are very senior women across our ranks as staff members- indeed, my Chief of Staff is a woman. And so, you know, women play a very significant role at the staff level. But not for a moment am I saying that Labor’s journey is done. I think we’ve still got a significant way to go. And, you know, I guess that also reflects the fact that we’ve not wanted this to be a partisan issue. There’s a really important conversation now, which is happening, unlike any that I’ve experienced in my lifetime, about the gender relations in our society. And it’s focusing at one level on how that plays out in terms of this building. And it’s really important that you know, all of us are taking- are kind of honouring that discussion and that it becomes a moment of change. And, you know, I think it will. I certainly hope it does. But it requires all of us to listen and to embrace it.
GILBERT: It sure does, and as you say we hope that it does lead to a lasting change that helps this place be what it should be. Let’s talk about something else that we hope will improve, and that is, you addressed this in your speech yesterday; the need to commercialise our successes and breakthroughs better- commercialise scientific success in this country. We’ve had often great inventions and breakthroughs but not always the commercialisation. Do you think Labor can sharpen up some of that policy before the election? Have ideas that are specific to, maybe you don’t want to pick winners, but say industries, where you can say; this will be a hub of excellence- Silicon Valley style and inspired by that sort of thing.
MARLES: Yeah, I do. And the starting point is to diagnose the problem. And that’s what I was seeking to do yesterday at the National Press Club. The stat, which reflects our ability to commercialise science- to commercialise public research, if you like – to turn science into jobs, we don’t do that well. In fact, we do that as badly as any country in the OECD. Now, that doesn’t mean we did science badly. We – in fact, we do excellent science. And there are some really amazing projects that are going on in the country. But the ability to turn that science into jobs is a problem for our nation. And, and it’s actually really critical, I think, as we come out of COVID, and we take a moment to reimagine the nation which has being presented to us with the COVID, that we climb the technological ladder, particularly when it comes to manufacturing- that we do high tech industry. But central to that is solving this issue of our failure- historically- to be able to turn science into jobs.
GILBERT: And what is at the core of that? Is it say, you need to create hubs alongside universities, to get start-ups involved in the CSIRO, alongside technology capacity like that. How do you do it?
MARLES: Yeah, a good question. And I’m not standing here saying I’ve got all the answers, but we certainly will provide the start to the solutions, as we go into the election. But I think, you know, there needs to be a much more organic relationship between the private sector and our public research. I think you do see that in the United States for example, Silicon Valley is a pretty good example of that, I mean that emanates out of both the university sector and the defence sector, and what you see flow from that is a really good collaboration with the private sector. So we need to look at that. A couple of weeks ago I went to Cicada Innovations, which is a Centre in Sydney which is owned by the University of Sydney, ANU, UTS and UNSW. That is an innovation centre where they’re producing fantastic commercial outcomes from science. So, there are examples in the country. But, whatever our policy outcome is, it has got to be- well our policy prescription – it has got to be trying to take the best practice which I think does exist in Australia and making it everyday practice.
GILBERT: Richard Marles, I appreciate your time as always. Thanks.
MARLES: Thanks, Kieran.