Matter of Public Importance – Employment

About 200 or 230 years ago, there was a bloke called Ned Ludd. He was a bloke who smashed up some mechanical machines in a fit of passion, raging against the machine, and he inspired a movement called the Luddites.

No, it is not true that it is the National Party. They were apparently called Luddites.

These were blokes who ran around the country in England burning factories and smashing up machines, all at the start of the industrial revolution.

I was listening to this debate and thinking, ‘Hang on a second. This movement hasn’t finished yet. We’ve a new Ned Ludd: Tony Abbott—the Ned Ludd of Australian politics; the king of the Luddites. Remember, this is the bloke who said that the NBN was a $50 billion entertainment system. He is the guy who brought back the old Telstra copper network that John Howard sold last century. He is also the guy who thinks it is a great idea to give a knighthood to Prince Philip, but he thinks it is a bad idea to teach kids how to code in primary school. He does not get it. He does not understand how important this is, but also how simple and basic this is.

Technology destroys some jobs and it creates new jobs. It has been happening ever since Ned Ludd, ever since the industrial revolution. The challenge for us here right across the country—not just politicians but industry as well—is to make sure that our people, the Australian citizens, have the skills that they need for these new jobs, for the jobs of the future.

What are these new jobs? Most of them require STEM skills: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Seventy-five per cent of the jobs being created in Australia right now require STEM skills. That will only increase in the years ahead. The problem is that right now we are not producing enough people with those skills. That is why the Chief Scientist put out a report a few weeks ago saying that employers are having trouble finding people with the STEM skills that they need for the jobs right now, let alone in the future. When you look at the number of people who are being produced through our universities with STEM skills now, you can see why this is a serious issue.

Let me just give you a couple of statistics. In 2002 China produced half a million people with STEM degrees. This year they expect 3.5 million people to graduate with STEM degrees. So, over the course of a bit over a decade, it has gone from half a million to 3½ million people with STEM degrees. In Australia in 2003 we graduated 9,000 people with ICT degrees; in 2013 that dropped to just over 3,000—from 9,000 to 3,000. So you can see why this is a serious issue, and hopefully those opposite can now understand why what Bill Shorten announced in his budget reply is so important. Not only did Malcolm Turnbull and Joe Hockey say that it is important that all primary school students get taught to code when they are at primary school, but the Business Council of Australia thinks we need to do this. We think it is that important. We asked the Prime Minister in question time to do this, and we got this silly answer back from him that said:

“He says that he wants primary school kids to be taught coding so that they can get the jobs of the future. Does he want to send them all out to work at the age of 11?”

It just shows: he does not get it. The Business Council of Australia thinks we should do this. And you have got Tony Abbott with a stupid answer like this.

Well, my message to Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, and all of the government, is this: remember what happened to Ned Ludd; remember what happened to the Luddites—they lost! They ended up getting caught. I think 17 of them got hung, and seven of them got transported out to Australia. And when you get stupid answers from a Prime Minister like this, it makes me think – some of them must have got away; some of them ended up here! And some of them—or, at least, one of them, made it into the office of the Prime Minister of Australia!