Budget 2015: Labor proposes startup funding, axing STEM debts

Australian Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has pledged to wipe the HECS debts for 100,000 science, engineering, maths, and technology graduates in his reply to the 2015 Budget.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has outlined his plan to kick-start the economy and create jobs if he becomes prime minister by further slashing the small business tax rate and turning Australia into a science and technology capital.

Shorten said Labor would also improve the Budget bottom line by more than AU$21 billion over the next decade by making foreign multinationals pay their fair share of tax, and tightening superannuation tax concessions.

In a bid to fill the hole in the economy left by the mining investment boom, Shorten outlined a plan to turn Australia into the "science, start-up, and technology capital" of the region.

"The new jobs of the future require new skills -- designing skills and coding skills -- building, refining, adapting, and servicing the machines in the supply chains of the new age. Three out of every four of the fastest-growing occupations in Australia will require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics -- not just researchers and programmers, but technicians, electricians, plumbers, and machine mechanics. Yet, right now in our schools, TAFE, and universities, there are not enough people acquiring these skills," Shorten said.

Shorten said 3 percent of gross domestic product should be devoted to research and development by the end of the next decade, and pledged to wipe the university debts for 100,000 science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) students.

"Coding is the literacy of the 21st century, and under Labor, every young Australian will have a chance to read, write, and work with the global language of the digital age," Shorten said.

"Digital technologies, computer science, and coding, the language of computers and technology, should be taught in every primary and every secondary school in Australia, and a Shorten Labor government will make this a national priority. We will work with the states and territories and the national curriculum authority to make this happen."

He said that two out of five science and maths teachers for years 7 to 10 do not have a degree in these subjects, and said Labor would boost the skills of 10,000 current primary and secondary teachers, as well as train 25,000 new teachers who are science and technology graduates.

Labor would also create a AU$500 million smart investment fund to work with venture capitalists and fund managers to invest in early stage companies.

"Our model has a definite, proven record of success both here and abroad. Every global company begins as a local one. Every big business starts out as small. And Labor will work with the banks and finance industry to establish a partial guarantees scheme, Startup, to help more Australians convert their great ideas into good businesses," Shorten said.

The government on Thursday challenged Shorten to spell out where Labor would cut spending and increase taxes to balance the books and bring ballooning debt under control.

"He will have to show us the money," Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said, accusing Labor of having a AU$52 billion Budget black hole. Tuesday's Budget set out billions of dollars in savings to return the bottom line to surplus in 2019-20, as well as almost AU$10 billion of new spending on small business tax breaks and support for families.

With AAP

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