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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE Foreign Affairs Subcommittee
Australia's relationship with the Republic of Korea
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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE Foreign Affairs Subcommittee
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Payne)
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON
Australia's relationship with the Republic of Korea
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JOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE Foreign Affairs Subcommittee
(Joint-Thursday, 1 September 2005)
SEDGLEY, Mr Simon Henry
THOMAS, Dr Mandy
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Payne)
TANNER, Professor Roger Ian
McKELLAR, Professor Bruce Harold John
VERTESSY, Dr Rob
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON
ROBINSON, Mr Angus Muir
MAXWELL, Mr Ron
DOSZPOT, Mr Stephen John
COLEMAN, Mr Benedict
BIRRER, Mr Chris
MILLER, Mrs Michele Ruth
FOX, Professor James J
KIM, Dr Hyung-a
Dr Van Ness
AYSON, Dr Robert Fraser
HUISKEN, Dr Ronald Herman
VAN NESS, Dr Peter
- Dr Vertessy
Content WindowJOINT STANDING COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS, DEFENCE AND TRADE Foreign Affairs Subcommittee - 01/09/2005 - Australia's relationship with the Republic of Korea
ACTING CHAIR (Senator Payne) —Good morning ladies and gentlemen. The Foreign Affairs Subcommittee will now resume taking evidence as part of its inquiry into Australia’s relationship with the Republic of Korea and developments on the Korean Peninsula. I advise all witnesses appearing today that the proceedings are being viewed over the internet. If any witness objects to this webcasting they should advise the subcommittee as soon as possible and state their reasons, which will be considered by the subcommittee. Finally, I remind any members of the media who may be observing the public hearing of the need to report fairly and accurately the proceedings of the subcommittee as required by the Senate order concerning the broadcasting of Senate and committee proceedings.
On behalf of the subcommittee I welcome witnesses this morning from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Research Council. Although the subcommittee prefers that all evidence be given in public, should you at any stage wish to give any evidence in private you may ask to do so and the subcommittee will give consideration to your request. Although the subcommittee does not require you to give evidence on oath you should at least be aware that these hearings are legal proceedings of the parliament and therefore have the same standing as proceedings of the chambers themselves. I would like to ask you to make some opening statements on behalf of your respective organisations and then we will go to questions from the committee and discussion.
Dr Vertessy —I will read from a prepared statement because I would like to introduce some information that does not appear in the written submission from CSIRO, which you understand is focused really only on water issues. First of all, let me say how pleased I am to be here today; thank you for the opportunity. CSIRO and the Republic of Korea have enjoyed a rich and mutually beneficial relationship over the last 25 years.
CSIRO and the Republic of Korea have enjoyed a rich and mutually beneficial relationship over the last 25 years. That relationship has delivered not only scientific but also trade, cultural and social benefits to both countries, we believe. I am not going to try and recap the entire submission but will just pick up on a few points and introduce a few new facts. CSIRO has not been particularly active in the Republic of Korea, as it has been in other countries. During the period 2003 to 2005 CSIRO undertook only 10 projects with Korean partners. This ranked Korea 23rd in world terms in the number of international interactions that CSIRO had over that period. So it is a fairly low number. Indeed, this number has dropped from 20 projects and a ranking of 17 in 1997. So our interactions have been declining over time.
You would be well aware no doubt that the Australian government has signed a treaty level science and technology agreement with Korea. That came into force in April 2000 and covers 11 different fields of cooperative activity. CSIRO overlaps with about 10 of those 11, it turns out. In recent times CSIRO has signed a number of institutional level agreements with counterparts in the Republic of Korea. I will highlight four of these. One of them is a recently signed memorandum of understanding with the Korean Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources, referred to as KIGAM in Korea. That was signed last month. Another one that I was involved in personally was a memorandum of understanding with the Korean water corporation. That is the organisation that manages all of the rivers and dams in Korea. A third is a memorandum of understanding with the welding research centre at Chosun University in Korea. A fourth is a collaboration agreement with the Research Institute of Industrial Science and Technology, or RIIST, in Korea. These relationships provide CSIRO with greater access to opportunities for collaboration with Korean universities and other institutions.
By and large, CSIRO’s interactions have been in the areas of manufacturing and construction, astronomy and, more recently, water research. Researchers from our division of mathematical and information sciences are currently collaborating with the Korean Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute in the area of computational fluid dynamics. Korea has been one of several countries to convert to the use of polymer notes for its currency, based on CSIRO technology. CSIRO is also working with counterparts in Korea on a number of ocean observation research projects and radio astronomy projects. CSIRO has been involved via the Cooperative Research Centre for Satellite Systems, working closely successfully with the Korean Advanced Institute for Science and Technology and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute.
I would now like to turn to water research, which is my area of specialty. I probably will not be able to go to any great depth about any of those other interactions. As you will see from my submission, for several years I have been involved with the Republic of Korea in getting together some collaborative research into water. I do believe that we have very much in common and have a mutually beneficial set of interactions that we should try to exploit. I would be happy to answer any particular questions on that area of work. On the other areas I will do my best.
Senator FERGUSON —Could we get a copy of that statement you just read? You listed a heap of things there, but I cannot quite remember them all.
Dr Vertessy —Sure. I will pass that round. I only have one copy at the moment.
ACTING CHAIR —That is fine. We will copy it. Thanks, Dr Vertessy. Now we will turn to either the ARC or the Academy of Science; I do not mind which.
Dr Thomas —The Australian Research Council is responsible for funding high-quality research across a range of disciplinary areas from the humanities and creative arts, social sciences, biological sciences, physics, chemistry, geosciences, information technology and the engineering sciences. It is through the National Competitive Grants scheme that we fund research. There are many sorts of programs within the scheme which involve collaborations with Korea. People can have research collaborations through the Linkage International program where they can receive awards to travel to Korea or researchers in Korea can come to Australia. They can also receive fellowships to come to Australia to undertake research. Through all the other schemes, the discovery projects and the linkage projects, they can list countries that they collaborate with, so we have a record of the number of collaborations that have occurred with Korea over time.
We also have two memoranda of understanding with Korea, one with KOSEF, the Korean Science and Engineering Foundation, and one with a Korean research foundation, to promote research collaboration between the two countries. To give you an idea of the sorts of collaborations we have had with Korea, from 2001 to 2004 the figures have fluctuated from 19 incidents of collaboration in 2001 up to a maximum of about 40 collaborations in 2003. It is not a steady rise and it seems to be fluctuating somewhat although the total sum invested in collaborations with Korea has risen from over $5,800,000 in 2001 to over $28 million in 2004. The collaborative projects range across all of the disciplines—biological sciences, social and behavioural sciences, economic sciences, engineering, environmental sciences, the humanities and creative arts.
Prof. McKellar —I will begin talking about the joint submission to the committee of the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering. We emphasise that science is intrinsically an international activity and that scientific research is an excellent way to establish and maintain contacts between different countries. You have heard from the ARC about the level of contacts that they have. I would characterise the contacts generally across the board as being not as many as one might expect. For example, if one compares contacts with Taiwan, you see there are many more. Taiwan is a comparably sized country; it is not very different. The academies have a memorandum of understanding with KOSEF which encourages the exchange of scientists, particularly younger scientists, the conduct of workshops and also the sending of missions of fellows to develop new alliances between the countries.
One thing that I want to mention, which does not appear in the submission, is the fact that in Korea, beginning in 2000, there was a millennium exercise which they called Brain Korea 21, which injected quite a lot of support, particularly financial support, into research in the Korean university system. In our terms, it is a bit like centres of excellence. It covers a broad spectrum of academic activities from esoteric theoretical physics to urban architecture—that is from a quick scan of the list—is based on excellent research groups and is a way of building up those research groups. I know, from the groups that I am personally aware of, that it has made a significant difference to scientific research in Korea. I think that Australia is probably not taking as much advantage as it should be of the connections there. As an example of the level of connection available, in north Asia there are three important synchrotrons like the one that is being built in Melbourne. These are sources of high-energy and high-intensity light for research, largely into material science and biology. These are in Japan, Korea and Taiwan. Australia has excellent connections with the two in Japan and the one in Taiwan. Many Australian researchers go to these ones but very few go to the one in Korea, which was the second of those built.
I would suggest that what is needed is a more strategic set of workshops, along the lines that we do organise, but perhaps more strategically aligned so that we can get more information flowing—particularly into the Australian community—about what is happening in Korea. It may be that we expect a bit much from one event in a particular area and need to have the events continue in ways that will build up understanding, trust and collaboration. One example of that is the Australia-Korea rheology workshops. Professor Tanner has been involved with those, and I would like to invite him to talk about them.
Prof. Tanner —A long time ago, I was doing the foreign secretary job for the Academy of Science. I am also a fellow of the other academy—the engineering one. We went to Korea, we saw KOSEF, and we asked them what we should do to improve relationships between our countries. A suggestion was made that we would have these workshops alternately in Australia and Korea. During that time, which is probably around 10 years ago, these workshops began. The reason that we mentioned rheology, which is the science of deformation and flow, is that we believe that has been the outstanding example of collaboration between the two countries. It has been driven by individuals in both countries: partly by David Boger at the University of Melbourne and also by Jae Hyun, who is at Korea University in Seoul. These two together have formed very amicable personal relationships and the workshops in rheology as they were are now in full-fledged conference form. They happen every two years alternately in Australia and Korea.
It seems to me that if one could only find a number of Jae Hyuns and David Bogers, one could make tremendous connections in all of these areas. This is a very happy connection. The biggest problem with the workshop is that Professor Hyun always wants to take you out to karaoke places after the sessions. That is the biggest danger that you run. Otherwise, I think the visits are delightful, the food is wonderful, and the people receive us very hospitably. We just had one of these meetings in Cairns, and the next one will be on an island off the Korean coast in two years time. It is a happy collaboration, but it needs to be wider.
ACTING CHAIR —Should one presume there was no karaoke in Cairns, Professor Tanner?
Prof. Tanner —There is karaoke in Cairns.
ACTING CHAIR —We might be going down the ‘too much information’ road. Thank you very much for those summaries and those brief remarks. I think one of the advantages of discussing these issues in the roundtable format is that you can jump in whenever your colleagues are making comments, if you would like to add to them or, even more excitingly, disagree with them. I am sure my colleagues will do the same. They need little encouragement to do that.
I am interested in receiving your comments on DEST’s International Science Linkages program. Do you think that adds value in this area? Have you come across it yourselves? Have you had any contact with it, and do you have any feedback for us on that?
Prof. McKellar —The academies administer parts of that program for DEST. The Academy of Science is involved in selecting the scientists who go from Australia to overseas countries for the exchange. The Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering is involved in running some workshops under that program.
In the case of Korea, the take-up of this program is not as much as we would like it to be. We are investigating ways of trying to encourage our Australian colleagues who we know have some connections with Korea but do not seem to want to apply to this program. It is focused on researchers who are establishing their careers. We assume that researchers who have established their careers can get grants from the ARC or elsewhere to support collaborations.
In my case, I have a couple of collaborations in Korea and they have always been supported by the Korean end or, when people come to Australia and work with me here, in part by my ARC grants. That is why we focus them on the people who are developing their careers. I think they are a good way of maintaining contacts and starting collaborations which will continue. The evidence we have from a survey of the whole program, not just the Korean one, is that probably about 50 to 60 per cent of the connections that are made through this program lead to continuing collaborations.
Dr Vertessy —I would like to amplify those remarks. I found the scheme very beneficial, as have many scientists within my division. I have benefited from the scheme; it has enabled me and an entourage of water resource specialists from Australia to go there as recently as two years ago to run a joint meeting over there. I would just like to applaud the department for its administration of the program. I think it is very well administered.
Mr Sedgley —I do not want to comment directly on that particular program. I make the comment, though, that the CEO of the ARC, Professor Peter Hoj, has recently commented on the range of programs across government agencies that are there, doing what they do to try and assist international collaborations. He was pointing particularly to the need to look at whether there is enough coordination across those different programs. There is a sense in which perhaps each is working in its own patch and doing very good things, but that we might be able to build on those through some complementarities and people sitting down and talking about ways in which to work in the same direction and reinforce what different agencies are doing. That would be the ARC, DEST, the academy, CSIRO and even the industry portfolio.
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —I want to start off on this water issue that you were raising, Dr Vertessy. I think there have been some really exciting and interesting scientific developments that can assist us in relation to our problems with water resources in Australia. One of the things most recently was this airborne mapping of underground aquifers and water courses and being able to identify where water comes from, where it goes and all those sorts of things. In your submission you speak about this water resources observation network. I am wondering what sort of advantages that could provide within Australia. What is the goal of having such a thing?
Dr Vertessy —It is my very strong view that water resources management in Australia will continue to be fundamentally flawed until we properly measure the resource and have the ability to forecast the availability, security and quality of it into the future. Australia, as you would understand, has a very complicated pattern of jurisdictional responsibilities for gathering information about water resources and managing it. The responsibility rests with the states, and there has been some degree of devolution of that responsibility down to regional catchment management authorities et cetera, which will have to manage environmental water reserves.
At the same time, we also have some deskilling of the public sector in the water industry. Our ability to actually get a good metric on the health, availability and security of the water supply at any time has been decreasing with time rather than increasing, at a time when water is becoming a really scarce resource and we are seeing greater contest in the public and private arenas over access to water. I am strongly on the view that Australia, through the National Water Commission and other vehicles, has to make a large investment now in enhancing our measurement and forecasting capability, and I see some really exciting technologies in Korea that could assist us and give us a good springboard for establishing those via our proposed water resources observation network.
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —What exactly is it?
Dr Vertessy —It is harmonising all of the measurements of water resource information in Australia which are currently held by different agencies, so it is developing interoperability standards that will allow those data sets to be viewed from one place, getting them into a common format and building upon that data layer a set of forecasting tools which can operate nationally across the country. At the present time, different jurisdictions use different forecasting tools based on different standards of data sets, and there are no common public reporting formats that can give a national picture of the state of the resource at any one time. It also requires a future sensorisation program to improve the density of measurements across the country.
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —The sensors that would be required—are you talking about the installation of monitoring equipment Australia wide and picking measurements up by satellite or some such thing?
Dr Vertessy —That is right. It is a mixture of things. On the ground level it requires modernisation of flow measurement and flow and water height sensors in river channels. In many parts of Australia we are still using very antiquated recording techniques—some are even still on paper charts, which are accessed manually in some jurisdictions. We need to move to electronic sensors that can be injected directly into the internet and into databases which can be seen by forecasting systems automatically in real time. Many of our water offtake measurement techniques are still very primitive. We have these old Dethridge wheels with meters on them, whereas some irrigation areas are now rapidly equipping with electronic sensor technologies with wireless communications to bases. We really need to accelerate the revolution that is going on in the raw measurement of flows and water levels, and that should include the ground water resource, which is becoming increasingly important as it gets exploited over time.
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —That is the part it I was a bit worried about, because it seemed up till then that the chief advantage would be in relation to something like flooding. But obviously if the drop in the ground water could be effectively monitored then that would be a big advantage in the current situation. How much would a program to do that cost? It sounds like it would be phenomenally expensive.
Dr Vertessy —The vision that we are erecting at the moment is a staged one. We are proposing an investment of the order of millions and tens of millions of dollars to establish it—to get some national standards for water resource measurement, archiving of information and the layering of some forecasting tools. I believe that over a decade there might have to be a couple of hundred million dollars invested in the extension of the measurement network across the country.
Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —Leaving aside flooding, what practical outcome can that achieve in relation to our need to be able to harvest and store more water more effectively? What is the advantage there?
Dr Vertessy —The major practical outcome is that it would give or improve certainty for water users, both private and public, about the utility. They could plan much better. They could schedule irrigation much more effectively, improve production and hedge their risk a lot better. I must say that it at least will satisfy what are rather lofty aspirations in the National Water Initiative as well, which I do not think can be properly met without an improved measurement network. And I think it can stimulate new investment into irrigation areas, where there is currently a lot of concern about security.
Mr EDWARDS —In your submission you talk about the value of collaboration on water in relation to R&D, and you mention the fact that you have entered into a number of memoranda of understanding. Would it be possible for the committee to get a copy of those? It may be of some interest to the committee to look at them.
You also state that you are constrained by the absence of a funding source to sustain collaboration beyond your own shores. You say:
A modest government-based innovation fund designed to help carry this risk is likely to be very effective in stimulating these linkages.
Given the importance of water to Australia and the fact that almost every state in the nation is grappling with the issue, what sort of a fund are you talking about and how effectively can that be used? What can you provide to the people of Australia through your research, through R&D? In effect, what benefits are there in it for Australia? What period of time are we talking about?
Dr Vertessy —First of all, I would be happy to get those MOUs for the committee.
Mr EDWARDS —Do you think they would be of interest to the committee?
Dr Vertessy —I am not so sure. I think they are rather boring, quite frankly. They just set out the joint aspirations of what we are trying to achieve.
Mr EDWARDS —Perhaps just some factors in the MOUs might be sufficient.
Dr Vertessy —Okay. I will give you an example of the KOWACO MOU, which is the only one that I am familiar with. It sets out some mutual objectives, including the desire to learn from one another and our desire to have some frequent interchanges. It sets out our mutual obligations for co-funding one another, as we have interchanges, and there are also some IP provisions in it as well. From memory, that is more or less the content of it. The other MOUs have different information that may be illuminating for you, so I would be happy to provide those to the committee, and you can make your own judgment.
Mr EDWARDS —A summary would be fine.
Dr Vertessy —Okay; I will do that. On the other matter, my comment in the submission arises from a little frustration. The grant schemes that we have in the country are excellent for initiating first contact and maybe even backing up a second contact. They tend to fund only travel and living expenses whilst over there. The Koreans have some equivalent of their own. They tend to use their own resources rather than special grants, as far as I can tell. I think that just falls a little short. If you really want to have deep, sustained relationships, you need a strategic fund that can start to cover salaries over some period of time.
To really deepen the relationship, the kind of idea that I have in mind, which I am trying to broach with the Koreans, is a continual exchange program that might involve four or five scientists in rolling exchanges every two or three months for a sustained period like three years. For instance, for a CSIRO scientist to go off-line for two or three months really does require some degree of salary support. I am investing out of my own divisional resources to start up this collaboration, but I fear that it will not be sustainable in the long term, in the absence of a salary funding source for those scientists. I would like to see the Koreans do the same. If we could have passing exchanges going continually for a sustained period, we could really achieve something in the water domain. I cannot speak for other areas of science on whether that model would apply.
Senator FERGUSON —You have cited a number of cases where memorandums of understanding have been signed. Isn’t there a danger that, in some cases, the signing of a memorandum of understanding could become an end in itself—once it is signed, nothing else happens?
Dr Vertessy —Yes.
Senator FERGUSON —What sort of follow-up is there? How enthusiastic are the Koreans to be a part of an exchange of knowledge and exchange of ideas? A memorandum of understanding is a wonderful achievement, but if it just sits on the table it is not worth a damn thing.
Dr Vertessy —That is a great point. My colleagues here will probably be able to give a broader perspective on this, but I will share some of my own thoughts. My perception is that the MOU run is a bit of a merry dance. Hundreds of the things are signed internationally every year. And I think you are right: many of them do sit on shelves. I can only speak for the effectiveness of the Korean one, and we can certainly back up the enthusiasm with evidence of many reciprocal visits that have occurred over the last two to three years. We are certainly backing up the spirit of that MOU with a lot of interchange at the moment. I have two scientists going there for a week on the weekend, and I will be there in another two weeks. Next year we have a sabbatical visitor coming for a year. We are really energised in the water area but, frankly, it is not because we have an MOU.
Senator FERGUSON —Is the interest in what Australia has to offer in water resources because Australia has something unique, or could they get the same information and expertise from somewhere else in the world?
Dr Vertessy —It is not necessarily unique, but I believe what we have is world-leading capability. They need some of what we have to offer now, but some of it they probably do not know they are going to need it. I am speaking specifically of our excellence in public policy around water. If there is one thing Australia does very well in the water domain, it is to craft good, sensible policy. The National Water Initiative is a great example of that. That reform agenda is well thought through and crafted. There is a huge challenge in implementing it, but I think the Koreans will need to benefit from that. In my view, they have rather retarded public water policy.
Senator FERGUSON —Do your colleagues want to comment about memoranda of understanding?
Prof. McKellar —I thoroughly agree with your comment that it is all too easy to sign them and then leave them on the shelf as an ornament. There are many memorandums of understanding which get signed, but then neither institution puts any financial support behind it and, therefore, nothing happens. There is a lot of research that goes on when there is not a memorandum of understanding; it still goes on because people want to do it. We have been fairly selective about the memorandums of understanding that we sign and those that we renew, keeping them to ones that we are prepared to work on. I think the memorandum of understanding that the academy has with KOSEF works well.
Senator FERGUSON —I will cite an example. There is a memorandum of understanding with the world in research centre. I presume that they could sign a memorandum of understanding with a number of other world in research centres around the world. Why would we choose to have a memorandum of understanding in that particular area ahead of any other country in the world?
Dr Vertessy —I would presume that in that case Australian scientists have deemed that the Koreans have something special to offer us, so we have naturally entered into it.
Senator FERGUSON —The way they put ships together, they probably have.
Dr Vertessy —That is right. In fact, that example you cite is an absolutely breathtaking example of the progress that Korea has made. They woke up one day in the seventies and said, ‘Let’s build supertankers and let’s lead the world,’ and, indeed, that is what they do now. It is breathtaking.
Senator FERGUSON —So we have something to learn from them.
Dr Vertessy —Indeed we do. One of the reasons that I am keen on Korea in the water domain is that I do believe we have something to learn from them. They are really ahead of us in the game of water information technology.
Mr EDWARDS —You make that point in the submission when you say:
Australia can benefit from the application of South Korean water engineering and ICT know-how applied to the water sector.
Dr Vertessy —Would you like me to explain why I feel that?
Mr EDWARDS —Yes.
Dr Vertessy —Australia has a very advanced water research capability. It also has a very advanced ICT capability, and CSIRO has considerable depth. What we lack in Australia, though, is the practical implementation of those technologies in water infrastructure systems. We have niche applications in some of our hydro schemes and irrigation schemes, but on a national, countrywide perspective we are a little shallow in that area. I believe we have to become quite strong as a nation in that area to rise to the future challenges of water resource management.
We have been steadily decreasing our classical water engineering capability in the country for some years now because we are not in the dam-building business any more. We are not building any great water resource infrastructure schemes at the moment. We may have to start building those things again in the future, but we are somewhat deskilled in that area, whereas Korea has been very active in the last 20 to 30 years and has a huge cohort of specialists in that area. We should be tapping into that skill base.
Mr EDWARDS —Despite what you have said, you also make this point:
South Korea is starting to grapple with a severe water crisis that threatens to stall future economic development and create social discord.
Can you expand on that?
Dr Vertessy —Yes, it sounds a little dramatic, but if you witness, for instance, the problems that we have had in Australia between environmentalists and irrigators and different governments—state governments—fighting over water availability, I think similar issues will arise in Korea as they approach the scarcity front. They are not quite there yet, but they will be in another five to 10 years unless they harness major additional new resources. I cannot remember the statistic exactly, but I think they have to increase their water availability by about another 25 per cent. They have been earmarked—I think by an international body; it may be UNESCO—as one of the most potentially water stressed countries in the world.
Senator FERGUSON —Any desalination?
Dr Vertessy —I do not know whether they are interested in desalination. I am aware that they are trying to harness more surface water through new dams, that they are exploiting more ground water and that they have a very major interest in recycling urban stormwater and waste water. I think they see those as the three main sources. I have not seen anything on desalination over there at the moment.
ACTING CHAIR —Just on the MOU question, did the ARC want to make any comments on that before we move on? You have two, I note from your submission: one with KOSEF and one with the KRF.
Dr Thomas —That is right. The ARC is supporting the streamlining of these MOUs in the future because of this issue of whether they actually support collaboration or have anything directly to do with it. We find that most researchers act one-on-one with each other and they are mostly acting independently of even being aware of having an MOU.
To follow up from Dr Vertessy’s comments on the funding of research associated with water, just scanning the list of projects that have been funded collaboratively with Korea in the last four or five years, there are only two that have been related to water and both of them are seed funding for research networks, one called the Sustainable Water Reuse Network and the other one the ARC Research Network on Degraded Environment Assessment and Remediation. They were only funded for $10,000 each as seed funding and they did not develop into full research networks. So there have been no other projects that we have funded that are directly related to water, which supports your view that the networks and the ability to move between the countries is supported but not necessarily the ongoing research costs involved in collaboration.
ACTING CHAIR —Thank you very much for that.
Dr Vertessy —Could I say one more thing about MOUs.
ACTING CHAIR —Yes, and Mr Wilkie’s question is on that as well.
Dr Vertessy —We are all suspicious about the long-term value of them. I would say that I think they are actually a very important cultural gesture to make an entree into the country.
ACTING CHAIR —A cultural gesture?
Dr Vertessy —A cultural gesture, yes. I think they are valued by many of our Asian partners and I think we need to be sensitive and positive about our approach to them. I have found it has improved my access to institutions and researchers by starting the relationship with a high-level gesture with an institution.
ACTING CHAIR —I appreciate that. I think it is a good point.
Mr WILKIE —On that issue, I am wondering whether it would be more effective if some of these, if it were appropriate, had binding treaty status and went through that process as opposed to the MOU process. That way you have got a country-to-country agreement which would be enforceable and would also have a lot greater standing than an MOU. Do you think that would be appropriate in some cases?
Prof. McKellar —It may be appropriate, but it comes back to the problem that bedevils MOUs to some extent, which is: is there money to back it up? For example, I go fairly frequently to the institution called POSTECH, the Pohang Institute of Science and Technology, which was established in Pohang and modelled on the California Institute of Technology. Its design is to have about 5,000 students and about 1,500 faculty. When I am there, I am sometimes asked by one of their officials: ‘Why is the University of Melbourne not sending people up to us? We have an MOU with you; why isn’t it being used?’ The simple answer is that the University of Melbourne has not put any money behind it.
Mr WAKELIN —I want to follow up on concrete results. You would be aware that the report of the Allen Consulting Group gives the Australian Research Council about a two per cent share of all collaborations internationally. Can you give me one or two examples of the nature of that collaboration with the Republic of Korea and maybe one outcome?
Mr Sedgley —It varies markedly. I will give you an example that led to some fairly significant commercial developments. In the 1990s, the Australian Research Council provided funding to a research centre—a centre for minerals processing and materials—at the University of Western Australia. That research funding was for fairly fundamental research. Subsequent funding through the industry portfolio—through R&D Start—enabled that group to establish a spin-off company focused on very fine industrial powders that had industrial applications in the electronics, paint pigments and cosmetics industries. In 2000 they established a multimillion dollar joint venture with Samsung Corning, which took that group to the next stage. That commercial development has been very successful, to the point where the group based in Western Australia has bought out the Korean interests. That is just one example.
Mr WAKELIN —You agreed with that figure of approximately two per cent. Which way is it headed? Is the funding in respect of the Republic of Korea tending to scale up, or is it staying where it is?
Mr Sedgley —It is hard to know. About 50 per cent of the collaborations that the ARC supports are with three countries: the USA, the UK and Germany. They are the dominant countries.
Mr WAKELIN —I am aware of those percentages.
Mr Sedgley —In respect of the numbers coming out of new grants commencing this year, the ARC is establishing two centres of excellence that will have collaborative links with Korean partners. They are fairly large investments in large-scale centres. My suspicion is that, in absolute terms, the investment in collaborative links with Korea is rising. Whether that translates to a percentage increase, I am not sure.
Mr WAKELIN —Dr Vertessy, the sustainable water resources research centre invests a significant amount of its money into hundreds of graduate students, mostly at PhD level. Are there any opportunities, perhaps outside your particular area, for Australian students to participate in that process?
Dr Vertessy —I believe so.
Mr WAKELIN —Is it occurring?
Dr Vertessy —I am not aware of any student exchanges in the water domain from Australia to Korea. They are sending out staff to do PhDs with us, but I am not aware of anything going the other way at the student level.
Mr WAKELIN —You are aware of the flow this way?
Dr Vertessy —Yes.
Mr WAKELIN —Following on from the comments yesterday, where is the flow the other way? There is some flow but it is nowhere near the flow that comes this way.
Dr Vertessy —Yes. I am guessing that it is soft in the science and technology domain.
Prof. McKellar —It is not a very big flow from Australia to Korea. I think the language is a problem. The teaching of Korean in Australia seems to be decreasing, so that will get worse.
Mr WAKELIN —There are five Australians up there who teach English there.
Prof. McKellar —On the plus side, many scientific institutions in Korea that have PhD programs teach their PhD courses in English. So at least in principle it would be possible for students from here to go there to do part of their PhD research program, or to take a course there, but they would still have the problem of living in Korea. I know of only a handful of people who have gone there, either as students or as expats.
Mr WAKELIN —That did occur to me, but I wanted to clarify what opportunity might be there. Dr Vertessy, in terms of MOUs, collaboration and the general discussion, can you think of one or two examples in the water area where there has been commercialisation, or even where collaboration is in progress now, leading to commercial development opportunities between the two countries? I am mindful of the acting chair’s request to make a Korean link.
ACTING CHAIR —Call me radical!
Dr Vertessy —I am not aware of any specific examples in the water area. Possibly in waste management and pollution control there has been something, but I just cannot access it.
Mr WAKELIN —Can I bring your attention to a period perhaps some 10 to 15 years ago—it may not have been that long—in South Australia when, given South Australia’s situation with water, there was a rather brave effort to link the technology and commercialisation of opportunities in Asia, perhaps not so much in North Asia but in other parts of Asia. To your knowledge, is there any linkage or commercialisation?
Dr Vertessy —None that I can recall.
Senator EGGLESTON —I am sorry I arrived late. You seem to have covered some of the points I wanted to raise but, according to DEST, science and technology collaboration is currently hampered by an inadequate knowledge of the work being undertaken in both countries—that is, the strengths and the weaknesses of the work and the possible avenues of collaboration. One area in which the Koreans are very strong is, of course, in IT; what collaboration is there between the Australian IT area and IT in Korea? Is there any collaborative work being done at all in the IT area?
Prof. McKellar —Let me make the comment that I am not across all the detail of that, but one of the people we are funding under the exchange scheme to go to Korea this year will work in software engineering at an IT institution in Korea. So I am certain that such collaborations exist, but I cannot help you on the extent of them.
Senator EGGLESTON —Are we doing anything with the Koreans in the area of biotechnology?
Prof. McKellar —I am not aware of a lot of activity in that area. Perhaps the ARC, with their list, would be able to help you.
Dr Thomas —Yes. Firstly, in relation to information technology, in the last year there has been some funding of e-research projects that have collaborations with Korea. For example, Visual Grid—grid-enabled international collaborative entry, retrieval and analysis of video data in education and social sciences—has a collaboration with Korea. There have been numerous information sciences projects over the years. In the biological sciences there are several on gene regulation processes.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you. There is an IT centre at Curtin University, in Perth, which is very interested in grid technology. It is interesting that you have mentioned it. I wonder if that is a possible institution that could work collaboratively with Korea. I know they are interested in doing so with China.
Dr Thomas —There is one project with Curtin University, which is in physics—the impact of changing climatic conditions inferred from the isotope abundances of trace metals in global icesheets and glaciers. That is the only project with Curtin University.
Senator EGGLESTON —Thank you very much.
Mr WAKELIN —I have a question for the Australian Research Council which goes back to the collaboration and the two per cent number. Given that the Republic of Korea is the world leader in broadband technology, what efforts have we made to connect with the Republic of Korea in this particular area?
Dr Thomas —The program in e-research is a one-year pilot program, just funded this year, to stimulate more collaboration in this field globally. There has not been specific focus on Korea or on any other country, but all of the applicants have been encouraged to collaborate internationally on all of those e-research projects.
Mr WAKELIN —That provokes another question. When you have such an obvious world leader, should we be concentrating more on the processes of our country’s efforts?
Mr Sedgley —It could well be. One of the things that the ARC is about to do—and this is on the back of an international strategy which has been developed just recently—is to go to each of the countries with which it currently has a memorandum of understanding and seek a review of those agreements, basically to ask, ‘What have we achieved through these agreements, are we pursuing the right objectives and are there particular areas that we need to focus on?’
Mr WAKELIN —Can I make the observation that the Republic of Korea did not just suddenly arrive and become a world leader; it has been happening there for a fair while.
Mr Sedgley —Sure.
Mr WAKELIN —It just seems to me that maybe the reaction time has been a little slower than I would have expected.
Prof. McKellar —There is one area, in high-energy physics, where there is not direct country-to-country collaboration but there is a very extensive grid computing program worldwide and both Australia and Korea are involved in it, together with many other countries.
Mr WILKIE —Do you have any idea what sort of broadband coverage they do have in South Korea—by percentage of the country?
ACTING CHAIR —DOCITA went over that yesterday, and it is the world’s highest.
Mr WILKIE —I was not here yesterday. We certainly need a bit of help from them then.
ACTING CHAIR —I would like to ask some questions of each of you. In your introductory remarks, Dr Vertessy, you said that the CSIRO engaged in 10 programs between 2003 and 2005, indicating declining interactions. I think the academy characterised the relationship as not having as many contacts as perhaps one might expect, and the challenge you were identifying was a lack of take-up, that Australia was not taking as much advantage of connections as it could. I have two questions: what do you think is the basis of the problem; and is there a solution?
Prof. McKellar —The basis of the problem is partly lack of information and partly lack of opportunity in a sense. Even though there are opportunities there, it is sometimes difficult for people to identify the opportunities and get the people who could use them to know about them in a timely enough way to utilise them. That is one of the things. The other one is simply getting more people to know what kinds of potential collaborative partners there are. The particular individuals whom I know who have started up collaborations have found it a very rewarding activity. I think the challenge is really to get more information out there and to perhaps be more patient about putting out that information—not expecting an instant response but keeping on trying.
ACTING CHAIR —Professor McKellar, do you think the cultural divide is currently too broad, based on language and perhaps on Australia’s lack of appreciation of certain aspects of Korean culture that we should do better at?
Prof. McKellar —I am not sure it is a bigger problem than it potentially is with other North Asian countries.
Dr Vertessy —To comment on the cultural side of things, I have a deep interest in Korean culture myself. My observation is that Australians are far less attuned to the cultural profile of Korea than they are to other Asian cultures in general. It is not well understood as a country. I think it is improving, but some initiatives to broaden cultural understanding between the two countries would be valuable in the science and technology domain, most certainly.
Dr Thomas —When we look at collaborations with China, for example, we see that many of the Australian researchers are Chinese born Australians, whereas when we look at the list of researchers who collaborate with Korea there are very few who appear to be Korean born Australians. This reflects the fact that there is a very small Korean born population in Australia. That is often an area where collaborations can arise, and we are not seeing that here.
ACTING CHAIR —One of the questions Senator Ferguson asked DEST yesterday was about what subjects Korean students liked to pursue in Australia in both the secondary and tertiary streams. Hopefully, we are going to get some information on that, which will give us more of an idea. As you say, Dr Thomas, it is not a large expatriate Korean population, but there is a solid presence in Sydney, for example, and in the capitals. Would you like to make any final comments?
Prof. McKellar —Let me make one comment. The entire discussion has been centred on the Republic of Korea. There has been no discussion about possible links with North Korea. There have been some links which the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering has made and been trying to foster. They are difficult to make, but I think they are usefully pursued and could be pursued further.
ACTING CHAIR —That is an interesting observation. I think most of your submissions refer to the Republic of Korea, and that would inevitably be why the preponderance of our questions have gone in that direction, but you make a good point. Thank you all very much for appearing. If there are any matters on which we need additional information, the secretary will write to you.