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Wednesday, 13 May 1998
Page: 3280


Mrs ELSON (12:46 PM) —The Howard government is, above all else, a forward thinking government. We are a government planning and actively working towards making Australia competitive well into the 21st century. We are a government of vision and our vision is one of practical achievement. Last night's budget showed quite clearly that we are prepared to put in the hard yards now to secure a better future for all of our children. Paying back the massive debt left behind by Labor is a cornerstone of our forward planning.

I am pleased to say that technology and research are also part of our plan for a modern and competitive Australia. That is why, upon coming to office, we identified the need to examine how Australian science and technology systems could be improved. The Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council Repeal Bill 1998 streamlines our current system winding down the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council. The current council is to become a standing committee of the Prime Minister's Science, Technology and Engineering Council.

This standing committee will maintain the key task of preparing issue papers and presentations to the Prime Minister's council and undertaking consultation, information gathering and analysis to provide the Prime Minister's council with information and advice on Australian science and technology priorities. However, we have been careful to ensure that the Australian Science, Technology and Engineering Council maintains its independence. Indeed, the Minister for Customs and Consumer Affairs (Mr Truss), in his second reading speech, outlined how the government values the independent role played by ASTEC.

As the minister said, we have been carefully planning this bill to capitalise on the strengths of the current system while addressing some of its weaknesses. It seems commonsense to me to draw closer together the Prime Minister's advisory council and ASTEC. The ASTEC can still carry out its normal duties and information gathering but it now has a direct line to the ministry. It is a delivery mechanism that ASTEC has not enjoyed in the past and I am sure it will bring future benefits for Australian science and technology.

Of course, the reason science and technology is important is not merely for academic purposes—we are not into `esoteric' visions—it is also that the Howard government is focused firmly on practical achievements. Scientific and technology developments benefit society in many ways. New developments help generate economic growth. While I am speaking of growth, I will take the opportunity to congratulate the Treasurer (Mr Costello) on meeting the growth forecasts in last night's budget and for the continued expected growth of around three per cent, despite the Asian economic crisis. Last night's budget clearly has us back on track and back in the black. The reaction I have had in my conversations with local Forde residents this morning has been extremely positive.

As well as economic growth, new technology developments help improve our health, help us find even better ways to protect our environment and help us to maintain our national security. There can be little doubt that our technological achievements over this century have dramatically improved our quality of living and have given us a whole range of new recreational and vocational pursuits. I am pleased to be a part of a government which is wholeheartedly committed to technology and scientific development. Our budget commitment regarding new software and the millennium problem will be a great boost to the information technology industry and it is indicative of our practical approach.

Can I say, Mr Deputy Speaker, that we are in a much better position to look at expanding our focus and support for new technology in the future. We are in a much better position because the budget is back in surplus. As the Treasurer said, `Isn't a great problem to have to work out where we can spend future budget surpluses.'

Of course, in the short term, these have to go to pay back the huge government debt the Labor Party left behind, some $98 billion. But with things back on track, there will come a time when we are debt free as a nation and we can look at investing even more in emerging technology and scientific advancements. We have a proud history of achievement and the Howard government is committed to ongoing support for science and technology. Mindful of the time, I now commend this bill to the House.