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Tuesday, 18 November 1986
Page: 2375

Senator BJELKE-PETERSEN —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Science aware of extensive research undertaken by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in developing an artificial sweetener called aspartame? Does the Minister agree that this artificial sweetener will be in direct competition with Australia's sugar industry and that CSIRO resources are being used to bolster a product which is in direct competition with one of Australia's most profitable export industries? Why is CSIRO undertaking research in this area when there is already considerable private research being done by large multinational companies in developing artificial sweeteners? Does the Minister agree that CSIRO's scarce resources would be better utilised in further research for and development of our successful and competitive primary industries than in assisting an industry which will be in competition with our rural export industries?

Senator BUTTON —I am aware of one thing relating to the Queensland sugar industry and Senator Bjelke-Petersen ought to be aware of it, too: When this Government came to power in 1983, the Fraser Government was under pressure from the Western Australian Government to support the development of a sugar industry on the Ord River. This Government stopped that in the interests of the Queensland sugar industry. That should not be forgotten by Queensland's sugar farmers. If I might just take Senator Bjelke-Petersen through her question in the course of my answer, let me say at the outset that while I have long recognised her as a protagonist of the flat tax I did not, until she asked this question, have evidence that she was a protagonist of flat earth policies as well. What this question really implies is that the process of scientific investigation and discovery should be limited by the facts which happen to exist in north Queensland; for example, the sugar industry. The process of scientific investigation and discovery cannot be limited by matters like that.

Let me go through some of the assumptions in the honourable senator's question. I make it quite clear that the sugar industry is already in competition with artificial sweeteners. It will be in competition with artificial sweeteners in the future. Like any other industry it will have to take its chance in the market-place and be the preferred choice of the vast majority of human beings or it will not survive under any circumstance. The research CSIRO is doing in connection with artificial sweeteners has nothing to do with that. I am personally not aware of CSIRO's research into a sweetener called aspartame, I think one calls it. I am delighted to hear that CSIRO is doing research into such a nice sounding product as aspartame. It sounds like an exotic disease to me. Be that as it may, CSIRO performs a great variety of research functions in various industries and for various food products. It will continue to do so. It cannot be deterred by the suggestion that the results of this research might make a marginal impact on Australia's sugar industry. The assumptions in the honourable senator's question are that everybody in the whole world should stop thinking about fabrics other than wool. Because we have a wool industry the honourable senator's assumption is that no research should be commissioned by governments or anybody else into man made fibres.

Senator Boswell —Let the private enterprise people research it.

Senator BUTTON —I understand Senator Boswell's interjections. From him they are totally understandable but not from anybody who has given the issues any serious thought. Research into a whole range of products of this kind will go on. Some of that research has led to great success in new primary industries in Australia.

Senator Boswell —It is a chemical product.

Senator BUTTON —There is a product which is marketed under the name betatene which is an artificial ingredient used in margarine. I know that the honourable senator is against margarine but let us assume that we have margarine. A product has been developed by research in Australia which adds colour and certain other properties including, I believe, vitamin properties to margarine. That is partly a result of research by Commonwealth-funded bodies. That is a highly successful export industry.

Senator Lewis —That might have been worth while.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Lewis says: `That might have been worth while'. Of course it might have been worth while. It is worth while. One of the great disabilities from which all human beings suffer and from which members of the Opposition in the Senate suffer more than others is the incapacity to decide the precise direction of all scientific endeavour. That is a great disability. I am sorry that we cannot all decide such questions. On the basis of this question, as by implication I am invited to, I do not propose to make any interference in CSIRO's research programs.