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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 912

Senator CROWLEY(5.55) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I am pleased to be the first senator to speak on the report to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) by the Australian Science and Technology Council entitled `Improving the Research Performance of Australia's Universities and Other Higher Education Institutions'. I am pleased to have the opportunity to rebut a few of the comments made by the speakers who addressed the previous report on the Australian research grants scheme. Their pleading for better understanding of what they said is a little like bolting the stable door after the horse has gone. They either had a very poor Press copy or they interfered in a sloppy way and castigated some of the research allocation money; so if Senator Michael Baume wants to criticise it, he will have to cop it.

There are problems in the allocation of research grants which this report addresses very closely, but to stand up, as Senator Michael Baume just did, and deal with some kind of review of research by referring to the amounts of dollars allocated to it is very insufficient. To draw a conclusion from the fact that $100,000 was spent on Asian history, as compared with $300,000 for another sort of research, is to come to a conclusion based on insufficient analysis. We have not looked at how many people applied for grants, the methodology, who applied for grants, their credibility or credentials, or any number of things-precisely the sorts of questions that the bodies which allocate research money have been established to ask. While it is very important that we review the allocations and require accountability of all public dollars, particularly research dollars, moving as Senator Michael Baume seemed to in his criticism beyond what is reasonable and questioning the standards of research by referring to the names of the papers and the moneys allocated to them betrays a very insufficient method of critiquing research money.

Soon after I was elected to the Senate I was asked to speak at the University of Adelaide about insufficient funding for post-graduate research in South Australian universities and in the whole country generally. What was reflected by the complaints and petitions of the academics who met that day was a response to seven years of the Fraser Government, in which time research moneys had not been increased, as they had not been for tertiary education. What we have seen since is a very impressive increase, but more particularly an understanding by this Government of the importance of research-not only applied research but also basic or pure research.

This report is a very useful analysis of how funding for research is given and how it could be improved. There is no doubt at all that, as is illustrated by this report, the distribution of funding to research in two ways-that is, general funding through the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission to higher education institutions, and direct grants-leaves room for improvement. The principal recommendation of this report is that an Australian research grants council should be established to cover what is currently funded under the Australian Research Grants Committee, the national research fellowship scheme, the Queen Elizabeth II fellowship scheme, the marine science and technology grants scheme and the Commonwealth program for the promotion of excellence in research. In bringing those research allocations into the one Australian research council, more adequate funding, particularly of program grants, and redirection of funding to researchers would be achieved. I urge people with any interest in the funding of research to look at this very useful report because it picks up a number of issues raised by people promoting and seeking further support for research.

Finally, in the minute left to me, I say, as this report says-and contrary to what Opposition senators have just said in relation to the previous paper-that some spheres of research in this country are of world excellence. One area of note is in vitro fertilisation research. Australian scientists are being sought by other countries precisely because of their expertise and ability in this area. It is something of a tragedy, as far as I am concerned, that we are not able to maintain their presence in this country, as compared with the encouragement, particularly financial encouragement, they are getting to go to other countries, especially America. We have a long history of excellence of research in the medical and agricultural areas and we can be very proud of that. We should not be in the business of punishing ourselves with criticism but doing as this report does and comprehensively reviewing it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bjelke-Petersen) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.