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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1990

Senator DENMAN —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. The Sydney Morning Herald reported on the weekend a shake-up in science and technology in Australia. Can the minister advise the Senate on the extent of the reported shake-up and why it is considered necessary?

Senator COOK —On Friday the Prime Minister's science and engineering council held one of its regular meetings. ASTEC, the Australian Science and Technology Council, made a report of a foresight study, as it termed it, of Australia's scientific and technological needs to the year 2010 and what Australia's science capability will be. This study will focus on those elements and enable us to, if you like, benchmark the total Australian science effort and look at areas where, given trends and changes in science and society, we need to refocus our policy-making goals.

  The challenges that we will face in the early part of the next century will involve changes in environmental science and in the natural environment of Australia and the globe, changes brought on by the ageing of the Australian population—that mainly focuses on health, but not exclusively—changes in employment patterns and the changed role of work in the future as well as Australia's place in the world, particularly our relationship with Asia. To understand those needs against that background, we are going to look at, as I say, through this foresight study, our capability and our needs.

  We are not trying to redevelop the existing Australian science and technology policy framework, however. The study will build on existing statements of government policy by focusing on the future. It will be the vehicle for the government to consider longer term science and technology issues. The insights gained from this study will feed into broader policy development processes to complement and provide an additional dimension to our existing policy work. Other OECD countries have undertaken similar sorts of studies. They include Japan, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the European Union. Those studies have demonstrated by their future orientation that the analysis is worth while and has played a useful role in setting priorities for the future.

  There are, of course, close links between the people undertaking this study and our premier science institutions, such as the CSIRO, ANSTO and AIMS. This will be built on and developed further in the course of the study. We recognise that the Industry Commission is also undertaking a study focusing on existing research and development and the role of government in supporting that and that the government has commissioned EPAC, the economic advisory body to the government, to look at socioeconomic demands in the future. I would expect all of those studies to be embraced by the ASTEC study.

  I think it will be a seminal work for Australia, something of great interest to the science community and something to make sure that ordinary Australians are brought more into the science debate and consider the development of technology and science in the future as to how it will affect their lives. Importantly, for all of those concerned about good government and good policy making, it will be a status quo statement which will show what we have now and what will be the trends in the future to enable proper policy debate.