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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 825


Senator MARGETTS (4.56 p.m.) —I rise to speak briefly in support of the remarks made by Senator Coulter. It is indeed of concern when we see reports such as Auditor-General's report No.1 of 1994-95. The Auditor-General may be in a somewhat difficult position in as much as we are critical of the philosophical approach and the impact of a policy which requires the CSIRO to seek a greater percentage of private funding. I suppose I should put the word `private' in inverted commas because in reality, as I have said on other occasions, it is not private funding at all; companies that get the CSIRO to do their research receive something like a 160 per cent tax deduction. So this research is largely funded from the public purse.

  As Senator Coulter suggested, funding and research are being pushed into areas that are considered useful by industry and perhaps the CSIRO is moving further and further away from pure research. This has negative spin-offs even in terms of possible scientific development and industry benefits in the future because many of the discoveries which are useful for the environment or for industry come about through pure research, not in specific areas that industry may be pushing for.

  One of the most disturbing aspects of recent developments in the CSIRO, in relation to the promotion of corporatism, has been a greater level of genetic engineering. This development has become so much a part of the CSIRO ethic that in recent times we have seen public promotions of CSIRO work, press releases and so on that are specifically geared to talk about the latest effort in this field.

  This has become so much of a problem that the report, under the heading `Key Points', states that `management of intellectual property needs improving.' That means that under the GATT there are some real problems. There is so much development in genetic engineering and the patenting of new species, I presume, by corporations which have conducted the research that we have a real problem as to who owns that intellectual property, how that can be best maintained and who gets the benefits of that intellectual property in the future. In relation to intellectual property, I know of people involved in ecological research who find that the ability to freely share information between scientists at the international level has been very much cut back in recent times.

  Everybody is concerned about intellectual property. We are all losers when international scientists feel very much restricted about sharing, publishing and sending information about their ideas and developing ideas to people in the informal network. What we see in section 12 of this report is merely a symptom of what will continue to happen with ownership of intellectual property, considering that we have gone in the wrong direction when it comes to research and our priorities in research. Madam Acting Deputy President, I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.