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Tuesday, 10 December 2002
Page: 7565

Senator CARR (4:10 PM) —I notice that Senator Boswell is not here today and I presume that the normal courtesies have been extended to him. I know that Senator Ray in the past has extended that courtesy to me in advising me that a report of this nature is to be tabled in the Senate. Senator Boswell is not here—oh, here he is! Senator Boswell, are you intending to speak on this matter?

Senator Boswell —I want to have a look at it first.

Senator CARR —I would have thought that Senator Boswell might take this opportunity to deliver an abject apology to the Senate for his remarks to the Senate on 12 November 2002. We have a Privileges Committee report here which indicates that three prominent scientists in Australia have been highly offended by the remarks made by Senator Boswell and have categorically denied the allegations made to the Senate by him. Dr Peter Jonson has indicated that he has had no personal relations with Professor Trounson, Dr Geoffrey Vaughan or Dr Moses. Professor Brian Anderson was described as a prominent Trounson supporter and he has indicated that he has had no contact with Professor Trounson whatsoever.

I would like to particularly refer to the remarks that Senator Boswell made concerning Dr Geoffrey Vaughan. Dr Vaughan was the subject of a vindictive attack by Senator Boswell on 12 November. Senator Boswell claimed that there has been a pattern of research funding decisions that raise serious concerns about conflicts of interest. He further called on the government—and remember that he is a parliamentary secretary in the government—to launch an investigation into a number of recent research grants. I say this because I am the shadow minister for science and research. I take a particular interest in some of the claims that are being made by Senator Boswell. I have listened to him at estimates, where he managed to cross over from the government side to the opposition side in order to make a number of claims.

I am particularly concerned about the remarks he made about Dr Geoffrey Vaughan, who was a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Monash University. I am also very concerned about the remarks made about the other two individuals named. In Senator Boswell's eyes it seems that Dr Vaughan's crime is to be a scientist concerned to ensure that the fruits of Australian scientific research are realised in Australia for the benefit of Australians. His first accusation was that Dr Vaughan misused his position as Chairman of the CRC Committee to direct research funds in such a way as to obtain a commercial benefit. I notice that a similar claim was made about Dr Peter Jonson allegedly taking commercial advantage of grants, but these were grants that were actually entered into two years prior to Dr Jonson's commencement with the CRC.

A claim was made about Dr Vaughan that, as a member of the Industry Research and Development Board, he gave a $4.9 million grant to BresaGen, a company of which he was a director. It was claimed that he had been involved in some inappropriate way in misdirecting a biotechnology innovation fund grant of some $245,000 into another company that was associated with Professor Alan Trounson. In short, what Senator Boswell implied was a serious conflict of interest, impropriety and a lack of honesty on the part of Dr Vaughan. In doing so he tried to sketch a nasty little conspiracy that explained why, in his view, the majority of the Senate was being misguided in the support of the stem cell legislation.

It seems to me that what was being done here was an attempt to actually undermine, to discredit, supporters of embryonic stem cell research. Dr Vaughan has sought, through the Senate processes, to set the record straight. I welcome the claims that he has made and I call on Senator Boswell now to make that abject apology and to explain himself before the Senate for his clear failure to address the basic questions that were raised by Dr Vaughan in his response.

With regard to the allegation of misuse of the position of Chairman of the CRC Committee, Dr Vaughan has indicated, in correcting Senator Boswell, that the CRC Committee provides advice to the Minister for Science but does not make any direct grants whatsoever to any applicant. More specifically, Dr Vaughan has also clearly stated that the CRC Committee has never received an application for funding involving the company that Senator Boswell claimed that Dr Vaughan was associated with. So much for that first allegation.

The second allegation with regard to the role and operation of the CRC Committee and the CRCs in general shows the ignorance of the informers that Senator Boswell appears to have. It is very revealing. What you see here is that their interest lies not in improving the research outcome or better public policy but in character assassination. As far as I am concerned, what we have got is an accusation. It reads:

Vaughan was also appointed to the industry R&D board that subsequently gave Vaughan's own company, BresaGen, a grant of $4.9 million ...

It is simply a ludicrous proposition. The facts are that, while BresaGen was awarded in May 2000 the grant referred to by Senator Boswell, Dr Vaughan was not appointed to the R&D board referred to by the senator until September 2000—four months later. That shows a similar pattern to the previous allegation I have referred to. What we have got is taking retrospectivity just a bit too far.

Thirdly, Senator Boswell seeks to claim that somehow Dr Vaughan exerted his influence in relation to the Biotechnology Innovation Fund grant, BIF, to IngenKO, another company associated with Alan Trounson. What we have is seemingly a failure to understand what actually occurs within the research industry in terms of the government allocation. Full declarations of interest are required by DEST, and in fact Dr Vaughan removed himself from receiving any papers—not even agenda papers—with regard to any of these matters before the IR&D Board. Responsibility for the BIF awards was delegated to the board's biological committee, a committee of which Dr Vaughan was not a member, and he consequently played no part in its deliberations in awarding any of the grants.

The list of those slandered by undistinguished coalition senators goes on, and Dr Vaughan joins that list. We have seen Justice Kirby, and many other eminent Australians who have committed public service, be unfairly and vindictively attacked within this chamber. I do not think the magnitude of Senator Boswell's blunder can be underestimated. As a parliamentary secretary in this government, you ought to be making an abject apology here today, Senator.

Senator McGauran —Yes, but are you going to defend Trounson? We don't hear Trounson's name here—the worst of them all. You don't want to know him.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—Order, Senator McGauran!

Senator CARR —Even the Minister for Science, the brother of Dolly McGauran over here, the ultimate clone in the McGauran family, understands it. Even your brother has understood the heinous crime that was committed against the public interest in regard to this. The Minister for Science said:

Senator Boswell did not seek my advice before making his claims in the Senate today.

If he had, I would have disabused him of any notion that Mr Vaughan has or would ever favour Alan Trounson or any other person or company for that matter.

Senator Boswell, you have embarked upon gutless and miserable slander against these scientists. This is a matter of disgrace to all professional politicians in this chamber.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —Order! Senator Carr, it is inappropriate to direct remarks at a senator. Your remarks should be directed through the chair.

Senator CARR —Thank you very much, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will direct my remarks to you. This is a gutless, worthless assault upon prominent scientists in this country. It is a disgrace to all professional politicians in this parliament. It has rightly been condemned by both the opposition and the government in this parliament. Senator Boswell, you now have the chance: get up and apologise. You have committed a shocking thing here.

Senator Coonan —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: Senator Carr seems to have completely lost control and I would ask him to withdraw the reflections upon Senator Boswell.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order. Senator Carr was referring to comments made by Senator Boswell. I do not believe the remarks were personally directed at Senator Boswell but I would ask Senator Carr to perhaps restrain himself in his comments. I again remind him to direct his remarks through the chair rather than at individual senators.

Senator CARR —Thank you very much. What I have said is that this was a miserable and gutless assault upon prominent scientists in this country. It was without foundation. There is an opportunity now for the parliamentary secretary to stand in his place and apologise for what he has done. The evidence is quite clearly not there to sustain any of the claims that he has made. He ought to now fulfil his obligations to this parliament and explain to us why he made such a vicious, vindictive and incorrect assault upon these Australians. The chance is now with you, Senator Boswell, and I would ask you to fulfil your obligations through this chamber.