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Thursday, 22 September 1983
Page: 1194


Mr CHYNOWETH(4.59) —I am extremely pleased to note that the science and technology portfolio will receive a total appropriation of $574,193,000 in the 1983-84 Budget. The appropriation represents an increase of approximately $ 22.5m over the funds provided in the 1982-83 Budget and ensures that funds are allocated according to the needs and aspirations of the community. At the same time increased encouragement is being given to technical innovation and the efficient development of Australian research programs. The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has stated that the major thrust for the development of the sunrise industries must come through industrial research and development. Therefore, significantly increased support has been provided to the Australian industrial research and incentive scheme. More than $71m is being allocated to this scheme in the 1983-84 Budget compared with only $54m in 1982- 83.

Included in this allocation is $45.5m for specific research and development grants, incorporating funding for approved projects under the national biotechnology program and support to specific software programs. The national biotechnology program has been established to promote the development of biotechnology industries through the support of selected high quality biotechnology research and development programs, especially those having commercial potential. The 1983-84 Budget contained an allocation of $1.5m as the research grants component. The total Budget appropriation for biotechnology programs is $12.2m. This clearly demonstrates the Government's resolve to expand the economy through the development of sunrise industries.


Mr Barry Jones —That is a minimum, too.


Mr CHYNOWETH —Yes. The Australian Labor Party identified 16 areas with the greatest potential for growth and development. These areas were termed sunrise industries. All are brain-based industries rather than industries based on physical finite resources. All these sunrise industries depend on the exploitation of existing capacities in research and craftsmanship. The Government is confident that, with relatively modest sums, it can stimulate investment from the private sector and create new industries with world-wide potential. The 16 sunrise industries are: Biotechnology, personal computers, software, computer chips, scientific instrumentation, medical technology, lasers , communication technology, industrial ceramics, solar energy cells, the development of shape-memory alloys, fusion, robots, intermediate technology projects, hydrogen generation and storage and biomass.

The Government has been consistent with its science and technology Budget allocation as it directly reflects the policies that were put in place for the March 1983 election. I commend the initiative displayed by the Minister for Science and Technology in being so far-sighted as to see the need for Australians to take their place in the world of technological innovation while they still can. I also commend the Government for making a decision to implement the report of the Espie Committee on High Technology Financing in giving tax relief to high technology industry.

To be in the front line of technological advance is certainly preferable to consuming other countries' old technology, especially today when it is too easy to be left behind by not initiating, investing in and supporting research programs in Australia. As the Minister has aptly stated:

Seven years of Fraserism has led to a disastrous running down of Australia's technological capacity.

Almost without exception, high technology industries are in foreign hands. Technologically, we were approaching the status of a Third World nation. Sweden, with half Australia's population, sells us cars, trucks, chemicals, telecommunications equipment, ball bearings, cameras and sewing machines but we sell it nothing. How much longer can we afford to have such an insular and narrow view of technological advance and funding? Again I commend the Government on trying to bring Australian technological research out of the dark ages and towards the twenty-first century.

As I am a member of the Australian Robot Association I take particular interest in robots being included in the list of sunrise industries. The importance of robots can be grasped when I indicate that, whilst computers can manipulate only data or information, robots extend computers by having the ability to manipulate physical objects as well. Robots, commercially available within the next decade, will be able to accomplish at least half the tasks now performed manually in manufacturing. An industrial robot is a device that can be programmed to move some gripper or tool through space to accomplish a useful task. These robots are typically programmed by recording each task as a series of points in space. This recording is then simply replayed whenever the task is to be performed. This simple procedure is adequate to perform a surprising number of industrial tasks, such as the spot welding of automobile bodies, tending diecasting machines, loading and unloading machines, and spray painting. Robots can perform a wide variety of material handling tasks.

Australia has about 200 robots in operation. At present there are about 5,000 industrial robots in use in the United States of America, the number having increased by about 30 per cent in 1981 alone. That represents about 15,000 jobs taken by these machines. Robots are being produced in the United States at present at a rate of about 1,500 a year. It is predicted that this figure will grow to between 20,000 and 60,000 robots a year by 1990. A number of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development studies have projected a growth in the utilisation of robots from 2 per cent in 1981 to 60 per cent in 1990. Right now, with currently available robots, the potential market for them is between 100,000 to 200,000 units.

Robots will rapidly replace assembly line workers. Only about 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the work force will still hold manufacturing jobs in 25 years time- roughly the same percentage engaged in agriculture today. It is interesting to draw a comparison between the growth of robots and the explosive growth of computers. The number of computers grew from zero to 10,000 between 1946 and 1960 and from 10,000 to 10,000,000 between 1960 and 1980. I believe that robotics will experience a similar growth. By 1990 the cost of a robot could fall from about $40,000 to $10,000. Running costs could fall-I stress this figure-as low as $1 an hour as compared with an estimated human running cost of $30 an hour. Service industries have provided many jobs in recent times. Microprocessors and robots will move into these areas very quickly.

Once robots become intelligent enough to set up and assemble their own work, productivity will improve and more human workers will be sacked. When robots become clever enough to look at the job and figure out where to put the weld, how to tighten the bolt or adjust the screw, et cetera, productivity will improve even more. Robots will be able to work nights and weekends-four shifts a week-completely without human supervision. At that point productivity will improve vastly over our present methods. During the 1990s robots will enter the construction trades under the tutelage of a human master craftsperson. Robots will carry materials, lift and position walls and floor panels, cut boards, lay bricks, paint and dig drains. Eventually I foresee that robots will be used in some of the following areas: Farming, nursing, mining, food preparation, military service, undersea exploration, space exploration, mining and manufacture, security services, supermarket stock counting and checkout and road building. These are only some of the areas that will be affected. The areas in which they will work are limited only by our own imagination.

Australia, because of its innovativeness and expertise in the field of engineering and electronics, can move towards the manufacture of these silicon slaves. Australia could easily be to the forefront of this new technology. The robotics industry could employ more people than the motor industry. Sophisticated robotics is still a long term research topic. We are still a long way from a sensory, interactive, intelligent, highly skilled, dextrous, economically feasible and commercially manufactured robot, but we must plan and act now. We certainly need to list robotics as a sunrise industry. We also need to know the future impact on society of the introduction of robots.

The first industrial revolution drew people away from the land and concentrated them in urban industrial communities. The robot revolution will free human beings from the pressures and congestions of urbanisation and allow them to choose their own lifestyle from a much wider variety of possibilities. We must be mindful, I believe, that we continue to fund robot technology research and manufacture and that we are able to guide its introduction into the work force so as to maximise its effect on productivity and at the same time minimise its effect on existing levels of human employment and, therefore, the complete fabric of society in general.

With the Federal Labor Government addressing itself so diligently to the problems of unemployment and with new trends in unemployment being revealed, we need to get these two questions in balance. One solution may be the introduction of a technology tax on robots and similar people-deploying technology. This would be to offset any deployment of labour which will arise from their increasing use throughout our society. The premise behind this concept of a technology tax-the buzzword is 'tech tax'-is that even where technological change can be seen demonstrably to benefit society as a whole, some people are harmed by the introduction of new technology.

My concern arises from the fact that robots will not be consumers in society. They will not contribute to payroll tax, to income tax or in any way to the general revenue of the country. This can be demonstrated in this very simple statement: Robots do not wear shoes. With these facts on one side, coupled with the fact that the cost of running and manufacturing robots will continue to decrease significantly in the future as our technological expertise in robotics increases, we will eventually produce robots that can work virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without overtime, penalty rates, taxes and so on ever being incurred. With this in mind, I feel that if a technology tax were levied according to the memory capacity of different robots it would somewhat reflect the taxation society today; that is, those performing more diverse and responsible tasks gain greater remuneration commensurate with their work and, therefore, pay higher levels of tax according to a higher salary scale. I suggest that if the Government considered this 'tech tax' proposal on these silicon slaves revenue raised from it could be directly channelled into job creation projects, creative training and retraining programs, and better education for all people, not just for a privileged few. These proposals must be directed towards those people who in the long term will experience some negative employment effect. There is much work to be done in this world. Robots may allow us in Australia to help many not so fortunate as ourselves.

Again I commend this Appropriation Bill. I feel that as we have already successfully defined technology research areas and growth areas for the future through the identification of sunrise industries, equally we will address ourselves to planning for the future to ensure continuing and, hopefully, better levels of employment in Australian society. Let me conclude with a statement made by Wedgwood Benn which was a variation of part of a speech by Winston Churchill:

In the beginning we shape our technology, but if we are not very careful in the end it will shape us. It is for the democratic process to operate to see that it does not do so in a way that damages our central rights and liberties.

Technology can be our salvation or, in a few powerful and greedy hands, it can be our enslavement.