Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1598

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Technology)(10.49) —It must be a very long time since we have had a debate on the Estimates when so much attention has been directed to science and technology. I am very pleased to note that and I thank honourable members who made contributions on the matter. I will deal with one or two of the matters in some detail. First of all my friendly rival the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Harry Edwards), the shadow Minister for Science and Technology, raised a number of points. I am grateful for his sympathetic words at the beginning of his speech. However he went on to say that he thought the Budget was a disappointment. Well, of course, it is not the Budget that we would have drawn ourselves, if we had not had seven years of economic mismanagement under the Fraser Government. We would not have presented such a Budget had we not been staring down the barrel of an $8.5 billion deficit . That changed completely the whole direction of what we could do in the Budget. It also meant that we had to determine priorities.

Of those priorities which I pushed for, I pushed first for money to be devoted to the development of the sunrise industries to try to change Australia's industrial face, and I was successful in that. Secondly, I wished to ensure that there was a significant increase of funding available for the Antarctic, and I was successful in that. I will make a qualification about that in a moment. Thirdly, I was concerned to ensure that there was a significant contribution to pure science. That meant particularly increasing the amount of money available for the Australian research grants scheme, the ARGS, in which the honourable member for Berowra once participated.

The 36 per cent increase for funding through the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board ought not, of course, to be seen in isolation. It has to be seen in the context of the Espie report as well, the adoption of which was announced three weeks after the Budget. It also has to be seen in the context of a very significant increase in the funding and the gearing ratio for the Australian Industry Development Corporation. On top of that it is important to recognise that we have been successful in raising the levels of public consciousness in this area. This means that the banking sector generally-the private banking sector apart from the public banking sector-recognises the significance of high technology development in a way it did not a year ago or perhaps even six months ago.

That was parallel to the situation at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s when some of us managed to get the Australian film industry moving. There was a long period before 1969 and 1970 when investing money in Australian films was regarded as an absolutely certain way of going broke. We were able to change the levels of expectation in the community. There was a recognition that Australian films would make a contribution recognised as having world-wide significance. I do not think the factors I have mentioned can be seen in isolation.

I was chided, curiously, for our identification of 16 sunrise industries in the course of the election campaign. I thought the curious thing was that despite that the honourable member for Berowra rattled off a number of areas which he regarded as very promising, which I thought showed a very strong family resemblance to our nomination of the sunrise industries. This confirms that 'he who runs may still read'. We were very careful, in our election policy, to qualify what we said about the identification of these sunrise industries for the 1980s. I should just read the caveat that we put in the policy which the honourable member seems to have missed. The policy read:

The following areas, in our present state of knowledge, seem likely to have the best prospects of success and can be discussed with some confidence. The list should not be regarded as exhaustive. Some areas not on the list may well emerge unexpectedly as has often been the case in the past. All should be considerable wealth generators.

Of course, we would recognise the importance of developing many new technologies in order to regenerate existing industries.

Dr Harry Edwards —That's not the point.

Mr BARRY JONES —That is the point. The other point that I think needs to be made is that in a number of these new areas the capital sums required to get these industries off and running are comparatively modest. The order of magnitude of the sums that are required to regenerate already existing industries like the steel industry and the motor manufacturing industry are absolutely enormous and could swallow up the entire science and technology budget, all $52m of it, without even touching the sides. That is the reason that we are trying to develop areas where we have particular intellectual expertise. Many free marketeers-I do not think that the honourable member for Berowra is altogether one of those, although he is under considerable pressure from his colleagues-are inclined to say that one cannot 'pick winners'. I think one can pick winners if the horses are already galloping down the final straight and the finishing line is well within sight. That is exactly the case in a number of these areas. Australia holds a lead, but we hold a lead that is measured sometimes in terms of only 15 or 18 months.

The honourable member for Berowra raised the matter of Antarctica. He commented that the Budget allocation in this area was disappointing and that the Government had indicated that there would be an increase of 300 per cent over a three-year period. He would have flunked somebody in a tutorial who had read as carelessly and as casually as that. What we said in our policy speech was this:

Expenditure on scientific research in Antarctica will be increased by 300 per cent over a three year period.

I think we will do that, but let me explain what happened. I do not conceal that I would like to have received more for the Antarctic in this Budget than I did obtain. There was a $4.7m increase. I would like to have seen that figure--

Dr Harry Edwards —What percentage?

Mr BARRY JONES —It is an increase of about 11 per cent. It is not a wonderful increase, I concede that, but I also draw the attention of honourable members to the second element mentioned in our election commitments:

Appropriate aircraft landing facilities will be provided at one or more of Australia's Antarctic bases to enable Australia to upgrade the levels of our operations.

When I was informed of the total figure, because I was given the capacity to allocate within a global figure, I decided that it was better to go the whole hog in regard to aircraft landing facilities and go for three of them. I decided it would not be good to start off with just one and that we ought to have one at each of the three bases-Casey, Davis and Mawson-because we wanted the flexibility that a system of aircraft landing facilities would bring about. This measure will increase flexibility both in personnel and in programs. I took the responsibility. I could have increased scientific research. I assure honourable members that I did not have a very large base figure on which to work. Last year only $2m was spent in Antarctica on scientific research. A lot of money was spent on building, but not much was spent on scientific research. I could have increased scientific research and delayed the landing facilities or vice versa. I took the responsibility and decided to push for the landing facilities, even at the cost in the short term of delaying scientific research. I am sure that I was right and that history will vindicate me in that.

If we are to hang on to the Antarctic and if it is to be an important element in Australia's future, we have to have that flexibility. We have to be able to provide the facilities so that members of the Parliament can go down to the Antarctic to see for themselves what is there. As it is, very few members here would be prepared to commit themselves to the six or seven weeks that are required to go down there by ship and return. Of course, if one is to get a very close acquaintance with what is going on in the bases one would have to devote months to it. I think that is unrealistic. If we are to get scientists to go down there for comparatively short term programs, so that they understand and can contribute their skills, we will have to provide that flexibility. I believe that we will do that.

The honourable member for Berowra made a comment about Landsat. There were difficulties with Landsat. Although I see the very great national significance of Landsat and while I am very keen to urge that it be upgraded, it seemed to me that it was essentially peripheral to my own Department, that virtually none of the programs associated with Landsat were part of my Department. Of the 11,000 people who are responsible to me only three, not 3,000, are involved in Landsat. I think that there is a national responsibility. I believe that the national responsibility will be taken up, but it will not specifically be taken up by my Department.

The honourable member for Herbert (Mr Lindsay) referred to the Australian Institute of Marine Science, which is located at Townsville in his electorate. I think that he well knows that I am deeply sympathetic to AIMS. I have been there several times, and I admire the work that it is doing. It seemed to me that, in the extraordinary constraints that we had in the Budget formulation process, it was necessary for AIMS to take a low priority this time, although we succeeded in getting additional money for the Australian Marine Science and Technology Council.

Mr Lindsay —You did so.

Mr BARRY JONES —I thank the honourable member for that. I assure him that I am very keen to ensure that AIMS secures better recognition next year. I am also pleased about what he said about meteorological funding for North Queensland. It is an excellent service provided by the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, one of the world's best. It is often forgotten that, as compared with the Northern Hemisphere, we have really only a fraction of the weather recording stations that are available in the Northern Hemisphere. It is extraordinarily difficult to get the variety, range and precision of data that would enable us to equate with the weather forecasting facilities of the Northern Hemisphere. Nevertheless , I think that we succeed in doing it.

I now turn to the Leader of the National Party, the right honourable member for Richmond (Mr Anthony).

Mr Steedman —Where is he?

Mr BARRY JONES —I do not know where he is. I turn to his extraordinarily ill- judged and extraordinarily ill-informed comments about the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory. I see that he has just entered the chamber. I am glad that he is here. There was an extraordinary omission in what the right honourable member said, because he never mentioned the question of live foot and mouth disease virus. I really do not see how it is possible to talk about ANAHL- as the right honourable member proved tonight, it is certainly not possible to talk coherently about it-if one does not consider the implications of live foot and mouth disease virus. He did not even mention it.

Mr Anthony —You misled the chamber.

Mr BARRY JONES —I did not mislead the chamber, and the right honourable member will be very sorry that he ever said that.

Mr Anthony —You were carpeted.

Mr BARRY JONES —I was not carpeted, and I shall explain that, too. The extraordinary thing about the Leader of the National Party is that he has never really come to understand the opinions not of the scientists-

Mr Steedman —He loves his pigs.

Mr BARRY JONES —Honourable members may form a judgment about that. The right honourable member has never come close to understanding the opinions of the primary industry groups, let alone the scientists. He does not understand the attitude, for example, of the National Farmers Federation with respect to the function or role of ANAHL. One would have thought that he was close enough to that organisation to be aware of its views. It has taken the attitude that it certainly wants ANAHL and it wants ANAHL to be commissioned but that it does not want live foot and mouth disease virus in it.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr BARRY JONES —Just a moment. What was patently obvious from the right honourable member's speech is that he simply does not understand the difference between the diagnostic function and the research function that is proposed to be there. The point about ANAHL is that there are supposed to be four different functions. The right honourable member did not refer to any of them because he clearly does not understand any of them. The range of options to be considered were diagnostic, research, vaccine production and teaching. The question that has never been properly resolved-but it will be resolved by this Government, and , if I may be immodest, by this Minister-is the comparative weight to be given to each of these functions.

Let me pursue that point for a moment. With ANAHL, there are enormous problems arising from the conflicting elements of form and function. Those are philosophical concepts which, perhaps, it is unfair to draw to the right honourable member's attention. The highly over-specific configuration of the building, with seven pressure levels, was designed precisely for the containment of live foot and mouth disease virus. Live foot and mouth disease virus is the most virulent and infectious of all animal diseases. But from the point of view of the virologist it is also the most facinating of all viruses for study. If there had been an understanding from the start that live foot and mouth disease virus would not be imported into Australia, the whole configuration of the building would have been completely different. That is common ground. Senator MacGibbon in an attempt to be helpful in the Senate a few weeks ago suggested that ANAHL would be very useful for rabies. But rabies, of course, is not communicated by aerosol like foot and mouth disease. All we need to contain rabies is a chain for the dog. We do not need seven pressure levels. That shows the absurdity of it.

Mr Anthony —Is it to be commissioned or not?

Mr BARRY JONES —Yes. It was announced on 22 September.

Mr Anthony —After you had been carpeted?

Mr BARRY JONES —No, not after I had been carpeted. Let me just get the chronology right. That is a hard word, a Greek word meaning timing. Let me get the timing right for the right honourable member. The five-man committee of the relevant Ministers who were appointed on the recommendation of CSIRO met on the morning on 20 September.

Mr Hunt —At what time?

Mr BARRY JONES —I think it was 8.30. We get up much earlier than honourable members of the previous Government. There was unanimous agreement on what we would recommend to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). The Leader of the National Party asked this question of me at 2 o'clock, or a little after 2 o'clock on the same day. I gave the answer that he quoted earlier on. On 21 September the right honourable gentleman asked a question of the Prime Minister and suggested that the Prime Minister ought to straighten me out. I saw the Prime Minister later that day and, as the right honourable member knows, the Prime Minister telephoned the Leader of the National Party in my presence. At our meeting the Prime Minister accepted the unanimous recommendation of the ministerial committee. It was duly announced in a question which came up quite fortuitously at Question Time on Thursday, 22 September. There was no carpeting; there was certainly a desire to explain what appeared to be an inconsistency.

Since the right honourable member raised the matter, let me go back to the discussion of the meeting that I held in my office with Drs Wild, Boardman and Craig on Monday, 19 September. As I said then, the discussion in my office that afternoon should not be seen in isolation. It followed on from several earlier conversations with the Chairman and the Executive. I said at the discussion on 19 September that the raison d'etre-which is a French phrase-of ANAHL had been the containment of live foot and mouth disease virus. I said to the three gentlemen that 'having the existing configuration of ANAHL without FMD was rather like Spandau without Rudolf Hess'. This view was not challenged. I said that the building was overspecific and overdesigned and that if there had been an earlier decision that live FMD virus would not be imported, the building would have been smaller, cheaper and finished earlier. This was not challenged. One member conceded that the rigorous design of ANAHL, particularly the seven drops in air pressure, was not necessary for animal viral agents other than FMD; FMD was particularly virulent and was spread as an aerosol.

At an earlier meeting with the CSIRO Executive on 31 August when I asked 'If ANAHL was being designed from scratch now, given the additional knowledge we have of diagnostic techniques, what advice would be given to the Government on the configuration of the building?', the answer given by one of the three who were at the meeting was: 'I would probably wait for three years'. It was volunteered at the meeting in my office on 19 September that in retrospect it was now clear that ANAHL should have been located in Tasmania rather than Geelong for extra security and because there was only a very small international meat trade from Tasmania and in the unlikely event of live FMD escaping adequate compensation could be given.

Mr John Brown —There was a big possum export, though.

Mr BARRY JONES —So I believe. It was also volunteered that it was possible that changing diagnostic methods would mean that ANAHL could be phased out by 1990. Honourable members will know that it is not until 1987 that there will be a reconsideration as to whether live virus will be brought up. On my recommendation we set up an advisory committee of some of the most eminent experts on virology in Australia. That committee consists of Professor Frank Fenner, who is a former Director of the Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the Australian National University and Director of the John Curtin School of Medical Research-I want to say something about ANU in a moment-Dr Keith Boardman, FRS, full time member of the CSIRO Executive; Dr Robert Gee, Director of the Bureau of Animal Health; Professor Barry Marmion of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Adelaide University; the President of the National Farmers Federation; a nominee of the Minister for Finance and now we have added a representative of the Quarantine Division. That is a very powerful team. It is specifically looking at the relative weight of those four functions-diagnostic, research, vaccine production and teaching. I assure honourable members, although the right honourable member may not have picked it up on his most recent visit to the laboratory, that the sheer configuration of the building really makes it very difficult to have a diversification of functions. What we are anxious to do first is get the laboratory going but to get the best value out of it, to have the widest variety of functions at the least possible cost. Perhaps the final thing I should say before I go on to the comments from the other speakers in the debate-

Mr Anthony —But you were red-faced and the CSIRO was not. You were the red-faced one, not it.

Mr BARRY JONES —I do not think that is right. In the long run we will see who is right and we will know who is vindicated.

Mr Anthony —Are they still wrong?

Mr BARRY JONES —No. I am saying CSIRO has inherited a situation where the right questions were simply not asked over a long period. I refer to a further point, because it was taken up I think not only by the Leader of the National Party but also by one other honourable member as well. It was put that there was a fear among ANU scientists that money given to ANAHL would be money taken away from them. That is a very curious comment and I should qualify it in case people are foolish enough to believe that it might be correct. It is not recognised- certainly not recognised by the Leader of the National party-that ANU is excluded from access to Commonwealth funding. Because it has significant Commonwealth direct funding of its own, it is not entitled to get funds either from the National Health and Medical Research Council-

Mr Carlton —Nor should it be.

Mr BARRY JONES —That is a different matter. The argument put up was that an additional dollar of money to CSIRO meant, presumably, that less money would be available through some other fund-I think the implication was that it would be some fund administered by me-like the Australian Research Grants Scheme. That is complete nonsense. I want to make another point clear, because I think I was traduced in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program Countrywide; I suggest honourable members have a look at it tomorrow night. There was a suggestion that in a sense I was acting as a kind of partisan or agent of Professor Bede Morris of the ANU. I want to make it quite clear-I have nothing against Professor Morris-that I have never met him. I have never spoken to him on the telephone; and we have had no personal contact at all. So I repudiate the argument that I am in a sense acting as an unwitting agent for what he says.

Anyway, that minor unpleasantness aside, I am glad to see that the comments made by honourable members on both sides of the Chamber recognise that there is a changing level of consciousness in this country about where we are going. Whereas the Department of Science and Technology until very recently was seen as a mere services department, as something quite peripheral to the economy, it is now seen as absolutely central to it. In a very real sense, the technological base of our society is the economy itself and we cannot get the things that all of us in this nation want unless we get our technology right.