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Wednesday, 19 October 1983
Page: 1923


Mr CHYNOWETH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Science and Technology. How far was the National Technology Conference successful in bringing about what the Minister has called 'the shock of recognition' of Australia's technological position? Was it possible to reach consensus about the adoption of a national technology strategy?


Mr BARRY JONES —I would score the success of the Conference at about eight out of 10. Of the three aims that we set out, the first, securing the 'shock of recognition' of where we are, was the least successful. That was so, first of all, because many of the organisations and people there-I include the investment community, trade unions, management, existing industry and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation-were concerned in this new forum to protect their entrenched positions and less concerned about making concessions that will need to be part of an ongoing process. I said at its end that we ought not to see the Conference as an end; it is the beginning of a continuing process. The Conference was useful to promote dialogue and especially to create media attention. Perhaps the most valuable parts of the Conference were the speeches by the Prime Minister, the Minister for Industry and Commerce and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations.


Mr Moore —What about yours?


Mr BARRY JONES —I add my own to that. The reason was that the speeches gave an indication of clear, certain and decisive government policy. The Government's economic strategy came through the Conference virtually unscathed after three days of close examination. The Prime Minister in particular gave the lead about where we are going. Technology is an area in which it is notoriously difficult to get consensus on a strategy. We recognise that. The problem is that technology is changing so dramatically that, by the time consensus is reached, the game has moved on and the consensus is no longer relevant. It is a bit like Heisenberg's uncertainty thesis.


Mr SPEAKER —Can the Minister assure me that that is not unparliamentary?


Mr BARRY JONES —I vouch for it. By the time the phenomenon has been measured, it has already changed. Indeed, the measurement changes the phenomenon. Finally, we must recognise that of the 24 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co- operation and Development, Australia ranks twenty-third in respect of the proportionate value of high technology imports over the value of our exports. That threatens the viability of our economy, our security and our autonomy. Our lead time in certain areas is running out. In a number of the sunrise areas, our lead time is no more than 15 to 18 months. That poses very serious threats for this nation.