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
Wednesday, 2 November 1983
Page: 2195

Mr MILTON —I direct a question to the Minister for Science and Technology. In view of the rapid international development of silicon chip technology, how far has Australia gone in developing a chip making capacity of our own? Is it too late for us to be internationally competitive?

Mr BARRY JONES —The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has set up a VLSI-very large scale integrated-circuit chip laboratory for the design of silicon chips in Adelaide. It was established in 1982, and it is co- ordinating the design and fabrication of Australia's first multi-project silicon chips. These are custom chips which, in contrast to general chips, are designed for an absolutely specific purpose. I always carry one with me in case the opportunity arises to talk to people about it in the plane. On this square of silicon, six millimetres by six millimetres, there are five different custom- designed chips. They are not general chips, which are flexible and are used for any kind of purpose; these are absolutely specific. One of the five is the chip that is the central part of the bionic ear for the profoundly deaf.

Mr Lusher —I take a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr BARRY JONES —Spoilsport.

Mr Lusher —I ask the Minister whether he can incorporate the chip in Hansard.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.

Mr BARRY JONES —If our chip technology in Australia were more sophisticated, we could do it. We have the chip design facility but as yet not the fabrication capacity, and that is the important thing. One of the five chips contains 18,000 transistors and it will be used in the Australia Telescope. These custom chips are very important for uses where size and energy use are critical, for example in microelectronics.

It is estimated that, by 1985-86, world-wide sales of chips will be of the order of $32 billion, of which general chips will account for $26 billion and custom chips for $6 billion. We would be crazy to move into the general chip area because it is overwhelmingly dominated by two areas, the United States and Japan, where there is an enormous volume of production with low unit cost. With these highly specific chips, the volume is very small because the chips are individually designed and the unit cost is very high. It is not an unreasonable expectation to aim at 10 per cent of the world market-$600m a year-for the custom chip area by 1985-86, because our chips are equivalent to the best in the world. The tragedy at the moment is that they have to be fabricated in the United States. But the design has been done here. So far nearly 200 different chips have been designed in Australia. Time is running out for us. Those who sit opposite are entirely responsible for this. We can be internationally competitive, but we do not have a very favourable lead time. Fortunately the Government has the drive and the determination to succeed on world markets, and I am confident that we will do so.