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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2292

Mr ALLAN MORRIS —My question is directed to the Minister for Science and Technology and arises out of the draft reports of the Industries Assistance Commission brought down last week on computers, machine tools, robots, et cetera . I ask the Minister whether these reports will present themselves as an obstacle to the Government's commitment to the development of sunrise industries , particularly in high technology fields?

Mr BARRY JONES —I regard the three draft reports as extremely disappointing and rather lacking in intellectual vitality. The report on computers did not just cover hardware and software but also miscellaneous office equipment, including typewriters, calculators, recording media and even staplers. It was shortsighted to have considered computer hardware and software only as office equipment like rubber bands or white-out and not placed in the broader context of the information explosion with its revolutionary or counter-revolutionary capacity to change the configuration of power, our perceptions of the world, our culture and our technological autonomy. None of these factors is given even a mention in the majority report. However, the newspaper coverage of these three reports was somewhat exaggerated.

The computer report rejected tariff protection and bounties by majority and said that most requests were for access to venture capital, increased research and development grants and government purchasing preference. All three are in hand by this Government. The Commission said that it would not propose any specific additional measures to those three introduced by the Government; nor, I might add, are we proposing any. It should be made clear that with the possible exception of personal computers tariff protection has not been seriously proposed for any of the sunrise industries. They are aimed at filling niches in the world market and if they do not succeed in doing this they are dead anyway. Tariff protection for items such as computer software would be pointless because the software does not have to be sent to Australia in a package; it could be transferred just as easily by telephone and we cannot apply tariffs to that.

The metal working machine tools report did suggest a bounty for six years starting at 50 per cent and running down to 40 per cent. For robots the Industries Assistance Commission suggested a bounty of 30 per cent of value added. All three are draft reports. There will be no Cabinet response until the final reports are in. But it is fair to say that the IAC plays, essentially, a devil's advocate role. It is just one source of advice to the Government. I hope it does not sound too sexist to repeat, that perhaps, as I said the other day, it plays the role of the candid friend one might consult before getting married but one would not necessarily have as the best man.