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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2347

Dr HARRY EDWARDS(9.08) —I move:

That this House, noting that the Minister for Science and Technology was prevented by the Government from delivering a speech dealing with high technology and the Australian economy to the recent Economic Summit-

(1) deplores the fact that as a result the Summit, among other shortcomings, did not systematically address the great challenge, opportunities as well as problems, which high/new technology presents for the future of Australia, and

(2) calls upon the Minister to make a statement on his being precluded from addressing the Summit, and to table the speech in the Parliament.

This motion was put down in the wake of the National Economic Summit Conference to which the previous speaker, the honourable member for Stirling (Mr Ronald Edwards), referred. It notes that the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones), who is sitting at the table, was prevented from delivering a speech to that conference and, as a result, the Summit did not adequately or systematically address the challenges and opportunities of new technology and the importance of getting Australia 'into' advanced technology industrial development. I stand by that. I think that honourable members will be aware that I have previously acknowledged the Minister's contribution to lifting the awareness of challenges and opportunities of new technology and the importance of getting Australia more into this area. That capacity of the Minister is not at issue. What is-and I will come to this later-having raised people's expectations one has to deliver. That is just what the Government is not doing, as my colleagues in the previous debate pointed out in other areas.

The motion deplores the fact. It also calls on the Minister to make a statement and to table his speech in the Parliament. I think he will be only too ready to make a statement when I finish.

But going back to the starting point, the National Economic Summit Conference, I think the House will agree that it certainly seems light years away. As I see from the document I have in front of me, it was held from 11 to 14 April. It must seem those light years away, especially, I would suggest, to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), given the Coombe and Ivanov affair which came up in just the following week. That must have seemed a pretty startling change after the bonhommie, goodwill and consensus-a pretty artificial consensus I would say-of the Summit.

I have never decried the Summit and have applauded in particular the information that it made available. Some data such as the forward Estimates were made available for the first time. But if the main purpose of the Summit was to cement the accord with the unions, as I suspect it was, it is beginning to look a bit sick, given the building industry peace deal, to mention only one instance . Only the Queensland Premier, Mr Bjelke-Petersen, honed in on the real weakness of the Summit, that is, that it never seriously considered a commitment to the continuation of the wage pause. That wage pause of the previous Government was the main factor in the achievement of single digit inflation announced last week which has been so widely trumpeted. Also the continuation of that pause would undoubtedly have been in the best interests of the unemployed, and, surely the high level of unemployment was the central focus of the Summit-Mr Wran with his call for 'jobs, jobs, jobs'. I want to stress that the continuation of that pause would, as well, have been in the best interests of furthering high technology industrial development, which is the real substance of this present debate.

As I said, I will not press the Minister either to make the statement or to table the speech in the precise terms of the motion because in a real sense events have overtaken that in the form of the National Technology Conference, held on 26 to 28 September last. I think that Conference was probably originally billed as a summit. Apparently it was downgraded a bit because the sort of artificial consensus of the Summit was not sought and certainly not obtained. The speech that the Minister delivered then can, I think, stand in as something of a proxy-I see that the Minister nods-for the speech he would have delivered at the Summit.

Having made that reference to the Conference, I note that, like the Summit, it was opened by the Prime Minister. There can be little doubt that between the time of the Summit and the Conference there has been a lift in thinking and in perceptions as to the key role of modern technology in today's society. In the Summit communique high technology rated a specific mention in only one paragraph , paragraph 39, although there was an indirect reference to it in another paragraph, paragraph 45, which touched on education training and retraining-a very important matter. Paragraph 39 of the Summit Conference communique refers to new technology contributing to changes in the level and the pattern of employment and continues with the guarded, very low key statement:

Participants do not consider-

That is participants in the Summit-

that the answer to high unemployment lies in rejecting new technology, noting that in certain circumstances-

I wonder what they are-

the adoption of new technology may be the only means of remaining competitive.

In contrast to that pretty low key statement, the Prime Minister roundly declared in his opening address to the Technology Conference:

Sustained economic growth is going to require the progressive adoption of productive new technologies, structural change in the economy and high levels of investment from home and abroad-

He went on to say:

The development and application of new technology must be embraced as one of the driving forces behind the process of economic change with important consequences for the competitiveness of industries. There is no escaping the fact that industrial innovation is essential to Australia's future economic well being, not only in industries producing glamorous new products but throughout established industries as well.

So the message did get through. To that extent, the concern expressed in my motion is allayed. But I want to come back to the Conference speech by the Minister at the table, the Minister for Science and Technology, which as I said is a proxy, so to speak, for the speech at the Summit. The Minister made both an opening and-I would add-a closing speech. When one takes the lot together, it really does not come as much of as surprise that the Prime Minister vetoed the Minister's appearance at the Summit which, of course, was and excercise explicity aimed at consensus. The Minister, in fact, wound up with the rather contemptous reference to the assembled gathering, which included leaders of Australian business, of Australian trade unions and the academic community-a group similar in standing to those at the Summit-in effect as a bunch of ' sleepers'. This was not said in the sense of logs but as people unaware of the dramatic events unfolding and about to envelop them and certainly unresponsive to the call of Jones the watchman.

Mr Barry Jones —On the heights.

Dr HARRY EDWARDS —What the Minister actually said was 'the sleepers may be waking but they are very drowsy'. I suspect that that was said somewhat tongue in cheek, but certainly with some pique at the apparent lack of response to certain propositions the Minister is wont to put from time and time again. Principal among these is the undisputed fact that from the late 1960s to last year there was not one net new job in manufacturing, albeit there were upwards of two million new jobs generated in Australia. If that was not received by that Conference with the fear as of apocalypse as, I think, the Minister expected, the reason is that it does not represent any unique experience of post industrialisation or of that other nonsense buzz word-deindustrialisation-which in fact has no place in serious economic debate.

The facts are that the Australian experience very closely parallels that of the United States and the United States is the very homeland, the show piece over this period of those innovative, high-tech, high growth companies so dear to the Minister. From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, for instance, companies such as Digital Equipment Corporation, National Semiconductor and others chalked up rates of growth of employment-jobs, not sales-of upwards of 40 per cent per annum. Many companies, such as Polaroid, 3M and IBM chalked up growth of about 11 per cent over a longer period. So we find that whereas in Australia there was a fall of about 100,000 in employment in manufacturing from 1969 to 1982-to take some precise years-which was a fall from 25.1 per cent of the work force to 19 per cent of the work force, in the United States the fall was from 20.4 million to 19.2 million or a fall from 26.2 per cent to 19.3 per cent of total employment which almost exactly parallels the experience here.

In countries such as the United Kingdom the situation was even more dramatic. I am not, and I do not want to be seen to be complacent in this matter of the fall in employment in manufacturing as a proportion of the total number of jobs. It is just that I think the Minister needs to get a bit of perspective on the matter. He should get away from futurology occasionally and get a bit of balance . He should come down to earth and let us have a bit more of the here and now and some practical and immediate action. That seems, perhaps, a suitable point to stress-a point which the Minister often seems to lose sight of and indeed in the Estimates debate he actually disputed the other night-that high or new or advanced technology is important not only in respect of the emergence of new industries producing high technology products such as computers, or computer software more realistically in the Australian case, of PSZ-partially stablised Zirconia-but also and very importantly in the upgrading, revitalising and renewing of existing industry. After all, for many years yet established industries will be providing the bulk of employment in industry. There was another gem in the Minister's speech to the conference-the proxy speech which he would have made at the Summit Conference. He said:

Australia has become an industrial museum and our factories are working models of the age of chisels, spanners and hammers.

That statement again might have been a bit tongue in cheek. Many Australian factories are into CAD/CAM, lasers, microelectronics. The Minister knows that as well as I do. Pehaps we can agree that there are not enough such factories, and that is the very point. The upgrading of existing industry to state-of-the-art technology or more nearly state-of-the-art technology is of major significance, and not just the development of new industries producing high-tech products as such-the so-called sunrise industries.

I say this, that it is common bipartisan ground that Australia has not realised its potential in the area of technology and that our future prosperity depends importantly on innovation, change and investment, with new technology a major driving force. There is very great promise and great potential benefits to be achieved via higher productivity, economic growth and increased employment, and thus higher standards of living and a better quality of life, while recognising at the same time that modern technology does raise the possibility of major challenges to fundamental values, to social cohesion, to ethics and the law, the protection of privacy and the like. I am confident that we will cope with all that.

What is of concern here and now-whether it is anything to do with the matter not being systematically addressed at the Summit or not-is that, for all the talk that we hear from the Government, in fact it has done very little to promote high technology industrial development. In 1982, under my former colleague the Hon. David Thomson, the Budget allocation for the Department of Science and Technology increased by 16.4 per cent. That was in the context of a total projects increase in outlays of 13.9 per cent. We find that this year under the present Minister the total appropriation for the Department of Science and Technology shows an increase of a mere 4 per cent, in a Budget with a total projected increase of outlays of 15.8 per cent.

Mr Groom —It is going backwards.

Dr HARRY EDWARDS —It is going backwards. We have heard a lot about the alleged legacy of high deficit bequeathed by the previous Government. A lot of that claim is hogwash anyway, as my colleague has pointed out. Whatever the difficulties, the Government did manage an increase in total outlays of 15.8 per cent. As I have just said, the Department of Science and Technology received an increase of a mere 4 per cent. I think the Minister ought to be prepared to eat some of the harsh words he habitually had to say when in opposition about the previous Government's attitude to science and technology, its alleged insufficient awareness and concern, and so on. The fact is that actions speak louder than words. That increase last year and similar increases in earlier years resulted in an increase in real terms-it is adjusted for inflation-of about 16 per cent for research and development supported by the Commonwealth over the period from 1978-79 to 1982-83. That is a real increase of nearly 4 per cent per annum faster than the growth of the gross domestic product. That is clearly not what will happen this year.

In the area of science and technology, we often speak of research and development. Development, especially private industry technology development, is something which I believe should be thought of rather seperately, but the science part is nevertheless of basic importance. What has happened there? The total allocation for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is actually less than that for last year. Now, while the actual fall was mainly in the capital area the truth nevertheless is that the provision for current funding for that organisation, in the face of inflation, means that the general programs of the organisation will have to be reduced by 2 1/2 per cent, in terms of both staff and operating funds. There is no doubt at all that this will have a long term deleterious effect on the organisation. On the positive side, it is true that an additional $4m has been provided for existing programs in particular areas of new or advanced technology. I submit to the Minister that this comparatively miserable $4m will prove no adequate compensation for the general cutback of 2 1/2 per cent in the ongoing CSIRO programs, which total of the order of $300m and are the very foundation of this nation's internationally recognised science and technology effort. And I stress that CSIRO was not lacking in coming up with results of significance in the so- called sunrise area, as witness the material I referred to a short time ago, partially stabilised zirconia.

Mr Deputy Speaker, in conclusion, we need to recognise that advanced technology industrial development is not a matter of science and technology policy alone, or even primarily, but of creating a favourable overall climate for development, investment, innovation and risk-taking. The Minister's customary stance, as I have said before, tends to encourage a sort of high-tech myopia-that science and technology, while creating challenges and problems of various sorts, is also a panacea for all our ills. What is important is to create the overall climate to which I referred. This means first and foremost getting the macroeconomic settings of the economy right, containing real cost levels, profitability up, and inflation and interest rates down. The present Budget policy, taken together with the Government's commitment to full indexation of wages, does not augur very well in that respect.

In addition, it is necessary to address other fundamental features and rigidities in the economy, for example, the profusion of government regulations restricting competition and stifling enterprise, such as the difficulties at present with the AIRDIS scheme. I admit that that has been bequeathed from the previous Government, but it is an illustration of the fact that that may not be the best vehicle for fostering private technology of this development. Again there is the issue of business taxation policies-yet all we hear from the Government is talk of a capitals gains tax.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired .

Mr Burr —I second the motion, and I reserve my right to speak.