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Thursday, 3 November 1983
Page: 2353


Mr BURR(9.46) —It is probably timely to remind the House and the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) of the motion moved by the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Harry Edwards). That motion states, in part:

(1) deplores the fact that as a result of 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 . . .

I think the Minister in his comments forgot the terms of the motion, because the substance of the motion moved by the honourable member for Berowra was the failure of the National Economic Summit Conference to deal with and address properly the effect of high technology.


Mr Barry Jones —That is why we had our conference.


Mr BURR —I acknowledge the comments that the Minister has made and the attempts he made subsequent to the National Economic Summit Conference to cover up for the shortcomings of his Cabinet colleagues, in particular the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). I acknowledge what the Minister has done to try to highlight the effects of high technology in this country. Unfortunately, he is not supported by his Cabinet colleagues, in particular the Prime Minister. That was the substance of the motion moved by the honourable member for Berowra.

The Summit Conference which was held in this chamber was promoted by the Prime Minister in particular as the great summit that brought together all the major policy makers of this country at all levels of government, the union movement and industry to determine the future direction of this country. I applauded the Prime Minister for calling that Conference. But how on earth the Prime Minister thought he could hold a conference designed to determine the future direction of this country without considering the impact of high technology on our industries and on the future of our country, I do not understand. I am quite sure that the Minister for Science and Technology, who is at the table, would agree with that because I understand that it was the Minister's intention to present to that Conference a major paper which could be considered by industry and government leaders in the course of their consideration of the effects of high technology. I feel terribly sorry for the Minister. He was obviously snubbed by his own Government, which should in common sense have given him that opportunity. It should have given the major decision makers of Australia the opportunity to consider the merits of what the Minister would obviously have brought to the Economic Conference.

I feel justified in seconding the motion of the honourable member for Berowra. Privately I think the Minister would agree with the motion in that the Summit Conference did not properly debate the impact of high technology. I am not asking the Minister to make a comment in the House, but I would be terribly disappointed if, in the privacy of his own room, he did not agree that he was snubbed and that there was no proper debate at the Conference because it did not have the benefit of the paper that he would have put before it. I compliment the Minister on the action he took subsequent to the Conference in trying to highlight to the people of Australia, to industry and to governments the impact of high technology. I compliment him on holding the National Technology Conference because I think that that was the second best option he had available to him. I compliment him on bringing together a range of people with very commendable technology qualifications, people from universities, research institutes and so on.

The Summit Conference was promoted as being the conference to determine the future policy direction for this country. But that conference did not have the benefit of the points made when the Minister subsequently called together the National Technology Conference. The Summit could not have been a complete conference without the benefits of the points that were made by the Minister. This country is going to face tremendous impacts, whether honourable members on the opposite side agree or not. I understand their ignorance. I feel very sorry for them. Fortunately the Minister at the table does not share their ignorance. He is much more perceptive than many of his colleagues on that side of the chamber. I freely admit that he is much more perceptive than many other people in this country. He has done his very best to highlight the impacts that this country will feel from the effects of high technology. His book Sleepers, Wake! was perhaps one of the most perceptive publications presented to this country. I compliment the Minister on that publication. Unfortunately, we can perceive from the laughter of the honourable member for Leichhardt (Mr Gayler) that he obviously does not understand what the Minister was talking about in his book. I perceive from the laughter on the other side of this chamber that, unfortunately , his colleagues have not got the faintest idea what he was talking about. I feel terribly sorry for the Minister because he put so much work into that publication. I feel terribly sorry for honourable members opposite because they do not understand what the Minister was talking about. We on this side of the chamber have studied the book. I for one agreed with almost every word in it.

I am sure that the Minister will agree that this country is going to face an enormous economic and social upheaval as a result of the impact of high technology. The impact on our employment structure, industrial structure and social structure will, I am afraid, be greater than most people in this country perceive or acknowledge at this stage. I feel that even at this stage the Government does not fully understand the impact on this country. Obviously there is going to be an enormous impact on employment, the future prospects for employment and the opportunities within the traditional high labour intensive industries. As I can perceive the Government's program, that has not been acknowledged or understood by the Government. If I understand the Budget properly, the Government's response to the problems that we are facing in employment was to introduce the community employment program. That is just a band-aid approach to what is going to be a long term problem. Unemployment is going to become highly entrenched and in fact will worsen as a result of the technological revolution. The Government obviously does not understand the impact of high technology and what it will do to employment prospects in this country and to our social structure. It is simply trying to patch up a problem with band-aid solutions.

I feel terribly sorry for the Minister when he is arguing in his Cabinet with such ignorant people. I only hope, for the sake of Australia, that he has greater success with his colleagues in the future. The prospects for Australia, which the Minister highlighted and explained terribly well in his book, will be enormous. The prospects for our manufacturing industries will reverberate around this country for a great many years. But the Government is simply trying to patch up these problems with things such as community employment program and other band-aid policies. It applied a short term band-aid solution to the problems of Broken Hill Proprietary Co. Limited. It is simply handing out taxpayers' money to shore up a long term problem caused by the technological revolution. This is a short term band-aid solution adopted for political purposes. It is not designed to restructure that industry, it is not designed to take account of the technological revolution and it cannot possibly be in the best long term interests of this country.

The Minister is all too well aware of the changes that we need, for instance, in the eductional processes of this country, not only to educate people about the impact of high technology but also to educate them, to be able to cope with that problem, to get them into other streams of employment and into other streams of profitable and self-fulfilling occupations and activities. We have not even started at the Federal or State levels to plan for those changes in our educational or social structure that we must plan for. The Minister will be well aware that these matters require not just a simple panacea. They require a total range of policy areas. There cannot be just one simple, quick, snap solution. This cannot be done overnight; it has to be done on a long term planning basis that takes account of our educational structures, industrial relations structures, industry structures and trade policies and so on. All must be considered in the light of the impact of high technology. Whether this Government, any future government, union or industry leaders like it or not, high technology will have an impact on this country and we cannot stop it. It is like King Canute trying to keep out the tide. We cannot stop this flood of high technology having an impact on Australia. The Government, unions and industry must plan for that impact so that they can give a proper lead to the people of this country.

I have great pleasure in supporting the motion by the honourable member for Berowra. I compliment him for highlighting to the House the shortcomings of the Economic Summit. I thought that the concept of the Economic Summit, the bringing together of leaders from various areas within this country-from unions, industry and Government-was very good. I certainly hope it can be pursued again in the future. But to attempt to have such a summit without even trying to look at the impact on this country of high technology only highlights the fact that the Summit was incomplete in its concept. I compliment the honourable member for Berowra for highlighting the shortcomings of that Summit. I can only hope that in the future the Minister will be more successful in getting support from his colleagues than he obviously has in the past.