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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1852

Senator MAGUIRE(5.26) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the papers.

The National Technology Strategy discussion draft has been distributed by the Government which is seeking comments on the options and priorities put forward in the draft. It is seeking to develop a consensus position on the community's attitude to technology. Later, in response to the comments elicited by this draft report the Government will be bringing down an overall strategy for technological development in Australia. Incidentally, the report parallels some work done in my own State where the State Minister for Technology has circulated a draft and held seminars-at a local level-to get a fairly clear view of what the community feels about technological development there.

The document we are discussing today has been prepared by the Department of Science and Technology. It contains some very disturbing findings; some of them are not entirely new. It makes the point that in Australia a very low proportion of students by world standards is completing secondary school. Also a low proportion of secondary school leavers actually goes on to tertiary institutions . The report also states that there are low levels of labour force retraining occurring in Australia. Finally, there are very low levels of research and development expenditure in this country, something which has received publicity lately. The strategy proposes some targets to be looked at. For example, it is proposed that we seek to achieve a situation by 1995 where 50 per cent of students complete secondary school. Also it is recommended that a target of 20 per cent of school leavers by 1995 actually go on to tertiary institutions. It is recommended that we should aim for a target of retraining one per cent of the work force annually. On my calculations, that would work out at about 60,000 persons each year. It is a very large figure indeed compared with the labour force retraining which has been occurring in Australia. On my calculations, I think it is very close to, if not larger than, the entire work force of the city of Geelong being retrained each year. The strategy proposes targets for bridging and gap, which appears to be very large in this country, between actual research and industrial application of research.

In making his ministerial statement on the report in another place, the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) I thought came out with some very disturbing figures on technology in this country. For example, Australia ranks very low in the proportion of exports which are technologically based. We have very low levels of export involving technology per head of population. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has ranked Australia twentieth of its member countries in terms of the technological component of exports. The estimate for Australia is some $81 per head. This is below the figure for Spain but slightly ahead of those for Portugal, Greece, Iceland and Turkey. It is rather significant that our close neighbour, New Zealand, has a much higher figure of $110 per head of population in terms of exports involving technology. We are a mere fraction of the position in Switzerland, where the exports involving technology per head of population amount to some $2,500. Another disturbing comparison is with the Netherlands. That country has technologically based exports each year amounting to some $19 billion, Australia has a mere $1 billion, and yet both countries have approximately similar populations, approximately similar numbers of people in employment.

The draft discussion paper issued today has a number of priority areas. For example, it states that we should be giving much higher priority to research and development, trying to increase research and development in this country to 1.5 per cent of gross domestic product by 1990 and to 2 per cent in 1995, which would amount to a doubling over today's levels. The report also points out that while Australia does relatively well by world standards in pure research, we are very backward in the application of that research.