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Tuesday, 23 October 1984
Page: 2249

Senator MISSEN(9.00) —In speaking to the Appropriation Bills tonight I will support what has been said by Senator Chaney and deal with other matters which perhaps he did not have time to cover in this debate which has been shortened because we are near the end of this Parliament. Today the Government has decided to cut and run. It has had the support of the Australian Democrats to pass guillotine motions so that our session will come to an end tomorrow. Therefore, we will never get to the Committee stage of these Appropriation Bills or further analyse in detail the problems the Government is leaving behind it as it goes to an election hoping that, with the media success of the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), its long range problems will be overlooked or glossed over.

Tonight we heard a speech from the Leader of the Government in the Senate ( Senator Button). He gave late notice of his entry into the debate and endeavoured to follow that rosy path which suggests that everything in the garden is lovely and the Government is going ahead well. But one has to realise only two things about that. The first is that Senator Button entered this debate because he is under attack. The good intentions that Senator Button has in many areas are not to be ignored, but he is under attack. Even today we read that people in his own Party, in his own unions, are repudiating him and wanting him to go. They are the people who hold the purse strings as far as the Government is concerned. They are the ones who must be consulted. They are the ones who join in a determination of policy in this country. Yesterday we heard that Mr Joe Thompson, State Secretary of the Vehicle Builders Union in New South W ales, President of the New South Wales Labor Council and a member of the Legislative Council-an important figure who has just been re-elected to his post-has already had private discussions with Mr Hawke and will be formally requesting the removal of Senator Button from his post as Minister for Industry and Commerce later this week. Mr Thompson said publicly yesterday that Senator Button must go ; he is demanding his removal from the portfolio. He said:

He must take the blame for the disastrous state of Australia's manufacturing industry and for what we believe to be a crisis in the vehicle industry.

That comes from a supporter of the Labor Government. He talks of the disastrous state of manufacturing industry. That is true, and it is not a new thing. After 20 months of government, this Government must accept a great deal of responsibility for not tackling the long-standing problems involved.

One must also realise that many problems are only just coming to the fore. That is why the Government is seeking such an early election-so that it can be re- elected before the clouds gather. The amendment which Senator Peter Rae has foreshadowed on behalf of the Opposition to the motion for the second reading of Appropriation Bills (No. 1) 1984-85 records certain things which I hope the Democrats will support and which I hope will be carried by the Senate. The matters involved in the serious state of the economy as described in this amendment include the following: Public debt in 1984-85 is estimated to be $90 billion which involves an average interest bill of $34 per week for each taxpayer; overseas investment is at its lowest level for the past three years; and the Bureau of Agricultural Economics has forecast an expected decline of 29 per cent in rural production in 1984-85.

Since the end of the drought the Government has claimed with pleasure credit for increases in production, but according to all estimates they will go into serious decline next year. Private fixed capital investment for 1983-84 was 10 per cent lower than in the previous year. Manufacturing production and retail sales have fallen in the last few months. Inflationary pressures are growing because of the indexed increases in government charges and because average weekly earnings in the 12 months to June 1984 increased by 12.3 per cent. In addition, whilst the Government lays claim to responsibility for the increase in employment, it ignores the fact that most of it is public sector employment. This funded employment has increased drastically while employment in the productive sectors of the economy such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing and the associated area of transport has actually fallen by 50,000 people during the term of the Government. One could go on. The Government has been getting away with murder. It has been persuading people that everything in the garden is lovely. Unfortunately, it has not taken steps to overcome the ingrown and longstanding problems in the economy which need attention.

I mention only one other thing that Senator Button talked about tonight. He claimed that industry competitiveness was important and was reflected in the policy of the Government. He said that, in fact, the Government had a good record in the deregulation area. That is an absurd claim. It is true that the Government completed the financial deregulation which the Fraser Government commenced. That is a good and necessary development, but in the other areas where both deregulation and improvement in our regulatory processes are a screaming urgency in this country-the burdens on the community and small business in particular are demanding and they are growing every day-the Government did nothing. Three weeks ago, as I pointed out in a question to Senator Button today, when the Business Council of Australia raised this matter the Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke, called a meeting. He said he would create a tripartite agreement, a little committee between the Government, the trade unions and business. Of course, he has big business in mind. We all know which of the three will be the loser. We will not know until after the election, some time next year, whether the Government will do anything about that matter, whether it will do anything to reduce the burden on business in the community or whether it will obey its own conference decisions in July last year which made it clear that it should not do anything in that area but concentrate on continued regulation and control of the economy.

Tonight I propose to deal with only one area in which the long range efforts which this country should be making have been neglected by this Government. It is indicative of many other areas. I refer to science and technology. We all recognise that it is an area which is important for the future of Australia. If we, as a country in this part of the world, do not concentrate on the development of the technique, ability, training and skills of our people we will never get anywhere by mere numbers. We must develop ourselves as a highly trained, highly skilled country. At the moment we rank twenty-first out of 24 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in the money we spend on science, technology and research.

A Minister whom I think we admire for his concern, knowledge and general honesty, the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones), realises this but he has been turned down entirely by the Hawke Government in his efforts to develop this area. We recall the headlines in the Press at the time the Budget came down. I have some before me. One stated: 'Angry Jones may quit over Budget cuts.' It was suggested that he may resign because of what happened to the science area in the Budget. At the time he was also, apparently, considering not standing for Cabinet if the Government is returned. He blamed the coming election for the poor showing of his portfolio in the Budget, saying that there were no votes in science. He and his Department suffered very considerably from the Budget cuts. The Department which we ought to think of as having the future of this country very much in its hands was savagely dealt with in the Budget which we are talking about today.

Not only did Mr Barry Jones complain bitterly about the Budget cuts but also he was reprimanded by Mr Hawke for his actions and comments, particularly his comments that he hoped more money would be provided for his Department after the election. That was not a very pleasant suggestion to the Prime Minister because it implied, as we think is very likely, that a mini-Budget will be brought down which may provide more money. However, I doubt whether science will win the battle. The Government has not recognised the importance of developing this area .

In the course of the consideration of the Budget we have had Estimates committee meetings. The record of those meetings and the questioning of public servants is recorded in Hansard. I pay tribute to my colleague Senator Peter Baume for his very skilful and detailed questioning particularly of the officers of the Department of Science and Technology and the officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation which is a particular sufferer in this regard. I want to draw attention to some of the things that were pointed out and brought forward in the course of that examination. In the Department of Science and Technology there was an increase in actual figures of 1.6 per cent in money terms. Honourable senators should take into account that inflation has been raging during that period. That is a net real loss to the Department of Science and Technology and to CSIRO. This has meant that a number of people have to be released, programs have to be removed and these departments will not be in a position to continue with some of the scientific investigations which they have been doing.

When Senator Peter Baume questioned the officers of the Department they said: ' Senator, that includes the last year's figures and includes some non-recurring costs that have been taken into account. They will not crop up this year'. Senator Baume then asked: 'What about the non-recurring items contained in the 1984-85 Budget'? The officers did not have those figures. They could not say what were the non-recurring items. One can take it that what is happening is that there is a real loss from the point of view of money spent on science this year. Senator Peter Baume also pointed out that over the last five years the average real growth-that is not just in monetary terms-in government research and development funding has been about 3 per cent per annum continuing, one might say, with a very modest increase but not what we got this year. This year we are going down, we are going backwards. I think that is a very serious development for this country.

It was brought out during questioning that there were some increases in expenditure in the Department of Science and Technology. For example, administrative items such as travel and subsistence had an increase of 18.5 per cent and office requisites had an increase of 12.5 per cent. Honourable senators should compare that with the money that has actually been spent on scientific investigation on the programs which had dropped away. The Australian industrial research and development incentive scheme is a very useful idea and is providing money for scientific programs. We found that in the last year the appropriation was not entirely spent and was treated as savings. What we have as a result is that whereas in the previous year $43m was spent, this year the appropriation is only $38m. In other words, there is a decline of 11.5 per cent, an actual substantial decline on a very useful program.

To give honourable senators another example, which I think is graphic, the only provision made for technology and innovation programs was in respect of the fifth generation computer project. In scientific terms an amount to $250,000 was provided. Senator Baume again pointed out that in the United Kingdom the Alvey program was $540m over five years and Japan will be spending $1.56 billion by 1991. Just compare that with the $250,000 which is to keep Australia in the game . So honourable senators get some idea of the myopic nature of this Government and its inability to recognise that it is not keeping up in any way with the type of scientific development which is happening elsewhere. The CSIRO is our great scientific organisation in this country. It is not the only one, there are other important institutions, but it is the important one for which this Government has prime responsibility. It is a particular example of the shameful disgrace which this Government must face when there is something like an 8.8 per cent shortfall in moneys for this organisation this year.

In the examination which took place in Senate Estimates Committee D on 26 September Dr Boardman, who I think is the No. 2 man in the CSIRO, in giving evidence, pointed out quite a number of salient factors that have developed. He was asked by the Chairman questions about the Institute of Biological Resources. Dr Boardman said that there had been a decrease in real terms for all divisions in CSIRO but that division was taking a decrease in real terms of 3 1/2 to 4 per cent. The Chairman asked:

What will be the consequences of that for this area of research?

I take this as just one example. Dr Boardman said:

The consequences will be that in order that we should concentrate our effort on the most important aspects of the program, some of the projects and programs will have to be wound down.

The Chairman asked:

Will it mean a decrease in staff in that area?

Dr Boardman replied:

Yes, because we cannot cope with that sort of decrease in real terms only by taking it from operating expenses; we must take a cut in staff as well.

The Committee went on to examine the extent to which staff numbers would be cut. It was pointed out also that staff numbers would have to be cut by attrition- that people would leave their jobs, places would not be filled by someone else and, in this rather haphazard way, there would be a staff reduction. The Chairman asked Dr Boardman:

I take it that this decrease did not occur because the Organisation wished it to occur?

Dr Boardman pointed out in very clear terms:

It certainly did not decrease on the basis of the Organisation's submission.

Other officers of the CSIRO pointed out in evidence that, in the last two years, there have been inescapable salary increases. An officer of the CSIRO was asked:

How were they treated in previous years?

The officer stated:

In previous years we have received the amounts that we have sought for inescapable salary increases.

In the last two years, the CSIRO has not received these increases and, therefore , it must remove organisational members, it must reduce its staff and take them away so that work that should be done in this community cannot be done. It was pointed out:

So this is the second year in a row that we have had no allowance for inflation . The strategy employed by the Organisation last year was to shift 3 per cent of its money from salaries to operating to redress that imbalance.

That is the penny-pinching, foolish attitude of this Government as far as its dealings with this important Organisation are concerned. Members of staff are got rid of by way of attrition. They are not sacked, but as people retire they are not replaced. Dr Boardman stated also:

I hope we can achieve it by attrition, but that has very serious consequences because of the way in which vacancies occur. We feel it will have to pay much more attention to the redeployment of people to the areas that we want to concentrate on and diminish.

So it goes on, outlining the sorry record which this Government has in dealing with this important and fine Organisation which has a great history in this country. Not only the questioning that went on in the Estimates Committee raises matters of great concern; I and other honourable senators have received correspondence from many persons from inside and outside the scientific community complaining bitterly about this situation. I mention in particular an interesting report which I, and no doubt other honourable senators, received from Professor Lewis Chadderton, one of the leading members of the CSIRO. That report is headed 'Research in the CSIRO-Death by a Thousand Budget Cuts'. In that report Professor Chadderton points out the horrendous implications of the cutbacks and the extent to which these are being rejected by the Australian people who recognise that their future is being brought into question in this way. I intend, with no apology, to read a few extracts from Professor Chadderton 's report which deal with cuts in the science and technology area because I think they put the point very clearly. He said:

Can it truly be a cause for wonder that Australian scientists should so vehemently vilify Mr Keating's budget? It is unprecedented, and uncharacteristic , that with one voice, scientists from both CSIRO and the universities should howl with fury at such mean myopia. A leading newspaper columnist has alluded to some well orchestrated and most successful publicity campaigns on the part of the CSIRO. It's simply not true! The spontaneous outrage expressed revulsion at the sacrifice of a brightening Australia on the altar of short term political gains.

I emphasise 'short term political gains'. By cutting funding on the eve of an election and ignoring a department which does not seem to have very much political pull the Government is helping to destroy a great effort. Professor Chadderton referred to the particular case, in his knowledge, of the Division of Chemical Physics at Clayton, Victoria. He said:

The number of permanent employees of all kinds has shrunk by 18, to a total of 81, in four years. None may be replaced. The workshop is at one-third strength. There is no electrician! What price safety, then? There is no stenographic secretary. An automatic telephone answering machine has been installed. Hardly the most supportive environment for a high technological breakthrough!

He goes on to refer to the fact that some critics of CSIRO have frequently proposed the transfer of all fundamental research from CSIRO to the universities . He says:

That proposal is about as sensible as suggesting the opposite, namely that all university applied research should be removed to the CSIRO. Really! The ignorance of research methods revealed in such proposals is profound indeed. Pure research leads to applied research, which leads to innovation and invention , which leads to high technology, industry, export markets and job creation. This line of flow is clean, continuous, and incontestable!

It was a recommendation of the Birch Report that CSIRO's Divisions should more and more employ young scientists on a short term basis. That recommendation has been implemented, and some of the most brilliant brains have been at work-on a three-year basis-for Australian science. Now, the prospect of no possibility of permanent employment is frustrating them beyond all measure. They are joining their university colleagues.

And so it goes on. The Minister, of course, knew full well the situation and what was offered so far as high technology is concerned in the salvation of this country. But he has proved to be quite unable to exercise any influence in stopping this, so we remain twenty-first out of the 24 OECD countries. Let me quote one other statement from the report, a remark by Professor Don Aitkin from the Australian National University who, in this case, is a political scientist. He writes:

Governments are elected to make wise decisions, not necessarily popular ones, and they have a special responsibility for thinking about the nation's future. It is time the present Government took its eyes off the polls and focused them on the last decade of the 20th Century.

Is that not a thorough indictment of this Government? It has concentrated all this year on the polls, on the fact that it wants to get re-elected. It wants to be loved, it wants its Prime Minister to be popular and it is therefore not concerned with the major issues but with the short term issues. After the Budget , in addition to what Professor Chadderton wrote, some 44 of the major officers of CSIRO sent a telex to the Prime Minister and expressed their complaints and their horror at what was happening. They said:

We express our grave concern about the adverse effect which the 1984/85 Budget will have on the effectiveness of CSIRO. Over the past 5 years extensive reviews of the Organisation's research programs have been conducted and low-priority areas of research eliminated.

They go on to say:

At the National Technology Conference last year you-

that is the Prime Minister, Mr Bob Hawke-

spoke of the central role that science and technology must play in Australia's economy by revitalising industry and encouraging the growth of new ones. Continued cut-backs in funding for science and technology make it extremely difficult to maintain such a role.

News of the Budget cut for 1984/85 is also jeopardising our attempts to maintain the high morale which is so necessary in a research and development organization. Low morale will invariably reflect the development of creative and innovative ideas which are so crucial to the effective functioning of scientific and technological research.

We are extremely concerned that the R and D-

the research and development-

capability of CSIRO, a unique national resource that is held in the highest esteem by the Australian community, is being eroded by the current constraints.

Those are the words of scientists who are not politicians and who have not engaged in campaigning and who have not proceeded in this way before, but who because of their intense concern have been forced to do so. Let me give just one other example of what these cuts have done, this time in the area of CSIRO's research in regard to forests. The Daintree area is one that I mention in particular. Under this Government it has been shockingly neglected. The Government will not even negotiate with the Queensland Government to try to preserve that rain forest. In addition, the cuts in the CSIRO budget probably have had the effect of bringing some of the research in this area, particularly at Atherton, to an end. There has been a cut in funds of nearly 10 per cent in real terms to this project. It was pointed out in an article in the Bulletin on 9 October that this research group, which is probably the best in the world, cannot do much now because of these cuts. The article states:

. . . Landsberg says, but simply because there is nowhere else with wet tropical rainforest, decent laboratory facilities and a stable political situation which allows continuous work by experienced staff.

This is in regard to the Australian experience. The article continues:

As rainforests are becoming a major international concern, the CSIRO has encouraged a flow of overseas visitors to admire the Atherton project.

Now, of course, there must be change:

The first thing to go post-budget has been trips to distant research plots, in areas such as the Daintree wilderness. Next will be staff: If a position becomes vacant, it will not be filled. Plans to expand the laboratory have been postponed indefinitely. This is the third consecutive year the Division has been cut back and Landsberg says that he will have to consider closing Atherton if it happens once more.

The CSIRO forest division and the Queensland department more or less agree that representative areas of all remaining types of rainforest must be preserved undisturbed. The Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield stretch where the road has been built was the largest single patch of undisturbed rainforest in the wet tropic region.

Of course, CSIRO will not now have the information nor will this research continue. I give that one example of the way in which budgetary cuts are affecting research work which is of enormous value throughout Australia. If one looks at the whole area of science and technology generally and CSIRO in particular, one can see the destructive effect of governments which play for popularity and do not recognise the long term and important aspects of programs such as this, despite the integrity and ability of a Minister such as the Minister for Science and Technology, Mr Barry Jones. He was brushed aside and in the rush others got their demands which had more immediate electoral appeal.

One of the vices of this community is that we have so many elections. We rush to an election, as we are towards this one, way ahead of time. The Government in sheer hypocrisy and humbug in the last two years has abandoned any attempt to change the Constitution in a way which would fix the term of parliaments and take away from Prime Ministers their right to call early elections for cheap political advantage. The Government has insisted on retaining that right and destabilising this community. I refer again to the amendment which Senator Peter Rae has proposed in regard to the Appropriation Bills. There are serious long term difficulties in this community which the Budget does not pick up and which the Government will not accept. The Government wants a new lease of power but nobody knows what it will do when it gets it. There is no reason why the hood should not fall from the eyes of the Australian people before it is too late and they realise that a return of the Hawke Government will be a great mistake for which this country may pay for many years.