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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 454


Senator PUPLICK(10.15) —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the statement.

The statement of the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) concerns ongoing problems in the financial allocations made by the Government to support the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. In looking at the fairly bland form in which the statement has come down, as a comment on the report of the Department of Finance-CSIRO Joint Working Party, one would get the impression that everything is supposed to be rosy in the garden for the CSIRO, in particular in relation to the funding it receives from government. The Minister's statement that the joint working party agreed that CSIRO received an increase of 6.6 per cent in government funding in 1984-85, if allowed to pass, would appear as though some serious attempts were being made by the Government to provide adequate funding for Australia's premier scientific research institution. This is, of course, entirely incorrect.

When one looks at the comments made by Dr Wild, the Chairman of the CSIRO, in regard to the 1984-85 Budget, as reported in the Weekend Australian of 25-26 August 1984, one sees this:

Dr Wild maintained that the Budget was one of the worst on record, with the CSIRO suffering an effective cut in salary and operating funds for research of 3.2 per cent or $9.2m.

Similarly one sees in the Courier-Mail, in the same month of 1984, that the chiefs of the 42 CSIRO divisions were writing to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) warning him that Budget cuts were eroding research and eroding the capacity of the CSIRO to get on with its significant national job. I cite another comment by the extremely well-informed science writer, Jane Ford, also in the Australian:

Science and technology has suffered one of its worst Budgets on record with an overall increase in funding of only 1.6 per cent, allowing few new initiatives to get off the ground.

It is simply true that this Government, largely motivated by the hostility which the previous Minister for Science and Technology, now demoted to Minister for Science, has towards the CSIRO, has been pursuing a policy which is leading to the attrition of the great work which that organisation ought to be doing. Similarly, enormous pressure is being placed on the CSIRO to encourage it to move away from some of the fundamental research which it ought to be doing. This is contrary to the practices that are being put in place by similar countries to our own in terms of their attitudes towards the importance of research and development. One notes, for instance, that in Japan the Ministry of International Trade and Industry has pointed out that the important shift in Japanese scientific research and funding should be towards basic research, with less emphasis on the way in which research and development is made something of a sacred cow in the operation of science support and science funding.

An article in the Scientific American in November 1984 drew attention to the absolute key underpinning that fundamental science research has, and that has been one of the areas cut in the CSIRO, as indeed it has been cut in the whole scientific community by the activities of this Government. What the working party report does not address is the fundamental break-down in relationship between the Minister and the Government and the CSIRO. One knows that the relationship between Dr Wild and the Government-in particular, Mr Jones-has got to the stage where they publicly snipe at each other in the media and take the opportunity to criticise each other in the media. This does absolutely nothing to advance the position of the CSIRO or, indeed, to advance the cause of scientific research in Australia.

One has even seen earlier this month reported in the Australian Press that there is an Australian Science and Technology Council report underway, or completed, on the reorganisation of science, technology and research funding. The report has gone to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is clearly annoyed at the attempts by the Minister for Science to pre-empt the Government's decision on this matter by announcing that he wants to change the structure of the CSIRO so that it more closely resembles the structure of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. If anything were a recipe for disaster in Australian science, research and funding, it would be that. Moves announced by the Prime Minister in terms of the ASTEC inquiry are described in one newspaper report as follows:

The move is seen as a major setback for the Minister for Science, Mr Jones, who wants to introduce legislation in this parliamentary session to revamp the CSIRO's upper echelon to allow a non-scientist to be chief executive.

ASTEC has been urging the Prime Minister for months to set up an inquiry into the organisation, but the move was brought to a head by the discovery of Mr Jones' plans.

The final comment I make is that the joint working party did not have the benefit of seeing the report of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Examiners who, in part, looked at CSIRO in its overall look at science research funding in Australia. We already know that, despite the significance of the OECD report, its major recommendations have been rejected by the Government, deliberately ignored and deliberately set at naught by the Government. Its comments on CSIRO funding, external funding and taxation arrangements all give rise to very serious concern about what the Government is doing in terms of scientific research in Australia.

I conclude my remarks for the present by saying that this joint working party simply indicates two very clear things: By what it says it indicates how inadequate government funding for the CSIRO and for scientific research is, and by what it does not say it indicates, quite clearly, the damage that is being done to the CSIRO by the particular policies being pursued by the Minister for Science. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.