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Wednesday, 20 March 1985
Page: 466


Senator VIGOR(11.14) — Thank you, Mr Deputy President. We live in a time of essential social change-change in technology, change in expectations and beliefs, and change in the global order of our world.

The mass media bombard us daily with images we find harder and harder to comprehend. We all face the madness of the nuclear arms race; the madness of unemployment, which has a vice-like grip on many sectors of our community; the madness of massive destruction of the environment, including the Daintree area for short term gain, the Murray River as a result of salinity, insecticides and vandalism, the Victorian rainforests by fern poachers, and the Mallee through soil erosion, economic pressure on farmers, and ignorance; the madness of the senseless slaughter of children by allowing the sale of badly labelled or unsafe products, or the neglect of simple safety precautions; the madness of sitting and waiting for bushfires, droughts and floods to destroy people, animals, and whole ecosystems because we do not plan ahead; and the madness of an economic system which lets more than one in eight of our Australian people live in poverty, with no opportunity to contribute to the community in which we live.

On the other side of the coin, exciting possibilities are offered by television, video, computers, databases and fibre optics, and by the development and use of renewable, low-impact energy sources using solar and wind power, sewage and waste energy. Now, more than ever, there are exciting alternatives: Alternative lifestyles to match new ways of viewing the world, alternative energy sources to conserve our natural heritage, and alternative technology to improve communication and understanding between people.

However, these rapid changes-technological, scientific and social-are only vaguely understood by our Government, our Public Service and our parliamentarians. We are blind to the potential of our own technology and blind to the capacity of our own people. The process of rapid change is ignored in the Government's legislative program. Through this blindness, we are losing opportunities for the development of Australian industry, for the furthering of Australian science and for the nurturing of Australian culture. Through this blindness, the opportunity for real improvements in the 'Australian quality of life' is slipping away, with a whimper, not with a bang.

Thanks to the Minister for Science, Barry Jones, we now have the Commission for the Future-possibly an exciting prospect, but could it be just another way of shelving our responsibility for acting now?

We need to act now to confront the cancer of unemployment, the scourge of unfulfilled expectations given to our young people by our factory education system. We need to act now to find realistic alternatives to the important and central issues facing Australian society. We need to act right now, in this parliamentary session, to discover a practical pathway towards a strong, self-reliant Australia-in technology, in trade, in defence and in spirit. We need a strong, independent Australia-now!

Parliamentary sessions are far too short to become bogged down hopelessly in debating moribund, retrospective tax Bills. The outcome of that debate is a foregone conclusion. I will not countenance retrospectivity, which brings our whole legal system into disrepute. Let us agree to process these Bills to their expected end as quickly as possible. As elected representatives of all Australians, let us set about confronting the real problems of establishing a new forward-looking tax and welfare structure-a structure fitted to our post-industrial economy.

The first priority of a democratic parliament is to provide an economic and social environment in which we can develop the full potential of our people as individuals, as groups and as a nation. For this to happen, we need leadership and vision. Where is this vision?

I thank those Australians who put me and my fellow Democrats into Parliament. We offered them the opportunity to 'change the world in which we all live'. I thank those South Australians who voted Democrat for their trust, for their hope and for their vision. The vision is out there; let us listen to it in here. I thank my Party members and supporters for their enthusiasm and dedication to this vision. I promise to pursue our common quest for a sustainable social and economic system, with less regulation, much less regulation. I thank my Australian Democrat colleagues in the Senate for their advice and support, which I value highly. I thank the staff of the Department of the Senate who have been so helpful in the past few weeks in leading me through the intricacies of this fascinating place. The introductory course, the personal conversations and the briefings have made my transition from 'Mr' to 'Senator', however new, a pleasant and a friendly one.

The Governor-General's Speech and Senator Button's outline of the Government's program for this session of Parliament contain some much needed reforms. I applaud the assistance to 65,000 Australians through the community employment program. The scheme should be expanded to include long term opportunities for real and lasting job prospects in the community. In my region, Gawler, Elizabeth and Salisbury in the South Australian Riverland and in the Iron Triangle, we have made use of the scheme, but we still have almost 18 per cent of the community unemployed.

I applaud the new enterprise initiatives scheme which will enable unemployed people with viable business propositions to receive income support to establish small enterprises. Such assistance ought to be longer term than just one year, to give the support necessary to establish properly such worthwhile enterprises. We need lasting jobs; we need long term hope.

I applaud the Government's attempt to increase the competitiveness of Australian manufacturing industries by use of bounties and subsidies, rather than tariffs. We must, however, be prepared to draw the line. If the long term cost of the assistance in any form to a particular industry exceeds dramatically the total cost of paying unemployment benefits to all its workers, structural re-organisation of that industry may be required. We must be prepared to make the difficult decisions and opt to compensate adequately those who lose their jobs as a result of restructuring. We must be able to retrain them. This is surely a better alternative than continuing to sink public money into industries that cannot survive without permanent and expensive protection and assistance.

Further, the importance of farmers and country people to the Australian economy and to our export earning capacity demands that the Government take immediate action to subsidise some rural industries, to ensure their survival and competitiveness on open world markets. The rural industries currently most in trouble are dairying, fishing, horticulture and beef, where the dumping of products like cheese, tinned fish, dried fruit, fruit concentrates and meat, both in Australia and in our traditional markets, threatens to close whole sectors of our economy. We have one of the most efficient farming communities in the world, but we will not stay that way unless we grasp the opportunities offered in agriculture by robotics, high technology, biotechnology and other low impact technologies.

I applaud the Government's support for a South Pacific nuclear free zone. However, I might well question the credibility of the Government on this vital proposal. In the last sitting I and my fellow Democrats sat lonely on the Opposition benches while both Labor and coalition senators crammed together on the treasury benches to support nuclear-armed ships in the Pacific and in our ports.

I applaud the concept of Australian defence self-reliance. There is, unfortunately, little evidence of any concrete Government commitment to this essential doctrine. Despite the staggering amount spent on overseas equipment, we are practically undefended, except for consultation with the United States of America in the case of an invasion. This is because of persistent neglect of local defence capabilities and treaties by both of the other two parties in Parliament. We must use the skills of our people-our scientists, our engineers and our strategists-to develop small scale, 'bee-sting defence systems' that we can maintain despite the tyranny of distance.

I applaud the review of the Australian road transport industry. We must, however, include rail, sea, air and communications in such a review to get a balanced answer to Australia's infrastructure needs. I sincerely hope that the Government's land transport program will tackle the problems of travel and communication in my own State of South Australia. Most non-highway country roads are in tatters. The railways are being closed and lines ripped up. The Alice Springs to Darwin railway line was scuttled by a report which considered only so-called economic criteria and ignored the social and defence benefits accruing from such a link.

We have only five bridges across the River Murray in South Australia in 639 kilometres of river. Communities like Berri and Loxton are separated by the Murray River. The river is not only a link, it can also divide.

I shall move later in this session to establish a standing and legislative committee on Australia's infrastructure. In this I have the full support of my Party.

We need an imaginative, co-ordinated and effective infrastructure to support decentralised, vibrant and dynamic industries. This is imperative if we are to survive as an economically developed people and sustain our quality of life.

I applaud the Government's attempt to stamp out the scourge of organised crime and drug trafficking. We must make use of all available technology and imagination in this fight to stay just ahead.

It is with real sorrow that I come to the serious holes in the Government's legislative program. In fact, in employment, technology, commerce and defence the Government's rear-guard action can be likened to that of a traveller pursued by wolves who has cut loose one of the horses drawing the sled every now and then in order momentarily to satisfy the wolves and to gain some respite in the chase. Those horses are the floating of the dollar, wiping the Medibank levy from the consumer Price Index, the assets test, sacrificing dairy farmers and horticulturists and admitting 16 foreign banks. What next?

The draft Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development examiners report, about which the Government has so far been silent, highlights many deficiencies inherent in our science and technology polices. One glaring example is that funds for the Australian research grants scheme in 1984, when measured in real terms, were actually less than those in 1974; a decrease in those 10 years. From 1979-80 to 1983-4 National Health and Medical Research Council grants rose from $14m to $38m, but over the same period the ARGS funding crept up from $13m to a paltry $22m. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a table, which I have presented to both the Government and the Opposition, to illustrate this point.

Leave granted.

The table reads as follows-

DIFFERENCE IN GROWTH OF RESEARCH FUNDS

Average CPI increase for period 1980-81 to 1983-84: 9.6%

NATIONAL HEALTH AND MEDICAL RESEARCH COUNCIL

1979-80 1980-81 1981-82 1982-83 1983-84 1984-85

Expenditure (millions) 14.00 18.70 25.65 29.56 37.98 44.18 % Growth (nominal) 33.6 37.2 15.5 28.5 16.3

AUSTRALIAN RESEARCH GRANTS SCHEME

These are approved on a calendar year basis

1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985

Expenditure (millions) 12.98 16.00 17.98 19.25 22.42 23.87 % Growth (nominal) 23.3 12.3 7.1 16.5 6.5 % Awarded to Engineering and Applied Sciences 14.2 12.7 14.1 13.7 13.1 13.4


Senator VIGOR —I thank the Senate. Large numbers of research proposals assessed as needing immediate support by the NHMRC have either not been funded or only partially funded. The same holds for its very poor cousin, the ARGS. The average size of ARGS grants has plummeted from 24,000 to 17,000 in the same 10-year period. How can scientists concentrate on the real work at hand if their jobs are in jeopardy? We, as parliamentarians, know the problem of unstable employment. What is needed now is a long term rolling plan which researchers can rely on to plan effective research programs and to be able to rely on having a job next week.

We are among the most innovative nations in the world. Our mix of national backgrounds, the selection for individuality and drive and the spirit of adventure are an ideal formula for the development of new ideas and yet this can so easily be snuffed out by the lack of government responsiveness or flexibility, by a conservative banking system or by the pressures of imported economic stress. What is badly needed is a scheme to provide risk capital, without the ties of equity collateral, to allow inventions to be developed by the inventors themselves.

We can learn from our own successes. Technology Park in South Australia at the Levels is an exciting and innovative attempt to promote and nurture Australian inventiveness. W are developing products for real markets, high speed vision processes, computer assistance to engineering, design and manufacture, optical sub-assemblies and a number of other things. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard the list of companies and the breadth of their coverage.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

CURRENT TENANTS AT TECHNOLOGY PARK AND THEIR SPECIALITIES

Andrew Antennas Pty Ltd conducting research and development in the areas of defence and commercial telecommunications

Austek Microsystems Pty Ltd international VLSI chip company providing computer-aided design and value-added manufacturing of high-end custom chips

E.R.D. Pty Ltd developing new technology for low-voltage battery-charging

Fast Forward Pty Ltd producing videos of scientific and technical products and matters and providing training in various aspects of media work

Finite Development Pty Ltd production and mechanical engineering consultants taking a product concept to prototype stage using computer-aided design

Menzel and Associates Pty Ltd carrying out innovative designs and research, mainly in industrial plastics

Optimum Optics Pty Ltd providing consultancy in optics design and development

Wylie and Associates Pty Ltd commercialising a piece of minerals processing equipment

Computer Sciences of Australia Pty Ltd producing defence-related software

Duntech International Pty Ltd manufacturing hi-fi system components as well as communications equipment

South Australian Centre for Remote Sensing applying remote sensing and ground truthing technology in various situations

Techsearch Incorporated doing consultancy work as the commercial arm of the Institute of Technology

Adelaide Innovations Centre providing a comprehensive one-stop shop for corporate or individual inventors requiring assistance with commercialisation, business plans, seed capital or prototype development

Several of these companies are in the process of expanding.

In addition-

Applied Research (Australia) Pty Ltd conducting solar research and undertaking contract research and development

is establishing laboratories and a light-engineering workshop,

while-

British Aerospace (Australia) Pty Ltd developing complex hardware and software for space projects

has announced its intention to relocate from the Salisbury Research Centre and has called tenders for the construction of extensive facilities on 3 1/2 hectares of land.

Other developments are also in prospect.

Source: Office of Technology Park Adelaide Corporation at Technology Park


Senator VIGOR —A single building now houses most of these projects. Each tenant has a direct link with the Institute of Technology computer network. I am particularly pleased with this as I installed the first pilot computer network at the South Australian Institute of Technology some 12 years ago with exactly this in mind. Conference facilities are available without charge and secretarial work, including word processing, can be contracted out at rates that just cover the costs. The whole of this area is most exciting, but we need more technology parks both in South Australia and in the rest of Australia. In Whyalla, the Riverland and the south-east of South Australia this will further decentralise and develop our industrial capacity. The infrastructure is there. Let us use it.

Japan has 14 technopolises or science cities. This has given its technology a sharp edge in world markets. Australia must be prepared to invest in new and existing technologies. Development must be tied more closely to the needs of industry. Research must be freed of the bonds of petty bureaucracy. Only then can we hope to give our top research workers a fair go. We must dare to create such environments for our scientists. I applaud Technology Park.

As well as high technology we must consider low impact technology. We need to use off-peak solar water heating; efficient home insulation and other generating means, such as modern windmills, are necessary. Extra capacity in our power generation is not best fulfilled by having large generation facilities. These require enormous capital investment and, in the event of a serious grid breakdown will cripple industry and discomfort many people. We can make significant cost savings by using a variety of decentralised and local plants and stand-by facilities.

We should use local products. If we can divert some of our defence expenditure locally and inject considerable hope and funds into our local industries we can tailor these defence capacities to handle some of our particular civil defence needs while also fulfilling our military defence aims.

I would like to illustrate this by taking bushfires as an example. We are devastated annually by bushfires, yet a fire fighting aid developed by an Australian and sold in 37 countries overseas, which reduces the amount of water needed to extinguish fires, is ignored in Australia. In South Australia it is estimated that the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires caused $200m to $400m worth of damage. The size of this loss justifies fairly dramatic measures, yet we know nothing about the factors which spread bushfires.

Bushfire control and suppression can only come from research into fire temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, slope of terrain, aspect and type and quality of fuel. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and other organisations need more funds for research on how to predict or convey rapid information about the movement of fire fronts and to study their prevention.

We need speed and accuracy to pinpoint danger spots so that lives can be saved. A common grid description of the locations of houses, gates and key landmarks, with common maps for all emergency services, would give immediate and succinct directions to and from an accident, fire or other emergency. We should legislate federally for such a scheme, which would also decrease the traffic on emergency two-way radios during disaster control operations. The same arguments which apply to bushfires apply also to the need for research into droughts, cyclones, floods and all other 'natural' disasters. They are inevitable. We must plan for them and make certain that we have the facilities to be able to handle them.

I would like to turn my attention to accidents, which are one of the major killers of Australians. The word 'accident' is a pernicious word. By using a word such as 'accident', we are emphasising the unpredictable, uncontrollable and unpreventable nature of an event. If we take positive steps towards preventing accidents, we should use language that describes the event in a sensible way, pointing towards a sensible solution. Accidents are foreseeable, controllable and preventable, but the word does not show it. Our language reflects how we think. So, rather than think about accidents, for which no one bears responsibility, we need to think about 'injury control', which describes our attitude and aims to avoid the event. Using 'injury control' instead of 'accident' in every government report would, I believe, help to prevent tragedies because it would make people think about what we are aiming to do to avoid the event, rather than just accepting it.

Children are dying in Australia because we neglect to record and analyse their injuries nationally. Nine Australian children were disembowelled last year by vacuum filter systems for swimming pools. That happened before any action was taken to remove the product from the market. The reason was not that people did not want to have the product removed, but they thought it was just an isolated event in each case. We need to have good statistics.

Where is it stated in the Governor-General's Speech that the Government is planning to prevent these accidents? Where is it planning to gather the information so that we know what accidents have to be prevented? Prevention is always better than cure. Nowhere is it more poignant than in the case of injury control in children. Nearly one in every two children receives medical treatment for injury each year. The estimated cost for this medical treatment is $200m. So-called accidental deaths account for the majority of deaths in children aged between one and 14.

It is estimated that 60 per cent of all injuries to children involve common consumer products. Maybe the Government does not think it important enough to introduce legislation required for the proper labelling and packaging of consumer products. Dangerous pills and potions are not mandatorily packaged in child-proof containers. Diabetic children eat products with a high sugar content because of misleading labelling. Food additives which stimulate hyperactivity are not labelled. Children's accidents are neither random nor unexpected. Sweden has introduced a national data base to record children's injuries which identifies the common elements in accident situations and suggests how to prevent similar events occurring.

In the short time available to me today I have only been able to take a few examples of the lack of planning which pervades the areas of science, technology, transport, communications, trade, defence and safety. These are just some of the massive holes in the Government's legislative program. I hope that the Australian Democrats can remedy these.

We need more 'real' data collection for a better understanding of the world in which we live. Through the sensible use of computing, communications and data storage technology we can effectively plan ahead.

Knowledge is power-power to change the world we live in for the better, if we care. I care.