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Tuesday, 23 April 1985
Page: 1408


Senator KILGARIFF(6.35) —On behalf of Senator Peter Rae, I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard an answer by Senator Button to a question from Senator Rae on the Economic Planning Advisory Council's annual report.

Leave granted.

The answer read as follows-

Senator Button-On 28 February 1985 Senator Peter Rae asked Senator Walsh a question without notice concerning the Economic Planning Advisory Council's Annual Report for 1983-84 (Hansard p. 327).

The Prime Minister has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The draft Annual Report of the Economic Planning Advisory Council was approved by the Council at its meeting of 7 December 1984. The final Report was tabled by me in the House of Representatives on 20 March 1985.

Delays in tabling the 1983-84 Annual Report were brought about by the embryonic nature of EPAC, Office recruitment difficulties, the early rising of Parliament and printing delays.


Senator KILGARIFF —This evening I wish to make a brief comment concerning the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and its Division of Building Research. That Organisation does not normally receive a lot of coverage in this Parliament. One of the reasons for that is that scientists and researchers tend not to organise themselves, in a political sense, to lobby government. More and more, though, there is a realisation by scientists of the need for lobbying to maintain funds for present projects and the development of new projects. Late last year, CSIRO's Division of Building Research learnt only too well how easily its programs could be cut back and wound down. The Division outlined in its newsletter the cuts which have been made. It stated that the latest Budget cuts of 3.2 per cent had spelt the end of several research projects, with many other projects being suspended or delayed. The cuts also mean that there will be a significant reduction in free technical advice to industry and the general public. Over the past decade research on the durability of building materials has been cut by over 50 per cent, particularly in cement, concrete, adhesives and corrosion of metals. The result of this has been substantially increased costs in the maintenance, repair and replacement of defective and non-durable materials in buildings and structures.

The sort of research which is being cut back is research into the capacity of building materials to withstand natural disasters such as fire and cyclones. Of course, Australia has seen many fires and cyclones in the past few years. The people of Darwin are well aware of the need for building materials and structural designs which are capable of withstanding cyclonic winds. When Cyclone Tracy hit Darwin on Christmas Eve 1974, with winds in excess of 200 kilometres per hour-I think up to 280 kilometres per hour-it left hundreds of buildings, houses and offices flattened in its wake. Some of the loss of life which occurred as a result of that cyclone might have been prevented had the buildings been constructed to withstand the strong winds. Fortunately, since then regulations and other precautions have meant that other cyclones, although not of the intensity of Cyclone Tracy, have caused much less damage. Nevertheless, it is a fact of life that cyclones and fires are part of Australian life and we should be ever vigilant. One would have thought that the incentive exists for the Commonwealth to fund research into the durability of building materials, when one considers the costs involved in cleaning up and rebuilding after a natural disaster has occurred.

The research of the Buildings Research Division has application not only in the area of cyclones but also in bushfire-prone areas. The research carried out by the Division has the potential to save lives. It can identify materials which are more fire resistant than others for use in the construction of buildings. It seems to be a false economy for the Federal Government to save money on vital research only to have to spend it clearing away damage that might have been prevented had the research been proceeded with and its findings applied in a practical way, not to mention the hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance that has to be paid out.

The CSIRO's Division of Building Research is performing a particularly valuable role in the area of technical advice to industry and the public. It advises people on the suitability of building materials to their proposed environments and on building and maintenance techniques. Other research is undertaken into building safety; for example, there is presently a study on developing methods for assessing a range of coatings and encapsulants for asbestos insulation. With the Division of Building Research of the CSIRO providing such valuable services, I hope that the next Commonwealth Budget will provide a far more generous allocation than the Division currently receives. It would be helpful to the building industry and the Australian community if CSIRO could continue its most valuable work.