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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1820


Senator WATSON(5.11) —The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation has served this country very well since it was restructured in 1978. The last seven years have seen many sweeping changes designed to modernise its operations and bring it closer to the industries and organisations that it serves. The future of Australia will be determined by our ability to adapt to change and to take advantage of new technology. It will also be largely determined by the originality of our research endeavours and by the initiative shown by both our scientists and technicians and our developers. The CSIRO is noted for its very high standard of excellence and its originality. Thus it is able to take its place at the forefront of our development. The annual report for 1983-84 outlines the new initiatives taken by the executive of the CSIRO in order to improve its interaction with industry. These will have important ramifications for this country. For example, the CSIRO gave birth to a new commercial company known as Sirotech. This is the mechanism by which new technology developed for certain industries by the CSIRO could be successfully implemented and marketed by those industries. In the same way, it is anticipated that industries will be better able to communicate their real research needs to the scientists and technical experts through this company. The Organisation, in an effort to give greater emphasis to research achievements of direct benefit to industry and the community, has implemented new criteria for the promotion of its scientists.

Two new initiatives have begun this year: A new research unit aimed to stimulate the development of a space technology industry in Australia has been formed, and a new Division of Information Technology is off and running. This new Division has been formed to conduct research on the acquisition, storage, processing and dissemination of information by computer technology and other means for the benefit of industry and the community. As my colleague Senator Baume has just mentioned, these new initiatives depend, of course, on realistic levels of government funding. In recent years the CSIRO has achieved notable success in many areas, despite decreasing resources. In recent years, funds available to this body have been decreasing in real terms-as was mentioned earlier-by between 3 and 4 per cent, particularly for ongoing activities. Initially, this meant that staffing levels were not adequate to meet the needs of research programs. Unrealistic funding followed, which meant that the Organisation's real operating costs could not be met. There are some concerns in the community, particularly in the scientific community, about a so-called economic winter so far as government funds for research and development in this country are concerned. This would be a real tragedy. The CSIRO is presently facing a review and this too is causing further concerns among scientists.

The concerns to industry about the future of government funded research and development are very real at present. Funding must be increased to overcome the problems of devaluation. For example, equipment and many items such as chemicals, hormones and enzymes are purchased in American dollars and for the necessary research programs to go ahead compensation must be made in real terms to offset this problem of the devaluation of the dollar. I believe the CSIRO could face a bright future. It has enormous potential to lead Australia out of its economic and technological doldrums, but to do this it must have adequate funding. I will refer to the areas which were designated as growth areas in 1983-84, provided that funding is there, I think it would be disastrous if such projects were to founder because of lack of funds. The nominated areas are interesting. They include: Oceanography-I must congratulate the CSIRO on the opening of new laboratories in Hobart recently-plant pathology, water and soils and biotechnology. The Organisation is making a determined effort to concentrate its resources into projects that are of national significance and to ensure the most effective use of its human resources in order to make the best use of available funds. I believe it is doing this very well and it is to be commended.