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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1821


Senator VIGOR(5.16) — With the tabling of the annual report of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, it is time to look closely at some of the criticisms levelled at that Organisation. It has been accused of not undertaking research of direct importance to our industrial sector.

Some CSIRO research which has had immediate impact on our industrial sector spring to mind. Firstly, its research into the prawn fishing industry in the Gulf of Carpentaria has placed this industry on a sound economic footing. Today this is Australia's most valuable fishery. It is worth over $120m per annum. Secondly, CSIRO research has reduced our import bill for paper by half a billion dollars a year. Thirdly, CSIRO has developed new welding technology which could earn $20m a year in overseas sales. Fourthly, thanks to CSIRO, Australia now has the capacity to design silicon chips for industrial applications. These chips are as powerful as any in the world. This is done through the very large scale integration project which is now operating at Technology Park in South Australia.

The CSIRO feels the brunt of criticism for which it is not entirely responsible. Our manufacturing industry is most certainly in decline. But where are the concerted research and development programs being undertaken by industry itself? The manufacturing industry, along with government, must share a large part of the blame for poor research and development in the manufacturing area. For far too long we have been copiers of overseas designs and processes. We desperately need to carry out more research in the physical sciences to reverse this situation. The CSIRO is being hampered in its effort to do this through having simple stop gap funding instead of continuing stable funding arrangements. CSIRO's staffing restrictions mean that highly qualified scientists must spend their precious time dealing with administrative and technical matters instead of applying themselves to research. In addition, the constant threat of Government reviews of CSIRO activities eats deeply into staff morale. The CSIRO is currently facing a review by the Australian Science and Technology Council before being reorganised. Yet both internal and international reviews of CSIRO's activities consistently show that its research is valuable to our national scientific objectives.

Budget cuts have bitten deeply into CSIRO's ability to conduct research into areas of vital national significance. I take Project Aquarius as one example of this. The Fraser Government allocated $3m for bushfire research into water bombing from aircraft. In the project's third year, bad weather permitted the burning of only three of the 16 specially selected blocks of forest land. The project was partially extended for one year before being cancelled. This meant that the most vital aspect of the research was not completed. This knowledge could have been used to save lives. In addition, we lost the opportunity to convert 17 Grumman Tracker aircraft for aerial water bombing because the Government was not provided with conclusive evidence that these ex-Navy planes were suitable for a fire fighting role. The Government now plans to sell them instead. As with the Project Aquarius incident, the Government has not informed the CSIRO of its future policy strategies. The CSIRO is left guessing as to what its new role should be in response to the Government criticism that it has failed to discharge its duty to the Australian public. CSIRO needs stable funding, the provision of adequate managerial and support staff, and a clear indication of future government policies to allow it to contribute effectively to industrial and scientific research in Australia. I commend the report to the Senate.