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Monday, 13 May 1985
Page: 1822

Senator PUPLICK(5.20) —The first thing I will do in speaking to the 1983-84 annual report of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is pay tribute to Dr Paul Wild who retires as Chairman of CSIRO in September this year. The seven years that Dr Wild has held the helm of this organisation since the Birch Independent Inquiry into the CSIRO have been seven years of extraordinary difficulty and of very great achievement and enterprise on his part. His work, whether on Interscan or on forward thinking-one might best say creative thinking-about the high speed Sydney to Melbourne rail, marked him out as a visionary leader of an organisation which has in the past been short on visionaries and whose chief executive needs to be a man who has a spark of imagination and a commitment to thinking about things which are all too often regarded as unthinkable.

It is, as Senator Peter Baume and Senator Watson have said, a great tragedy that CSIRO continues to be the meat in the sandwich of ongoing bureaucratic wars between the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones). Together with the tabling of the annual report of the CSIRO there was tabled a statement by the Minister, Mr Barry Jones. The best thing that Mr Jones could find to say about the CSIRO report was-I use the word which he used in the first paragraph of his tabling speech-that it is an 'attractive' publication. It certainly is an attractive publication but the rest of the Minister's tabling speech is simply a self-promoting eulogy about what a marvellous fellow he is and how significant has been his contribution to Australian science. For instance, in his tabling statement, he said:

At the recent Venice Conference on Technological Innovation and Job Creation, President Reagan's science adviser Dr Jaye Keyworth, said that between 1981-85 administration expenditure on basic research had increased by 60 per cent.

Of course what he did not bother to say was how much increase there had been in expenditure on basic research in Australia, because, quite simply, there has been a cutback in basic research in Australia due largely to this Minister and to his failure. Having been prompted by his reference to the Venice Conference, I sought out Mr Jones's speech to the Venice Conference. He had nothing better to do with his time than to spend four days at the Cini Foundation building in San Giorgio Maggiore where he gave an address to assembled scientists in Venice, no doubt becoming an expert on the hydraulic movements of antique buildings. Nevertheless, at the conclusion of his speech, when talking about robotics, knowledge systems and their profound effect upon our social and economic development, Mr Jones said:

This could be a period for using technology creatively to expand human capacity and enlarge human happiness, at both the individual and collective levels. The responsiveness of our political systems is so slow that I see little chance of it happening.

All one can say is that under Mr Jones's administration of science and technology in Australia the little chance of it happening has become no chance at all. As I have said, we have seen continual bureaucratic infighting between the Prime Minister and Mr Jones, Mr Jones attempting to pull down, weaken and destroy the significant role that CSIRO plays in this country. We saw that with the tabling of the report of the Joint Working Party. I do not need to remind honourable senators that when that document was tabled in this place it was tabled minus the covering Executive Summary which exposed the extent to which CSIRO had been crippled by government cuts. We had to ask specific questions of the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) as to why he had not tabled the Executive Summary which went with the statement which he later had to table, because the Executive Summary nailed him and his Government for what they had been doing to CSIRO through financial restrictions. On 7 May in the Melbourne Age there was an article headed: 'Review threat to CSIRO. Hawke, Jones clash over probe on Government funded studies'. Thank heavens the outcome of that clash was, once again, that Mr Jones got rolled. Not only has his Department been split up and a significant part of it removed from him because of his incompetence, inertia and inability to handle science and technology matters, but over the question of what review was going to be given to the CSIRO and Mr Jones's plan to give it a structure like that of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation-heaven help us-the Prime Minister prevailed and the review will now be undertaken by the highly respected Australian Science and Technology Council under the chairmanship of Professor Slatyer. One wishes the ASTEC review well. One wishes the CSIRO well; one wishes Dr Paul Wild well; and one wishes Australian science, at the earliest available opportunity, a new, decent, competent Minister.

Question resolved in the affirmative.