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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3001


Senator ARCHER(12.19) —In speaking to the Science and Industry Research Legislation Amendment Bill 1986, I will try to make a 30-minute speech in about five minutes. So if it should become a little disjointed, it will be because I am trying to put pieces together. Briefly, the legislation represents the Government's response to the report of the Australian Science and Technology Council inquiry entitled `Future Directions for CSIRO', which was delivered to the Government about 12 months ago. It was noticeable that the second reading speech of the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones), which consists of about 13 pages, did not really touch on the legislation until after about 9 1/2 pages. Again, I suppose there is nothing unusual about that.

The Minister stated that the legislation was based on the ASTEC report. I find that fairly hard to agree with, because when I checked on the Government's response to the recommendations and what it had done, I found that, of the 31 recommendations or sub-recommendations, the Government accepted only these three: That the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation be retained as a single statutory authority; that the existing CSIRO Advisory Council and State and Territory committees be discontinued; and that the CSIRO introduce an early separation incentive scheme. It did accept seven recommendations, with qualifications. It rejected seven recommendations outright and there were 14 on which no action was taken. It is tampering with the truth a little to say that the legislation is based on the ASTEC report. It is an important piece of legislation. It shows that the Government has been considering the matter. It shows that it recognises that there are changes necessary in the operation of the CSIRO. I believe it is important that we pass it as speedily as possible so that it can get on with the job.

Science and Industry Research Amendment Bill

I am not terribly pleased with the extent of the legislation. I suggest that it will need to be watched and a certain amount of further amendments will be needed once we see what is working and what is not working. It fails to come to grips with two or three of the most important recommendations. There is the question of the accessibility of the CSIRO and its relationship with the Public Service Board. I believe it is terribly important that we should sever this connection as fast as possible. Nearly everybody seems to agree, or seems to have agreed, on this. At this stage ASTEC certainly favours it. I know that the CSIRO and the Opposition favour it. I know that the scientific community in general favours it, and I know that until very recently even the Australian Labor Party favoured it. It was part of its policy from 1982 to 1986. But in 1986 it suddenly changed its policy. I suggest that it should have another look at it, if it wants the CSIRO to become a more vigorous and free operation.

The legislation fails to do anything about the portability of superannuation of staff. This is a major question. I believe that until we allow people to mix working with the Organisation with working in industry, universities and other academic places, we will not improve the overall status of the academic staff. I urge the Government to proceed to do something about that as quickly as it possibly can. On the question of multi-occupations, I firmly believe that more people in the CSIRO and in universities should have an industry background. I urge that we make all the necessary provisions so that people in industry are able to go to and from the CSIRO, and people in the CSIRO should be able to go to and from industry. I also believe that they should be able to share in the rewards of the discoveries and research in which they engage, wherever that is possible. As far as the committees are concerned, I am advised that it is the intention of the Minister to reorganise committees on a State basis and to have committees for other consultation. Naturally, I would like to see how this works, because I find it difficult at the moment to read in the legislation how this will be done. But I hope that it can be achieved, and we will await the outcome.

The reindustrialisation of Australia starts with the CSIRO. We will have to look to it to do more with industry. The organisation is world renowned. There is not another institution in Australia that is as favourably known around the world as the CSIRO. The places in the Organisation that I have visited over the last 12 to 14 months have shown that there are many great and interesting people, as there have been in the past. I wish to acknowledge the work that they have done and the calibre of their work. I pay particular tribute to Dr Boardman, who over the last 12 months has been through a very difficult period while there have been all the uncertainties and who has been able to maintain staff morale at a very high level. While paying tribute, I should also mention Sir Peter Derham and the CSIRO Advisory Council, which as of today, tomorrow or the next few days will not exist any more. We need to remember that the Council, whether it is regarded as having been successful or not, has done what it was required to do. I think it could have done more had it been allowed.

Senator Vigor has made various arrangements with the Minister for Science and we have agreed to accept various undertakings which have been given by the Minister rather than move amendments in the Senate at this stage. I regret that more adequate debate was not possible. In normal circumstances there would have been several speakers on the Bill but we do not wish to impede the progress of the Bill.