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Friday, 28 November 1986
Page: 3002

Senator MACKLIN(12.26) —The Science and Industry Research Legislation Bill 1986 is an important Bill as it concerns the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, Australia's foremost applied research organisation. The Bill implements some of the recommendations of the Australian Science and Technology Council report and as such we support the provisions of the Bill. However, we have raised with the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) several areas in which the Bill fails to implement the ASTEC recommendations. The major one in our view is the failure to cope with the area of intellectual property. ASTEC recommended that the rights to an income from inventions be divided between the inventors and CSIRO and that CSIRO be allowed to retain its earnings from such inventions. Most honourable senators would realise that this recommendation is becoming increasingly important in relation to not only the CSIRO but also our other research institutions, mainly within universities.

As the CSIRO moves away more and more from pure research, fairly obviously in the area of applied research and the development of inventions, increasingly a number of commercial possibilities will open up. Because of the failure to implement this recommendation this avenue is likely to be denied or at the very least delayed. Scientists will be denied the reward and incentives that go with their innovative effort. More and more overseas, scientists and engineers are being given intellectual property rights through patent ownership or some other mechanism. This provides an incentive for extra effort which may be needed to bring inventions up to scratch for development. It also gives a strong competitive market for people with talent. It is important that Australia's premier research organisation should be able to attract and retain the most inventive people who are available to it. Intellectual property rights obviously must be part of the package. The Australian Democrats intended to move an amendment to the Bill but agreed not to do so because of the urgent need to get the proposed council in place. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the amendment which the Australian Democrats proposed to move to the Bill.

Leave granted.

The amendment read as follows-

Page 14, paragraph 25 (a), line 36, leave out the paragraph, insert the following paragraph:

``(a) by omitting sub-section (1) and substituting the following sub-sections:

`(1) The property in a discovery, invention or improvement of or in any process, apparatus or machine made, after the commencement of section 25 of the Science and Industry Research Legislation Amendment Act 1986, by an officer or officers of the Organisation in the course of the official duties of that officer or those officers shall be held in common by the Organisation and that officer or those officers in such shares as, in accordance with the regulations, reflect the relative contributions of the Organisation and the officer or officers concerned.

`(1a) Where the Organisation and a partner of the Organisation or a company in the formation of which the Organisation has joined hold, whether jointly or in unequal shares, the property in a discovery, invention or improvement of or in any process, apparatus or machine made, after the commencement of section 25 of the Science and Industry Research Legislation Amendment Act 1986, by an officer or officers of the Organisation in the course of the official duties of that officer or those officers, whether or not in conjunction with an officer or employee of the partner or the company, the property of the Organisation in that discovery, invention or improvement of or in any process, apparatus or machine shall be held in common by the Organisation and that officer or those officers of the Organisation in such shares as, in accordance with the regulations, reflect the relative contributions of the Organisation and the officer or officers concerned.';''.

Senator MACKLIN —I thank the Senate. The Minister for Science, Mr Barry Jones, gave Senator Vigor, the Australian Democrats spokesperson in this area, an undertaking that he would ensure that the spirit of the ASTEC recommendations would be implemented by the new Board of the CSIRO after suitable investigations of alternatives. That was part of the discussion in the House of Representatives. Therefore, I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard a paragraph from the Minister's speech at the third reading stage in which he actually gives the undertaking. I think this would save the time of the Senate.

Leave granted.

The paragraph read as follows-

The second is recommendation 23-the ownership of intellectual property rights. This again is a very complex issue and something that is a matter of profound concern not just to CSIRO but to universities and research based companies, both locally and internationally. It is particularly complex in international companies such as International Business Machines and AT and T, which have an enormous concentration on research capability. We need to get it right because, remember, whatever happens at CSIRO will undoubtedly be adopted as a model throughout the Australian community. Australian Democrats senators have suggested proposing an amendment to try to provide for what they thought ought to be changes here and now and put it in the legislation. I think that is slightly premature and I ask them, in the interests of giving the Science and Industry Research Legislation Amendment Bill a speedy passage so that the new Board can be appointed-I would hope that it will be operating perhaps even before the end of this month, because it is very important that we get things moving before the long hiatus of the Christmas break-to hold back such an amendment on my giving an undertaking to ensure that the spirit of recommendation 23 will be implemented by the Board, again preferably after seeking expert advice in this tricky area, and I now give that undertaking.

Senator MACKLIN —I thank the Senate. One major reform advocated by ASTEC is the removal of the nexus between CSIRO and the Public Service Board which constrains the conditions of employment to fit in with the patterns of the rest of the Public Service. The needs and reward sought by research scientists and engineers are not the same as those sought by the Public Service in general, nor can a research program be mapped out and controlled in the same way as can general Public Service duties. Flexibility in employment and mobility of research people are essential ingredients in a dynamic and innovative research and development team. Close ties with industry are absolutely desirable, as they are with teaching institutions such as universities, colleges of advanced education and private institutions, which more and more are moving into the area of research. For these reasons we see it as absolutely mandatory that this come about to enable CSIRO to reach its optimum potential.

We have considerable reservations about the proposal to introduce forward planning of research programs with funding tied to these. The nature of research is such that the outcomes are not readily predictable. The most valuable spin-offs from research are often just that-valuable spin-offs which were not even contemplated at the beginning of the research program. If a group is tied in any rigid way to the completion of a program in a fixed time, an investigation of these valuable spin-offs may be inhibited. That does not seem to us to be a useful way of dealing with the whole research thrust. However, we have accepted the Minister's assurances that the strategic plans and annual operating plans will not be coercive but will allow openness and accountability. We retain our misgivings but will monitor this. The Minister has given that undertaking.

In a similar vein, there were discussions with the Minister regarding wastage which may occur through annual budgeting since most research and development programs are of a longer duration. The early termination of a program can effectively throw away all the money that has been invested up to that point. For this reason the Australian Democrats would like to see a move towards triennial or even quintennial rolling budgets for the Organisation. We believe that would guarantee a safer return on the money which is to be invested by the Commonwealth but it would still allow for annual reviews. We feel that that might be the most appropriate way to deal with that issue.

As on other legislation, we deplore the trend to remove more and more of Parliament's power to intervene, by the use of ministerial powers rather than the regulation which is subject to scrutiny. In our view this does not allow for full accountability. The Parliament is presented time and again merely with a fait accompli. The final point I should like to make concerns the change in name which is inherent in the change from `z' to `s' in the spelling of `Organisation'. There is a long tradition attached to the name. I suppose that some people will be concerned. The Minister has assured us that the current stationery will be used. I am sure that when the new stationery is printed nobody will even notice the change. Whilst the spelling change is mandatory, it is nice that at least the old stationery will be used. Other concerns were raised with the Minister. They are contained in a 1 1/2-page letter from the Minister to Senator Vigor. In view of the time constraints, I seek leave to have the letter incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Minister for Science

Parliament House

Canberra A.C.T. 2600

20 Nov. 1986

Senator David Vigor

Democrat Spokesman for Science

Parliament House

Canberra, A.C.T 2600

Dear Senator Vigor

During our discussions on Sunday, 8 November and yesterday about the Science and Industry Research Legislation Amendment Bill, you provided me with a copy of your six proposed amendments.

The greatest priority now is to secure the speediest possible passage of the legislation so that the new Board can be appointed and begin operating before the Christmas-New Year hiatus.

Following our original discussions I dealt with your two major difficulties (Nos. 1 and 3 on your list)-intellectual property rights and CSIRO's relationship with the Public Service Board-in the resumed debate on the Bill (House of Representatives, 13 November 1986, p. 2995) which I commend to you. The Minister representing me in the Senate, Senator Button, will no doubt repeat what I told the House and you-that both matters will be examined speedily, and preferably by an arms length inquiry, by the incoming Board and resolved, as necessary, in a statute law revision Bill.

Ministerial powers of direction (No. 2) have only been exercised twice in the 60 year history of CSIR/CSIRO, and then only once on a major matter, and there is full accountability and reporting to the Parliament. I see no practical need to provide a set of regulations to cover so remote a contingency.

Requirements for strategic plans (No. 4) reflect the need for greater openness and accountability in the Organisation and should help Divisions and Institutes to plan their operations more effectively. They are not intended to be coercive, but in any case the Organisation cannot retreat to the closet. Proposals for strategic plans actually originated in CSIRO.

Arguments for triennial or quinquennial funding (No. 5) have obvious attractions-and to a large extent CSIRO already uses `rolling funding' internally. Most Ministers would like to find a three or five year pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I doubt if a Senate amendment would bring it about.

No. 6 in your list-and I am uncertain if this suggests a higher or low priority-concerns changing the spelling of Organization to Organisation. I will ensure that existing stationery is subject to natural attrition and that this change will not be ruinously expensive to CSIRO or prejudicial to research.

Broadly, it would be self defeating to create a Board structure and fail to give it the opportunity to make a contribution on significant policy issues.

I would appreciate your forbearance in not proposing formal amendments and accepting my assurances in the spirit they are given.

Yours sincerely


Senator MACKLIN —I thank the Senate. The Australian Democrats commend the passage of this Bill.