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Thursday, 4 December 1986
Page: 3381

Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(3.24) —This has been a sad day in a sad week for that once great Party of Sir Robert Menzies, the Liberal Party of Australia. The debate has been led in this place on behalf of--

Senator Chaney —Here we go. Your defending Wran is sad.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Peter Baume was heard in reasonable silence. I suggest the same courtesies be extended to Senator Button.

Senator BUTTON —The debate is being led in this place by two Liberal senators from New South Wales, described as belonging to the wet faction in the Liberal Party. The failures of many years have been demonstrated in the attitudes expressed by Senator Peter Baume in his speech today. One might say that conspicuous failure has gone to his head. It is really extraordinary that in a week in which a major Australian newspaper can say of the Liberal Party:

For the Liberal Party to degenerate into a name-calling, factionalised body rent by leadership struggles will bring it the verdict that when Australia needed the input of the Liberals it was not a party of big enough people to answer the call successfully.

The Liberal Party must pull itself together, end the name-calling and the in-fighting and see how it can help restore authority, harmony and success to a country that deserves better from its Liberal politicians.

We have not heard much of that today. There is no great improvement on the basis of the advice tendered in that editorial or in another editorial in another major daily newspaper. It states:

The Liberal Party continues to be unsure both of its precise place in the political spectrum and of its general purpose and direction within society. The Party's main doubts centre on the liberty of the individual.

Today we have two senators from the wet faction in New South Wales engaging, in the case of Senator Peter Baume, in a speech full of sound and fury but signifying nothing. I forbear from mentioning the earlier part of that quotation. His speech was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing, because there was nothing which Senator Peter Baume said, but a recycling of old innuendos and old smears many of which have been dealt with by inquiry after inquiry with Mr Wran being exonerated in respect of those inquiries. It has been a recycling of all those events which, as I said, represent conspicuous failure by this Party. It is a culmination of a week in which the leadership and the leader of the Liberal Party have been described as totally ineffective. One wonders why these conclusions are drawn by the community at large. Question Time this week, when we are told that this country is in a serious economic situation, is devoted entirely to a technical breach of the taxation legislation by the Treasurer (Mr Keating) and then the urgency motion is devoted to recycled attempts to degenerate the former Premier of New South Wales.

Senator Michael Baume —Another conspicuous failure from New South Wales.

Senator BUTTON —Of course, Senator Michael Baume pipes up: `Another conspicuous failure from New South Wales'.

Senator Michael Baume —That is an accolade from you.

Senator BUTTON —I am glad the honourable senator takes it as an accolade. I can do better. The Government could adopt the position in this debate that this is all fair in politics, that one can subscribe to the importance of these sorts of views as expressed by Senator Peter Baume. But what is the point of that? We can recycle the Fraser Government days. More Ministers of the Fraser Government were acquitted than of any other government in the history of Australia and more staff were convicted. One was appointed to preside over Australian international expositions. He was sentenced to gaol. An industrial relations adviser to the former Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, was sentenced to gaol. Others in much the same sorts of category in terms of later failure--

Senator Messner —Who are you talking about?

Senator BUTTON —I am not going to indulge in that sort of stuff. I do not want to do that, but it is all true. The point I am simply making is: Where does that get us all as politicians? Where does this matter of urgency get us all as politicians?

Senator Peter Baume —Don't put him in the CSIRO.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Peter Baume at last, by interjection, comes to what ought to have been the point of his speech.

Senator Peter Baume —It was in my speech.

Senator BUTTON —A fag end of a speech-a dag on the backside of the honourable senator's speech. That is what the reference to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation was. The honourable senator said nothing of substance about that issue at all. His speech was a tirade of denigrating a former Premier of New South Wales who beat the Liberal Party to bits politically for 10 years. So the honourable senator walks in here today to try to get a little bit of smutty revenge for that decade of failure by Liberal senators and Liberal politicians in New South Wales. That is what he is doing. The important issue is the future of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. There will always be views about the suitability of appointments for any position made by governments. That has always been the case. It has always been a subject of political debate. I will refer to some other comments which have been made about the new board of CSIRO. Dr Boardman, the acting Chief Executive of CSIRO, said:

Mr Wran would be the first to admit that he knows little about science and research.

That might have been a point which Senator Peter Baume could have made-a clean point-but there was not a mention of that, as I recall. Dr Boardman continued:

But I'm sure he realises the very great importance of research and development to Australia's future, and of the CSIRO's role in that.

More than anything the main criticism will be that it is a political appointment.

Senator Peter Baume made a passing reference to that; congratulations. Dr Boardman continued:

But when you think more deeply about it and look at the man's abilities, you get a quite different picture.

Similarly, Dr Paul Wild, a former, now retired, Chairman of CSIRO, said:

I'd always imagined the CSIRO being headed by an eminent scientist, but this choice reflects the fact that CSIRO is becoming a considerably more political entity.

Senator Michael Baume —So is everything under this Government, including the Public Service.

Senator BUTTON —I will come to that. He continued:

Given that fact, well, who better than Neville Wran?

The President of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, Professor Fred Smith, said:

Mr Wran's political clout and high public profile would be assets to the organisation.

But his acceptance by the scientific community would depend very much on how he performed in the job.

That is a very fair comment and not the sort of comment which comes from the lips of Senator Peter Baume today. It is the sort of comment which is based on judgment and performance in a particular position. That is not the comment we heard from Senator Peter Baume-not at all.

Mr President, I really do not want to devote time to this. I do not know what it is all about. As I said, it is a pretty desperate throw, but it comes from a desperate Opposition. I want to talk for a few minutes about the CSIRO because there has been a long inquiry into that organisation. It now has a Chairman who is highly articulate and highly experienced in public life in Australia. He has a high public profile and many contacts with the business and scientific communities in this country. He has with him, as members of the board, a very distinguished gathering of participants in Australian business and the scientific community, including Sir Gustav Nossal; Sir Roderick Carnegie; Dr Tony Gregson, a scientist; Mr David Hoare, a merchant banker; Dr Adrienne Clarke; Dr Kevin Foley, a former State member of the Liberal Party in Victoria-a very good appointment; Mr Graham Spurling, the Managing Director of Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd; and Dr Boardman, the acting Chief Executive. All those people on that board, presided over by an excellent Chairman, will have to take CSIRO into a new future. The new Chairman has indicated his pleasure at his new position and his support for the exceptional fusion of talents and skills of the new board.

It may be argued in some subsequent matter of public importance-it has not been argued so far in this one-that a leading scientist should have been appointed to that position. The new board is a composite of scientific and business skills, fully consistent with the changed priorities of CSIRO in recent years and fully consistent with the greater emphasis being put on research into manufacturing industry. The amendments to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Act were designed to make the Organisation more responsive to the research needs of Australia, including, but not restricted to, manufacturing industry. In the last annual report of the CSIRO Dr Paul Wild, the then Chairman, speaking about the future of the Organisation, had this to say:

For much of the post-war period government and the community largely left to scientists the business of deciding what research to do. That period has now finished . . . All over the world, industrialised nations look for ways of improving the science-industry connection in order to gain a competitive edge and promote economic growth. In Australia we also experienced a local change in perspective.

In the 1985 CSIRO published its strategy for the following five years, a strategy which was consistent with a board comprising experts in scientific and industrial research and understandings and, of course, relationships with business and industry. As some of those people, such as Dr Paul Wild, have said, that involves political skills, political talents, raising the profile of an organisation such as CSIRO and bringing an understanding of scientific objectives and public authority objectives more into the minds of people in the community. That, I think, is reflected entirely in the new arrangements.

I think CSIRO has a new board which can contribute much to the objectives which have been stated. That is something about which governments have to be concerned. We have to be concerned about bringing all Australian organisations, and particularly government organisations, into the second half of the twentieth century, providing them with charters which will lead to the growth and development of this country and which will enable them to face the future in a constructive and positive way. The new Chairman of CSIRO has much to contribute to Australian public life and will be able to do that. He is accompanied by a very distinguished board which will help him in that process. This Government is not appointing Al Grassby to the chairmanship of CSIRO. Senator Peter Baume devoted some time to that. We are not appointing Judge Foord to the chairmanship of CSIRO. We are not appointing Mr Urbanchich from the New South Wales Division of the Liberal Party to the chairmanship of the CSIRO. We might have got as good a speech out of Senator Peter Baume if we had appointed him as we did by appointing Neville Wran. We are not appointing any of those people; we are appointing the former Premier of New South Wales to the position, a position which I believe he will fill with great distinction.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is sad that a political party such as the Liberals, with a not impeccable record in respect of public appointments and public behaviour by Ministers and ministerial advisers, should devote this week to the campaign of innuendo and smear against a politician, and against a former politician in the form of Mr Wran. It is a very sad that, faced with the growing horror of having nothing to think about and of permanent life on the Opposition benches, the Opposition should resort to these sorts of tactics in the last week of this Parliament. It can try again next year. It will not wash with the people of Australia, and it will not bring it any further success than it has had in a sad year for the Liberal Party.