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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3501


Senator BOSWELL —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Science to the appointment under consideration of Mr Neville Wran as the new Chairman of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. As the CSIRO was a National Party of Australia initiative and was initially formed to conduct research into primary industry, can the Minister give a guarantee to Australia's farmers that the level of CSIRO's resources devoted to primary industry-currently 28 per cent-will not fall? If not, can the Minister use his considerable influence in Cabinet to ensure that Mr Wran does not put into practice the stated wish of the Minister for Science, Mr Barry Jones, that the CSIRO concentrate less research into primary industry and devote more resources to research into the manufacturing industry and other secondary industries?


Senator BUTTON —I am not sure whether Senator Boswell was saying that the appointment of Mr Wran as Chairman of the CSIRO was a National Party initiative but that is the way it sounded to me. If that is so, we welcome that because, on this issue, the Government and the National Party are of one mind. I share the honourable senator's enthusiasm for the great historic role which CSIRO has played in the development of Australian industries, particularly in agriculture. It has been enormously significant. I do not think it is quite correct to say that the current level of CSIRO resources devoted to agricultural research is 28 per cent but I am not going to the wall about that. I think that has declined a little over a number of years and I am not sure whether that figure is right.

The point of the honourable senator's question seemed to be to ask me whether the CSIRO, for ever and ever, will latch on to some magic figure, such as the figure of 28 per cent which is appropriate for agricultural research, and never depart from that. I do not think that is likely to happen, irrespective of who is the chairman of the CSIRO and irrespective of which political party is in government. I think that is most unlikely to happen. I think it is widely recognised that CSIRO will have an ongoing contribution to make to rural or agricultural research in Australia. This Government will certainly support that contribution because those industries have been great and significant export industries. Even within the agricultural sector I think it is important that CSIRO's research becomes more diversified than it has been. The horticultural sector could benefit from more research from CSIRO and the amount which has been devoted to wheat research might not need to be increased. That is because of the changing pattern of demand from the world for Australia's agricultural products.

The other matter which Senator Boswell should understand is that we have to improve our exports of manufactures and services. We will do that only on the basis of better research and development, better productivity and better products in those industries. CSIRO has a very important role to help with that as well. So at the end of the day I do not think we will be operating with fixed percentages, but we will bear in mind the essential distilled wisdom in the honourable senator's question.