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Tuesday, 9 December 1986
Page: 3581

Senator AULICH —Has the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce seen an article in the Australian Financial Review of 8 December which reported on research and development statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics? The article points to a `continuing surge in R and D activity' but also indicates that we have a `thin national R and D effort'. What is the Minister's assessment of the statistics and of the research and development effort of Australian industry?

Senator BUTTON —I have seen the article in question. It is one of a series of articles in the Australian Financial Review which are of very high quality and which examine questions of entrepreneurial talent, innovation and research and development in Australian industry. As such, those articles are very important in terms of pointing to success stories in Australian business as well. The Bureau of Statistics on 5 December released revised estimates of expenditure in human resources devoted to research and development in Australia. The main features of those newly released statistics are that expenditure by business enterprises in 1984-85 was $721m, about 9 per cent higher than indicated in the preliminary figures; research and development expenditure by private enterprises increased over the period from 1981-82 to 1984-85 by over 60 per cent in constant price terms, while human resources devoted to research and development increased by 43 per cent; and receipts in 1984-85 for technical know-how sold overseas were $28m, double that of 1981-82, but far short of the payments made overseas for know-how of $158m.

The resurgence of research and development activity from the low levels of 1981-82 is encouraging. As a percentage of gross domestic product, business expenditure on research and development has increased from about one-quarter to one-third of one per cent. There is no cause for complacency about that. On the basis of these most recent statistics, investment in 1984-85 by Australian businesses was one-third of the median figure for many Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries with which Australia must compete in international markets. To reach roughly comparable levels of investment in technology by the end of the 1980s Australian businesses will need to increase their performance by an annual average rate of 25 per cent.

Advice that I have received, based on registration for the 150 per cent taxation allowance for research and development, indicates that registered companies propose to almost double their performance in research and development in the period between 1984-85 and 1986-87. This in itself is encouraging evidence of the success of the Government's initiative to encourage the business sector to be more innovative and to build technical inventiveness for Australia. I summarise by saying that the figures are vastly improved. They are not as good as they ought to be, but there are some encouraging signs for the future.