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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 445

Senator VIGOR(5.23) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I commend the report to the Senate and I congratulate the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation on its continued excellent performance over the past 12 months. This is in the face of a continuing erosion of its funding base. The CSIRO continues to be a bright star of hope in Australia's public interest research and development program. Years of attack, of review and of reorganisation have been imposed from outside the organisation. But these have failed to dampen the enthusiasm of its researchers, who continue to adapt their work and their drive to suit the changing needs and changing policies of the various governments and administrations that they are getting. Indeed, they are moulding themselves to the aspirations of Australian industry.

However, I believe that this type of enthusiasm cannot continue under the current attacks on funding. This year the cuts in funding have been even more intolerable than before because the funding has been kept at a constant level. A large number of funds has been moved from the conventional areas of CSIRO-from agriculture, mining and the environment-into the new burgeoning areas of manufacturing. Of course, we need the support in those areas but we need new funds to be put into them rather than having them taken away from existing areas. In 1985-86 funding cuts reached the point at which departments, after meeting fixed costs for buildings, salaries and overheads, were left with funding for research projects amounting to around $2,500 per project for each year. This is almost intolerable.

But, again, in 1986-87 funding for CSIRO has been cut in real terms. Even worse, budgeted funds have been diverted from the normal programs of research in order to boost funds available for those areas that have been declared of major national importance. This has left ongoing research projects virtually bankrupt, with insufficient funding to effectively carry on research projects in areas on which a large amount of money and time has already been expended over the years. This has left CSIRO's scientists in the invidious position in which they can no longer work effectively, in which their scientific careers are jeopardised and in which Australia risks losing the investment that the scientists have to date put into these various projects. It is particularly surprising, at a time when the Government is looking more and more to innovation and research to lead the Australian economy out of its current trade difficulties, that Australian scientists are being prevented from effectively carrying on research. It is scandalous. When announcing the Government's decision on the Australian Science and Technology Council's review of CSIRO, the Minister for Science (Mr Barry Jones) said:

While CSIRO will place more emphasis on the application of its research, it is important that its ability to contribute to future industrial development is not inhibited by excessive attention to the short-term needs of existing industries.

He went on to say:

CSIRO must maintain a balance in its activities, with a major emphasis on strategic research, while ensuring that its science remains at the forefront of world developments.

While CSIRO is forced to rob Peter to pay Paul and while no extra funds are being provided to develop strategic research, the Government will continue to slowly kill this goose that lays the golden egg. The Minister's statement must be seen as empty words and as proffering nothing for the long term future of Australia. The Chairman of CSIRO points out that most industrialised countries have singled out the same strategic areas of research as Australia. These are space, information systems, material technology and biochemistry. So we are probably just advancing and spending a lot of money to stand still. We have to look at new areas and we have to support the areas in which we have really had exciting things happen. We have to move into agricultural robotics, and water conservation using underground basins. We have to have more understanding of our soils--

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.