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Monday, 23 February 1987
Page: 446

Senator KILGARIFF(5.28) —I wish to make a few points on the tabling of the annual report of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation for 1985-86. I have considerable sympathy with what Senator Vigor has just been saying. The organisation is one that has done much for Australia. It is a scientific research organisation of the highest calibre. Its contribution to Australian society in a wide variety of sectors is a cause for great pride. It is active in research in the fields of conservation, engineering, manufacturing, health, space technology, biotechnology and in many other areas.

The one area of CSIRO's work on which I wish to concentrate relates to the rural industries. However, I will just make a few general comments concerning the Federal Government's treatment of CSIRO generally. It is surprising to find that the Minister responsible for CSIRO, the Honourable Barry Jones, who is such a self-professed advocate-I believe he is one-of advancing scientific interests, has allowed the CSIRO to remain a captive of organisational difficulties; perhaps these have been out of his hands.

Last year the Federal Government had the opportunity to implement changes that were recommended by the Australian Science and Technology Council. These changes would have solved a number of problems that are restricting the ability of CSIRO to operate at its full potential. One important item was that the links between CSIRO and the Public Service should be severed. This would have given CSIRO the autonomy to enable it to operate unhindered by the problems associated with retaining staff in areas where research was being wound down. It would have given the Organisation much greater flexibility. I note that recent reports indicate a major redundancy scheme for CSIRO employees is being implemented in order to achieve much the same result. It is a pity that the same opportunity was not taken last year to implement that same policy in an enduring legislative form. Another problem is that portability of superannuation is not presently available, which hinders the ability of CSIRO employees to move between the Organisation and the Public Service or other government authorities.

These are difficulties which the Federal Government must address, but the difficulty which I briefly wish to talk about today is, as I have mentioned, the cuts which are being suffered in the area of rural research. Funding for CSIRO has at least kept parity with inflation in previous years. However, the freeze placed on CSIRO's funding in the last Budget amounts to a cut in funding of some 9 per cent in real terms. One of the effects of this cut in funds is that rural research programs are stagnating. Some areas have been left to languish, and rural research is one of them. The new CSIRO Chairman, Neville Wran, and the Minister for Science, Mr Barry Jones, have both made public statements signalling a greater emphasis on manufacturing industry research. The diversion of funds into this area will leave many of the other research divisions short. It seems that the rural research division is one of those divisions to be left on the shelf, and this is in spite of the fact that the rural sector contributes some $41m per annum to CSIRO in the form of levies on producers. The rural industry is one industry that is paying its own way in terms of research costs, yet it is now being expected to come up with the money to subsidise research into other areas.

I urge the Government to alter the emphasis placed on funding in favour of rural industry research in recognition of the importance of rural products to Australia's economy. The report notes that our rural exports are vital to our prosperity. In recognition of this fact, the rural sector should be encouraged, not penalised, and, accordingly, research funds should be made available. It is with great regret that we see this very great Organisation experiencing the problems that it is today and I certainly regret too that these rural programs in outback Australia will stagnate or come to a close after so many years of tremendous effort by the scientists who have given much of their lives to this dedicated work.

Question resolved in the affirmative.