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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 910

Senator SHORT(5.40) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I wish to relate my comments on the report on grants approved for 1987 under the Australian research grants scheme to the criticisms that have been made in recent days by certain persons in the community of the comments of members of the Opposition's Waste Watch Committee last week about several of the grants that have been made under the Australian research grants scheme. There is some misunderstanding on the part of those critics as to what those members of the Waste Watch Committee-particularly Senator Michael Baume, who obviously will be speaking in this debate-had in mind. In my view there is no reason at all why one section of the community, particularly the academic community, should be in any way exempt from bearing its share of the burden that is borne by members of the community in meeting the basic need for restraint in government expenditure. That restraint is accepted by the Government and the Opposition alike.

If that restraint is to be exercised equitably and fairly, and at the same time is to take account of the needs of our community, economy and society, there is no way that any one section of the community should be exempt from sharing in that restraint. That is the point that has been made by the Waste Watch Committee in recent days. It is accepted by most people. It seems to be accepted by the Australian Science and Technology Council, whose report has also been tabled today. A member of ASTEC is Professor Don Aitkin, who is also the Chairman of the Australian Research Grants Committee and one of the critics of the Waste Watch Committee. One of the fundamental points ASTEC makes in its report in regard to the allocation of funds for research in Australian academic institutions in recent years is that there are grounds for believing that the priorities and directions of fund usage could be changed in a way that would give the nation better value for its research money.

ASTEC has criticised the narrowness of the selection criteria presently adopted by organisations such as the Australian Research Grants Committee. Funds under the ARGS have increased progressively in recent years. In 1987 there was a 17.6 per cent increase in funds-far in excess of most other items of government spending and of most items in the non-government sector. So it is very difficult to accept the proposition that calling for restraint and equity in the use of these funds, which is what the Waste Watch Committee has been calling for, imposes a philistine approach to this matter. It is a question of getting our priorities right in the area of research funding.