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Wednesday, 18 March 1987
Page: 911

Senator ARCHER(5.45) —I, too, would like to speak about the report on the Australian research grants scheme. The increase to $32.38m in funding should be very good news-and it is. But we must see that this money is spent on achieving better value, and hopefully the best value possible, for the research dollar. A more venturesome approach needs to be taken by the Australian Research Grants Committee so that the jobs which are done are the ones most appropriate to the needs of the nation at present. Page 1 of the report states:

A research project must be intended to be carried out principally in Australia . . .

I think that is very important. Too much of this money has been going overseas. We must ensure that we get full value for our money. The report also says that we should pursue excellence. We need to try to achieve excellence wherever we can. Page 3 of the report refers to the desperate state of Australia's stock of research equipment, something we all need to be concerned about. Our research equipment is not being funded to the same degree as our researchers are being funded. Our research equipment stock has reached a desperate state. Sixty-one per cent of the grants which were applied for were awarded but only 36.1 per cent of the equipment requests were granted. We need to bear in mind that this is creating a very serious situation.

In the course of my travels I have met a considerable number of recipients of grants under this scheme and have found them to be very impressive in a wide range of areas. However, continuity of grants is a matter of concern to many of them. They do not know soon enough whether they will be able to complete the tasks they undertake. The availability of appropriate equipment is of even greater concern. We are losing researchers overseas because of its non-availability. Many institutions are struggling to buy back expatriate Australians to do work in certain areas, but buying them back is not the same as being able to keep them here in the first place. Bringing them back to do jobs which are dreamt up for them is not the same as having them do things spontaneously. Australia is a favourite recruiting ground for overseas corporations and research institutions.

Communications between the Research Committee and the general public are not good enough. I am pleased to say that the Committee has recognised this and intends to improve in this area. There needs to be a considerable push in scientific research. I do not know about actual manpower requirements but there certainly needs to be encouragement in specific areas to ensure that people work in the areas of greatest need and opportunity, providing we can maintain a standard of excellence. I look forward to the Research Grants Committee and other organisations becoming part of a research council. I hope that will happen before the beginning of the next financial year. I commend the work done by the members of the Committee, particularly by the Chairman. I believe that the Research Grants Committee has done a pretty good job over a period but that it needs to tighten up.