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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2011


Senator PUPLICK(5.23) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

The report of the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board is an historic one in that it provides for the first time a review of the first 10 years of the operation of the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act, which has been a remarkably successful Act in terms of providing assistance, additional capital, start-up capital and program support to enhance Australia's industrial and economic competitiveness. As the report indicates, this scheme is being largely overtaken in many of its respects by the introduction of the Government's 150 per cent assistance by way of taxation concession for industrial research and development in Australia. That legislation was passed through the Parliament with the support of all parties. I am glad to say that on preliminary indications it has been remarkably successful, and I believe it has been a contributing factor to the overall improvement in Australia's research profile in industrial research and development in the course of the last couple of years.

In terms of what it has to say about the activities for the 1985-86 year on which it reports, the report indicates that there has been a decline in expenditure under this Act, a decline in the number of grants provided and, further, a decline even in the number of applications because people have seen the use of the grants for industry research and development scheme and the 150 per cent taxation concession scheme as a more effective method of operation.

What is interesting is appendix 7 to the report in which details are given of all of the public interest agreements that have been entered into under the Act. It draws attention to one area in which Australia is having enormous success and in which it will continue to have success as an exporting country. I refer to the provision of assistance with mechanical aids to overcome the problems of deafness. As everybody knows, the development of the bionic ear has been one of the great achievements of Australian medical research technology. The grant made in this last year to the multi-channel electrotactile speech perception unit is again an indication of continuing pioneering work in that area. I note that on 15 April the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, put out a Press release indicating the support being given for this device, which is quaintly known as the tickle talker and which allows people to hear through their fingers rather than through their ears when there are major problems in terms of disease or in terms of the problems of the profoundly deaf.

The report also indicates that assistance has been given to the development of fibre optic sensors, something which in the communications field will also be a matter of very great export potential for Australia. There is also the development of a human growth hormone, which is again a genetic engineering breakthrough undertaken by the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories Commission, the Garvan Research Laboratory and the University of New South Wales. There are also projects related to very large scale integration software designs.

Assistance to research and development has come a long way in the last couple of years. The policies put in place by the previous Government and continued, and in some ways expanded, by this Government need to be seen as having played a major part in that. I conclude by drawing attention to the fact that, although we spend a fair amount of money in support of research and development, a heading in the January 1987 American publication `Research and Development' states `$125 billion for research and development in the United States of America in 1987'. The Americans have always understood that, unless a country is prepared to invest large sums of money in research and development, it will not get the economic returns that its intellectual achievement entitles it to get. I commend the Board on its report for 1985-86 and I commend those who over the course of the last 10 years have played a major role in stimulating and assisting the development of Australian research and development, and in particular its application to the industry and export sectors.