Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 642

Senator COULTER (3.28 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Gareth Evans), to a question without notice asked by Senator Coulter this day, relating to the funding of scientific research.

The Senate will recall that the question was predicated on the assumption which the government has made that increased private investment will lead to the economic recovery—with increased productivity, increased economic growth and also increased employment. I was contrasting that with the lack of commitment which the government has shown in this budget, and, indeed, over some considerable time, in relation to investment in what might be called public infrastructure and, specifically, in what we might call intellectual infrastructure—the research efforts carried out by CSIRO, the universities and other research institutes.

  If I could use the minister's own words, I wonder what planet he has been on if he has not been into the universities in recent years and spoken with professors and lecturers and seen the enormous pressures that they are under with increased teaching loads and decreased facilities for science teaching and science research, and the failure, therefore, of the universities to be able to adequately deliver properly trained people into the science area.

  I wonder also if he has not looked at those figures which review the entry marks required of students going into science faculties. When we look at those figures we find that in the early 1980s the demands made of students going into science were indeed very high. We find now that the science faculties are having to take the absolute dregs of the student body in terms of academic ability, and that augurs very poorly indeed for science in Australia 15 to 20 years out. I really worry about what the state of science will be in this country.

  In relation to the specific figures in the budget, I believe that the minister was quite confusing and incorrect. If we look at appropriation No. 1, the recurrent expenditure for CSIRO, we find that the estimated appropriation and the actual expenditure for CSIRO in the 1993-94 year was $242 million. In the coming year it is anticipated to be $223 million. In fact, it has been cut down. Although we have a low inflation rate, if we take inflation into account, that represents a very significant decline. Indeed, if we look at the government's own analysis looking forward over several years we find in the government's statement that function outlays in 1994-95 are estimated to increase by $47.9 million or 4.7 per cent, that is, 2.4 per cent in real terms.

  I will pick up that item first. The government is projecting growth in the economy of over four per cent and yet its investment in this intellectual infrastructure on which the whole thing will be based, if it occurs, is only 2.4 per cent in real terms. Growth is growth in real terms, not growth without taking into account the inflation rate. It goes on:

Over the forward years function outlays will increase by a further $45.5 million or 4.3 per cent or a 4.4 per cent decline in real terms.

So the government is looking forward over the years to 1997-98 to an actual decline of 4.4 per cent in real terms in the general and scientific research area.

  The point of my question still stands and I do not think it was adequately answered by Senator Evans, and that is: how can this government genuinely expect private investment to generate the economic growth and jobs it is forecasting if, in fact, the government itself does not show a solid commitment to the intellectual infrastructure on which in a modern economy that growth and that development is to be based?

  I believe that the government has failed completely in this budget—indeed, it has failed consistently over a number of years not only in funding to university research institutes, including the CSIRO, but also in the direction in which it has tried to take science. It has ignored basic research, it has ignored the very important broad educational function which science has in our community. (Time expired)