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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 643

Senator SCHACHT (Minister for Small Business, Customs and Construction) (3.34 p.m.) —I want to speak to the motion moved by Senator Coulter to take note of the answer given by Senator Evans to Senator Coulter's question about science funding. I have to say to Senator Coulter that I know that in an ideal world unlimited funding should be available to every group in the community—

Senator Coulter —That is not the point.

Senator SCHACHT —No, but we start from that premise. Unlimited funding for all of our own wish lists, of course, would be what we would support. The science community would obviously like more funding. I suspect that no matter how much any government provided to science funding—whether it is pure science or applied science, and whether it is through the universities or agencies like CSIRO, or the CRCs or tax concessions—there will still be a demand for more because the very nature of the beast in research and applied science means that the demand can always be made to be almost inexhaustible.

  While one is looking at the amount for science in these budget papers, one should also look at the initiatives of the government in last week's white paper. When they are all put together we find that there is a very strong case overall that government spending on science, R&D has continued at a very good level indeed. For example, Senator Coulter did not mention that last week we announced a 150 per cent tax deduction for R&D. Instead of cutting in at $50,000 per annum, the figure is now $20,000. Many small and medium size enterprises will now be able to claim the tax deduction which they were not able to get in the past because they could not reach the $50,000 minimum. That is a significant expenditure on R&D.

  I turn to the science agencies, CSIRO, ANSTO and AIMS. Senator Evans pointed out very correctly today that the debate that took place was about how much of the special one-off, five-year funding that was granted in 1989 as a catch-up would continue for the agencies into the next triennium after the five years runs out on 1 July this year. The average of that funding over the past five years has been about $50 million spread across the five agencies. A component of that $50 million was a special component for infrastructure—buildings and equipment—to catch up on a backlog going back into the 1980s.

  The government reduced the impact of the efficiency dividend on the agencies. It now only applies at a rate of one per cent on administrative areas of the agencies, not on research, and that is a significant improvement in the funding arrangements. I think it applies now, on average, to only about 30 per cent of the funding. Where it does apply it applies at only one per cent, which is a significant improvement. We did maintain that amount of the 1989 funding and it continues now into the base for the future trienniums, excluding the infrastructure—the buildings and equipment—because that was specifically a one-off. But all the rest of it, about $30 million a year out of the $50 million for the three agencies, is now written into their base as new money going into their triennium forever. That commitment was not made by this government or by anybody else before the start of this triennium. Therefore, it is a significant improvement in the funding for the science agencies.

  When one puts that into the context of the commitment we gave at the last election to introduce another 10 CRCs at an average of about $50 million per annum for the next seven years—which also gives funding to science agencies as well as to universities and industry—one can see that this government has not backed away from the commitment to science and R&D. It is a fact that CSIRO now has the ability to go out and raise commercial funds for R&D, and it is doing it very successfully. It has already met the 30 per cent target. We would expect that it would be able to improve on that, and that is its aim over the next triennium. So when one is arguing at the fringe of maybe $1 million here or $1 million there, it is worth bearing in mind that CSIRO is already raising $200 million out of the private sector. I think that will be able to continue and expand. (Time expired)

  Question resolved in the affirmative.