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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 827

Senator COULTER —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. Will the minister confirm that CSIRO will close several agricultural research centres as a result of cuts to its budget? Is it true that woolgrowers have substantially paid for research centres through the wool levy? Have woolgrowers been consulted about the imminent closures? Finally, is it true that the government has defined small business as employing 20 people or having a turnover of $2 million, and that CSIRO has adopted this definition for the purposes of its support for small business? Has this not removed Australia's 100,000 farmers from the attention they deserve from CSIRO?

Senator COOK —I remind the Senate that in this budget we have increased baseline funding to the CSIRO. Also, the CSIRO expects to increase its commercial earnings. It will be able to access the jobs compact and increase its staff employment in support areas as well. Overall, funding to the CSIRO is up, and up significantly.

  Before I turn to the questions, I might add one other rider. This is a one-line appropriation by the government. We appoint a board to the CSIRO in which we have great confidence and faith. It makes the allocations to the scientific priorities of this nation, unadvised by the government. It makes choices as to how it expends the funds within the CSIRO.

  In response to the first question, restructuring proposals are being considered within the CSIRO's Institute of Animal Production and Processing. These proposals are designed to enable the CSIRO to better support the changing needs of its stakeholders in the animal food and fibre industries for the next 10 years. The proposals are currently being put to staff, stakeholders and unions and include the proposal that the institute consolidate its research effort from the current 27 sites to 17 sites, thereby cutting overheads and administrative costs.

  The proposals would result in a consolidation of animal health and wool research at Geelong and of tropical animal and plant research at St Lucia in Brisbane. They would include the transfer of wool technology staff from Ryde in Sydney to the main laboratory in Geelong, and the transfer of animal health staff at Parkville in Melbourne to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory also at Geelong. It is also proposed to move tropical animal production staff from Indooroopilly in Brisbane to the Division of Tropical Crops and Pastures at the University of Queensland, St Lucia, and to Rockhampton and to reduce poultry production research in the Division of Animal Production.

  It is further proposed that a number of sites be disposed of, including part of the Glenthorne site in Adelaide, Yallanoon in Western Australia and Longford at Armidale in New South Wales. All of those proposals are in line with CSIRO policy to consolidate its efforts on fewer sites but—here is the rub—no decisions will be made before extensive discussion has been carried out and the final options are put to the CSIRO board.

  To the second question about woolgrowers and the levy, the answer is no. Most of the centres in question were purchased over 40 years ago and woolgrowers contributed relatively little to their purchase. In the interim, the CSIRO has cared for, maintained and expended funds on those facilities.

  To the third question about whether woolgrowers had been consulted, the answer is yes. Dr Donald of the Institute of Animal Production and Processing has briefed the directors of the NFF and the Wool Council of Australia and has been invited by the Wool Council of Australia to talk to it on 9 June. He has also offered to speak to the board of the Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation.

  In answer to the last question, the relevance of which I do not see, the CSIRO worked with McKinsey and Co. in 1993 to examine the technological needs of Australia's small to medium businesses. They were defined in that study and in subsequent policy considerations within CSIRO as ranging from 20 employees and/or a turnover of $2 million per annum to 500 employees and/or a turnover of $100 million per annum. It has absolutely no effect on CSIRO's research in the rural industries area.