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Monday, 30 May 1994
Page: 831


Senator COULTER (3.03 a.m.) —by leave—I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology (Senator Cook), to a question without notice asked by Senator Coulter this day, relating to the funding of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation.

I observe that there are some 187 scientists in the agricultural divisions of the CSIRO who are really hanging on by the skin of their teeth at the moment and are likely to get the chop within the next fortnight. This involves probably the closure of two divisions of CSIRO.  For the minister to suggest that these sacked scientists should then go on to some sort of a jobs compact under the white paper proposal is ridiculous indeed. To suggest that these persons be sacked and that some younger raw recruits might be put in their place is equally ridiculous. The figures from the CSIRO over some years indicate that this trend is continuing. We note that there were 103 scientists sacked in CSIRO in 1991-92, and 67—65 per cent—occurred in agriculture. In 1992-93, there were 62 sacked in agriculture out of 115 scientists sacked in CSIRO as a whole, or 54 per cent. In 1993-94, 114 agricultural scientists were sacked out of a total sacking of 182. So this government has presided over a steady downturn in the expenditure in science research, specifically in CSIRO, and what we see in this budget, despite the minister's protestations, is simply a continuation of the same trend.

  This contrasts very markedly with the oft repeated claim that this government is presiding over a clever country. It is certainly not a clever country which seeks to sack some of its best and most experienced scientists working in an area which has been of undoubted major significance to Australia and will continue to be for a very long time into the future. It is also not a very clever country which, at a time when private funds are being cut because of the downturn in rural industry and because of the inability of farmers to pay levies in various areas, such as the wool levy, cuts its funding. I understand that the wool levy has been reduced from a return of some $35 million to about $21 million.

  Of course, it is precisely at this time that the government needs to increase its funding into these areas. This is a time when clearly the industry needs further support to make it more profitable, develop new processes, and so on, to come out the other side of that recession with a better and more vibrant industry.

  I conclude by reflecting on the way in which this government has forced science into a position in which it attracts a considerable amount of its funding from private sources—some 30 per cent in the case of CSIRO. According to the former minister for industry and commerce, Senator John Button, 20 to 25 per cent of scientists' time is spent in applying for grants and obtaining money from those sorts of sources, so not surprisingly the whole research effort then becomes driven by that private funding. When that private funding dries up, government simply withdraws its own funding and those divisions close down.

  That is not a clever country, and yet that is what this government is forcing on the CSIRO. The science base of this country needs to be more heavily supported, not simply cut. The minister, in pointing to the increased funding which he claims that CSIRO is getting, in fact is participating in some figure shuffling. Some $20 million of expenditure from next year is being brought back into this year, which makes the figures for this year look better. CSIRO will be in an even worse situation next year. I strongly appeal to the government to reconsider its funding for CSIRO and substantially increase its funding, particularly in the area of agricultural research and agricultural science.