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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1208

Senator PANIZZA (3.10 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Senator Collins), to a question without notice asked by Senator Burns this day, relating to funding of the CSIRO.

I would like to know why the government, and Senator Collins and Senator Cook in particular, are so touchy when it comes to CSIRO funding. Yesterday I sought a briefing from CSIRO to hear its main concerns and to back up the sort of correspondence that was coming through my door, and no doubt through other doors, about the future of research, especially research in the rural industry.

  That briefing was set down for four o'clock yesterday afternoon. I was contacted by the person who had arranged it, who said that the briefing would stay on, provided that a staff member from Senator Cook's office came to it. Senator Cook, I am sure, is entitled to decide who comes into his office and I believe I am entitled to okay who comes into my office. I think that is natural courtesy, but I was not allowed that briefing.

  After all, the CSIRO is an independent body, as Senator Cook told us during the week. Rather than having one of Senator Cook's henchmen imposed on my office, I decided to go without the briefing. Why is it that those opposite have to have a chaperone in my office along with whoever is doing the briefing? Is it because the government is frightened of what is obvious about CSIRO? Is it because the minister is sensitive about the $60 million cut to CSIRO funding over the next three years? Is it because agricultural research will suffer disproportionately as a result of this cut? Is it because the CSIRO will lose 200 jobs over the next two years and the Animal Production Institute will be closing ten of its research sites, including the one at Yalanbee in Western Australia that I am vitally interested in?

  That is why they do not want our side of politics briefed. Also, that $60 million kickback will go to regional areas where Labor hopes to hold some seats in the next election. The reasons that CSIRO has problems, which Senator Collins, the farmers' friend, denies—

Senator Collins —You don't want us to spend that money, is that what you are saying? I will tell Sunraysia and Goulburn Valley.

Senator PANIZZA —Senator Collins can tell whom he likes. The reasons for the crisis in research funding include the fact that the six agricultural research stations have virtually lost their external funding arm through AWRAP, which we cannot do much about because of the downturn in wool returns. The fact is that the levies from wool going down should be even more reason for the government to put more money in, rather than cutting such funding. We know, of course, that it is caused by the wool collapse.

  This problem has been aggravated by the federal government's dollar for dollar contribution. It cut its contribution as well, which made the decline steeper. CSIRO has also had an overall six per cent cut. That is what the government is touchy about.

  One of the main reasons agricultural research is to be bypassed is that two previous ministers, Senator Schacht and Mr Griffiths from the other place—remember him, he could not run a sandwich shop let alone CSIRO—changed the focus, through the McKinsey report, away from agricultural research to small business. Of course, small business is defined by this government as persons employing 20 men or more.

  Senator Murphy interjecting

Senator PANIZZA —Senator Murphy would not know; he has never employed a person in his life or been in small business. That is the reason the government is touchy about CSIRO. That is why it does not want questions or an inquiry. We want to find out what has happened. In the next election those opposite will pay for it in the regions.