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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1209


Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.15 p.m.) —The reason this matter was raised by me today, in terms of some of the nonsense that I have seen about `a funding crisis' in rural research and development raised by the opposition—


Senator Panizza —Not raised by the opposition; by the scientists.


Senator COLLINS —And the scientists, but I am talking about the public statements of those opposite. We had a federal election not so long ago. This is not the dim dark past; this is just over a year ago. The coalition went to that election with a science statement. That statement contained no policy whatsoever, and that is a matter of record—no science policy at all. There was one reference in the Fightback document to science—a promise to cut $20 million from the base funding for all of the Commonwealth's research and development organisations. The fact is that until we established in 1985 the network of research R&Ds—and since then, I might add, we have added to that by establishing the cooperative research centres across Australia as well—the level of investment in rural research and development in Australia was absolutely abysmal after decades of conservative neglect.

  We can hardly call it a funding crisis. There are certainly concerns in the wool industry and, as Senator Panizza knows and referred to, a lot of that is caused by cyclical downturns in industries that contribute dollar for dollar with the Commonwealth government money to research. But we can hardly call it a crisis in rural research when the investment in rural research is currently running at record levels never before achieved in Australia.

  Senator Panizza might not like the facts but I will give them to him again. In the 1993-94 financial year, investment in rural research and development was around $700 million. Over half of that money was directly contributed by the Commonwealth government: $126 million to rural research and development corporations under the matching dollar for dollar arrangements; on top of that, $85 million direct for rural research to universities; $20 million to the cooperative research centres; and $140 million in direct funding to the CSIRO, making up 40 per cent of the total research effort of that organisation.

  We can always argue, and I do, and have publicly—and I do not suppose it is surprising, considering my former employment with CSIRO—that we can always put and should put more money into research and development. But the facts are that it is currently running at an unparalleled record level with over half of that effort being contributed directly from the Commonwealth government.

  In the face of that proud record, we are being criticised by a bunch of wimps—wimps in the National Party, particularly; and I said this about them before—who stood aside and supported that outrageous, poisonous Fightback document that would have crippled rural and regional Australia. They stood by and supported it; they went out and promoted it. That document, which contained not a single reference to science policy, only contained one solitary promise to rural research and development, and that was a cut of $20 million.