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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1300

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (3.22 p.m.) —I wish to take note of the answer given by Senator Cook today. Last week when officers of the CSIRO came and briefed me, they came with the minister's minder. Being new to this place, I was a little surprised and a little taken aback by the presence of this minder. I wish I had had the presence of mind of my colleague in the other place, Mr Sinclair, who told the ministerial minder quite plainly that he was not invited and sent him on his way. That is what comes after 30 years experience in this place.

  The viability of our agricultural export sector is clearly under threat from this minister. Agriculture provides about 25 per cent of our export dollars; yet Senator Cook seems happy to preside over a massive run-down of research funds and not account for it. Despite the government's platitudes, this action confirms that CSIRO and the government see a reduced future for agriculture in this country.

  Mr Deputy President, may I remind you that we would all be living in a Third World country if it were not for Australian agriculture and the research that has been undertaken over the years. Clearly, the International Monetary Fund would be moving in if we did not have agriculture. CSIRO has always been at the forefront of international agricultural research.

  The Ryde laboratory, which is going to be changed dramatically by these cuts, has saved the wool industry millions of dollars; yet this government is quite willing to jeopardise all that. The proposed cost cutting methods include the loss over three years of 138 jobs, the closure and disposal of 10 out of 27 sites, and the relocation of the wool divisions Ryde laboratory to Geelong in Victoria. Money might be saved in this move, but valuable personnel will not be moving to Geelong. The wool division has suffered badly because of the downswing in wool industry funds and the low priority that CSIRO proposes to give to rural research.

  The minister must decide whether he is accountable to the stakeholders—in other words, the industry bodies that provide the funds—whether he will make the CSIRO board accountable and whether he will take into account the views of the scientists themselves. After all, he is the responsible minister and must account to the parliament for the decisions that CSIRO makes.