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Tuesday, 7 June 1994
Page: 1405

Senator PANIZZA (4.52 p.m.) —in reply—I understand that Senator Collins has shortly to return to his office, but before he leaves the chamber I was wondering whether he has ever read the terms of reference of the inquiry as I moved them. If he has not done so, I will read them out again. They refer to:

The adequacy and appropriateness of the operation, funding and resourcing of research relating to rural industry by CSIRO.

Senator Collins —Exactly what I said: the adequacy of the funding.

Senator PANIZZA —That is right. Senator Coulter then moved an amendment to expand those ideas. I would like to ask Senator Collins, through the chair, where anywhere in this inquiry I can be said to be demanding extra funding. That is not the case. One cannot read anything of the kind into the terms of reference. It is possible that it could be recommended that funding be increased or indeed that funding should be cut. One of my colleagues brought up that fear and asked what my attitude would be if it were recommended that agricultural research in CSIRO should be reduced. My reply was that I will take the chance. One never knows what will come out of an inquiry. I am prepared to take the chance that there could be a recommendation to reduce funding, but I very much doubt it. We shall await the recommendations.

  I know that Senator Collins has to go to a meeting and is about to leave the chamber, but I would remind the Senate that he made the point that in 1983, when we left government, only $30 million of federal money went into CSIRO agriculture research. What Senator Collins failed to add to that figure was state research funding and grower levies. In making up the funding record in terms of agricultural research amounting to $700 million, he included what the federal government put in, as well as what the state government put in and also grower levies. All of that went to make up the figure of $700 million. But when he referred to the coalition government in 1983, very conveniently he left that out. So much for Senator Collins's argument. Perhaps I can be told where in the inquiry's terms of reference there is any demand for extra funding. I emphasise the fact that an inquiry may recommend extra funding or may recommend cuts, or indeed leave the situation as it is.

  Senator Collins also said that the CSIRO was doing a good job. I agree and nowhere have I said in my deliveries in the past couple of days that that organisation is not doing a good job. It is doing an excellent job, but I want to keep it that way. This inquiry has been brought about by the proposed changes. Indeed, the inquiry came from the scientists themselves. Most of the scientists working for CSIRO do not have degrees in business administration. Therefore, in order to get their message across and to give time to get on with their own research, they approached politicians such as those of us on this side of the chamber, and no doubt senators opposite too, to express those fears in this place. It certainly cannot be said that we are suggesting the CSIRO is not doing a good job.

  Let me turn to the National Farmers Federation. Perhaps someone can pass this information on to Senator Collins as he is not now in the chamber.

Senator Sherry —I will pass it on.

Senator PANIZZA —I thank Senator Sherry for that offer. Let me refer to the NFF and its press release. I made an interjection and said yes, it was written by Rick Farley. That is the first time I have mentioned Rick Farley's name in this place. As soon as Senator Collins said that I was criticising and had an agenda on Rick Farley, my office tried to locate on the database where I had criticised him, and that information did not come forward. I thought that my staff were putting in the wrong commands. Therefore, I went over to Senator Collins and asked him when I was supposed to have criticised Rick Farley. Senator Collins said that it arose from my remark that Rick Farley had written the press release. Rick Farley puts his name at the bottom of the NFF's press releases and they also contain the name of Donald McGauchie, the new president of the NFF, a person with whom I get on very well.

Senator Sherry —A very good press release.

Senator PANIZZA —Yes, it is a good press release and I shall refer to it again in a moment. Donald McGauchie certainly has made his mark in agriculture and in representing agriculture, even though I followed him around Australia and wrecked his Newco proposal.

Senator Sherry —Were there any inquiries into that?

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—Order, Senator Sherry!

Senator PANIZZA —I listened to Senator Collins in silence. I hope that the minister at the table or would-be minister at the table, Senator Sherry, will accord me the same courtesy. At any rate, I congratulate Donald McGauchie on his election as president of the NFF and I know that he will do a good job. There are two paragraphs in the press release that I would like to refer to. Certainly the rest are very innocuous and indeed are motherhood statements. The press release says that in any proposed inquiry:

The Institute's increasing deficit should be taken into account by the Federal Opposition as it considers an inquiry into CSIRO.

Of course we want the matter to be taken into consideration by the inquiry. The next paragraphs reads:

Any such inquiry should be completed very quickly as CSIRO believes it could not proceed with necessary expenditure reforms until the inquiry process is complete.

The Standing Committee on Industry, Science, Technology, Transport, Communications and Infrastructure has already discussed this and made plans. The committee's reporting date is the end of the sitting year but that does not mean that the committee cannot report before then—there would be nothing wrong with that.

  However, I would not worry about holding up CSIRO from doing some things. I would certainly want to hold up the CSIRO from selling off its research station at Yallanbee in Western Australia. As I explained yesterday, that is a very important research station—the only one located in a Mediterranean-type climate. And that is the description from one of the top scientists in the CSIRO; it is not my description. The last paragraph of the press release states:

"The government must urgently consider a mechanism for topping up research resources in the event of major industry downturn," Mr McGauchie said.

That is the only demand I have seen for extra funding in all this debate. So what is Senator Collins on about when he claims that the debate is about extra funding? That finishes my comments on what Senator Collins said. I now turn to what Senator Cook said yesterday when he claimed that no speaker in the debate had attended the estimates committee.

Senator Ferguson —He is wrong.

Senator PANIZZA —Yes, he is wrong because one speaker in the debate is on the estimates committee. I have been on plenty of estimates committees where Senator Cook was the minister at the table, especially on ATSIC. Generally, he would prevent any sort of real questioning of officers at the table by taking over an answer. I would ask a question of the officer but, time and time again, Senator Cook would answer. He was only there to protect his department and not let questioning flow. That does not apply to other ministers who attend the table at Senate estimates hearings but Senator Cook is very good at it.

Senator Sherry —Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: is this allegation that Senator Cook frustrates Senate estimates proceedings in order, given that it is not a matter that is before the chamber for debate?

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—In view of the general flow that we have had in this debate, I cannot see any point of order.

Senator Crane —Mr Acting Deputy President, I wish to speak on the point of order. Mr Acting Deputy President, if you read Senator Cook's vitriolic speech here yesterday, you would see that it was he who introduced this matter before the estimates committee.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator PANIZZA —Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. So much for that point of order! Yesterday, Senator Cook made a big play about access to CSIRO—that members of the opposition barged into the CSIRO and demanded attention. However, that has been slightly changed. This morning, when I read Hansard, it did not seem to come over quite the same, so I intend to get a tape of that later on. However, the call by me and Senator Abetz for an inquiry was a result of a call by the scientists who work for the CSIRO who urged us to get an inquiry up. There was no other reason at all. If anyone from the CSIRO or either the federal government or a statutory body walks into my office and asks to be heard, I do not accept that I must have someone from the minister's office sit in as an independent notetaker. Anyhow, that matter has been covered by my colleagues; but it should be emphasised, otherwise we would return to the jackboot brigade of over 50 years ago.

  Yesterday in his speech, Senator Cook attacked me for self-interest. I thank Senator Ferguson and Senator Crane for replying on my behalf, so I do not have to really address that matter myself. This matter of the CSIRO is not the only concern about which people have come to me. I have certainly taken up other concerns of other people. I could rattle off half a dozen such examples but I do not want to bore honourable senators and keep the Senate from voting fairly soon on this motion. So that matter has been well answered.

  Forty per cent of the research funding goes to agricultural research—no-one is denying that and nothing in the motion says that that funding should be either increased or decreased; I have gone through all of that. However, when Senator Cook referred to that funding, to suit his argument he left out grower levies, so I am afraid that Senator Cook's contribution was not very conducive to good debate in this place. Senator Crane aptly summed up the contribution by Senator Cook by describing him as having lost the plot.

  Yesterday, Senator Cook also said that the chamber had not heard any supporting evidence for an inquiry. I point him to the very simple fact that the CSIRO's agricultural research has been directed to concentrate on research which benefits small business. As I said yesterday, there is nothing wrong with that. Such small business is defined as a business employing 20 persons or more and with a turnover of more than $2 million a year. Rural research will suffer as a result of that focus.

  I could mention many other things about Senator Cook's intemperate speech but it would be hardly worth while going over it again. However, I remind Senator Cook of one thing: he broke away from addressing the real point in the debate yesterday by referring to research into value adding and all of that. In doing so, he missed the point that we can value add as much as we like but we first must have the primary production to value add. If we let that run down, there will be nothing to value add, which would be a great loss to the Australian economy. Yesterday, Minister Cook admitted that the primary industries and energy output amounts to 23 per cent of our exports. If we are to maintain that output the focus of funding research must remain in the CSIRO for it to move forward.

  In closing, there is another point that I have to address on what Senator Cook said yesterday. He stood up in this chamber and said that under restructuring, at most three people could lose their jobs. So I will read from the document I have here, which states:

The brief given to Senator Cook by the CSIRO board suggests that the net decrease in research staff would only be three. From the figures in the attached sheet—

with which I will not bore the chamber—

which have been confirmed, it is clear that a total of 331 staff are expected to leave CSIRO as a result of this exercise. The figures include 148 staff who are expected to accept redundancy rather than relocate to other sites—

I do not comment on that—

plus 183 forced redundancies. The net loss, taking into account the anticipated re-hiring of some 187 new staff, is 144 positions. Of these three are claimed to be research scientists.

But in real terms a significant proportion of those positions would be considered research staff. As an example, over 50 per cent of the staff of this laboratory are directly involved in research.

I am talking there about wool technology. That puts paid to Senator Cook who misled the Senate yesterday when he said that only three would be affected.

  I touch again on that other fiasco where CSIRO staff are allowed to talk only when somebody accompanies them. Let me quote again from a statement that came to me—it is from the Institute of Animal Production and Processing and it states:

Dr Stoker indicated in a letter dated 22 April 1994, sent to all institutes, and via them to all divisions, that in the interests of fostering a constructive relationship with a new Minister for Science, he, and he alone, would be responsible for public comment regarding CSIRO's budget outcomes.

I would like to know at whose direction that was. My guess is that it was Senator Cook. I thank all senators who have supported me in this motion. I thank Senator Coulter—who I do not agree with very often—for his promised support for this motion. I believe it is going to be a very important inquiry which will keep a very good organisation focused on rural research. I look forward to seeing the results of the division, if there is to be one.

  Question put:

  That the amendment (Senator Coulter's) be agreed to.