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Wednesday, 8 June 1994
Page: 1487

Senator FORSHAW —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. The white paper released last month contained details of government assistance for nanotechnology. Can the minister explain why the government is supporting nanotechnology and what progress has been made in implementing this element of the white paper?

Senator COOK —Honourable senators will know that a nanosecond is one billionth of a second. Nanotechnology works in very miniature sizes—one could say, in pygmy miniature—of one billionth of a metre. This morning I handed over a cheque, under the government's white paper, for $3 million for the establishment of a national nanotechnology research facility. I have a copy of the cheque with me in a container. The copy, which is three million nanometres in size, is the smallest cheque ever in Australia, probably in the world. I will table it for the information of the Senate. I repeat in tabling it that this is a copy, so if it vanishes it cannot be cashed at the nearest bank!

  Nanotechnology represents a technological revolution of importance for a growing number of Australian high technology companies. In essence, nanotechnology is engineering with atoms and manipulating atoms and molecules to construct new miniature devices which will perform entirely new functions as well as improving on existing functions.

  In 1993, ASTEC, the Australian Science and Technology Council, in its report on nanotechnology, Small things—big returns, concluded that nanotechnology should be identified as a priority area for Australia, with the potential for a major impact on existing industries and to create new industries in this country. Australia is one of the world's leading countries in research in this new frontier technology.

  Biosensors are one of the applications of this technology. Sensors will be located in positions which were formerly inaccessible to scientists and medical researchers, and valuable information on a range of topics will be able to be provided. For example, these might take the form of sensors, which take readings of blood sugar and instruct implants when they should release their insulin. This would have an immediate application in the treatment of blindness, kidney damage and vascular decay.

  Other potential applications for nanotechnology include: the detection of bacteria in food or in airconditioning ducts; the detection of viruses and bacteria in drinking water and their removal; the detection of illicit drugs; the detection of infectious diseases; and the production of biocompatible coatings on medical implants, such as pacemakers.  One important outcome is likely to be that, instead of waiting days for the results of pathology tests—for example, blood tests and so on—with the application of this technology, when people visit their GP they should be able to get their results immediately during that consultation.

  Significant support has already been given by the government to nanotechnology through the Australian Research Council and other higher education funding. For example, funding has been given for the research that is under way at the University of New South Wales. The initiative in the white paper represents a further important boost to this funding by the government.

  A consortium has been established to operate the national nanotechnology facility. It includes four cooperative research centres: CRCs for cardiac technology; eye research and technology; waste management and pollution control; and molecular engineering and technology. The CSIRO has a substantial involvement in nanotechnology research and will be a partner through the CRC venture. I table the copy of the cheque for $3 million.(Time expired)