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Thursday, 23 June 1994
Page: 1951

Senator CARR —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. Yesterday the minister opened the Research School of Information Sciences and Engineering at the ANU. Can the minister please tell the Senate what benefit this facility will have for the information technology industry in Australia. How does the Australian government's support for this research align with existing government policy on industry development?

Senator COOK —It is true that yesterday I had the pleasure of formally opening the Research School of Information Sciences and Engineering at the Australian National University. The research school brings together elements of the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering and the Centre for Information Science Research. It will work closely with the government's cooperative research centres to ensure significant interactions between this research at university level and Australian industry. The school has a wide range of research activities, including parallel computing, speech processing, computer vision, applied logic and associated software construction, and telecommunications.

  Information science and engineering embrace technologies that underpin many key economic activities in this country. Information technology and advanced communications seem to pervade just about every aspect of Australia's life. Information products and services alone now account for about 20 per cent of world trade and are growing steadily at about 10 per cent per annum, well ahead of the average growth in world trade in other products. As a consequence, this government recognises that these industries are critical to our economic future not only in their own right but also as a key source of enabling technologies for other industries. We are determined to see that Australia will not be left behind in the process of this important sector in the world.

  When the government first came to power in the early 1980s, information technology and telecommunications imports into Australia were quite high. We have since turned the situation around to a large extent and we are a now major exporter in this field of technology. We have set about encouraging a robust and locally competitive industry. In 1987, the government launched its information industry strategy. This is a strategy which has guided the rapid development of our information technology and telecommunications systems.

  Through the partnerships for development program and the fixed-term arrangement programs, the government has encouraged numerous Australian firms, that would not otherwise have had the opportunity, to forge strong alliances with international companies. To mention some of them, Nortel and Exicom have got together under this program, as have Nokia and ERG, UNISYS and Mincom, and IBM and Aspect Computing. These are Australian firms partnering with international companies which play the Australian companies into this important area of technology and export growth to give them a foothold in the world market.

  The key aim of these programs is to encourage international information technology and telecommunications firms to undertake strategic arrangements in Australia, and both programs have been very successful to this point. Many major companies now have some form of strategic investment in Australia—be it in manufacturing, research and development, or in oversighting regional technical training and marketing operations. These companies have expanded and strengthened their long-term commitment to Australia.

  As a consequence, our information technology and telecommunications exports have skyrocketed. In 1988, those exports were valued at $A170 million, but in 1993 they were valued at $A1.2 billion and the trade deficit in this sector has been stabilised. In the same period, local research and development spending by international companies has increased by a factor of five. The industry is now confident that it can treble in size by the year 2000 and become one of the nation's biggest employment and export sectors. The inauguration of this particular research centre is critical and catalytic in that development.