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Friday, 23 July 1920


Sir ROBERT BEST (Kooyong) . - I am pleased that the Government have yielded to the general activity and interest exhibited throughout the world, since hostilities have ceased, towards the subject of scientific research; because upon increased efforts in that direction depends the volume of production of the world. .It has been, alleged against, this Bill that it means the creation of a new spending Department and handing over to a new Institute the control of large sums of money to be spent as the directors of the Institute see fit, with little or no supervision on the part of Parliament. But that is a . wrong view for honorable members to take, because the directors of the Institute will not have the authority to spend one shilling without the consent of Parliament. On the various annual Estimates Parliament will be called upon to take the responsibility of deciding how much it is prepared to hand over to the Institute for the purpose of industrial and scientific research.


Mr Gabb - After the money has been spent ?


Sir ROBERT BEST - No. The money must be appropriated by Parliament before it can be spent. Therefore if any complaint is to be lodged in that regard it must be lodged against Parliament itself, which alone must accept the responsibility.

In view of what is being done in other countries in this direction, the utmost encouragement should be extended to the Institute established here. Of course it must prove itself. The Tight men must be appointed to carry out the duties assigned to it. There can be no possibility of success unless we are fortunate in that regard. But as the Institute proves itself Parliament will be more and more liberal to it- I am hopeful that it will justify itself, and that there will be a generous response1 on the part of Parliament, in full recognition of the vast field of work in which the Institute will be obliged to operate.

As the honorable member for New England (Mr. Hay) has shown, there are two great branches of scientific research, agriculture and technology, as applied to industrial matters, which will serve to occupy the best energies and the ability of the ablest men who can be appointed to carry out the work of the Institute. The honorable member has dealt very fully with the agricultural side, and shown the great field for work in that direction. The few remarks I have to make this afternoon will be directed towards demonstrating what a vast field of work there is on the technological side. Technology has the widest possible scope, and should include the collection and distribution of technological information for the advancement of the industries and arts of the Commonwealth, and the initiation of researches relative to technical manufacturing processes and the study of contemporary progress therein. We ought to have an Institute in the position to digest and fully consider the vast amount of literature coming to hand, dealing with the most recent activities in this direction. Part of the duties of the Institute should he the custody of standards of measurement, the verification of instruments -and appliances of all kinds used as measures, and to co-operate with the States in the preparation of standards and specifications of quality of materials and merchandise generally. Co-operation with the States is vital.

I am glad to see certain provisions in the Bill which lay down in unmistakable terms the instruction of Parliament that there must be co-ordination and co-operation with State functions in industrial research work.


Mr Gabb - Are we not duplicating the work of the States?


Sir ROBERT BEST - I am prepared to admit that valuable work has been performed by the State authorities, and 1 would be one of the first to criticise this measure if I thought that duplication was intended. There is, however, at present a wanton and wasteful system, the various States engaging in. practically the same kind of work; but if these institutions can coordinate with the Federal body, and all the existing activities be linked up in an endeavour to apply science to industry in indicated directions, we shall be taking a very valuable step. The various Australian technical and scientific schools and the Universities now dealing with scientific questions should all be coordinated under the direction of the proposed Federal institution. I am glad that a number of honorable members have directed attention to this particular aspect of the question, and I am hopeful that the utmost effort will be made to establish a system of co-operation so that friction will be avoided and the work allowed to proceed in a harmonious manner for the good of the Commonwealth.

There is ample scope for technological work of a valuable character, and we are exceedingly fortunate in having in the employment of the Commonwealth service our present principal analyst, Mr. Percy Wilkinson, who is a distinguished chemist of wide and varied experience. He is a person who not only enjoys a great reputation in Australia, but one who, by reason of his ability and his great work, has a reputation beyond the shores of Australia. Mr. Wilkinson has also the advantage of having devoted special attention to our industries. He has a more extensive knowledge of our industrial undertakings than any other scientific man in Australia, and I hope the whole Federal sphere is to have the benefit of his services as a Principal in this Institute.


Mr TuDOR - The honorable member admits that it is better to have a practical man than one who is a mere theorist?


Sir ROBERT BEST - I agree with the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor) that we do not require merely an academic scientist, but a practical industrial one, and that is what I hope is intended. I believe it is the intention of the Government to obtain the services of practical industrial scientists, who will be employed ' to stimulate our industries by systematic research.

The Manchester Municipal College of Technology - a great institution, with a wonderful reputation - undertakes industrial research largely in co-operation with the firms engaged in industry in SouthEastern Lancashire.


Mr Tudor - And that includes thewhole of the cotton and print mills.


Sir ROBERT BEST - Yes. The point I am emphasizing is that the college works in co-operation with the various industries; this is one of its special features. It is now realized that it is time the old rule of thumb method was discarded. In days gone by, the average workman was inclined to discredit scientific methods,, and to depend entirely upon practical knowledge. But it is amazing now to hear the confessions of a number who held that view in the past, and who now realize that our only hope of salvation is in the application of science to industry.

I am anxious to draw the attention of honorable members to certain resolutions passed by the American Federation of Labour on tie question of scientific research. The resolutions are most' suggestive, and the preliminary recitals, amongst other things, state -

Scientific research, and the technical application of results of research, form a fundamental basis upon which the development of our industries, manufacturing, agriculture, mining, and others, must rest.

They refer to productivity in industries, and to the fact that the productivity in industries has greatly increased by the application of the results of scientific research, and show that the only potent factor in dealing with increased productivity and improving the position of the workers is that there should be development in this particular department. They then declare that the war has brought home to all the nations engaged in it the overwhelming importance of science and technology to our national welfare. They then say it is resolved -

That a broad programme of scientific and technical research is of major importance to the national welfare, and should be fostered in every way by the Federal Government, and that the activities of the Government itself in such research should be adequately and generously supported in' order that the work may be greatly strengthened" and extended.

That is typical of the workers assembled in convention in dealing with this all important and vital subject. In response to the increased interest, both in Great Britain and America - countries which, perhaps, most excite our interest at present - this increased activity has been largely stimulated by the personal interest of the workers themselves. In Great Britain the Government was specially active in the matter of scientific research in relation to national industries during the war, and that activity has since been increased. Lord Moulton, a very distinguished lawyer and student of science, in a preface written to a little book, Science and the Nation, written by Mr. A. C. . Seward, says -

In every industry there is scope for research, and on it must depend the maintenance of, our position in the industrial struggle for existence. Hence there is no training so valuable for industrial life as that of being brought into close contact with those engaged in scientific research, whether it be in University Laboratories or elsewhere. By concentrating the work at our Universities, and making the students see and take part in it, we shall send out into the world a class of men fit for carrying out the industrial research necessary for the maintenance of our position in trade.

He realizes, with every thoughtful man, that in these days of keen competition we must depend for maintenance on scientific research.

The British Government itself, recognising the great necessities of the nation in this direction, have placed aside something approximating a million sterling, and have handed it over to an administrative committee of the Privy Council for scientific and industrial research. Associated with this administrative body are various advisory councils, which consult with the manufacturers - that is the point I am seeking to stress - and others. The result is systematic development of research, and co-operation with science and industry under the direct control of the industries themselves. The special feature is to organize all industrial research in conjunction with the industries, rather than prosecuting the work on a purely scientific basis. The great objective is to arouse the interest of the manufacturers themselves. I am strongly urging that there should be a close connexion and co-operation between the leading Universities, and technical schools and our industries, which rely on research to such an important degree.

The honorable member for Cowper (Dr. Earle Page) dealt at length with the splendid results being achieved in Canada, and I do not intend to refer to them other than to say that a study of the work that has been accomplished there is particularly interesting. In that country certain proposals were made to spend a large sum of money in the creation of a central Institute, and the idea obtained that it was to be run by certain University professors. I happened to come across a criticism of the proposals, urging the wisdom of more attention to practical industrial research rather than investigations carried out on a purely scientific basis A leading newspaper in Canada says -

It considered it doubtful whether a centrally located academically populated and university inoculated research bureau is the last word in industrial research, as it is questionable if such an atmosphere and such personalities get the hang of what is wanted in actual production.

That is a criticism of a proposal that was before the Canadian Government for the creation of this large Institute, and the appointment of mere University professors. That idea was ultimately discarded. Although I have the greatest respect and admiration for our University professors, and whilst I recognise the valuable work they have performed in the interests of science, I must admit that in a matter of this kind, where our industries are vitally concerned, their training does not fit them for the service.


Mr Richard Foster - That is what we desire to avoid.


Sir ROBERT BEST - Yes; and I am glad that that has been embodied in the Bill.

In New Zealand, South Africa, and in- India, they are very active; but, perhaps, the most .striking example in the whole world is that of Japan. Her expansion in the industrial world has been of a most marvellous character. She has certainly had the benefit of the experience of other nations, and has had the wisdom to adopt what could be successfully applied to her own industries. A


Mr Richard Foster - She has picked the brains of the world.


Sir ROBERT BEST - That has been a part of her scheme. To show what has been achieved in the course of a year or two in the electro-chemical industry, I may state that at the beginning of the war it was quite a minor industry, but now its production is in the vicinity of £30,000,000 annually. In the tin plate industry similar results have been achieved. I do not know whether recent financial disturbances have upset their calculations, but it was contemplated by Japan to set apart £1,000,000 for the furtherance of commercial research.

I suppose that nowhere in the world has there been greater activity in this matter than in the United States of America, where colossal sums are spent. If I remember aright, the Federal Government of the United States set aside last year something like £14,000,000 for the carrying on of industrial research work by its own institutions. That expenditure is entirely apart from the expenditure of the various States of the Union, which maintain Departments that perform most valuable work in co-operation and co-ordination with the Federal institutions. No one can take up an American magazine of any standing without being impressed with the way in which the captains of industry and the leading intellects of industry in that country urge their manufacturers and workers to give the closest attention, to these matters. Here, for instance, are a few remarks by the United States Secretary of Commerce, Mr. William Badfield, who, in opening a Reconstruction Congress in December, 1918, said -

Find and seize hold upon all science has said, or can say, concerning industry. It was largely because Germany made her industries the operating end of her sciences that her commerce grew so vast and so powerful. It was more German science than German wages that made her competition dangerous.

The various associations of manufacturers in the States have issued a considerable quantity of literature on this subject, and at one of their recent conferences they indicated that the activity which is being displayed is to be increased. This is what Mr. J. J. Carty, Chief of the Research Department of the United States, said when speaking before the American Institute of Electrical Engineering--

While vast sums are spent annually upon industrial research in these laboratories, I can say with authority that they return to the industries each year improvements in the art, which, taken together, have a value many times greater than the total cost of their production. Money expended in properly directed industrial research, conducted on scientific principles, is sure to bring to the industries a most generous return. I consider it is the high duty of our Institute and every member ... to impress upon the manufacturers of the United States the wonderful possibilities of economies in their processes and improvements in their products which are gained by the discoveries of science. . . . Those who are the first to avail themselves of the benefits of industrial research will obtain such a lead over their competitors that we may look forward to the time when the advantages of industrial research will be recognised by all. . . . In the present state of the world's developments there is nothing which can do more to advance American industries than the adoption by our manufacturers generally of industrial research, conducted on scientific principles. . . . Pure scientific research, unlike industrial scientific research, cannot support itself by direct pecuniary returns from its discovery.

The lessons taught by the leading public men, and the prominent industrials and scientists of the Mother Country, of the United States, and of Germany are such as we must take to heart.


Mr Ryan - We all agree with the opinions that you have read, but does the Bill further the objects in view?


Sir ROBERT BEST - It creates opportunity for their furtherance, provided that the right men are appointed.


Mr Ryan - The proviso is an important one.


Sir ROBERT BEST - Yes, and were I not confident that the Government would appoint the right men, I would not support the Bill so ardently. As many other honorable members desire to speak, it would not be fair to prolong my remarks at this stage.







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