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Friday, 23 July 1920

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon J M Chanter - Order! The honorable member is entitled to make only a passing reference to that matter in discussing this Bill.

Mr JOWETT - I shall endeavour to confine my remarks strictly to the Bill. In every instance in which this Parliament has decided to interfere with the ordinary and proper functions of the States, we have been promised economy and co-ordination. But in not one instance have those promises been fulfilled ; on the contrary, we have incurred, as a rule, useless additional expenditure.

I have listened with the greatest interest to the records that have been quoted of the march of science and the enormous benefits conferred upon mankind by the investigations of scientific observers; but I have failed to hear one argument to substantiate the claim that by creating a seventh Government Department to deal in Australia with scientific research we shall materially help to attain the object we have in view. The greatdiscoveries which have benefited mankind have been mainly the result of enthusiastic labours of love of men who have devoted their lives to scientific research; and I was exceedingly sorry to hear an honorable member deprecate, by implication, at all events, the value of the work of men of that class.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - What that honorable member said was that he did not think the energies called forth by this scheme should be expended in abstract scientific research, but that the efforts of the directors should be devoted principally towards obtaining practical results from the application of science to industry.

Mr JOWETT - I am glad to hean that explanation. If we look to the genesis of some of the greatest discoveries and inventions ever made, we find that they were the triumphs of men of a scientific turn of mind, who devoted their lives to scientific research - in the hope of some pecuniary reward, I admit, but often unsustained by any monetary support. They aimed at benefiting mankind by their devotion to scientific research, and they succeeded. Under these circumstances, one would have thought that everything possible would have been done by the Government to engage the interest and enthusiastic support of the best scientific research minds of Australia. The Institute has been working for some years under no Statute, but under the control of a Government Department, and it has been assisted by an Advisory Council, comprising some of the ablest scientific men in Australia. Of these, the Chairman (Professor Orme Masson) was not the least renowned for ability in the scientific world. It is well known that some days ago this gentleman resigned his position on the Advisory Council. It may be that he has since been persuaded to withdraw his resignation, and that the result of his action is contained in the Government amendment to reinstate the Advisory Boards, which they had decided to eliminate.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - The amendment does not do that. It provides for the creation of Advisory Boards, but not of the same character as those proposed in the previous Bill. This amendment will make it far easier to secure the co-operation of scientific men.

Mr JOWETT - I welcome the Minister's explanation.

The question we have to decide is whether, the appointment of a seventh

Government Science Department in Australia, with a Director at its head, is likely to encourage and stimulate research by scientific men. Some light upon this matter is thrown by a press interview with Professor Masson, in which, he described what has actually happened in connexion with the Institute. He said -

As a net result of four and a half years' work, I have no faith in politicians. That is a terrible charge, and perhaps I had better pass over that phase of the letter.

Sir Robert Best - Perhaps his view is reciprocated.

Mr JOWETT - I am afraid that there are some politicians who do not appreciate the work of scientific men. Professor Masson continued -

During that time the Committee has met once a week or oftener, and as an outcome of its labours it has advised the Government regarding various developments.

I wish to show to what' extent the Institute, during its existence, seems to have alienated the sympathy and warm-hearted support of scientific men in Australia, instead of having, so to speak, welcomed their assistance. Professor Masson says -

But the treatment of its recommendations has been such as to induce and increase the conviction that the politicians are not in sympathy with the Committee in its desire to lay down lines along which science can profitably be applied to industry.

The Committee has found itself treated more and more as if it were a sub-branch of the Trade and Customs Department. Many times its recommendations have been set aside altogether, or not dealt with for months. Surely, if official departmental heads see fit to take up an adverse attitude, such recommendations should not be rejected without the Committee being given an opportunity to traverse the objections taken.

Mr Tudor - Surely they would nob want to put themselves above Parliament ?

Mr JOWETT - But seeing that they were appointed as an Advisory Committee, they might not unnaturally expect that their advice would be occasionally asked for, even if it were never taken.

Mr GREENE (RICHMOND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Trade and Customs) - Practically all those recommendations referred to the expenditure of money, and I felt it my duty, until Parliament had authorized the establishment of the Institute, to tell them that they 'had to go slow.

Mr JOWETT - I can only inform the House of what Professor Masson says. He continues -

As it is, the Committee cannot help feeling that its opinion is given less weight than that of departmental officers. Ministers have taken so little interest in the work of the Committee that they have often felt themselves free from the necessity of even acknowledging recommendations or requests.

Then what follows is of the utmost importance as bearing upon what is likely to happen in the future if the Bill is passed.

Mr Richard Foster - You must remember that that is the statement of one man.

Mr JOWETT - He was the Chairman, and is one of the most distinguished scientific investigators in Australia. His views regarding the future, providing that the Government continue on the lines now proposed, andthe House passes the Bill as it stands, are interesting. I am not opposing the Bill at all strongly, but wish simply to put forward some views which should make the House pause.

Mr Ryan - What does the honorable member mean by "not opposing the Bill strongly" ? Would he vote against it?

Mr JOWETT - I am not prepared to say that at the present moment.. I am seeking light and information. Professor Masson says -

The Government proposals mean the crystallization of the Institute under political control. There is to be a single director,but no good man will accept the position, because he will be subject to a departmental chief. I hold, therefore, that it would be better to crush the movement altogether than to set it going on these lines. It is a reversion to a system which has been utterly dscredited in Great Britain, the system of departmental control of scientific endeavour as applied to industry.

That is briefly the case I put forward to induce the Government and the House to pause before they finally commit themselves to the creation of a fresh Department, until, at all events, the Government are able to satisfy the House that the creation of a new Commonwealth Department will mean the disappearance of opposing Departments in the six States.

Mr West - Professor Huxley, a friend of mine, was asked, " What is science?" and he said it was common sense. From that point of view, how is the honorable member going to vote on this Bill?

Mr JOWETT - I am glad to hear that Professor Huxley was a friend of the honorable member for East Sydney. That is one of the finest things I have ever heard attributed to Professor Huxley. He was a great man, but I never realised his real greatness until this moment.

I am as enthusiastic a supporter of giving the utmost possible as sistance to science and industry, and the encouragement of research work in every possible way, as any one in Australia can be, but I am not satisfied that on its present lines the Bill will achieve the object which we have been led to suppose that it will. I propose to ask the Government to delay its passage until they can give us a satisfactory assurance that there will be real coordination between the States and the Federation in this matter. Such coordination has been taken for granted in the past so often, and we have been so often completely disappointed, that I feel exceedingly doubtful whether we are likely to obtain it in the future. If in the meantime it be desired to give the utmost encouragement to the application of science to industry, and we certainly ought to give it, there are Departments in the six States at present which can be encouraged, and given financial support if required. I urge the Government to take the matter into full consideration. If they are in a position to give the House an assurance from the various States that the passing of this Bill will not mean the duplication between two rival bodies - the States and the Commonwealth - of those functions now being carried on by the States, the Bill will have my support. I sincerely trust that that assurance will be given at once.

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