Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 4 October 1956


Mr CASEY (La Trobe) (Minister for External Affairs) . - As we are working on a tight time schedule, Mr. Chairman, I do not propose to keep the committee other than a short time in an effort to tell the dramatic story of Australia's greatest investment, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I hasten to say that there is no politics in what I intend to say which, I am sure, will be a great relief to my friend from East Sydney (Mr. Ward), because there is no politics in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I should like to believe that members of the Opposition are just as keen on this great government developmental research organization as we on this side of the chamber are.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is 30 years old. In its early years it devoted itself practically entirely to the problems of primary industry. It was only in the few years before World War II. - and, of course, the position has continued in the years since the war - that the Government directed a proportion of the attention of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization towards the problems of secondary industry. My reason for describing the organization as Australia's greatest investment is borne out by the simple figures of the case, in that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in the 30 years of its existence has cost the Australian Government £35,000,000 in total, and the annual dividend to-day, estimated on the most modest basis, is appreciably over £100,000,000. So

I think one is justified in saying and believing, quite sincerely, that the organization is Australia's greatest investment.

I shall give the committee a few figures that will reflect, for the benefit of honorable members, the growth of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization over the years. I shall not go back to the pre-war years. I shall go no further back than the first post-war year, 1946, when the staff of the organization totalled fewer than 2,000 people, of whom about 520 were scientific officers - in other words, about 35 per cent, of the total staff consisted of such officers. To-day, ten years later, we are employing 3,600 people, of which total almost precisely one-half consists of scientific officers. Those figures indicate the growth of the organization over the last ten years.

Now, as to the proportions of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's activities that are devoted to the primary production side and the secondary production side, measured in terms of money, which is the most convenient and, I think, most logical yardstick: 51 per cent, of the total money expended on the organization is devoted to research on primary production. Another 12 per cent, of the total is devoted to research connected with manufacturing industries that are closely related to primary production, such as food preservation, dairy problems, forest products and the like. So the total devoted to primary production, and industries closely related to it, comes to 63 per cent., or very nearly two-thirds of the total. The balance is devoted to research broadly in aid of secondary industries.

Although the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has a great deal of achievement to its credit - indeed, the figures I have given as to the total national investment in it, and the dividends we derive from it, prove that without any further need of enlargement - I think there is one thing the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization does not suffer from, and that is complacency. We are never satisfied. I use the pronoun " we " because I venture to identify myself with this great activity, of which I have had the privilege to have political charge for a total period of considerably more than ten years. My own early training was on the scientific side, so I like to believe that my interest in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization goes rather further than that of being the Minister in charge of it. When 1 say that we have a great achievement to our credit that does not mean that I think that the work of the organization is by any means complete. I am perhaps more conscious than any member of this chamber of the things that we are not doing, the things that remain to be done. My friend from Wannon (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) earlier in the day gave us a good list, if I may say so, of the things that remain to be done in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. I think that I could multiply the contents of that list two, three, or ten times, to cover the things that I am eminently conscious are crying out to be done. So please do not accuse the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization of complacency or of sitting down and taking it easy.

The work of the organization is limited by two bottlenecks. One of those is money; the second is the lack of a sufficient number of scientific officers to enable the organization to expand its work. Even given the necessary money the organization would still have a considerable problem in getting the requisite number of scientific officers to do the great volume of work that remains to be done.

If I may venture to do so I shall now expand a little on the honorable member for Wannon's list of matters that still remain for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to turn its attention to with greater intensity than is the case now. First, there are the great problems associated with water. Water is Australia's most important individual commodity. We need to know a great deal more about water than we do. Successful work has been done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in the last couple of years on the diminution of the evaporation of standing water in Australia, which in our very hot country means enormous financial losses running into tens of millions of pounds. That problem has been, if not solved, at least very much reduced, as a result of the organization's research work, the fruits of which will, before very long, be available to any person in the primary industries who chooses to get the material that has been proven as a successful deterrent to water evaporation which, as we know, in the hot areas of Australia is most serious.

I always say, and I think it is true, that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization exists for the simple purpose of enabling more Australians to earn a better living. That is the material outlook, if you like, but that is a most important objective. The organization's task is to help in the maximum development of Australia's natural resources and so help to increase our income from exports. As I say, water is priority Number 1 among the things that need scientific research in Australia. As I have said, the prevention of evaporation of standing water has, I think, been achieved. But there remains the problem of underground water, about which we know only too little. Then there is research work connected with our soils. We have done a great deal of work in the soils division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, but a very great deal remains to be done on soils, not only from the pastoral and agricultural point of view, but also from the engineering and building construction point of view, That work is going on, but I am afraid only too slowly.

Then we need a great deal more work on improved species of pasture plants in Australia, perhaps particularly for the tropical, sub-tropical and semi-arid regions. There are glittering prizes ahead of us as a result of the successful introduction, development and exploitation of pasture plants to suit our very varied climate. I may say here that there is a device that has been perfected in another country that goes by the peculiar name of phytrotron. This is a building in which there is a considerable number of small cabins in each of which are the means of reproducing completely the climate of any part of the world. It is possible to reproduce, day after day, month after month, throughout the year, any climate anywhere, in the correct proportions of sunlight, moisture, temperature, pressure and everything that constitutes climate. It is possible to reproduce there the climate of Rockhampton, or of any place in the Northern Territory, or of southern Tasmania at the other extremity of the Commonwealth. One point about the introduction of new plants, particularly pasture plants in our case, from overseas is that it sometimes takes a very great many years before the plants can be acclimatized and before our scientists can discover to what particular region of Australia particular plants are most appropriate. That may take a great many years. Tremendous waste of time in discovering where particular pasture plants could be used to the best advantage could be prevented. The time factor could be reduced perhaps to one-fifth of its present proportions, if not less, by the use of this climate-reproducing equipment. It would cost approximately £350,000, but, unfortunately, we in Australia cannot contemplate additional expenditure of such magnitude in present economic circumstances. Nevertheless, we have hopes that before long we may discover some means of enabling the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization to acquire a phytrotron, with which it could reproduce any required climate. This would save us an enormous amount of time and bring very much closer the day when we could acclimatize these improved pasture plants in the many parts of Australia that are crying out for them.

I have been asked, in this chamber recently, why the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization does not do more work on the control of weeds. It is simply because of the limitations of money and men that it does not do more of this work. Officers of the organization know very well how much weeds are costing us. They probably cause greater economic loss than do all the animal and insect pests put together, and the total is tremendous. We are very conscious of it. We have not yet tackled scores of weeds that are causing great economic loss. If we had a great deal more money at our disposal, we could attack the problem of weeds very much more expeditiously and more effectively than at present.

Footrot is a trouble with which every pastoralist is acquainted. We know that the present methods of treatment by . hoof paring and foot baths keep it in check, but these methods are clumsy and expensive in terms of the numbers of sheep that may be treated and the annual cost of treatment, as my friend, the honorable member for Wannon, demonstrated to-day. As yet, no quicker or more effective method of coping with footrot is in sight than these rather pedestrian methods of hoof paring and foot baths. If we could overcome this trouble, we could save Australia many millions of pounds.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Has the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization done any work on salt damp in buildings?


Mr CASEY - Yes. The Building Research Division has worked on that problem. I suppose every honorable member could mention one or more things crying out to be done. 1 believe that if by some miracle we could double the amount of money at our disposal - we are now spending £5,750,000 a year on the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization - all of it could be very usefully spent. It could not all be spent at once, because we should have to recruit scientists and obtain additional equipment, but I venture to say that within five years the additional annual expenditure of £5,750,000 would add hundreds of millions of pounds a year to our national income.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Thousands of homes are destroyed by salt damp.


Mr CASEY - I know that. 1 have placed a strict time limit on myself so as not to take up too much of the available time, and I shall have to pass over a number of matters that I should like to have discussed in other circumstances. However, I shall mention the mineral research activities of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. 1 suppose one of Australia's greatest opportunities lies in the development of its mineral resources. The organization assists in this development by evolving processes for treating minerals of which deposits have been found. It does a great deal of this work.

I should like also to touch briefly on research in institutions other than governmental institutions. I have said in this chamber many times that it is a very great disappointment to me that Australia's secondary industry is not more researchminded. Since I voiced that disappointment a week or so ago in very positive terms I have been almost deluged with correspondence from industrial enterprises trying to prove the contrary. With respect to those organizations, I must say that I am very largely of the same opinion as I was before. Admittedly, there is more industrial research work going on than 1 was previously aware of, but I think that generally it is still true to say that secondary industry in Australia is not nearly so research-minded as is secondary industry in the United States of America, Canada and Great Britain, and does not undertake research on anything like as large a scale.

There are two ways in which research can be undertaken, and in some instances is being undertaken, by secondary industry in Australia. One way is by the formation of research associations in which individual companies, or all the companies in one industry, band together to establish a research laboratory. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization cooperates in this work and gives all the help it can. A certain number of these research associations are in existence, but I think the number is pathetically small in terms of the size, importance and range of secondary industry in Australia. Another way in which research can be undertaken is by what is known as a sponsored project, which is initiated by an individual industrial enterprise taking a problem to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and asking it to find a solution. This help is given to the maximum extent permitted by the available scientific staff. The company concerned pays the whole cost or pays an agreed amount per annum to offset the cost of the work. There is one outstanding example of this kind of project. The Mount Lyell, Mount Morgan and Peko companies, which mine copper, have had the organization's Industrial Chemistry Division doing a great deal of work on the processing of the mineral ores mined by them. I am glad to say that the companies are paying the entire cost of the work, and I give them full credit for that, f hope and believe that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's work will give them eminently satisfactory results.

As I have said, I believe the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has a considerable volume of achievement to its credit, but there is a great deal still to be done, and I think no one is more conscious of this than I am. The organization has a keen, vigorous, experienced and enthusiastic staff, all of whom have the constant urge to see over the next hill. And there is always a next hill to see over in scientific research, particularly in Australia, where we have a great many unsolved problems. I do not wish it to be thought, from the tenor of my remarks, that there is no development of the organizations' work from year to year. That is not so. There is a constant but slow development of its work each year. But it has to consider very carefully all new proposals for research - and they reach it almost daily - to make sure that it can do the required job within the limits of its budget. As I have said, I believe that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is without doubt the greatest investment that Australia has made. Intelligently directed scientific research is the best investment that the government of any country can make. In the organization we have an institution of which we can be very proud.

It may seem to some people that I am complaining because the funds available to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization are limited to £5,750,000 in the current financial year. 1 am not really complaining, because I am very conscious, as 1 think all honorable members are, that in the present economic circumstances every government department and instrumentality must limit the expansion of its work. At least the vote for the organization has not been reduced, and it has been able to expand its activities a little each year. I make no complaint against the Treasury. I have arguments with it, of course, about whether this or that can be done and about the extent to which the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization can develop. That is inevitable, and I make no complaint about it. I would just say that most departments and instrumentalities spend their vote on their work each year and that is the end of it. I think the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is almost the only instrumentality that could be described as not wholly and solely a money-spending body, but an investment organization. It is the only government instrumentality that I know of from which one can with reasonable certainty expect, for the money put into it, a manifold return to the Australian community after a few years.

I would end by saying that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization is entirely engaged in civilian activities, lt does no defence work at all. It was at one time suggested that it should undertake defence work, but it does not do so now. lt is engaged in purely civilian activities which, as I have said, are aimed at enabling more Australians to earn a better living.







Suggest corrections