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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr CHAMBERS (Adelaide) .- This is a bill to provide for the transfer of the administration of Mount Stromlo observatory, in the Australian Capital Territory, to the Australian National University, and for other purposes. The Opposition does not support the measure. We believe that the Minister has not given sufficient reason for the transfer of the control of this Commonwealth instrumentality, which is of great value to the nation. I think that if we examine the position of the great observatories of the world we shall discover that almost all of them are under government control.I think it is essential that they should be. The Government controls the collecting of weather information and other material for the information of those who travel by aircraft and by ship, and the national observatory, which is one of the main sources of such information, also should be controlled by the Government. The Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund Act 1953 authorized the establishment of a trust fund for the purposes of the Commonwealth observatory in the Australian Capital Territory. Clause 5 reads - (1.) For the purposes of this Act, there shall be established a Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund, which shall be a Trust Account within the meaning of section sixty-two A of the Audit Act 1901-1953. (2.) There shall be paid into the Fund -

(a)   donations for the purposes of the Observatory received by or on behalf of the Commonwealth: and

(b)   moneys appropriated by the Parliament for the purposes of the Fund or payable to the Fund under any other law. (3.) Moneys standing to the credit of the Fund may be applied, in a manner approved by the Minister, for the purposes of the Observatory. (4.) Interest received from the investment of moneys standing to the credit of the Fund forms part of the Fund.

Section 6 provides - (1.) So much of the moneys that, at the commencement of this Act, are standing to the credit of The Commonwealth Observatory Foundation and Endowment Fund or the Commonwealth Astronomer's Account established under the Commonwealth Observatory Fund Act 1930-1944 as are on deposit in a bank shall be paid into the Fund. (2.) All securities that, at the commencement of this Act, represent moneys standing to the credit of The Commonwealth Observatory Foundation and Endowment Fund or the Commonwealth Astronomer's Account established under the Com monwealt h Observatory Fund Act 1930-1944 shall be transferred to the Commonwealth and thereupon -

(a)   the value of those securities shall be credited to the Fund; and

(b)   those securities shall be deemed to be investments of moneys standing to the credit of the Fund.

The trust fund was approved by the Parliament in 1953. The conditions attaching to the fund laid down that the Government would pay £1 for £1 with subscribers. Under this measure, the moneys in the trust fund will be transferred to the Australian National University along with the instruments, equipment, and staff at the Mount Stromlo observatory. We believe that is wrong, and we cannot see any valid reason for the transfer of the whole of the activities of this very fine organization to the university along with the moneys standing to the credit of the trust fund, which was contributed to, £1 for £1, by the Treasury.

As I said earlier, the Opposition believes that the Commonwealth should continue directly to control the activities of the observatory. 1 understand that under this bill the university will take over almost the whole of the staff at present employed at the observatory by the Commonwealth. I think only two of the 33 employees will not be taken over. I am at a loss to understand why those two, who, I understand, are an attendant and a clerk, are not to be transferred to the university. The bill provides for the payment of certain salary increments to the staff to be transferred from the observatory to the university.I think that is a dangerous procedure. We have recently seen the danger that arose when some men were transferred from the PostmasterGeneral's Department to another organization. A great deal of dissatisfaction was caused. The employees in that department claimed salary increases, and it could be claimed that the men transferred should receive similar increases.I repeat that this seems a very dangerous procedure.

For the reasons that I have enumerated the Opposition considers that the House has been given no clear indication why the very fine organization of the Commonwealth observatory should be transferred to the Australian National University. It see no reason why a trust fund which was provided for by a measure enacted in 1953, and into which amounts received from subscribers, and £l-for-£l payments by the Commonwealth, are paid for the maintenance and development of the observatory, should now be transferred to the university. I think there are very good reasons why the Commonwealth should retain direct management and control of the observatory. This is a national observatory, and I consider that the National Government is better able than the university to exchange information and ideas with the world's great observatories, and is better able to exercise control and administer the observatory for the benefit of the Australian people. The observatory really has no association with the work of the university. Both organizations are separate and complete entities. That being so, the Opposition considers that the Commonwealth should continue its direct control of the observatory and, in particular, that the existing trust fund should not be transferred to the university. For those reasons the Opposition does not support the bill.







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