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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) . - I support the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers), who is leading for the Opposition in this debate, in his opposition to the bill. I have read carefully the roneoed cony of the secondreading speech delivered by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall). It consists of one foolscap page. I find nothing in the Minister's speech in support of the bill that would convince me that the bill ought to be passed. Indeed, the Minister gave no personal support to the bill, other than to say that Dr. R. Woolley had at one time made a request and a recommendation that the observatory be transferred to the control of the Australian National University.


Mr Fairhall - Did I not say, " I commend the bill to the House "?


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The Minister did finish his speech with the words. " I commend the bill to the House ", but that is all he said in support of it. He did not tell us why he commended the bill other than to say, I repeat, that Dr. Woolley had on this occasion - or on several occasions if one heeds the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) - recommended that this action be taken. I want to have a much more convincing reason given to me for altering a set-up that has worked admirably indeed for so many years before I am prepared to say " Yes " to a bill that is designed to change drastically - drastically. I repeat - the control of the principal observatory in Australia.

The honorable member for Canning was almost as vague in his support of the bill as the Minister was. What the honorable member said, in essence - and I quote his words to this extent - was, " I see nothing wrong with the bill ". In other words, he was saying, " I cannot see anything right with it but. because I cannot see anything wrong with it, I am prepared to support it ".


Mr Hamilton - You are psychic, are you?


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - That is what the honorable member said.


Mr Hamilton - I said that I saw nothing wrong with the proposal, and I stick by that.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Neither did the honorable gentleman see anything good in the proposal, or if he did he kept i« carefully to himself.


Mr Hamilton - I do see something good in it, and I finished my speech on that note.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - He did say, and this is rather important. I think, that from time to time - not once, but on several occasions - Dr. Woolley had requested that this be done. Presumably, the Government time and time again rejected the recommendation of Dr. Woolley. I should like to know what has happened to produce the changed view that has resulted in this bil) being presented to the Parliament.


Dr Evatt - Somebody wanted to be a professor, maybe.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Why is it that, if the Government had repeatedly rejected the recommendation of Dr Woolley previously-


Mr Fairhall - It did not reject it. lt just did not get round to finality.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I see. Now we discover that the Government did not reject the recommendation, but did not get round to finality.


Mr Fairhall - The matter was under constant consideration. Does not the honorable member agree that that is a very good thing?


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - So the matter was under constant consideration, and the Government was so much in doubt about the validity or desirability of implementing the recommendation that it has taken years and years to come finally to the conclusion that it should implement the recommendation. But the Minister for the interior has no: told us what was the issue that finally tipped the scale in favour of the recommendation. The Government has kept that carefully to itself. I should like to know what it was that made the Government dither so long - because we have it from the honorable member for Canning that the Government has been dithering on this for a long time, because he said that the request was made on a number of occasions.


Mr Hamilton - I did not say that al all.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Then what did the honorable member say?


Mr Hamilton - I said that the recommendation was made three, or four, or five years ago.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - All right, I accept that. Three, or four, or five years ago this recommendation was made, yet in 1953 the Government brought down a bill the purpose of which it now proposes to negate completely by the present measure. Yet, presumably, the recommendation of which this bill is the outcome was made before the 1953 legislation was presented to the Parliament for approval, and passed on the recommendation of the Government. What I want to know is what it was that tipped the scale in favour of the acceptance of a proposal that has been rejected for so long. What has happened? Now, it may be, as my esteemed leader has indicated, that this is the result of a plan by a lot of little men to make themselves appear big men - big frogs in a small pool instead of little frogs in a big pool.


Mr Hamilton - Whom did he mean?


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - Whom did he mean? We know that the council of the Australian National University is controlled virtually by five men - Professor Melville. Professor Bailey, Sir Roland Wilson, Dr. Coombs and Sir Alan Brown. It may be that the person in charge of the Mount Stromlo observatory would like to be known as a professor instead of just ordinary Mr. So-and-so, or Dr. So-and-so. I should like to make this point: If it is proper to place the Mount Stromlo observatory under the control of the Australian National University on the ground that it is carrying out certain research work, how could the Government resist a recommendation that may subsequently come from the head of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization that the body should be placed under the control of the university council?

I think that the Parliament ought to hesitate before it supports the passage of such rash bills as this without having received from the Minister in charge of the bil! any proper explanation in support of the desirability of the measure. I am sure thai the Minister for the Interior himself will agree that he does not regard the explanalion of this bill that he has given us abeing of the same high standard of the explanations of- measures that he usually gives to the House.


Mr Fairhall - I thought the need for the bill was so self-evident that it was not worth enlarging on.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - There h nothing in the Minister's speech that indicated such self-evidence.


Mr Fairhall - I thought that the desirability of the transfer was so self-evident that there did not appear to be any need to make a hard case in favour of it.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I shall read what the Minister said in his second-reading speech. He said -

It was recommended by the former Commonwealth Astronomer, Dr. Woolley, now Astronomer Royal, and the Board of Visitors to the observatory, that it was appropriate to transfer control of the observatory to the Australian National University for incorporation in the Research School of Physical Sciences. The Government has accepted that recommendation.

What I am interested in is why the Government has accepted the recommendation. The Minister has not given us the basis of the recommendation. Simply to come forward and say, " I recommend a certain proposal ", is clearly not sufficient to justify the acceptance of a measure by the House. For anything to be accepted by any organization with which I have been connected it was necessary for any one making a proposal to convince a majority of those in whose hands the decision lay thai acceptance of the proposal was desirable. We know that in Nazi Germany, Russia.

Spain and other countries under totalitarian governments all that is necessary to have a proposal implemented is for the dictator of the country to say that he recommends its implementation, whereupon the proposal is forthwith accepted. But, just in case the Government has overlooked the fact, 1 remind the Minister that Australia is still, thank goodness, a parliamentary democracy, in name at least, and that this House wants more than just a blank, bland recommendation by some person at the Commonwealth observatory before we accept a proposal of this sort put forward by the Government. We want to know the pros and cons of it. Why must this alteration take place?

The Minister goes on to say - not in support of the recommendation, but merely as a statement of fact - that the transfer will include the time service, but not the ionospheric prediction service, " which was established at the observatory only as a matter of convenience and is not intimately associated with observatory work ". We have here the fantastic proposal that a portion of the observatory work shall remain under the control of the Department of the Interior - for that is what the Minister said in his second-reading speech - and the remainder shall be under the control of the Australian National University. The Minister said further -

The bill authorizes the Minister for the Interior, on behalf of the Commonwealth, to provide, by way of grant to the university at a nominal rent a lease in perpetuity of such land and property as may be required for the purposes of the observatory and to transfer to the university, without charge, equipment or other property owned by the Commonwealth used or required for the purposes of the observatory.

In other words, it is perfectly clear that the purpose of the bill is to hand over to the Australian National University the complete control and ownership of, and responsibility for, the observatory, which at the moment reside in the Minister for the Interior. Can any one suggest that the present Minister, whatever might be said of his predecessor, has proved himself incapable of looking after the observatory? Can any one say that the people of Australia, who provide the money which buys the valuable equipment at the observatory, will get better service if that institution is controlled by the university instead of the Minister who, up to date, has shown a very refreshing superiority of capacity compared with that of his immediate predecessor? I say that the answer is in the negative.

What intrigues me is why the Government, which has resisted the proposal in the past, has, without any explanation, agreed to it only now, years after the original recommendations were made, although the matter has been under constant consideration, to use the Minister's own words. Also, why did the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton), after saying that he had in his possession the names of the eight important world observatories that were under government, not university, control, refuse point blank the invitation of the honorable member for Yarra (Mr. Cairns) to name them. He did tell us that one was Greenwich. If any one can name an observatory that is of greater world importance - unless it is one of the other seven that the honorable gentleman did not name - I would like to hear of it.


Mr Hamilton - I did not have the names with me.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The honor able member said, " I have before me the names of the observatories that are under government control, and those that are under university control ". He was able to supply the names of those under university control but, for some strange reason or other, the person who briefed him either failed to give him the names of the eight observatories or he himself studiously avoided making any mention of them.

I want the Minister to tell me who will pay the cost of any important new equipment that may be necessary to carry out the work of the Mount Stromlo observatory? Is it to come from university funds, or will the Parliament be called upon to provide the money? Obviously, it will be the Parliament. I would much rather that the present situation, about which there has been no complaint so far as I am aware, should continue until a more valid reason for its alteration is given.

Also, I am fearful of the effect of placing any organization under the control of the university, because finally it will be brought under the kind of influence which seems to have permeated the whole of the university's activities. Only a short time ago I read the remarks of Sir Howard

Florey on the influences, aimed at stifling the ordinary academic freedoms, that are at work at the Australian National University. Indeed, it is well known that that gentleman severed his connexions with the Australian National University as a consequence of these evil influences. He has clearly indicated this. I do not want to see the observatory, or the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which, if we agree to this proposal, ultimately will go the same way, placed under the control of the stodgy group of people who at present control the Australian National University.

The Minister has not convinced me that the bill ought to be supported. The honorable member for Canning has convinced me that it ought to be rejected. All that he could say was, " I see nothing wrong with the bill ". Unless I can see something right with the bill I am not prepared to support an alteration of the existing arrangement.







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