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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr LAWRENCE (Wimmera) .- I am pleased that honorable members have not approached this debate with any undue heat. The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), who has just spoken, has asked for valid reasons why the bill should be supported by the Government parties, and why it should be passed. If the Government has a good case, it is right that that case should be put, and I hope that before I have completed my remarks, I shall have proved to honorable members that the bill should, indeed, be supported.

I do not think that during the lime I have been a member of this House - nearly seven years now - I have heard such a poor Opposition case as has been presented by the two honorable members who have just spoken. I propose, during the course of my speech, to give the honorable member for Hindmarsh the valid reasons that he seeks. I am very surprised that the honorable member for Adelaide (Mr. Chambers) should be the one to speak, first, against this bill, and should say that he sees no value in transferring the control of the observatory to the Australian National University. He said that very few observatories were under government control.


Mr Chambers - I did not say that. I said that the world's leading observatories were under government control, but that many were under university control.


Mr LAWRENCE - I thank the honorable member for that information. I shall prove to him that the leading observatories of the world are under university control. I am surprised that he should see no value in this proposal, because both he and I belonged to the same profession before we entered this Parliament, and have both had a scientific training. We, more than other people, should appreciate the need for the correlation of the various sciences. 1 should like to make some observations on astronomy in general, and then deal with the proposal to transfer the Mount Stromlo observatory to the Australian National University in particular. I support this bill wholeheartedly. From the earliest times, man has been interested in the stars, and has believed that they very largely controlled his destiny. Many people still believe that their day-to-day activities are controlled by the stars. Almost every newspaper that one picks up contains an article on the stars and what they mean in the day-to-day life of the reader. For curiosity, I looked to see what the stars held for me to-day. The " Sydney Sun " says -

Don't spend more than you have planned, or can afford, on Wednesday or Thursday, and don't lend.

The " Daily Mirror ", on the other hand, has this to say -

To-day may bring a lift of an unusual and encouraging nature, but, anyhow, don't force anything until after October 20th.

If the Opposition calls for a division on the bill, I shall be prepared to try to force the acceptance of my opinion by voting for it. I believe that human curiosity is woven into the fabric of human life. The search for knowledge has led man upwards and ever upwards from the cave. Astronomy can make great contributions to many fields of human activity. Its significance should not be measured only by the role that it plays in finding a solution of existing problems. Much more important is the fact that it poses new problems. The work of early astronomers such as Kepler, Galileo and Newton on the laws of planetary motion led to the foundation of the science of mechanics. The knowledge of mechanics was basic to the industrial development which ushered in the machine age, which, in turn, is leading to automation.

It would be a costly error to limit our scientific studies to those problems which have a foreseeable application to everyday life. I believe that the fundamental discoveries of the past arose from unbridled and unchannelled curiosity, and that it is only from such curiosity that the fundamental discoveries of the future will arise. I believe also that the investigations of the new problems of the heavens that are being made all over the world, and the investigations that will be made from the Mount Stromlo observatory when the new equipment has been installed there, will enable us to extend even- further our knowledge of nature. In that sense, a very real meaning can be given to the old idea that the stars are involved in human destiny.

The honorable member for Adelaide and the honorable member for Hindmarsh wanted to know which of the leading observatories cif the world are connected with universities. Of the 39 leading observatories, 30 are under universities, one is partly under a university, and eight are not under universities. Some very famous observatories are under the control of universities. Tn the United Kingdom, the great exception is the observatory at Greenwich. That has not been placed under the control of a university, because it is believed that it should continue in its historic role. Other observatories in the United Kingdom are the Oxford University observatory, the Cambridge University observatories and the Edinburgh observatory. The observatory at Edinburgh is partly under the Royal Greenwich Observatory and partly under Edinburgh University. In Sweden, there are the Lund University observatory, the Stockholm University observatory and the Uppsala University observatory. In Denmark


Mr Chambers - Tell us the names of the eight leading observatories that are not under the control of universities.


Mr LAWRENCE - In the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Argentine, Canada, and the United States of America there are observatories under the control of universities.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - What about the eight leading observatories that are not under universities? Give us the names of those.


Mr LAWRENCE - The first one that meets my eye in the list that 1 have is the Royal Observatory of Belgium. That is not under a university. I have a complete list of the leading observatories, lt shows the status of each of them. If the honorable member for Hindmarsh is interested, I shall be pleased to give him the list later. Of the sixteen observatories that lead in research, fourteen are under universities and two are not.

Several reasons have been advanced why the Mount Stromlo observatory should be under the control of a university. I agree with the contention that the greater part of the work of an observatory to-day is research work, which can be done better in a university than in a government department. University procedures in relation to appointments and conditions of service, including the grant of study leave, are more appropriate to scientific workers than are public service conditions. In addition, a university is likely to attract better scientific workers than a government department. Scientists know that they will be able to do much better work in a university, with the equipment and library facilities available there, than in a government department. When a successor to Dr. Woolley was being sought, it was found that the people who applied for appointment preferred to be associated with a university rather than a government department.

Another reason advanced for this transfer is that the recognition of the observatory as a laboratory of the Research School of Physical Sciences of the Australian National University has led to anomalies, in that some of the staff of the observatory and all of the students are attached to the university, whereas other members of the staff are in the Public Service, although some of them have academic status in the university and supervise the work of students. I believe that scientific research is much more appropriate to a university than to a government department. I have already explained that of the sixteen observatories that lead in research, fourteen are associated with universities. Those figures show that other countries agree with our view. For research work, the atmosphere of a university is far better than that of a government department. We all know that if a man works in a congenial atmosphere, the results of his labours are likely to be of greater val u. than if the atmosphere were uncongenial. My friend the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) has said that this transfer has been recommended by the Board of Visitors of the observatory. Th::! independent body has pressed continuously for the observatory to be transferred to the university, because it realizes that the transfer would lead to much better work being done.

Astronomy and the applied science of astrophysics are closely related to the work of the Research School of Physical Sciences. 1 believe that when this bill has been passed and the observatory is under the control of the university, we shall find that the work of all of those correlated bodies will be much improved. There is another consideration that is important. It is believed that if the observatory were a part of the university, it would attract substantial grants of money and equipment from outside sources. If the present position were continued, people would treat the observatory as a government department and would take the view that the Government should bear the cost of it. but if it were a part of a university, with undergraduates studying there, many people would wish to contribute to the cost of such a branch of university training. An important feature of university status is that members of the staff would be entitled to study leave, which would noi be permissible in a government department. All research students of universities are granted study leave, during which they are free to go about their work in the way that they think best. Very good results have been derived from it. 1 conclude by repeating that I support this bill wholeheartedly. I agree with the opinion of the Australian National University that the transfer of control of the observatory to the university would be of benefit to both institutions and would enhance the international standard of what could become the foremost centre for astronomical observation and research in the southern hemisphere.

Or. EVATT (Barton - Leader of the Opposition) [4.45]. - The Opposition considered this matter completely independently from this point of view: What case was there in favour of changing the administration of a very famous observatory? It is the Commonwealth observatory at Mount Stromlo, and no one has said that it has not been efficiently run under its present management. It is, of course, under government control. 1 think it is true of all the observatories of Australia, certainly of the Sydney observatory, that, following the pattern of the Royal Observatory in the United Kingdom, they are under the control, in short, of the Crown. I hope that any honorable member who knows of an exception will say so. For this reason, Professor Woolley, who was formerly in charge at Mount Stromlo, is, in England, called the Astronomer Royal. Such an appointment is an appointment of the Crown. Through history the science of astronomy has always been associated with the Crown. Therefore, we can take it, under conditions in this part of the world at any rate, that the observatories have been run by or on behalf of the Crown, for which we can substitute " government " if we like. Not a sin -le suggestion has been made that the Commonwealth observatory has not been run efficiently. In fact, it is an institution of world fame. In connexion solely with the work of the Commonwealth observatory, the fame of Mount Stromlo is known to astronomers all over the world. It is known as the Mount Stromlo observatory. After a fair examination of the facts stated by the Minister for the Interior (Mr. Fairhall), we see no evidence in support of a transfer of administration to the Australian National University. In fact, it is an odd sort of proposal. It was never suggested, for instance, when the Australian National University was established under the government of Mr. Chifley, that this important institution could or should be brought under the control of the national university, any more that it was suggested that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, which is one of the most famous research institutions of its kind in the world and is of enormous value to Australia, should also be absorbed. The process of absorption of successful institutions of a scientific character is contrary to the whole conception of a new university trying to establish itself as an institution which can do positive and important work. That is a point which has been completely overlooked.

From beginning to end of the Minister's speech, in effect, all that is said is that this course was recommended by Dr. Woolley, the former Commonwealth Astronomer. This proposal recalls what happened at one time at the University of Sydney, as the honorable member for New England (Mr. Drummond) will remember, when for some time the New South Wales Government Astronomer became also Professor of Astronomy at the Sydney University. That experiment continued for some time and it was then abandoned. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence), who made an interesting speech, referred to government departments. The observatory is not a government department in the sense that it can be compared with a normal administrative department. The staff is small, the work is done, and the research is planned. But this research is done not alone but in co-operation with the other great observatories of the world. What evidence is there in favour of the change? The Government proposes to put the observatory under the control of a different body. Will the position be better?


Mr Lawrence - We believe that is in the interests of progress.







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