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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Dr EVATT - Government supporters do not believe in change for the sake of change; that would be completely unscientific. The honorable member for Wimmera referred to what might be called the pseudo science of astrology. In fact, there is a danger of accepting change for the sake of change in a matter of this sort. Why will the position be any better? What evidence is there that the Research School of Physical Sciences at the Australian National University will inculcate some new spirit in the Mount Stromlo observatory? There is no such evidence, and no such suggestion has been advanced. Professor Woolley may very well have thought that the status of the Commonwealth Astronomer should be recognized by the university. That is why I should have liked to know the grounds of his recommendation. Why was the change recommended? The need could not have been very urgent. The recommendation was made some years ago and was not accepted. Worse, or more significant than that, is the fact that a few years ago the former Minister for the Interior, on behalf of the Government, in troduced a bill to consolidate the position in connexion with contributions that have been made by the public to promote the work of the Mount Stromlo observatory. The bill we are now considering simply proposes the taking over of the trust fund into which those moneys were paid. I do not know what power the Commonwealth has to say, " Here is a trust for Mount Stromlo observatory, which is under the control of the Crown. We shall merely transfer this money to another institution ". 1 should think that would be a breach of trust, and I do not think the fact that it is accomplished by means of an act of Parliament makes it any less a breach of trust. If persons gave donations, not very large, to Mount Stromlo observatory, I do not think that it is within the province of the Government to take this course. I doubt whether it is even within the legal power of the Government, but I shall let that aspect pass.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - The South Australian Government did that with the Coorong project in South Australia.


Dr EVATT - This Parliament is different from a State parliament. The Commonwealth has only limited powers in these matters, but that is a minor point. I ask the Minister quite frankly to reconsider the matter, examine the persons who are interested in it, and ascertain why, in what respects, and how, an improvement would be effected. Would it mean an increase in the salaries of officers? It is suggested that that may be so, but that is not an adequate ground. If it is the ground, of course, the position may be met by increasing the salaries. If it were thought necessary that the status of the officer-in-charge, the Commonwealth Astronomer, should be raised and that it would be of some assistance to give him the status of professor, that could be done, but surely in itself that is not a valid reason for the change. In any event, such a proposal has not even been put forward.


Mr CLYDE CAMERON (HINDMARSH, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) - I am surprised that members of the Government were not consulted about this at all.


Dr EVATT - Quite frankly, I think that legislation of this kind is treated as being of secondary importance. It rather suggests that the authorities of the Australian National University are trying to add something to their jurisdiction by bringing Mount Stromlo observatory under their control. so that if anybody then went to the university and asked what was being done in physics - I am not now speaking of nuclear physics, which is a big and vital activity of the university - the reply would be, "Mount Stromlo observatory is under our control ". It is an extraordinary proposal. Would the observatory be under any better control? I do not think that there is the slightest evidence in favour of the change. If there is evidence that the control would be more satisfactory, the Minister will have to produce that evidence in order to persuade us to that way of thinking. All that he said in his speech was that the incorporation of the observatory in the Research School of Physical Sciences was recommended. An observatory is more than a school of physical science. Its work, too, involves more than physical science. Work in the observatory requires great discipline and patience. A friend of mine at Mount Stromlo is allotted the task of making, on perhaps 300 days of the year, observations in conjunction with other observatories throughout the world. He is not engaged, in any strict sense, in research in physical science; he is engaged on special research in astronomy, in connexion with which patient observations of that kind must be made. The discipline that is needed is the discipline of those engaged in a common effort; not the effort of a university as a whole, or even of one of its great departments. This proposal includes the time service, but not the ionospheric prediction service which has been established at the observatory only as a matter of convenience, according to the Government. It is proposed that that shall remain with the Department of the Interior.

The Minister stated, in his secondreading speech, that, because of the 1953 act, legislation was needed to effect the transfer. The Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund was established in 1953 in respect of contributions made to the Mount Stromlo observatory. The act requires that moneys in the fund shall be used for the purposes of the observatory. That legislation, which was put forward as important legislation by the Minister's predecessor, is simply to be repealed. Surely, there should be amending legislation before the Government is committed to such a change, and there should be an opportunity for the Parliament to consider it from a completely non-partisan point of view. This is, surely, a case for consideration of that kind, but no such opportunity has been given. 1 suppose that that really has not been considered, but I do suggest that these are circumstances in which it -should be done. The bill provides for the repeal of the 1953 act, and the transfer of the moneys which stand to the credit of the Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund to the Australian National University. Where does the Minister derive power to do that? What power has he? The fund is not the property of the Government. The Government is simply the trustee. Yet, the trustee proposes to break its trust and hand over the property to another body. What power has the Commonwealth Parliament to do that? It is very doubtful whether it has such power, but, again, I do not wish to base an argument upon a broad technicality of that kind. As I have said, I think that these matters should be looked at far more carefully.

This is a great and famous observatory. To go there and to see the work that is being done is an education in itself. The body of the first astronomer of the Commonwealth lies buried in the grounds of Mount Stromlo, and his tombstone bears a most moving and significant inscription. I think that it is wrong to make a change which is not called for. I should like to have seen a committee appointed to consider the proposal. Had that been done, some other suggestion might have been made. This holus-bolus, all-out transfer seems to me to be unwarranted. The Minister now proposes a perpetual lease of the land, without any charge, and so on. I, again, say that, instead of this being simply an administrative change, it is something more important, and, for that reason. I think it should not be done. I therefore ask the Minister to have a further look at the matter. After all, he cannot claim to have specialized in this field, although we know, as a previous speaker from this side of the House has stated, he is interested in these matters. But what is the case for the change? In matters of this kind it is necessary to prove your case. I feel thatthere is a lot of sentiment attached to the Mount Stromlo observatory and the manner in which it has been run. All the Australian observatories are run, broadly, on the same lines. They are observatories under the control of the Crown.

With regard to the list of observatories which the Minister has been good enough to hand to me, 1 suggest that no inference can be drawn from the methods of management of other institutions in various parts of the world. The chief observatory in Great Britain is the Royal Observatory, which was at Greenwich, but which had to be transferred out of the city because of the need for better observations, and the like. The observatory at Edinburgh is partly under the control of the British Government. Looking down the list, there are undoubtedly a number of observatories under university control, but universities are often endowed with gifts for that specific purpose. Apparently in France, although the various observatories mostly are connected with universities, their activities are co-ordinated through the National Centre for Scientific Research which, I presume, is a governmental body. When we come to the position in South Africa, to which the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence) referred, we find that both the Union Observatory at Johannesburg and the Royal Observatory at Capetown are government observatories. They take a very prominent part, in co-operation with the observatory at Mount Stromlo and the other Australian observatories, in mapping and observing those stars and planets which are more easily observed from the Southern Hemisphere.

In Canada, there is the Dominion observatory at Victoria. British Columbia, and the observatory at Ottawa. They are the two main ones, apparently. There is also an observatory in connexion with the Toronto University. In the United States of America, there are quite a few connected with universities, but there are others as well. 1 do not suggest for a moment that association with a university is, in itself, anything but a help to an observatory, but of course much depends on the circumstances. If an institution has been working successfully, as has the Mount Stromlo observatory, and performing a useful task for the Government, then I suggest that the Government should show cause for a chance in administration. That is the attitude of the Opposition in relation to the matter.

We on this side of the chamber do not think that any real case has been made out in favour of the proposed change, and, as I say, I am of the opinion that the matter should be reconsidered. On the facts before us, and as we have considered them as a party, our view is that the change should not be accepted and that the bill should be either postponed or rejected.







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