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Wednesday, 17 October 1956


Mr HOWSON (Fawkner) .- 1 am al a loss to understand the arguments that have been put forward by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in connexion with this bill. 1 cannot see that anything but good will come of the transfer of the Mount Stromlo observatory from the administration of the Department of the Interior to that of the Australian National University. The Leader of the Opposition suggested that some honorable members on this side of the chamber had questioned the efficiency of the observatory. Nothing derogatory, however, has been said by any honorable member on this side about the work of the observatory in the past and the efficient operation of the tasks allotted to it. The point that has been missed by every member of the Opposition who has spoken so far is that the changing requirements and responsibilities of the observatory necessitate the transfer. If they have not noted that changes are taking place in the world, and that new responsibilities are being undertaken, I presume that they cannot see any further than the arguments that they have put forward. The Mount Stromlo observatory is being required more and more to undertake research work. It was established originally in order to provide time services for the Commonwealth, and it has always carried out that duty efficiently. But during the last few years it has been requested to undertake more and more research.

Before going into the details of the work that the observatory has been called upon to do, let me refer to the list of leading observatories of the world that are now under the administration of universities, to which reference already has been made by both the Leader of the Opposition and the honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence). The point is that, of the 39 observatories listed, only eight do not come under university administration, and only two of those carry out research work. In the past, research work was not carried on at Mount Stromlo; to-day it is. When an observatory begins to do research work, it needs to be tied to another research organization. In the world to-day, there are only two observatories carrying on research work which are not so tied. One is at Capetown and the other is in British Columbia. Every other observatory which is carrying out research work is tied in with a university. Mount Stromlo is required to carry out research work to a greater and greater degree.

In answer to the arguments of the Opposition, I mention the change that has taken place since 1953. The work of the university has developed to such a tremendous extent that already it finds the need in its Department of Astrophysics to cooperate with an observatory. The situation in 1956 is such that the university needs to co-operate with Mount Stromlo and Mount Stromlo needs to co-operate with the university. Surely every member of this House who has had university experience knows that to-day research work cannot be confined to small compartments. A team is necessary. People from the various faculties and disciplines of the university work together and meet together on a number of projects. We have examples of that at Mount Stromlo. Research fellows from the university at Canberra have been working at Mount Stromlo, and in the very near future the university will probably appoint a very distinguished stellar spectroscopist as a reader in the science. His work will be very intimately connected with any work done at Mount Stromlo. The university has also appointed toolmakers to assist in the work at the. observatory. It is making arrangements for overseas research workers to come here and to carry out work both at the university and at Mount Stromlo. So we can see how, as each month goes by, the work of Mount Stromlo and of the university is becoming more and more intertwined.

It is not possible to say where fundamental research will lead. The honorable member for Wimmera (Mr. Lawrence), in his speech, showed the importance of astronomy in the science of mechanics and its development. We know of the fundamental work done by astronomers in the discovery and study of cosmic rays. The study of astronomy can even help in dealing with small units such as the atom. One can never tell at any stage where fundamental research will lead. More and more one must have the co-operation of and be able to work with other scientists in the research that is being done at an observatory. The environment of a university is conducive to research work.

The recruiting of officers and staff for both the university and the observatory presents many similar problems, lt would be much easier to recruit people from overseas to do special research work if they could be tied in with an organization of the sort visualized in this measure. If the university is responsible for the administration of Mount Stromlo, it can encourage new ventures, new exploration into certain parts of outer space and new research projects. It could work with the Department of Astrophysics of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization and take part in the work that will be done by the new radio telescope which will be erected by that department in the near future.

To-day, research work cannot be confined to small compartments. It has to be allied with something bigger if the work is to go ahead in as wide and as useful a way as possible. Donations of equipment and money and the encouragement of external bodies can be channelled through a wide organization much better than through a narrow one. The Leader of the Opposition referred to trust funds. Already, section 5 of the act gives specific powers to the Minister to make quite certain that those funds, moneys and investments are safely guarded and that they are used for the purpose for which they were originally given.

This bill provides another example of the way in which the research activities of the university are expanding in the interests of the nation. Research programmes are expanding. Overseas students are being encouraged to come to Canberra. Scientists and other experts are more frequently meeting here to pool their knowledge. In fact, I should say that. Canberra is becoming the ideal place for a university and for a research centre. The transfer of Mount Stromlo to the administration of the university is another way in which all the research work done in this centre can be coordinated so that each of the individual parts will benefit from contact with the others. It demonstrates again the way in which more scientists and technicians can be trained in all forms of scientific exploration. As I have stated so many times in the past, one of our greatest needs to-day is the need for trained scientists. If scientists are to be trained to be leaders in their fields, a strong and fundamental research team is necessary. That research team must be co-ordinated with all aspects of scientific activity. This bill provides for that co-ordination. lt has already been stated in this debate - and 1 think it should be repeated - that the transfer of the observatory to the university will be of great benefit to both institutions. It will enhance the international standing of what may well become the foremost centre in the southern hemisphere for astronomical observation and research. On all those counts, this bill has much in its favour, and I commend it to the House.







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