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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr DUTHIE (WILMOT, TASMANIA) - Who has been pressing for it?

Mr CAIRNS - Exactly who has been pressing for it? Obviously it is not Dr. Woolley, because he is now at the Royal Observatory, which, incidentally, is not at Greenwich. Dr. Woolley was well out of the picture when the Government suddenly decided to act on the recommendation he first made five or six years ago.

Another point upon which the Government's case has gone by default is that made by the Leader of the Opposition, who asked whether it was right to transfer trust funds to the Australian National University in this way. The Commonwealth Observatory Trust Fund has a history of its own. It was contributed to by people who were willing to support the development of an observatory in Australia at a time when little money was available from ordinary government sources for such a purpose. Has any mention been made of the people associated' with the building up of this trust fund? I have no idea who they are. If no mention of them has been made, I think it should have been. A third point raised by the Leader of the Opposition was that Mount Stromlo has been successful so far. lt has not been established that its future development is being inhibited or obstructed because it is not part of the Australian National University. It has not even been suggested. The Government has merely advanced a hypothetical case that if the observatory becomes part of the university its development will be facilitated. But no one has given us evidence that any one at Mount Stromlo or at the university considers that the development of the observatory is being inhibited because it is not now part of the university. No one has even suggested it. The failure of the Government to mention it, if that is the position, is another reason why its case has gone by default.

The final question that the Government has failed to answer adequately is: Is it wise in the circumstances to allow the Australian National University to become so costly as to arouse opposition? If equal efficiency could be achieved by dividing costs between two bodies that would be, as it always is, a diplomatic way of achieving a desirable result. The Government should seriously consider whether the development of the national university to incorporate activities in research, which appear to be carried on successfully in other places, is wise in view of the fact that this will increase the apparent cost of the university.

The national university, of course, is an institution which has a very short history. In many ways, it has justified its existence, but I think that it has not an unqualified record of success, lt seems to me that the feeling of a great many people in academic life is that the too rapid development of the national university by the acquisition of departments, as it were, simply for administrative reasons, is a thing which might well starve its development in other fields, particularly in the State universities. So. it seems to me that this bill involves a move of considerable importance, and one to which the Government should have given considerable thought. We have no evidence as to whether the Government gave it considerable thought. In the circumstances, I suggest it is reasonable to presume that the Government did not give much thought to this bill. For some special reason, in 1956, it has accepted the recommendation which Dr. Woolley and the Board of Visitors made a long time ago. Therefore, I think that the action of the Opposition in opposing this measure has been amply justified.

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