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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr FAIRHALL (Paterson) (Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works) . - in reply - I am afraid that members of the Opposition this afternoon have been faced with the task of making bricks without straw. If I have denied them straw by not putting too much substance into my second-reading speech, perhaps I owe the House and the Opposition an apology. On future occasions I will give them a little more room to manoeuvre. But the reason why the second-reading speech was a little short was that the advantages of the transfer of Mount Stromlo observatory to the control of the Australian National University seemed to be so self-evident that the proposal did not require a lot of thought and study. Certainly, judging by the speeches that we have heard from at least two Opposition members this afternoon, not very much thought has been given to or not much study has been made of the matter by the Opposition at all. So those gentlemen were not in a position to convince themselves that this was a right and proper thing.

We have to consider the functions of the observatory. Its functions, surely, are to make observations, to go into astro-physical studies and so on, but surely not to make those studies merely for the sake of preparing records. The records must be integrated with that particular programme of research if they are to be of real value. There is no doubt that the research functions of the observatory cannot be taken beyond a reasonable limit, and where we have a parallel research organization, perhaps even better fitted than the observatory can ever be, to handle particular functions in research, then it seems to me to be a very good thing that the work of the observatory should be integrated with, and put under the same control as, the research functions of the Australian National University. The fact is that the observatory cannot operate in a vacuum.

The Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) directed attention to some addiction, some emotional attachment, to Mount Stromlo. But I remind the right honorable gentleman that the Mount Stromlo observatory will be no less the Mount Stromlo observatory when it is under the control of the Australian National University than it was before. The fact is that one of the substantial reasons put forward for the transfer, one which I certainly thought would have been self-evident, is that the observatory's work has moved progressively away from routine and service tasks to more fundamental research. For that reason it is desirable that this work should be done by the Australian National University. It has already been made clear to all concerned, I think, that certain disabilities occurred in the observatory in relation to the selection of staff. There is a very great difference between recruiting suitable staff for this sort of research, under public service conditions, and recruiting the same sort of personnel under conditions applying in a university, because in a university there is greater freedom for detailed study. There are all sorts of advantages available to the Australian National University in respect of staff replacements, and the exchange of staff with universities overseas. In all these respects the work of the Mount Stromlo observatory will be greatly benefited, as will the research work of the university, by this transfer.

It has been asked whether the observatory should, or should not, remain under government, as against university, control, and there has been a good deal of discussion about the number of universities that have control of observatories in other countries. The fact remains that out of a list of 38 or 39 prominent observatories throughout the world, no fewer than 30 are under university control. It does not matter whether the universities in those cases established and developed the observatories, or whether the control of the observatories was transferred to them. The fact is that those observatories are now incorporated under university control. So the transfer of the research work of observatories to the control of universities is a well-established trend throughout the world, and I hope it will not be suggested in this House that we in Australia should be the last to follow this trend.

Some questions have been raised about the availability of trust funds, and the entitlement of the Government to transfer these trust funds to the Australian National University. My colleague, the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske), has dealt very thoroughly with that point, and it will be observed, I think, by the Opposition if it cares to read clause 5 of the bill, that adequate protection is given in respect of trust funds. In other words, the trust is being preserved, because the funds that were contributed for the purposes of the observatory are now to come under guarantee arrangements made with the university and the trustees, and will be used for the purposes of the observatory as though the observatory had continued to operate as one section of a government department.

The honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) took us to task because we are not transferring the functions of the ionospheric prediction service, and suggested that this would produce a situation in which the Australian National University would control some aspects of the service whilst the Department of the Interior would control others. This comes oddly from an honorable gentleman who complains that my second-reading speech which, obviously, he has not read, did not contain enough detail, because in that speech I went to some pains to point out that the ionospheric prediction service had been established at the observatory for the sake of convenience, and was not intimately associated with the basic work of the observatory. The real functions that will benefit by integration with the Australian National University's research programme are being transferred.

Question put -

That the bill be now read a second time.

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