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Thursday, 10 March 1966


Mr BRIDGES-MAXWELL (Robertson) . - In speaking on this report of the Vernon Committee I should like initially to pay credit to and highly commend the Committee for the tremendous amount of work it has done in preparing this report. The report contains information that will be of great value to all sections of the Australian community for many years to come. It represents a compilation of statistics and facts which will be invaluable in determining a whole range of growth in this country. I do not intend to deal with the larger questions of economic growth and the economy in general, as these were covered by the Treasurer (Mr. McMahon) last night and by other speakers. I intend to speak about chapter 16 of the report, which deals with research. It is only a small chapter when compared with the others, but it is of tremendous importance as related to the development of this country. 1 believe that research and the development of new ideas, techniques and methods of production will have a tremendous effect on our future as a nation. I do not say that they are the complete answer. As my friend the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hallett) has said, we must take into account other matters such as the use of credit. If we want to compete as a trading nation, if we intend to develop this continent and populate it, and if we want to maintain our standards of living, to improve our national welfare and also to be able to defend ourselves as a nation, then in the long term the attainment of those objectives will depend upon our ability to innovate, to use our resources and to develop new techniques by research and the application of science.

In chapter 16 of the report the Committee analysed Australia's research effort and compared it with that of other countries. The Committee made various suggestions. For example, it suggested that our industrial research and development are weak. I would agree with that suggestion. I am on record as having said that in the past. I am very pleased that the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Holt), in his state of the nation address two days ago, said that the Government is considering methods of giving an incentive to industry to enlarge its research and development effort. Later in this speech I intend to deal in greater detail with that subject. The Committee also suggested that in terms of agricultural expenditure the extension of new ideas to farmers is weak. I am delighted that in the recent recess the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr. Adermann) announced to the Australian Agricultural Council that the Government intends to increase fourfold over the next few years grants by the Commonwealth in the extension field. This will have a great effect upon the extension adtivities of the various States, particularly as the States have given an undertaking that they will not lower their present allocations in this field.

The Vernon Committee suggested also that there needs to be an increase in the basic research that is done by our universities and it suggested the setting up of a national science foundation for this purpose. If we adopt the definition that the Committee gave in its report, last year the Government had already set up the Australian Research Grants Committee, otherwise known as the Robertson Committee, to do this very thing. So some of the steps suggested had already been taken. I do not say that the Vernon Committee was original in advancing these ideas. A lot of people in industry, the universities, the Academy of Science and elsewhere have been submitting to the Government suggestions on these lines. Nevertheless, the Committee has made a good analysis of the research effort in this country and has made some good suggestions. My criticism of this section of the report is that I do not think it goes deeply enough into the subject, particularly in the light of my thoughts about the importance of research to the future development of Australia. I regret that the tables used by the Committee are out of date and that statistics, particularly for Australia, were not available. Over the years several of us have referred to this as being a field in which we need greater information.

The comparisons made in table J 6.1 of the report have been given too much emphasis, particularly in subsequent paragraphs. The Committee realised the ineffectiveness of comparing research efforts in various countries as related to the gross national product. It pointed that out itself. Indeed, the Committee devoted a fair amount of space to this point. In this context I refer to the John Joseph Fisher Lecture in Commerce in 1962, delivered by Bruce Williams at the University of Adelaide. Mr. Williams said -

It is usually taken for granted that not keeping up with Britain and America is a sign of " backwardness ", and that backwardness is bad. If we have a low position in the research league surely we should do something to get to the top! When a problem is posed in competitive terms it is not surprising that Australians should react in this way. It is however a mistake to treat research as a competitive game. It is misleading to judge performance from our position in the " research league " unless we restrict our play to a league for small economies such as Sweden and Switzerland. Some

Australians, used to their highly satisfying role of David in the tennis league, may take unkindly to this suggestion, in which case I suggest that the league table approach should be dropped altogether. Research and tennis are different. The relation of research to growth is in fact a very complex one, particularly where, as in Australia, foreign companies dominate certain industries.

I should like to enlarge on this matter, because honorable members opposite have spent many hours denigrating the Government's research effort. Indeed, the honorable member for Yarra (Dr. J. F. Cairns), in an earlier debate, referred to this particular aspect of the Vernon Committee's report. 1 have dealt, on another occasion, with his transposition of the columns of table 16.1, and the errors that he made then. He said then, and he has continued to say, that the 0.6 per cent, that is referred to in the table in question is indicative of the low research effort in this country. I cannot agree with that statement, because I cannot accept this comparison of research and development expenditures as proportions of gross national product. I remind honorable members of what Mr. Williams said in his lecture - that we cannot compete on the basis of a research league. The United Kingdom and the United States of America have high industrial development. We, on the other hand, are a developing country. We are dependent basically upon agricultural products, we are opening up new areas, and we are developing new resources such as minerals.

As a percentage, the defence vote in the other countries is far larger than ours. If we remove from the figures that are shown in table 16.1 the defence research effort of the United States and the United Kingdom, we find that the United Kingdom, instead of expending 2.4 per cent, of its gross national product on research, is expending only 1.4 per cent. Similarly, the United States figure would come back to 1.3 per cent, and ours would come back to .45 per cent. That narrows the gap. We must also take into account the fact that our industries and our companies are smaller and are less able to afford laboratories. They must purchase their knowledge. I have agreed in the past with their doing this, but I do think the time is coming when we must try to alter this policy. If we added the sum of £50 million which Sir Frederick White has estimated as being spent on royalties - admittedly, the United States and the United

Kingdom pay a lot for royalties - an additional i per cent of our gross national product would have to be included. If we then added, because of the very real problems that we face in development, the cost of oil surveys, which are a form of research, the cost of mineral surveys and, the cost of land resources surveys, we would find that our research effort is comparable with that of many larger and better developed countries.

Similarly honorable members opposite delight in comparing our effort in the field of education with education in Turkey, Spain and Greece, but on checking the information on which they base their arguments you find that it is derived from figures in the Martin Committee's report which were prepared in 1959. Such comparisons pay no regard to the standard of living in those other countries or to the literacy of their populations. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) used 1959 figures when he referred to education at a meeting at Broadmeadows in Victoria a few weeks ago, if he was reported correctly. Let us see what has happened in Australia in education. I will cite some figures for the largest State. In 1959 New South Wales spent £57,609,000 on education. This year the New South Wales Government has budgeted to spend £130 million on education - more than twice as much as it spent in 1959. But in the period since 1959 our gross national product has risen by only 50 per cent. To compare our effort., in education in this way with those of some other countries is, 1 submit, invalid, and, if I may say so, dishonest.

These matters raise the question of what is happening in science and research in Australia. Of course, agriculture is the field in which the greatest effort has been made. I am grateful to the honorable member for Canning for quoting that section of the Vernon Committee's report in which the Committee says that insofar as comparisons are valid, our effort in primary industry as it relates to the national economy compares favourably with that of the United States. The Commonwealth has a proud record in the fields of research and science. I do not need to speak about the work of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation; it is well known. The Department of Supply has working for it a large body of eminent scientists who ere doing first class work. To be aware of &e qualify of their work one has to think only of the two new weapons systems developed by Australian scientists and accepted by the other western countries. The large and effective contributions to science of the Department of Health are well known. Great work is being done by the Department of National Development through the Bureau of Mineral Resources, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, the Joint Coal Board, the Fuel Branch, the Forestry and Timber Bureau, the National Materials Handling Bureau and the Australian Water Resources Council. All of these bodies use funds for the development of new ideas and techniques. Within the Department of Primary Industry the application of funds to research is playing an important part in the development of the wool, wheat, tobacco, dairying, meat and barley industries. Finance for research into these industries comes not only from government sources but also from the industries themselves. The PostmasterGeneral's Department also is involved in research work and the development of new communications systems. The State Governments are very active in the field of applied research, particularly in agriculture. I do not intend to deal in great detail with the work of universities, but with the great growth of universities in recent years there has been a growth in basic research work carried out in this country. The weak link in research, so far as industries are concerned, is the fact that only the large industries can afford research laboratories. However, in recent years Foundations have been developed which, together with private endowments, have enabled work to be done not only in the field of medical research but also for teaching and cultural purposes. As this work proceeds it will play a more important part in the cultural and scientific development of the community. Our record is one of which we as a country may be proud. It is not honest for honorable members opposite to say, as they have on many occasions, that the Government has no science policy and that we are lagging behind in our effort compared with other countries. We have some eminent scientists in this country. Valuable work is being done here. We number two or three Nobel Prize winners among our scientists. Unique work is going on. I have in mind the work on the heliograph and the interferometer at Narrabri. This is novel work unique not only in this country but in the world. These projects are being developed by Australian research workers and are being financed by Australian and overseas interests. The development by the C.S.I.R.O. Division of Plant Industry, and by universities, of new grasses and clovers for tropical areas will have a tremendous effect on development in those areas. The honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate) tells me that the introduction of these new grasses may result in a fivefold increase in beef production in northern Queensland. I know from first hand knowledge that the technique of controlling the breeding cycle of sheep, which was developed by the Department of Animal Husbandry at Sydney University, will have a profound effect on the wool industry. AH of these developments have taken place in Australia and we may be proud of them.

As for the future, I believe that the continued growth of our universities will ensure that sufficient scientists, technicians and technologists come forward to service industry. We must take the long view and budget for research. We must see that organisations dependent on outside finance for their research programmes are not forced to curtail their activities but are able to continue them without interruption. I believe that even though the question of superannuation is receiving attention by the Government now, we must do something about developing a scheme so that no impediment is placed in the way of scientists who may wish to transfer from; say, the C.S.I.R.O. to a university or to industry. We must enable them to make these moves with ease and without losing any superannuation benefits. The present situation is having a deleterious effect not only on the universities but on other research organisations as well.

There is a great need to look at research in the minor industries, which are being neglected to a great extent in favour of the more wealthy and large industries. I have in mind industries such as the oyster industry, the citrus growing industry, the vegetable growing industry and the poultry industry. These industries are not able to raise large sums of money needed for research. They should be given support without having to form an industry scheme.

I am pleased that the Government is considering schemes to increase the research effort of our secondary industries. This should lead to lower costs because of reduced royalty payments and, as a consequence, place us in a stronger exporting position and strengthen our overall economic situation.

I believe that research is one of the key factors in our development. The Government has a record of which we all may be proud. Australia has been well served by the support which this Government has given to research and to science. We have been well served by our scientists.


Mr Peters - What did the Vernon Committee say about those things?


Mr BRIDGES-MAXWELL - If the honorable member for Scullin had been in the chamber earlier he would have heard me deal with suggestions by the Vernon Committee that have already been dealt with by the Government. If the honorable member reads chapter 16 of the report he will see that this matter has been dealt with. It is not honest for honorable members opposite to denigrate our scientists and our science effort.







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