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Thursday, 29 March 1979
Page: 0

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The language used by the Leader of the Opposition, whilst not unparliamentary, is without any charm.

Mr HAYDEN -Oh come on, he hardly ever stays here and you let him -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Leader of the Opposition will not speak while I am speaking. I cannot ask him to withdraw but I ask him to observe the standards of the House.

Mr HAYDEN -Mr Speaker,with respect, I moved a censure motion against the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) this morning and he walked out of the House. It is par for the course but it is not worth while delaying the proceedings of the House.

Mr SPEAKER -The Prime Minister made an apology which I thought was in suitable terms. 1 think it was unnecessary for the Leader of the Opposition to respond as he did. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to speak to the motion.

Mr HAYDEN - In the fields singled out for special attention by ASTEC-namely, the role of fundamental research, industrial research and development, marine science and technologies, agriculture and forestry, mineral resources, manufacturing industry- the services sector and environment were wisely chosen as priorities. It is pleasing to see this partly because the Opposition had criticised an earlier ASTEC report on energy research and development for its failure to make substantial findings and recommendations. It is also pleasing to see this because the Opposition was largely responsible for the interest raised in science policy making in Australia and especially for the establishment of ASTEC on its current statutory basis following extensive and intensive investigation.

In relation to marine science and technology, ASTEC's recommendations do not go far enough. The Government's decision announced by the Prime Minister is also inadequate and furthermore inconsistent with its attitude to the Australian Institute of Marine Science. It is interesting to note that the latest annual report for 1977-78 of the Australian Institute of Marine Science indicates that the staff ceiling of 65 was set by Government policies, as against a planned staffing of 130 by June 1977. Apparently the priority rating of the Government in this important and established area of research and development falls well short of the pronounced assertions of commitment just made by the Prime Minister. The effect of all this has been to waste much of the potential of the Austraiian Institute of Marine Sciences and to reduce the expenditure on facilities to almost white elephant levels. I repeat that this is no reflection on the people who are staffing the research centre at Townsville. It is a direct result of Government staff ceilings.

When one enters the institution one is immediately impressed by its attractiveness- the wide corridors, the high ceilings, the spacious floor area- but there is a sparsity of people to research and to work within the institution. This policy of the Government indicates the low priority placed by the Government generally on the field of research and development. More importantly, all that the Government has done is to announce the establishment of an advisory committee on marine sciences and technology. What is lacking is any indication of linking research and development policy with marine industry. One ought to note that this is one area in which we do have a national responsibility. We should have an industry policy and research and development policy in this area developed in tandem and ready for definition prior to the declaration of the 200-mile fishing zone.

This area is an area of technology where we should place emphasis on the use of Australian skills and resources. Quite clearly it offers new opportunities for industry development and enterprise. In order for it to be developed adequately and successfully there is a need for a sufficient research and development program to support the whole concept. That is sadly missing. There is, overall, a need to participate in carefully selected industries using technology as the top end of skill. The development of marine science resources has been chosen by me to illustrate that this is an obvious area for attention by the Government and also to illustrate quite clearly- in this area where there ought to have been a high priority established- that there is a low visibility of government commitment as against what was promised and expected as the basic minimum for a reasonable level of activity.

I move on to the composition of the Australian Science and Technology Council. I note the retirement of Sir Louis Matheson. I join with the Prime Minister in expressing appreciation of the public service that Sir Louis has been able to contribute as an eminently public figure, highly skilled in his field. The previous criticisms which were expressed by the Opposition in relation to the membership of ASTEC still stand. For example, there are still no women. There is an inadequate social science input and there is almost no representation from community interests. Perhaps, as a result, insufficient attention is paid, for example, to a consideration of computing, the advocacy of ASTEC of further use of computers in Australian industry, and to social aspects including the need to safeguard employment opportunities and matters of that ilk.

On the subject of industrial research and development ASTEC agreed with the general thrust of earlier recommendations by the Jackson Committee on future policies for the development of the manufacturing industry. The ASTEC recommendations went into more specifics and were, I believe, soundly based. I am pleased that the Government has reacted reasonably favourably too, but I am rather surprised that it should still show such extreme caution and lack of urgency about this matter. It is particularly surprising that there has not been a more positive response from the Government to the first recommendation dealt with by the Prime Minister. This is the one proposing what ASTEC calls a 'closer and more fruitful association between industry and government laboratories'. I regret that it is not clear from the Prime Minister's statement what he has in mind in asking ASTEC to undertake a more detailed examination of its proposal with the appropriate government departments and agencies. I hope that it means that ASTEC is being given wide enough terms to produce a firm blueprint for this sort of development, and that it is not being pitch-forked into a running war with the bureaucrats.

It is also a matter for regret that the Government has not acted with more enthusiasm to the recommendations designed to help and encourage the research and development activities of small companies. Again, there is no real commitment given by the Government. The Prime Minister merely says that the broad issue is under consideration and ASTEC's contribution has been a help. He cannot expect that vagueness of that sort will give any hope or encouragement to small business, which is potentially one of the most innovative sectors of the economy. The same applies to the third recommendation that of promoting a new body to promote innovation in industry generally. Jackson, Crawford and now ASTEC have all seen the need for such a new institution but the Government is still doing no more than to look at overseas models. There is no sign in the Government's reaction to these proposals on industrial research and development that it recognises the urgency of the need for effective action in this field. We still do not have a large enough total effort in industrial research and development, and what we do have is too fragmented and too little directed.

In a number of critically important areas, we are the captive of foreign technology and technological development. I would like to see an active encouragement of foreign investors to undertake more research and development in Australia. There is a strong argument that in many fields there should be a firm obligation on them to do this sort of work locally. I am not suggesting by this that they should simply contribute further to fragmentation. It is the Government's responsibility to provide a suitable framework within which all of these activities should take place. The Jackson Committee pointed out nearly four years ago that in contrast with our approach, Japan, a vastly bigger economy, adopted no more than 12 major research projects each of them highly relevant to national needs and capabilities. The report reads:

Our most important suggestion is that national procedures are needed so that a large part of that (R and D) effort, both government and private, will be directed to the achievement of national objectives.

This is going beyond the scope of ASTEC's mandate but it is something that should be receiving far more attention from the Government. In present circumstances particularly, it is ridiculous that resources in such scarce supply should be wasted by duplication of effort or misdirection or, indeed, by any cause at all. Innovation, through research and development, will be one of the essential bases of our industrial future. I regret that the message has not got through to this Government. This is a valuable contribution to public consideration on a very important aspect- the development of science and technology in Australia and the application of research and development programs in support of that development. I sincerely trust that, before this parliamentary session finishes, we will be given an opportunity fully to explore this aspect in debate, in a most constructive way because of the quality of the report which has been submitted to us by ASTEC, the matters that have been proposed and the supporting evidence that has been put forward to endorse those recommendations, and that we will be given the opportunity to explore those matters fully in this Parliament.

Debate (on motion by Mr Hodges) adjourned.

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