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Thursday, 1 June 1972
Page: 2462


Senator WRIGHT (Tasmania) (Minister for Works) - in reply - In closing the debate on this Bill I must acknowledge the stimulation of interest apparent from the fact that no fewer than 7 honourable senators have addressed themselves to the Bill, and in terms of real earnestness. I was attracted particularly by the speech made by Senator Wood who showed his close association wilh the Reef which, quite appropriately, he insists on calling the Great Barrier Reef. We must not get the impression from the concentration upon all the great wonders and riches of the Great Barrier Reef that the Australian Institute of Marine Science is devoted exclusively to the interests and problems of the Reef. It is in a universal sense an institute of marine science. However, its siting near Townsville is an indication of the emphasis that the Government places upon the Reef as an object of the Institute's interest.

Reference has been made to the plan by which the Government should pursue marine science. In this respect, those listening casually to the remarks from some of the less responsible contributors to the debate would gain the impression that the Government's approach to this subject has been without plan. I remind the Senate that the Reef has received consistent and continuous attention from the Commonwealth Government in co-operation with the Government of Queensland. I remind honourable senators that when the crown of thorns starfish was so prominently occupying the news, the Government appointed an extremely distinguished committee of scientists to make an investigation. That committee reported to the Government as long ago as March 1971. Lest anybody should place imp) ici I reliance upon the figures that have been quoted during this debate today I inform the Senate that the committee, with all its knowledge, referred in paragraph 4.6 of its report to the extreme doubt as to the reliance that could bc placed upon any of the statistical figures that had been given.


Senator Georges - That report was subsequently severely criticised.


Senator WRIGHT - The honourable senator will benefit if he will allow me to make a point or two, give consideration to what I say and keep a rein on his tongue. The report went on to say that the position might be summarised by stating that the difficulties of sampling during surveys meant that the available methods of estimating population densities of the crown of thorns were rather crude. That is a word that I think Senator Georges would understand. As 1 have said, that report was made in March 1971.

That committee recommended research. The Government established a programme of research which is being implemented throughout the year at a cost of $70,000. Following the establishment of that programme, as the Senate will be aware the Government took measures to tighten our laws relating to pollution of the sea. I remind the Senate that the Government then established a royal commission to determine measures for the preservation of the Reef. It is to be regretted that the royal commission has not yet completed its work. The most significant development in the Government's programme has been the constitution of the Interim Council of the Australian Institute of Marine Science which, under the Bill that we are now considering, will be superseded by a permanent Council.

In response to the honourable senator who found some difficulty in identifying the Council referred to in the second reading speech let me state that the Interim Council's work was fulfilled once it had made recommendations to the Government as to a plan by which the permanent Institute should be established. When we talk of the Council making recommendations as to the establishment of the Institute we refer to the permanent Council which is being established under this Bill.

Although the Great Barrier Reef is one of the prime objects of the Institute's attention, it is not the only area Or object which will engage the Institute's attention in the discharge of its functions. In that respect I take some interest in reminding the Senate of the terms of clause 6 of the Bill which states:

The Institute is not limited, in the performance of its functions and the exercise of its powers, to Australia and the territorial waters of Australia and this Act applies both within and outside Australia and extends to all the Territories of the Commonwealth not forming part of the Commonwealth. 1 come next to the references that were made, I thought quite appropriately, to the need for the Institute to associate its work with other institutions. No-one would conceive of an institute of this character isolating itself within itself. Those who have any concern for the matter will find in clause 9 of the Bill that the functions of the Institute are:

(b)   to arrange for the carrying out of research in marine science by any other institution or person;

(c)   to co-operate wilh other institutions and persons in carrying out research in marine science;

To dispel any idea that the Institute will keep information to itself I point out that (d) states: to provide any other institution or person with facilities for carrying out research in marine science or otherwise assist any other institution or person in carrying out research in marine science;

We should be reminded that during the last 2 or 3 years specific agreement has been reached with the American authorities for the interchange of scientific knowledge. I have no doubt that full cooperation will be forthcoming from scientists not only in America but also in Great Britain.

I refer next to the cost of buildings which was mentioned by an honourable senator during the debate. I remind the Senate that it is stated that the appropriation for the Institute over the next 5 years is expected to be $8m. Of that amount about $5. 5m will be available for capital costs in the initial period of establishment. The exact amount will be determined by decisions still to be made about the types of vessels to be provided and their equipment. Recurrent costs over the same period are expected to absorb $2. 7m. When the Institute has been finally established it is expected that the annual running cost will be about $1.35m. I am pleased at this very forward, penetrating and impressive contribution that the Government is making to the development not only of the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of our most precious national assets, but also of our much more extensive national asset, the coastline of our continent.

I am very pleased at the reception that this proposal has received. We should also take great pleasure in finding that the Parliament is now giving full authority for the permanent Council to go ahead with the work that is specified in the Bill. The last thing I wish to say is that the Bill provides that one of the duties of the Council will be to make recommendations to the Government as to the appointment of the Director. As I said in the second reading speech, the appointment of a scientist of pre-eminence as Director will be a great factor in the success or otherwise of this Institute. Therefore it would be putting the cart before the horse to suggest that we should have proceeded to the appointment of a Director ere this. The Council will be constituted. Its knowledge will provide for us a recommendation for a Director and the Director will be the key figure in the successful establishment of this Institute. I submit the Bill to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.







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