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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1592

Mr ANTHONY (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(10.9) —I wish to direct my remarks to the estimates of the Department of Science and Technology. The Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) has recently come under a good deal of questioning by the House. That questioning and its aftermath have cast a serious cloud over the Minister's reputation and his suitability to be respected by the scientific community such as the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and people closely allied with that body. It is a cloud that has been reported little by the media. However, I believe it is an issue of immense importance. In any case, I think that the actions of the Minister need to be closely looked at tonight.

The subject in question is the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. This laboratory which has so far cost $157m is the most advanced of its kind in the world. It is so advanced that a very similar model is to be built by the Canadian Government. ANAHL is ready to open subject to sufficient funds being made available for the commissioning of this great project. But this building, hailed around the world, is the centre of a strong and even bitter debate within some sections of the scientific community in this country. A number of scientists, principally people here in Canberra working at the Australian National University, or those who have studied or worked there, have expressed strong opposition to the project. I have serious doubts about the basis of that opposition. I believe there is good reason to suggest that it is founded on the fear that research funds currently going to those projects might be diverted to ANAHL, thereby restricting their scientific opportunities.

This is not the time to examine the issues of that debate. What concerns me, and I believe must concern this Committee, is the fact that the Minister for Science and Technology has abandoned any pretence of ministerial and scientific objectivity and taken a blatant, partisan role in this debate. What concerns me- and I believe this must concern this Committee and anyone concerned with scientific research in Australia-is that the Minister has abused his power and his position to misrepresent the advice of some of the most senior advisers and also has misled this chamber in order to advance his own argument. That is a very serious charge, particularly as it goes to the heart of one of our most important scientific projects, a project of most important significance to our great livestock industry. This whole incident in fact has shown that this self- appointed guru of high scientific knowledge, or so-called knowledge-this mastermind of knowledge-has feet of very soggy clay. He has shown that he is prepared to bend the truth to breaking point and even beyond to achieve his own wishes. I believe that this has cast serious doubts on the Government's whole approach to the advancement of science in Australia and the development of high technological industries simply because both of these fields lie firmly in the hands of the present Minister.

The story is a fairly simple one. The Minister for Science and Technology made certain statements to this House. He attributed the views to the Chairman of the CSIRO, Dr Paul Wild, and two of the most senior of his colleagues, Professor David Craig and Dr Keith Boardman. The Minister said-and I quote from the Hansard of 20 September-that these men had 'freely conceded' to him that:

. . . if we had known then what we know now about the diagnostic changes brought about by the technological revolution of the last decade, the whole configuration of ANAHL would have been utterly different and it would have been established at infinitely less cost.

The Minister's words were clear, and so were their warning and meaning. The Minister said that these men, the leaders of the CSIRO, had made such a statement. He asked us to take their comment seriously. He even went as far as saying that they were Fellows of the Royal Society. I would have taken their word seriously if I had been sure it was given, but I was not sure. I was aware, as many members of this Parliament were aware, of a statement made on 15 September by Dr Wild which seemed to me to run quite counter to the words attributed to him by the Minister. So I rang Dr Wild. He told me he simply stuck to his original statement-the statement which, of course, ran counter to what the Minister said happened in the meeting with him and as he reported it to this Parliament. Of course Dr Wild was in a very difficult position. His own Minister , on whom he relied for leadership and protection, had failed in his duty. Even more seriously, it appeared to me that the Minister may even have misrepresented the views of one of his most senior statutory authorities and misled this House. Despite this cavalier treatment, Dr Wild, a public servant, still had clear responsibilities to his Minister and the Government and, quite properly, had to stick to them. I believe the behaviour of the Minister in this episode deserves emphatic condemnation.

On 21 September, being so concerned, I asked a question in this House. I asked the Prime Minister whether he would look into the question of a conflict of view between the Minister and the CSIRO. Within a short time the Minister for Science and Technology was carpeted. He had been caught out and he was forced to back down. The very next day the Minister stood up in this chamber and did just that. He said that at the meeting with Dr Wild and his colleagues on 19 September he had put a series of propositions to these men and expected them to correct him if he were wrong. He said-and I quote from Hansard:

The difference of opinion between the Chairman and me is that I took his silence as acceptance.

He took it as indicating that they agreed. I welcome the fact that the Minister corrected the record and removed the slur on the integrity of senior public servants and the head of his largest scientific body. But the way in which the Minister acted can only deserve the condemnation of this House. His excuse for misleading the House can be described only as utterly pathetic. On 20 September the Minister said that Dr Wild and his colleagues had 'freely conceded' a whole series of detailed points about ANAHL. But on 22 September the Minister admitted that all they had in fact done was keep their mouths closed. I should think that any public servant, listening to the Minister laying down the law on ANAHL and knowing the Minister's public views on the issue, might properly doubt that he was expected to contradict them. Apart from that, anyone who has heard the Minister speak would not be at all surprised if nobody at that meeting could get a word in either way. The fact is that the Minister's so-called excuse hardly deserves the dignity of that term. He showed himself to be a bombastic know-all, incapable of listening to anybody or wishing to hear anybody else's point of view. He showed that he was prepared to go to any length, even that of discrediting the CSIRO, one of the Government's most important, internationally respected scientific bodies.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.