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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1806


Mr CAMPBELL —-My question is addressed to the Minister for Science and Technology. Can he think of any reason why Denis Hanley, Managing Director of Memtec, a company with a stated policy to move offshore, should continue as Chairman of the Industry Research and Development Board--a board constituted to oversee industry research and development in Australia and, ultimately, to approve grants?


Mr FREE —-I assume that the honourable member's question has as its origins recent publicity surrounding Memtec's waste water treatment and its research and manufacture offshore. This, of course, was reported in the Australian last week and, as the honourable member and the House will recall, it was the subject of a question to my colleague the Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. In her answer she outlined the Commonwealth's support of Memtec's waste water technology.

Let me deal firstly with Mr Hanley's chairmanship of the Industry Research and Development Board. It stands in its own right; it is not related to his chairmanship of Memtec. There is no reason whatsoever why he should not continue as Chairman. He was appointed in July of this year because of his expertise in the commercialisation of Australian technology, which made him eminently suitable for appointment. It follows a distinguished career in industry, membership of the Prime Minister's Science Council and chairmanship of the Discretionary Grants Committee. He has already made a substantial contribution to the Board's work.

So far as Memtec's operations are concerned, it recently consolidated its operations in Australia, it is maintaining manufacturing plants in this country, and I understand that negotiations are still under way between Memtec and the Sydney Water Board concerning the construction of a treatment plant. This really comes to the heart of the problem. The solution lies not in questioning Dennis Hanley's membership of the IR& Board. To quote from the article in the Australian by Julian Cribb:

One of the highest fliers of Australia's fledgling high-tech sector is being lost overseas because State governments are not interested in adopting its technology for cleaning up the water supply.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

Despite its export success, Memtec has been unable to convince any of Australia's leading water authorities to invest in its water recycling technology on a commercial scale. Its first major commercial plants now appear likely to be in Europe.

The Executive Chairman, Mr Denis Hanley, said yesterday that if the company could win substantial waste-treatment contracts in the US, Europe and Japan but not in Australia, it had little choice other than to research and manufacture offshore.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

The Federal Government had been "enormously supportive" of the company and its technology but State governments were not.

Clearly Mr Hanley means in particular the Government of New South Wales. May I enlist the assistance of Opposition members by asking them to encourage Premier Greiner to expand his new `get tough' approach to include the Sydney Water Board? That at least might make a contribution towards enhancing Australia's R&.