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Tuesday, 28 April 1987
Page: 1875

Senator VIGOR(3.37) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

Australian governments play a significant role in the possibility of developing industry and export opportunities in the high technology area. Unless we act to get greater value added returns coming back to this country, we will indeed become a banana republic. There is no excuse for cutting our own throats by turning ourselves into an assembly plant for overseas technologies. If we do, the real wealth will flow back to the originators of the ideas and the processes and we will be just a `branch office'.

It is significant that on page 80 of this report on government high technology purchasing arrangements the problem of the attitudes of purchasing officers is mentioned. We need clear statements from the Government that departments will not be allowed to continue the practice of writing specifications centred upon overseas products or including purchasing clauses which totally preclude the purchasing of an Australian product. One of the difficulties is that the departments sometimes feel that they do not have the money to pour into Australian research and development. Maybe if the Government were willing to push more money into these areas, the departments might look more happily on purchasing Australian products. These departments look for ready-made solutions off the shelf from overseas.

Senator Button —No overseas trips, though, and that would be the problem-though you realise that.

Senator VIGOR —Indeed. I have been looking at these types of rorts in Estimates committees and I believe that the Government itself should be pursuing them through the Minister's prerogative of investigating what is happening in his Department. Time after time thousands of dollars are spent on consultants to get systems working, or departments simply do not make full use of the equipment which has been purchased. This tendency to play safe and to go for a proven overseas product gets us on to a treadmill which leads us to national impoverishment. We have got to stop this type of process. We need greater vigilance and reporting so that purchasing officers take the view that they will always buy Australian unless it is absolutely impossible to do so. There must be an onus on the departments to establish that buying Australian is impossible before overseas inquiries are made. A purchasing decision should not be looked upon as an excuse for overseas trips, as Senator Button has so ably pointed out.

Industrial supplies officers operate very effectively in most States now. The staff in these offices do sterling work in matching the capabilities of Australian industry to tenders that have been let. Quite often, however, Australian small business is beaten because of the lack of information that is available to it about opportunities for applying products to the Public Service. The Government must improve this situation.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time for consideration of Government Papers has expired.