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Wednesday, 23 March 1994
Page: 2123

Senator MARGETTS (7.13 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the document.

I have had a brief look at the review of the external earnings targets of CSIRO, ANSTO and AIMS. The Greens are very concerned about the ethic involved with cost recovery as a major aim for these bodies. The reason why we are concerned is that the third term of reference states:

Assess the appropriateness of external earnings as a measure of interaction between Government research organisations and industry by comparison with alternative performance indicators.

One of the recommendations referred to in the report is that the bodies themselves, in conjunction with the ministers, ought to be involved with setting out what is an appropriate performance indicator. We are certainly in favour of the communities and the scientific researchers being involved in looking at the appropriate performance indicators. We would certainly be concerned if performance indicators are moving to a greater and greater degree of cost recovery and towards how well people reach their external earnings targets.

  There seem to be some hints in the document. It is not surprising, considering a great many of the committee members were from ASTEC and that it was an industry loaded committee. But there is some concern shown that bodies such as the CSIRO, ANSTO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science are moving towards being a research and development facility for large corporations. One of the hints that this might be the case is that they are now trying to find some means by which smaller business and industry can also get a look into some of the services operated by these organisations. That is extremely important.

  We are concerned that corporate requirements will be what drives bodies such as the CSIRO. In many cases the kind of research that comes out of an organisation such as that is something which has been followed along the line of curiosity. If we move only to what industry sees as its immediate needs at the moment, we may leave behind a whole range of options which may be of benefit to Australia as a whole. We question the logic of such bodies as CSIRO ending up competing in the marketplace. We feel that the role of government—and especially government research institutions—should be to provide that kind of research that is not available through the commercial marketplace. If we are gearing more and more towards providing a commercial service, the great risk is that those areas of research which would not be undertaken by any other means may be taken off the priority list. That would be a great pity.

  Why is there a greater necessity for government research bodies to do research and development for private industry? I think that is the kind of question that government ought to be asking. If it is necessary for this to happen, I guess that question needs to be asked: not necessarily how we get CSIRO, ANSTO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science to do the research and development for private industry, but how we can assist private industry to see the importance of doing their own research and development and allow these very important and unique bodies to conduct the kind of research which only government research bodies can undertake.

  We are also particularly concerned that such pressure on bodies such as the CSIRO now means that the kind of research that that body does is skewing in a certain direction. In recent times we have seen a lot of public press releases from CSIRO in relation to genetic research, genetic engineering and so on. That is very concerning. If that is what CSIRO is becoming because of this commercial pressure, maybe it is time industry was less involved and that scientists were more involved in what is needed for the sustainability of Australia—not necessarily how we can make money out of every piece of research that comes our way. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

  Leave granted; debate adjourned.