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Wednesday, 21 July 1920

Mr FENTON (Maribyrnong) .- I was somewhat astonished at the concluding remark of the honorable member for South Sydney (Mr. Riley), who said in effect that if the Institute were established any person of an inventive turn of mind would be able to have his proposals elaborated and perfected. I remind the honorable member that we are. not absolutely destitute of such facilities already, for in Mr. Wilkinson, whose laboratory is situated at .the rear of the Customs Office, we have a gentleman who is always ready to render assistance to anybody with a decent idea worth consideration. It is his complaint that hitherto his Department has been, somewhat neglected: In addition, we have in practically every State of the Commonwealth universities, technical schools, schools- of mines, agricultural colleges, and such institutions. I do. not know of any branch of primary or secondary industry that is not in some respect catered for, and, so far. as I can see, this proposed Institute will simply be a duplication of- existing State institutions.

One of the most important items of discussion at the Premiers' Conference which recently concluded its sittings in Melbourne, was a proposal to have one tax-gatherer and one form of return for the Commonwealth, and I understand some good result will be the outcome of the deliberations, so that probably next year tax-' payers will be required to make up only. one return, and pay one tax-gatherer instead of two, as at present. This will mean the saving of thousands of pounds of the taxpayers' money, and do away with a lot of inconvenience. Why, therefore, should we now be called upon to consider a measure which will mean, duplication of existing services? This proposed Institute will cost a" great deal of money, whether we appoint one, or three, directors. A leading member of the Country party has given the scheme his indorsement. The measure has been watered down considerably, and some of the objections raised by the honorable member for Wakefield (Mr. Richard Foster) have been met; hut although the pill has been sugar-coated, its effect wi:l be the same. Once an opportunity is allowed any person to establish a Department, it grows and eventually becomes a most expensive concern. In my opinion, if any member of the Economy party sanctions expenditure on this Institute, he is a very poor economist indeed.

Mr Riley - Do you not think it possible that the Institute will save the country a great deal of money eventually ?

Mr FENTON - No. It has been very expensive up to the present, and has rendered next to nothing in the way of services.

When one 'looks at the list of men who have done most for our more important industries, one looks in vain for the names of trained scientific men. They may be good in theory, and able to deliver interesting lectures to students ; but when the acid of a practical test is applied to them they are, very often, found wanting. Although these manufacturers have done well for themselves through their inventions, they have also conferred great good upon the community. I may mention one who happens to be an elector of mine, but is, nevertheless, a strong political opponent: Mr. H. V. McKay, the inventor of the combined harvester. He is not a graduate of any scientific school. So far as I know, he made a very humble beginning as a farmer, but undoubtedly is a man with a touch of genius. And he has been reminded that some of the most important improvements to his combined harvester have been made, not by trained scientists, but by farmers' sons. I may refer, also, to the achievement of a well-known South Australian manufac turing firm, Hume Brothers, who have perfected what is known as the reinforced concrete pipe. This, again, is the product of a practical, and not a scientific, man. Mr. Hume has evolved a pipe that has been put to varied uses in every part of the Commonwealth. Indeed, it is being universally used now in South Africa, Great Britain, America, and other parts of the world. It is displacing cast-iron pipes in many water schemes and in Queensland, where recently great difficulties were encountered when boring for water owing to drift sand, the authorities are now using great reinforced concrete cylinders, 8 feet in diameter, in order to overcome the trouble. These pipes are also being used in connexion with many domestic water supply schemes.

At the outbreak of the war, I strongly advocated the encouragement of chemical research. In many directions industry has been revolutionized in Germany as a result of discoveries made by chemists. One of the most serious obstacles in the way of the progress of manufactures and industry generally in Australia is the lack of commercial chemists. In Germany, thousands of such men have been employed by private enterprise, and have made many valuable discoveries. It often happens that an analytical chemist in the course of his experiments makes a, more valuable discovery than that on which he was bent. Reference has been made to what has been done by the Broken Hill Proprietary Company. Its chemists and other experts, many of them intensely practical men, have done many wonderful things in regard, not only to the main product, but many of the byproducts of the Broken Hill mines. I fail to see in what respect the establishment of an Institute of Science and Industry will benefit Australia.

Mr Riley - Will it retard the progress of industry in Australia?

Mr FENTON - The point is that the same taxpayers that are paying for our State experts will have to pay for this Institute. We have a large number of experts in all the State Departments. Why should we add to the national expenditure by multiplying them in this way? Members of the Country party will agree with me that in Victoria we have no better wheat expert than Mr. Richardson, who is associated with the Department of Agriculture.


Mr.FENTON.- Mr. Pye has done a great deal for wheat production, by his work at Dookie. In every State we have our Schools of Mines and Agriculture. I have been recently in touch with the Agricultural Departments of New South Wales, South Australia, and Victoria, and have found that they are able to supply excellent information as to the purposes for which various areas are best suited. I am not going to say that the establishment of this Institute will lead to no improvement, but I certainly do not think it will improve very much upon the work now being done by the State experts. It must result in a considerable increase in Commonwealth expenditure. I do not think we should be expected to do more than obtain a little extra plant and a few additional appliances, and place them under the control of either one or two Universities, or the present Federal Analyst.

I shall certainly vote against the second reading of this Bill, because I see no necessity for the establishment of an Institute of Science and Industry at the present time. Various arguments have been advanced as to the class of man to be appointed as Director. He will have to possess considerable organizing capacity. If he is to fill the bill he will need to be a man of scientific attainment - one of those splendid men who are few and far-between.

Mr Riley - If we could find such a man, the honorable member would not agree to his employment by the Commonwealth, since he is opposed to this Bill.

Mr.FENTON.- We could employ such a man in the Commonwealth laboratory, without incurring the expense attaching to the creation of a new Department. There is no reason why we should not call to our aid some of the best experts, but to do so it is not necessary to create this Institute. The Minister responsible for it will have various branches to engage his attention, and instead of his controlling the Director the Director will control him. The Minister will not be able to keep the expenditure of the Institute within reasonable bounds. Everyone knows that at the present time taxpayers are groaning under the load of taxation, and public expenditure, which they have to bear. The Government which appointed a Commission to deal with the whole ramifications of the Commonwealth expenditure, with the object of suggesting economies, now asks us to agree to this additional expenditure. I do not wish to assume a dictatorial attitude, but I remind honorable members that, in supporting this Bill, they will vote for a considerable increase in our expenditure, and that the results accruing from it will not be worth while. We have the Hawkesbury College, in New South Wales, and the Dookie College and various experimental stations in Victoria and other States, all engaged upon matters relating to primary production. Coming to the secondary industries, we find that Victoria is dotted with technical schools. A boy on leaving the State school may go to one of the many technical schools and acquire much information in regard to primary and secondary industries. If he wishes to forge still further ahead, he may go finally to one of ourUniversities. With all these opportunities offering, surely- it is not worth while overlapping the work of the States by the establishment of this Institute!

Mr Ryan - The honorable member contends that in many respects this Bill means a duplication of education.

Mr.FENTON.- I do. It is true that we havein Australia the blowfly pest, the prickly pear, and' many other pests, but while we are afflicted in one direction, other countries are afflicted in many others. This Institute will not lead to the eradication of the prickly pear from Queensland - -

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - If it would only knock out the Queensland Government it would do good work.

Mr FENTON - That Government is doing very well. The Premiers' Conference, which has just concluded its sittings, would have been well advised had it told the Prime Minister (Mr. Hughes) that already the people of Australia are well catered for by the existing State institutions. If we take into consideration our technical schools, our schools of mines and agriculture, our colleges and Universities-

Mr Gregory - And our kindergarten!

Mr.FENTON. - The honorable member is still at the kindergarten stage, and I shall leave him to deal with that matter.

Roughly speaking, these various institutions must cost the people over £500,000 per annum. Shall we add to their utility by superimposing upon them this Institute of Science and Industry ?

Mr RODGERS (WANNON, VICTORIA) - No one will object to the expenditure if it is devoted to research in relation to agriculture and the plant life of the Common wealth. If the money is to beswallowed up in the purchase of machinery and in dealing with secondary matters waste will occur.

Mr.FENTON.- I do not take the honorable member's interruptions seriously, since I know that he has a great admiration for the secondary industries of Australia. They play a very prominent part in the development of our primary industries, and the two must go hand in hand.

My objection, to the establishment of this new Institute will, I fear, be of no avail. No doubt, its main principles were explained to the Ministerial Caucus, and it will be carried, since it represents a considerable watering down of the original measure. It has been, watered down to meet the strong criticism levelled at the original Bill, and it means, practically, that we are to appoint one expert, and be dependent to a very considerable extent upon the existing State, institutions.

Mr Groom - Should we not co-operate with them ?

Mr FENTON - The Universities and the technical schools and experts in the various States are at the disposal of the Minister to solve any problem with which he is confronted.

Mr Groom - With grants from the Federal centre, the Universities will certainly undertakeoriginal research . work in respect to particular matters.

Mr FENTON - Then the honorable gentleman is in agreement with the views to which I have been giving- expression. Why not make use of the State institutions without creating this new Department?

Mr Groom - It is necessary to utilize both to create a central Department.

Mr FENTON - I agree with the Leader ofthe Opposition (Mr. Tudor), and the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory), who have protested against the expenditure of. thousands of pounds on scientific and industrial investigations which have not been attended . with any apparent result.' This Bill' is entirely unnecessary. It means only a duplica tion of effort. The existing agencies can do all that is expected of them, but if it is considered necessary to bring new mem into the field and to conduct fresh investigations that can be accomplished without the creation of a big Department. If we agree to the establishment of an Institute of Science and Industry, the Estimates relating to it four or five years hence will have enormously increased, and the people will find themselves grievously handicapped.

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