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Wednesday, 17 October 1956

Mr ACTING DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Lawrence) - Order! 1 ask honorable members to desist from their conversations. It has become very difficult for " Hansard " to hear the honorable member for Yarra.

Mr CAIRNS - The material that I have mentioned related to the argument that, because a large number of observatories in other parts of the world were attached to universities, there was sound reason for making the observatory at Mount Stromlo part of the Australian National University. I think that is the weakest argument that has been advanced by the Government in an effort to justify the proposed transfer of the observatory. If one looks at the history of those observatories which are part of universities one finds that they originated within those universities and developed as part of them. They were not transferred from elsewhere. No university now has attached to it an observatory that was previously a national observatory. Until recent years the most important observatories in the world were those established by governments as national observatories. One of the outstanding scientific developments of the 18th century was the establishment of observatories by governments which perhaps showed more imagination than the people of the communities they governed. The observations made in those institutions had a very close relationship to the economic needs of the countries concerned and to the problems encountered in developing the trade routes that the governments of those countries required to be developed. Not one of those observatories has been placed under the control of another organization.

The situation in Australia is quite different from that in approximately 38 other countries where important observatories are situated. There is clearly no parallel between the situation in eight of those countries and that in Australia. Perhaps the next point advanced by Government supporters in an attempt to justify this bill has something more to it. I suggest that it may in fact be the most important reason for this measure.' If it is, the Minister should have mentioned it in his second-reading speech. It should never have remained hidden until this stage. That reason is the better conditions of pay and service and the possibilities of academic leave that should be available to members of the observatory staff if they become members of the staff of the Australian National University. Perhaps their status would be improved. Perhaps the gentleman in charge would not be merely the astronomer at Mount Stromlo, but would become a professor. These improvements might be conducive to better work and more enthusiastic service. Perhaps the bill could be justified on such a ground, but it was not mentioned. If it is a good reason for the transfer of the observatory to the university it should have been stated at the outset.

Dr Evatt - Did the Minister state that that was one of the reasons for the transfer?

Mr CAIRNS - No. He said nothing about it and 1 think the rest of the Government's case to some extent goes by default. lt does not answer some quite important questions. One I have already mentioned in passing is: If Dr. Woolley made this report, as I understand he did, five or six years ago, why has nothing been done until now? What events have occurred in recent times to cause the Government to introduce *he bill now?

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