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Wednesday, 12 September 1984
Page: 1150

Mr McGAURAN(5.25) —Having listened to Government members speak in relation to the appropriation for the Department of Science and Technology, I am reminded of Mark Antony's famous words of some time ago when he said:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

In this instance we should turn that round and rephrase it to say: 'I come to praise Caesar, not to bury him'. There is not an honourable member in the chamber who does not know that the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) is dead and buried so far as his standing within Cabinet and his ability to obtain sufficient appropriations for his Department are concerned. No matter how many crocodile tears members of the Government cry, we know that the reality is that the Minister has been done-to use a colloquialism-like a dinner.

The previous speaker, the honourable member for Flinders (Mr Chynoweth), who I understand is hunting around for another electorate, stressed very strongly the need and importance of funding for the Department of Science and Technology. Yet whose fault is it that there is not sufficient funding? It can be no other person's responsibility than that of the Minister. I only say to the honourable member for Flinders-who may shortly become the former member for Flinders-that I agree entirely with every word he said, bar his first paragraph which was in praise of the Minister. The Minister is deserving of no praise. He is deserving only of some very strong condemnation for failing to fulfil the principal responsibility of his office. His principal responsibility is to ensure sufficient appropriations for his Department. All the grandiose schemes in the world and all the pie in the sky inventions do not make up for the lack of funding.

The shadow Minister for Science and Technology, the honourable member for Berowra (Dr Harry Edwards), pointed out to the Committee that the previous Minister for Science and Technology, the Hon. David Thomson, was successful year after year in obtaining increases in real terms. Is there any honourable member on the Government side able to contradict that? Is there an honourable member on the Government side, having heard those simple statistics, able to continue to praise the Minister? There is nobody I have a greater personal admiration for in this chamber than the Minister. However, I am not, like my colleagues, going to sit here and listen to false praise from one speaker after another heaped on the Minister who is deserving of nothing but condemnation for letting down his Department and, in doing so, letting down the cause of research and development in this country.

I refer specifically to a project which illustrates better than any other the failure of the Minister to obtain sufficient funding. I refer to the Project Aquarius which had three purposes. The first purpose was to evaluate the effectiveness or otherwise of fire bombing of fires by the use of large air tankers. The second objective was to compare the use of fire bombing tankers with conventional fire fighting techniques. The third technique was to carry out a cost benefit analysis of bushfire suppression in Australia.

Mr Simmons —Smokey and the Bandit.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! I invite the honourable member for Gippsland to ignore the interjections. I ask interjectors to stop interjecting.

Mr McGAURAN —Mrs Child, how does one ignore interjections from honourable members of the Government about fire fighting particularly as it relates to Victoria. I remind the honourable member that 65 people lost their lives during the Ash Wednesday fires. If there is any honourable member of the Government who will minimise the importance of developing fire fighting research let him say so clearly and openly rather than by way of sleazy, gutter interjections.

Government members interjecting-

The CHAIRMAN —Order! I ask honourable members on my right to cease interjecting. They are interfering with the flow of the speech of the honourable member for Gippsland.

Mr McGAURAN —Not at all, Mrs Child. Unlike the honourable member who interjected and the Minister for Sport, Recreation and Tourism (Mr John Brown) who seems to find this matter as amusing as his colleagues, I place great importance, as does the shadow Minister, on developing the necessary research techniques. Project Aquarius was based at Nowa Nowa in East Gippsland. Some 16 blocks, each of which is 100 hectares, were properly prepared for a lighting so that the effect of a bombing by the Canadian DC6 aircraft which was to be filled with water or retardants and various chemicals could be tested. Regrettably severe wet weather in East Gippsland in the middle of last year prevented those experiments from going ahead. We are now at a crisis point. The preparation of those blocks, each of which is separated by a clearing, will be ineffective within the next few months. In other words, unless the project receives $900,000 within the next few months so that the experiments can be conducted next February and March 1985, most of the research done to date will be wasted, not to mention the opportunity of learning more about fire fighting techniques.

In 1980 the Fraser Government commissioned this project so that we could evaluate the effectiveness of fire fighting by fire bombing. It may be that the methods are not as effective as we would have hoped. For instance, it has to be admitted that one conclusion already drawn by the scientists working on the project is that the fire bombing would not have assisted to any great extent the ravages of Ash Wednesday. It must be remembered that the purpose of the project does not simply encompass fire bombing from the air. A whole range of other experiments are also taking place, such as the movement and control of fire fighting, reaction of body heat to fire, and the deployment of fire fighting crews on the ground. Unless we complete the project we will not know, first, the effectiveness of the fire bombing and, secondly, the answers to a whole range of other associated questions which need to be answered if we are to face up to and deal with the problems of fire fighting effectively.

Mr Hodgman —It is a scandal involving human lives.

Mr McGAURAN —It is a scandal as the honourable member for Denison interjects because human life is at stake, a great deal of property is at risk and there is the question of the environment and damage to the whole areas of forest. My electorate of East Gippsland, which is heavily timbered, suffers bushfires almost every year. We have not suffered to the same extent the loss of life that other parts of Victoria and New South Wales have suffered, but it is something that I very much fear as do many East Gippsland residents.

I ask the Minister for Science and Technology who is seated at the table why the Government has stopped this project when we are so close to completing it. The project needs $1.2m to be completed. Three hundred thousand dollars is in hand; so only $900,000 is needed. We will then clear up, probably once and for all, a whole range of questions which need to be answered. But time is against us. We need to organise the whole team-it is a very complex logistical exercise- as well as order and transport from Canada the necessary plane. I find it disappointing, given the tragedy of last year, that we will not allow this project to be completed. I realise that the States, to a very great extent, have abdicated their responsibility. The Minister certainly has my sympathy in dealing with the Victorian State Government which shows little or no interest in East Gippsland.

I am unable to advise the Minister whether it is a matter for him to obtain the necessary funding from his Government or from his Labor Party colleague in Victoria. But I can advise him on the merits of this project. I have a great deal of data at my fingertips. If the advice that the Minister is receiving is that the project need not be completed I would strenuously argue against that. I know about and, indeed have sighted, a paper from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Division of Forest Research that has gone to the Minister arguing against the necessity to complete the project. Again I would be able to argue against all those points raised. I urge the Minister in the strongest possible terms to complete this project and, in so doing, to ensure to a far greater extent than we have enjoyed to date the protection of lives, property and the environment in East Gippsland.