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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1479


Mr GEAR —Will the Minister for Science inform the House of the significance of a grant from the Department of Science under the Australian research grants scheme for an amount of $45,000 for a study into seventeenth century shipbuilding techniques and in particular its relevance to Western Australia?


Mr BARRY JONES —It has to be said that sometimes the actual titles of research grant projects are not sufficiently explicit to make clear what is intended. This project was called `An investigation of seventeenth century shipbuilding techniques and methods of recording these ships' structures'. It was pilloried by the celebrated Waste Watch Committee--


Mr Keating —Philistines.


Mr BARRY JONES —Indeed-which was presided over by Senator Michael Baume. It is a classic illustration of rushing to judgment. The members of that Committee assume that the mere listing of a project is enough to disqualify it. Out of 4,500 awards over three years they picked out 62 cases; that is to say, 1.4 per cent of the total. The number of projects they checked out is zero. Not one of these projects was ever checked out with the Department of Science, the Australian research grants scheme, the proponents of the scheme or me as the Minister. They do not mind rushing to judgment, but they have never sought any information.

Let us have a look at this project. In 1629-I suppose I should explain for honourable members opposite that that was in the seventeenth century-the Batavia, the flagship of the Dutch East India Company, sailed from Amsterdam for Jakarta' or Batavia as it was then called, via South Africa, across the roaring forties, up the coast of Western Australia and was wrecked off Abrolhas Islands. It was carrying tools, crockery, furniture and building material.


Mr Carlton —I raise a point of order. This question should have been answered by the Minister for Transport.


Madam SPEAKER —The question was directed to the Minister for Science.


Mr BARRY JONES —It was carrying tools, crockery, furniture and building materials intended for a stone archway for the head office of the Dutch East India Company in Batavia. The arch has been reconstructed in the Western Australian Maritime Museum. The restored Batavia is the centrepiece of the Museum in Fremantle and it is a major contribution to our maritime history. It is the Australian equivalent of the Vasa in Stockholm and the Mary Rose in Portsmouth. It is of great educational significance and is a major tourist attraction. I say to honourable members opposite: Is it a worthwhile project or is it not?


Mr Cobb —It is not.


Mr BARRY JONES —We hear some of the illiterates in the corner say that it is not. Let me assure them that it is a project that we ought to be very proud of, which extends our maritime history and gives us a tremendous insight into the early exploration of this country and the areas around it. Of course, the humanities are always subject to superficial abuse. They are an easy target because it is not immediately obvious why these subjects are studied. In a sense, the situation is even worse than Senator Michael Baume depicted: Not only do we research in the humanities, we even teach them-German history, German language, English literature, Roman culture and so on! We study political parties and political decision making and what makes nations what they are. Of course, we could have a society in which people were taught engineering, accounting, business writing and tax law but not the human subjects. This might appear to represent a considerable saving but it would lead to a culture that was incomparably poorer. To reduce our culture to the level where we can no longer afford to study history, ecology, language or literature would be the ultimate poverty.