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Thursday, 26 March 1987
Page: 1587

Mr MILDREN —I direct my question to the Minister for Science. To what extent has the growth in international trade in recent years been in goods and services which are essentially brain based, involving invention, research, development, design and other elements depending on intellectual skills? Is Australia's scientific capacity sufficient to meet the challenges of the 1990s? Are there any threats to developing this capacity?

Mr BARRY JONES —Over the past 20 years by far the fastest growing areas in world trade have been in brain-based manufactured goods and services which are completely dependent on scientific skill. As commodity prices have fallen Australia has had increasing difficulty in paying for the computers, communications equipment, aircraft, medical technologies and so on on which modern societies depend. In the past four years the Hawke Government has raised the levels of public understanding of these issues as Australia moves into `the age of information'. In fact, I think one of the greatest achievements of this Government has been to turn around the direction of the nation's industrial base, to turn Australia away from being `the lucky country' with an economy totally reliant on chance factors and market forces towards being an `intelligent country' where we make the most effective use of our greatest resource, human capital.

However, our prospects for making this country scientifically, technologically and culturally relevant have come under sustained attack from this philistine Opposition which is totally lacking in intellectual curiosity and in intellectual energy. There was a striking illustration of this in the Liberal Party's secret agenda for restructuring government which appeared in the Australian Financial Review for 23 March. The common factor in these proposals was a total failure to refer to Australia's skill base, to its intellectual and technological resources generally and to the need to develop a productive culture.

All these elements of government, connected with the redevelopment of Australia, were marked for abolition: The Department of Science, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, the technology part of the Department of Industry, Technology and Commerce, the Department of Education, the Schools Commission, the participation and equity programs and the Department of Arts, Heritage and Environment. The Department of Communications is lumped with the Department of Transport as if they would provide identical or analogous services, which presumably would have very serious implications for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Also included in the list are the Australian Film Commission, the Australian Sports Commission and the Department of Sport, Recreation and Tourism.

It is no coincidence that all these elements of government are concerned with raising the skill base, improving the quality of life and trying to raise the long term policy considerations for community debate. The list of omission confirms that the Opposition is not only bereft of ideas but also does not understand them. It does not grasp that the countries with the fastest rising living standards and industrial performances are those that put the heaviest investment into quality of life, into quality of education and into research and development.

The Opposition is totally preoccupied with immediate economic self-interest. It has no regard for the long term or for intellectual, scientific or cultural activity. This Opposition is intellectually impoverished and its proposed restructuring confirms that abundantly.