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Thursday, 1 March 1984
Page: 198


Senator HAINES(11.47) — The report before us today is more remarkable for its blandness and for ignoring the real problems and issues relevant to the Australian Wine Research Institute during 1983 than for anything that it actually contains. For example, on page 4 of the report, under the headline 'Staff Activities', it refers to the fact that the Director gave a talk on the Institute to the Barons of the Barossa on 24 June 1983. But the report totally ignores the fact that the first strike in the Institute's history took place in 1983 because of actions and activities undertaken by the same Director. A little further on in the report, under the heading WETICE Scheme it mentions that the Institute has been able to utilise the services of two young people under the Federal Government's work experience training in Commonwealth establishments scheme, but ignores the fact that there are very severe moral problems amongst the exisiting permanent staff caused by the sacking, with no apparent reason-certainly with no specified reason-of two of the Institute's longest serving scientists, Dr Michael Evans and Mr Gunther Zeimelis. One wonders whether the 1984 report will mention the embarassment suffered by the Senior Principal Research Scientist at AWRI, Dr Somers, when he received early last month a merit award for work done at the Institute which was in fact not done by him, but by the two sacked scientists.

The problem at the Institute is very serious, and one which I have raised previously in this place, as has Senator Crowley. It is becoming so appalling that I have written to the Chairman of the Senate Standing Committee on Science, Technology and the Environment. I do not have time in the five minutes that is allocated to me in the debate on this report to mention all the problems associated with the Institute. Nor have I time even to read out a precis that I included in my letter to Senator Jones. Suffice it to say that, as a consequence of the problems to which I have alluded, a number of staff at the Institute approached several South Australian senators, including Senator Crowley, myself and, I think Senator Messner, and perhaps Senator Teague, who has indicated to me that he wants to speak on this report, although, he is not here at the moment .

As I have already said, we raised the matter in the Senate. I raised the matter , as perhaps did other honourable senators, on a number of occasions with the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin). My staff also raised the matter on one occasion with a senior member of the staff of the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones). Despite the fact that the Federal Department of Primary Industry contributes something like a quarter of a million dollars annually to the Institute's running-although the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation contributes more, and I think that may well be part of the problem- Mr Kerin has opted for a low profile on the issues, indicating in his last letter to me that he was keeping a watching brief on what was happening. The staff member of the Minister for Science and Technology simply refused to take any action at all, including raising it with his Minister, on the ground that the Department has no responsibility for the Institute. This is notwithstanding that Institute's links with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, which most definitely falls within the jurisdiction of the DST. I wrote to Senator Jones and said, in conclusion:

It seems to me that the only remaining avenue of the staff, both past and present, of the Institute to take if they want justice to be done, is if the Senate is prepared to look into the matter. You may well ask why the concerns of such a small number of people should warrant such extreme action. I can only say that the issues facing those 15 or so people are important to them; that the unilateral decision made by the Director and/or the Council are questionable from a number of points of view; and that the allegation of deviousness and deceit made against some Council members of an organisation in receipt of a large sum of taxpayers' money demand the closest scrutiny.

I therefore urge you-

that is, Senator Jones-

and your Committee to give the most urgent and serious consideration to taking on an inquiry into the nature of the research undertaken by the Institute both currently and in the past; the reasons for the sudden change in the direction of that research-apparently necessitating dismissals of highly respected scientists ; the arrogant behaviour of some Council members and the new Director; the sudden decision to change the terms and conditions under which the staff work; the involvement, if any, of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation in these decisions; and the very serious allegations made by staff re their treatment in the past year and the behaviour of some Council members during the Federal C and A hearing.

I hope it falls within the brief of the Committee and that the Committee sees its way clear to take up the matter. I thank Senator Jones, whom I spoke to before I wrote to him, for giving me a sympathetic hearing and taking the matter seriously enough to suggest that in fact I write to him and the Committee putting that suggestion.