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Thursday, 8 March 1984
Page: 641


Senator COATES(4.22) —I want to enlarge a little on the comments I made in a question to the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs (Senator Ryan ), who represents the Minister for Science and Technology, about the effect on Commonwealth employment in Tasmania of the report of the Committee of Inquiry into Commonwealth Laboratories. I asked the question on Monday. I do not wish to be critical of the very full work of the Committee of Inquiry. It was given a job to do by the previous Government, a job that was continued under this Government. I do not pretend to have read all three volumes of the report. I want also to emphasise that I am not opposed to sensible rationalisation of Commonwealth laboratories or of any other Government activity. But I was pleased to hear Senator Ryan say in answer to my question the other day that there was not, as yet, any Government decision on the report and that the aspects that I raised will be taken into account.

The problems that the report refers to in respect of Tasmania concern, in particular, the Armed Forces Food Science Establishment at Scottsdale, which has been referred to by other Tasmanian members. There is also mention of the section of the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories in Hobart and the future of the Commonwealth Department of Health Pathology Laboratory. These matters seem to come under the general recommendation of the Committee of Inquiry that there should be a concentration of Commonwealth laboratory service activities in larger and more viable laboratories. One needs to ensure that in Tasmania, as in other small States and in the regions of this country, there is a correct proportion of Commonwealth employment. We have been pushing for this for many years.

Honourable senators may recall that the Australian Labor Party initiated the policy of taking into account regional needs, in Tasmania in particular, when considering the distribution of Commonwealth activities. Arising out of that initiation there was the report of the Callaghan Inquiry into the Structure of Industry and the Employment Situation in Tasmania. The first move was the location of the Antarctic Division's headquarters in Tasmania. I was proud to be associated with this. It arose out of a suggestion in the time of the McMahon Government that the one small part of that Antarctic Division which had been located in Tasmania should be moved to the mainland and concentrated in Melbourne. I am not suggesting that there should be a section of the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories in every town in the country, but there should be some balance of distribution of Commonwealth services and employment around the country. I ask: Why cannot Hobart be the location of the section of the Australian Government Analytical Laboratories which specialises in certain tests where it would not be efficient to duplicate expensive equipment? I do not automatically believe that it is necessarily most efficient to transfer all activities to Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. While rationalisation may well be useful, one can rationalise in ways which do not affect Commonwealth employment. My understanding is that the State does not want to take over the Commonwealth pathology laboratory in Hobart. It is important that pathology not be left to the major private laboratory alone. At least the existence of the Commonwealth laboratory provides medical practitioners with a choice as to the body they send their samples to for testing.

I will mention very briefly the Scottsdale research laboratories. As everyone will appreciate, defence expenditure in Tasmania is very low. I am not pushing for having any major base. The existing operation, especially as it is an ideologically sound component of defence expenditure, should be allowed to continue in a town which, to a large extent, depends on it for its existence. It should not be moved to the mainland just for the sake of centralisation. That does not mean that it should necessarily remain within the Department of Defence . Perhaps it ought to be a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation activity. But I do not think that a closure at Scottsdale would necessarily go along with that other rationalisation.