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Thursday, 12 September 1985
Page: 508

Senator HAMER —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. I refer to the invitation from the United States Defence Secretary for Australia to participate in the strategic defence initiative research program. Is the Government concerned about the level of our research and development in the high technology area? Would the American offer enable us to improve our performance in this crucial economic area? Has the Government agreed to accept the American invitation? If not, why not?

Senator BUTTON —The program to which Senator Hamer refers is already being questioned by people involved in research work in the United States of America. It is being increasingly questioned, particularly because so many United States programs now fall under the umbrella of this program about which there are extreme doubts in sections of the scientific community in that country. Yes, the Government has continually expressed concern about the level of research and development in Australia, although I must say that the research community in Australia has generally produced outstanding results for the size of the population which we have in this country. Comparatively, in world terms, Australia puts in a very good research effort. The problem has not been, however, the quality or extent of that research effort but the relationship between that effort and industry. That is the gap that has to be bridged in the Australian context. The Government is very hopeful that the tax concession-the 150 per cent tax incentive announced recently to operate from 1 July 1985-will be instrumental or helpful in building that bridge.

I do not believe that in terms of the needs of Australian industry, the Australian participation in the star wars program that Senator Hamer referred to would be particularly beneficial in the context which I have just outlined. In answer to the question `have we?', the answer is, no. In answer to the question `why not?', that answer I have already given in terms of the priorities of Australian research and industry needs.