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Tuesday, 2 May 1989
Page: 1568


Senator PUPLICK(3.30) —Only a few years ago Australia's scientific community was one of the jewels in the crown of our nation. It produced Nobel Prize winners, it led the world in numerous areas of frontier research and it contributed mightily to the growth of our economy. We had a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) comprising keen and dedicated scientists who knew that they had the respect and the admiration of the Australian people, professional and competent leadership and the unqualified support of their national government. Today, after six years of the Hawke-Keating Labor Government and after years of mismanagement by Ministers Button, Jones and now Dawkins, we have a scientific community which is confused and angry, starved of funds and under siege. Young people no longer wish to enter the science profession and increasing numbers of our best and brightest are being driven overseas in despair and frustration.

After several years of languishing under the dead and incompetent hand of that arch Labor political crony, Neville Wran, we have a CSIRO which is abused by its own Minister, used as a political plaything, with its funds turned on and off in response to political and not scientific demands, lacking in leadership, direction and funds, with top scientists calling for their chairman to go before it is too late and with no hope of survival or revival without an immediate change of government in this country.

Let us consider the Australian Labor Party's record of support for science in this country. Under Labor, Australia's position in research and development spending has dropped to sixteenth in a list of 22 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries. We have been overtaken in recent years in the funding stakes by Canada, Italy and even Denmark. Government and business spend around 1.18 per cent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on research, while Japan spends 3.19 per cent and the United States, 2.88 per cent. We have a chief executive of CSIRO, Dr Boardman, saying that he regards the CSIRO as having been better off 20 years ago. We have the Minister for Science, Customs and Small Business (Mr Barry Jones) pointing to the fact that between 1983 and 1988 there was a 21.6 per cent drop in government spending on science. In areas as vital as research into the greenhouse effect, CSIRO's leading climate scientists such as Dr Tucker are being forced to scrap their work and to cancel projects which are of importance to the community. The 1987-88 science and technology statement reveals the overall position. It is disgraceful. I quote from that statement:

Projected Commonwealth direct expenditure of $1,179m on R & D for 1987-88 shows almost no increase relative to the 1986-87 total of $1,178.5m. . . This represents a real decrease of about 5.9%. . .

In real terms, Government support for science and technology has decreased by approximately 1.7 per cent compared with 1986-87. As my friend and colleague in the other place Mr Smith, the honourable member for Bass, pointed out, the world's strongest economy, Japan, boosted its research and development expenditure from 0.84 of GDP in 1955 to 3.19 per cent in 1987, becoming the first country in the world to top the 3 per cent mark.

Australia's research and development expenditure as a proportion of GDP has only just regained its levels of 20 years ago. The CSIRO has had its funds cut by 32 per cent in cumulative terms since the Government of which Senator Button is a member has been in office. If this state of affairs resulted purely or solely from Labor's economic incompetence, which is manifest every day in this country, it would be bad enough, but it does not. It results almost as much from Labor's warped and corrupted ideological prejudices in regard to the way science policy is administered. Above all, it results from Labor's deliberate policy of starving basic research of funds. The absolute essential nature, the intellectual underpinning, of basic scientific research, the very sine qua non of our progress as a scientific and technological nation, has been assaulted by Labor's deliberate policy strategy in this regard.

The Secretary of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Jonathon Stone, noted that last year's Budget contained two sharp messages for Australian science: firstly, the need for more industrialised control of research and, secondly, the need for more promotion of commercially and industrially oriented research. He said that, while there was good reason to encourage the economically productive cooperation between science and industry, the Government was seeking this goal at the cost of basic research. He concluded:

By omission, the Government makes clear that it has no policy on science, except that it should provide short-term economic returns.

If that is the case, then this Government is selling short not only the intellectual resources of this country but also its future. In October last year the Canberra Times contained a letter, signed by a dozen or so of the most eminent scientists and technologists in this country, which concluded with these words:

The Government's failure to recognise that creative basic research underlies all scientific and technological progress is a serious flaw in current attempts to control and direct the course of scientific endeavour.

That sort of a strategy is inherently weak. It is inherently flawed. In the long run it will fail, to the cost and the detriment of the Australian community. Professor Alex Lazenby, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Tasmania, has spoken on a number of occasions, for example, about the importance of intuition and serendipity in research. He has said that that should not be underestimated. It is underestimated by this Government, which believes that science funding is simply a short term palliative, a quick fix, to try to combat the economic disasters and failures with which this Government's policy has manifestly saddled our nation over the last five or six years.

Compared with other countries, we are heading in precisely the opposite direction with regard to science funding. In the United States, for example, under the Reagan Administration, there has been a substantial increase in the amount of money devoted to science. Even when one takes out the money devoted to the Defence Department, one can see that the amount of basic and applied research paid for by the Government rose by 4 per cent to $64.6 billion in the Reagan Budget. Of that total, the funding devoted to basic research grew by 6 per cent, to $10.3 billion. That is the commitment made to basic research excepting and taking out the money directed to defence research, Star Wars and other programs connected with the military.

Finally, we have the comments made recently by Professor Adrienne Clarke, one of the most distinguished scientists in this country and a person who has built a large part of her reputation on the way in which she has advocated a greater interaction and a greater integration between the business community and the scientific community. She has criticised the Government for its basic failure to ensure that universities are adequately funded in terms of basic research. She has raised the critical question of the replacement of obsolete equipment and material needed by the universities to continue to undertake basic research and to produce scientists of quality and of understanding.

If one looks at the recommendations of the recently received Smith committee report, one can see the extent to which they acknowledge the critical state of science funding in Australia. The report calls for the higher education system to receive an injection of $65m to its funding base over the two-year period remaining in the current triennium in order to remedy what it calls serious inadequacies in research infrastructure.

Let us look at the situation of the CSIRO at the moment. My colleagues Senator Archer and Senator Brownhill will be dealing in more specific detail with the CSIRO and, in particular, its application of resources towards support and funding in rural research. One can see on the part of the Chairman of the CSIRO, Mr Neville Wran, an almost total incompetence in standing up for the CSIRO and in securing for it greater access to funds and to government support. If one looks, for example, at an article which appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald in December 1988 under the heading `The Science of Politics and Rebellion' one sees this comment:

Many looked to the CSIRO chairman, Neville Wran, to take up the battle cry-

that is, the battle cry for increased funds-

but Wran issued only a brief public statement suggesting the Budget might hold good news.

Good news! After the Budget Mr Wran was forced to concede that the Budget had not been as good as he had hoped. Mr Wran was put there allegedly-we were told this when his appointment was debated in the Senate-because he was going to be an effective advocate for the CSIRO within the financial and budgetary deliberations of the Government. He has manifestly failed in that regard. He has manifestly failed to provide the CSIRO either with access to funds or with leadership. We have the ludicrous situation of the Acting Chief Executive of the CSIRO, Dr Colin Adam, having to rebuke his own Chairman, Mr Wran, for his ill-informed criticisms of the body of which he is Chairman, over questions of tenders not being submitted for work to be undertaken for environmental management issues in New South Wales. As I have said, we have the Acting Chief Executive having to rebuke his own Chairman for his attack upon the very body of which he is supposed to be the leader. We have Dr Clive Coogan-a friend, I see, from Senator Button's recent letter in the Australian newspaper-in relation to Mr Wran saying this:

Mr Wran does not have the respect of the scientific community . . . He is in a different ballpark, and is therefore judged under different criteria.

In other words, an eminent scientist such as he is, is saying that not only does Mr Wran not have the respect of the scientific community, but also in his 37 years in the CSIRO he said, `He has never seen the organisation quite as disoriented and distracted'. We have the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, Senator Button, who is responsible for the CSIRO in the ultimate political sense, attacking and criticising the CSIRO, not for its failure to produce the scientific goods, but for complaining, as it has the right to complain, about the way in which this Government has consistently and constantly cut funding and support for the CSIRO.

The CSIRO has been used as a political football. After the 32 per cent cuts that have been imposed on the CSIRO, suddenly, when a political problem arises in relation to the greenhouse effect in Australia, there is a $7.8m emergency injection of funds largely into the CSIRO-a body which, as I said earlier, had to cut out a large number of its climate research projects because the government would not provide the funds for them. Yet all of a sudden, when a political problem arises, it is to the CSIRO that the Government turns; it throws money at it; and it expects it to be able to pick up the ball and run with it after all those years of dispiriting attack which the Government has made upon it. In December last year the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) put out a statement saying, `Perhaps now that Mr Jones had talked to everybody they understood the problem and they were going to do something about it'. The Prime Minister's press statement of 13 December tells us `We are all now better informed'. They may be better informed but there is no evidence that the Government has actually done anything about it.

We have manifest failures in terms of the Government's policy. We have the Australian Academy of Science calling on the Federal Government to sack one of its most senior advisers, Professor Don Aitkin, a social scientist who has been put in charge of the Australian Research Council. The people who are the primary recipients of grants under that system-the people in the physical sciences-have no trust whatsoever in Professor Aitkin's ability to handle this vital job. We have Dr John Hutchinson at the Australian National University telling us that we have `lost almost an entire generation of our most outstanding scientists overseas'. We have Dr John Storey from the School of Physics at the University of New South Wales telling us that the number of people studying for entry into the sciences as a result of this Government's science and education policies is at its lowest and, indeed, a critical level. We have the Age newspaper in August last year criticising the Government for its slicing of $13m from the CSIRO budget. We have Mr Jones telling the Cabinet that he is to quit over the way in which science funding has been handled, which presumably is the reason that the science statement has been put off for another week. Apparently Mr Dawkins is accusing Mr Jones of constantly `whingeing to the Cabinet' about a poor deal in science funding but never coming forward with realistic proposals or propositions. We have Professor Lewis Chadderton, one of the most eminent scientists in this country, in an article which appeared in October last year, saying:

Never in the history of this nation have we seen our scientists-young, old, theoretical, experimental, government, academic-so united against the foolhardy interference on the part of the Hawke Government in the why and the wherefore of the way research and innovation is carried out. I say clearly that these are times in which great caution is admittedly called for, but they are also times in which this Government must perform that volte-face, and disown its anti-intellectual approach to science, technology and education.

Even in the Government's own designated areas of important research for Australia there are manifest failures. There has been no adequate response, as yet, to the report of the Biotechnology Consultative Group which reported to the Government in June 1988, yet biotechnology was to be one of the great achievements of this Government's science policy. No adequate funding has been provided for the superconductor research which was to be so important and which Mr Jones so lauds. As yet no adequate response has been received to the basic propositions of the Smith committee in terms of the funding which needs to be provided if we are to have some reversal of the disastrous trend which has occurred as a result of Labor Government policies. The Liberal and National parties, in their recently released science policy, have indicated quite clearly their continued support for the CSIRO. We have stated:

Our goal for the CSIRO is to create vigorous, outward looking Institutes conducting and delivering high quality research for the greatest benefit of Australia.

We say that we will:

. . . provide an environment which will enhance the reputation for scientific excellence developed by the CSIRO over six decades, and encourage greater interaction between it and industry.

We say:

We recognise the vital importance of, and the need to engage in basic scientific research, particularly in those areas where we have particular expertise and special needs.

In conclusion, we on this side of the chamber believe that, over the course of the Hawke-Keating Government, the continual attacks that have been made upon the funding of CSIRO and upon support for science and technology in general have betrayed a whole generation of Australian scientists and researchers. They have had a permanently deleterious effect upon the capacity of this country to meet the challenges of the future. The scientific effort of this country is not there to be turned on and off as a short term economic palliative to overcome the economic failures which have marked this Government over its term of office. We believe that the lack of support, the lack of funding and the lack of leadership, at the level of both the chairmanship of the CSIRO and the Ministers responsible for science and education in this country, are an absolute national disgrace.