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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1800


Senator COULTER(3.07) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

This paper extends the discussion which took place in the Senate the other day on a matter of public importance initiated by Senator Puplick. I stress again that we have in this country at present a Government which is anti-intellectual, anti-science and anti-research. The report contains a clear indication that the Committee of the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC), which framed this report, has been infected with the same rather narrow view of the role of science in society. It points to the inability because of core capacity to provide sufficient competence to support projected economic developments and to meet national responsibilities, whatever they are. Again, the emphasis is on economic developments.

As I pointed out the other day, one needs to take a much wider view of science than that. Indeed, there is a need to turn around the perception which the public has of the role of science in society and the role of research. The Government is doing nothing in that respect. It has, by running down the capacity of schools and universities to deliver a good science program, been running down the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and universities research programs. Clearly this has given the public the view that science is not an activity that is worth pursuing. One need only point to an earlier report of ASTEC to draw attention to the incredible divergence between the public's perception of the need to put more funding into the environmental area and the way in which this Government has run down the funding in that area. I point to the science and technology statement 1987-88 report in which it noted in the environment area that long term trends were minus 6.8 per cent per annum, and that short term trends were minus 16 per cent per annum. That contrasts very sharply with the public perception of a need to spend more money in this area.

We also observe as a result of this public perception generated by the Government a 40 per cent drift among the highest achieving students away from the area of science and into other areas of education. If we look at the Australian National University's matriculation marks for acceptance into science and arts and compare those with the situation that obtained only a few years ago where much higher marks were required to get into science-indeed many science courses were hard to enter-we now find at the Australian National University that only 270 marks are required to get into science while 281 marks are required to get into arts. In other words, there is a perception that a pursuit of arts is more profitable than a pursuit of science.

When we look at the post-graduate support scheme, we find that post-graduates-those who have ground their way through many years of tertiary education-can only get research awards amounting to $11,000 a year. This is at a time of life when many of these students are married and perhaps want to start a family. This is particularly relevant to women in post-doctoral positions. It is precisely the time in their lives when they want to move on in their careers and, if they are married, also to start a family. It would be useful if this report had made some recommendation regarding further support for married people in this very critical time in the development of their post-doctoral studies.

The report draws attention to the need for more private funding. Earlier reports have pointed to the lack of private funding in Australia for research. The report correctly draws attention to the fact that many of the major companies in Australia are trans- national and carry on research overseas. This Government and indeed the Opposition by their deregulatory programs are supporting the intrusion of more multinational companies into Australia. Therefore we are likely to see less research carried out in this country rather than more.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Giles) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.