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Wednesday, 10 May 1989
Page: 2173

Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. Following the release of the Government's science and technology statement on Monday, can the Minister inform the Senate what the reaction has been to the statement and, in particular, is he aware of any serious criticisms?

Senator BUTTON —The reaction to the Government's statement varies between mildly favourable and very favourable. I put in the mildly favourable category the comments of the vice-chancellors and the comments of the Institution of Engineers, for example, who have said that this is a very good start and that more needs to be done over time.

Senator Lewis —Oh!

Senator BUTTON —Senator Lewis scoffs. The other category of comment, which I describe as highly favourable, came from certain officers of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation--

Senator Lewis —Ha, ha!

Senator BUTTON —Yes, it does, including the Chief Executive, and from a variety of others. Indeed, the press comment on the science program announced on Tuesday was generally favourable. I was asked by Senator Childs particularly whether I was conscious of any serious or adverse criticism of the package announced by the Government. I am aware of two examples of very serious criticism because the condition of the people who made them can be described only as serious, if not terminal, if there is a reshuffle on the Opposition benches. The first criticism came from the Opposition spokesman on education, Mr Julian Beale, and the Opposition spokesman on science, Mr McGauran.

In a press release put out after the Government's statement Mr Beale indicated his complete lack of understanding of the policy initiatives behind the Prime Minister's Science Council. He said it would compete with the Australian Research Grants Committee and the Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC) for the disbursements of funds. The Council has nothing to do with that function. It is a coordinating body to bring together the various peak bodies and the scientific expertise in the country to plan and develop forward programs. Mr Beale concluded with a most revealing remark in the halcyon days that we have had this week:

Under the verbal camouflage the clear message is this that this Government believes that there are no votes in science.

That is the message with which Mr Beale concludes. That seems to be a clear indication that it is Opposition policy, if Mr Beale has his way, to pursue policies related only to winning votes rather than establishing a structure for the development of science and technology in Australia into the future. It is also serious because it is confusing. I am not one given to personal explanations, but I noticed the ubiquitous Mr McGauran on television the other day explaining that I had told CSIRO that it was not allowed to sack anybody for a fortnight. I do not know where on earth he got that from. I will not bother to make a personal explanation about that sort of thing. He has an appalling ignorance of his shadow portfolio. For example, he claims that there has been a 28 per cent cut in the CSIRO's appropriation over the past five years. In fact, it was 17 per cent. He talks about a $40m shortfall in the CSIRO budget, which suggests that he gets all of his information from the Australian newspaper because that was a typographical error in the Australian. It said $40m when it meant $14m. For a responsible shadow Minister to say in a press release that that was the shortfall for CSIRO is extraordinary.

He also takes the convenient figure of $20m off the top of his head and claims that is what is needed for infrastructure redevelopment, without presenting any evidence for this claim. He states in his press release that we provided an average of $18m a year for CSIRO, but ignores the substantial funds which will flow from external earnings and through flow-ons from industry taking advantage of the tax incentive. It is very difficult to work out which Opposition spokesman is correct about all of this-or less wrong. It is clear that the former, Mr Beale, cannot read and the second, Mr McGauran, cannot count. Their future as shadow Ministers must surely be in doubt and Mr Peacock, as a new leader enjoying a second honeymoon, has an opportunity on the basis of these sorts of press statements to do something about the Opposition's front bench.