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Tuesday, 23 May 1989
Page: 2507


Senator ARCHER(10.07) —I rise to speak to the Appropriation Bills. In doing so, what strikes me most about the Bills is the extraordinary priorities that this Government has in many areas. It does not seem to have any idea that the country has to generate sources of income if we are to survive. It does not seem to understand that the fluctuation in the value of the dollar has added $10 billion to $15 billion to Australia's overseas debt in the last two or three weeks. It does not seem to understand that if there is a $2 billion deficit for May, as has been predicted, the interest alone on that amount is in the order of $150m a year. The Minister for Resources (Senator Cook), who is in the chamber, may understand that $150m a year is about as much as we get for the total of Australia's woodchip exports. The total of Australia's woodchip exports will pay one month's interest on the extra deficit, and that is all.

We are bleeding to death from interest payments. But the world's worst Treasurer does not seem to believe there is any problem about that. He does not seem to take it seriously. He says, `We are on course' and leaves it at that. People around Australia can no longer tolerate it being left at that. We have to build up the country's generating operations. We have to face this question of interest. We are paying the highest rate of interest of any similar country in the world. Our debt is now at the level of those countries that we have been led to believe are in a very poor state. We are in the same order as Brazil and Mexico. I would not have thought that this would bring the Treasurer (Mr Keating) any great joy. I was interested to read a portion of a speech given by Sir Arvi Parbo on 5 May in Melbourne. In one paragraph he said:

In June 1980 our net overseas debt was 6.3% of GDP-that is 6.3 per cent of what we produce annually. By June 1985 it had leapt to 25% and is now over 30% of GDP. In these terms it has risen by five times in less than a decade. In money terms we have gone up fourteen times from a debt of about $7 billion to what will be around $100 billion by the middle of this year. (The gross debt is well over $100 billion). The debt is increasing at the rate of $50 million a day. During the hour and a half we are spending at this lunch, it will have increased by $3 million.

The world's worst Treasurer does not seem at any stage to take that into account. He says that we are still on track. It is a pretty poor track we are on, and I do not know where it will wind up. The people of Australia must change this wretched Government and get a bit of financial management from people who know where they are going, who know when things are serious and who are prepared to do something about it. That is the only alternative. The Government has said that it supports higher wages. The people of Australia certainly need them, but higher wages have to be accompanied by higher productivity. I notice that we are now using various newfangled expressions for covering up on a wages increase that means absolutely nothing and produces absolutely nothing except greater debts and higher interest. We are still going up this track of having higher interest rates and greater and greater debt.

Senator Reid covered many of the domestic issues very well and clearly demonstrated the sorts of problems that the average people are suffering from. But it goes a lot further than that, because over the last 12 months the arrears owing through the Housing Loans Insurance Corporation have gone up again by another 7.1 per cent. This debt concerns people's greatest asset-their house. It has risen another 7.1 per cent over the very high figure that applied before. The world's worst Treasurer does not worry about that either-I do not know whether he even recognises it-but the people whose houses are in jeopardy, the people who may lose the roof over their heads, certainly understand.

Let us look at the individual areas. Tonight I would like to deal briefly with only three small areas. I would like to mention science, the Antarctic, and foreign fishing. On the matter of science, in the last week or two the newspapers and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) have been talking about a $1 billion hand-out for science and research. That is absolutely, flagrantly, deliberately and wantonly incorrect. That so-called $1 billion is, of course, to be allocated over five years; it is not a simple injection of $1 billion that could now well be made if the Government had any intention of trying to generate the economy into productivity again. Approximately two-thirds of the $1 billion goes to tax deductions in the area of research and development in the private sector. That is an increase on the situation that applied before, but in the areas where the Government has the responsibility the position is quite different. Of course, the majority of the money left after that-the $78m per annum average-goes to Mr Dawkins, not to the Department of Science as such. That is important and it needs to be taken into account.

Of that $78m a year, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) may get $18m per year. The Prime Minister has decided that, as he wants to beat up his own position a little, he will take unto himself science, the greenhouse effect and anything else which might provide a bit of good publicity and on which he can shower some money. Of that amount, $7.8m is to go to funding work in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet on the greenhouse effect. Even when Senator Richardson, the muscleman in this organisation, applied for $1m he could not get it. The amount of $1m last year in many respects would have been far more valuable than $7.8m as part of this $1 billion package.

The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation is to get $2.5m over five years. The Australian Institute of Marine Science is to get $2.5m over five years. Marine science generally gets $3.9m, or $0.78m a year. The universities and colleges get $35m a year, and then we have an Australia Prize of a quarter of a million dollars a year. So it goes on. But where will that have an effect? How will that catch up the huge losses accumulated in the last seven years? Every year since this Government has been in office there have been huge cuts in the generator of the Australian economy. Without the work done by science, and without the hope that it gives our young people to work in this country for this country, we are going downhill fast. And it does not worry the world's worst Treasurer one iota.

I give credit to Barry Jones for doing absolutely everything that one man could possibly do to try to get some interest in science-and, or course, he can get interest everywhere except in the Cabinet room. The way he has been treated by the Prime Minister, by Mr Dawkins in particular, and by others is absolutely disgraceful. The dedication of the man in staying in his portfolio deserves particular mention. The derogatory remarks that he suffers at the hands of his colleagues do none of them any credit. If any of them had the dedication to their jobs that he has for his, we in Australia might be in a slightly better state-but they do not and so we are not.

If we are to get this economy moving we will have to get this generator started, and it will not start without fuel. The situation now is that in most of the science places I go to I find people trying to work with equipment that is hopelessly out of date and hopelessly inadequate. We are expecting people to produce for the year 2000 and beyond with the clapped-out equipment of the 1960s and 1970s. Any other country with any desire to succeed in these areas has provided its people with reasonable, adequate equipment for a start. Such countries have also given their people some sense of security and some pride in what they are doing. But here the people engaged in science are underpaid. The qualification necessary to get into science has now been downgraded, and now it is way down the list for the people with high intellectual capacity. We are expecting those people to come up with the best science in the world, and it just does not happen that way. There is no security in their work. People are leaving in considerable numbers. I noticed in the computer section of the Australian of 9 May an article under the heading, `Expatriate researchers argue a number-cruncher of our own is essential now to secure the future'. It then goes on to state, `Brain drain: the super story of why scientists go', and to list several Australians who have done remarkable things in various areas of science-absolutely top men and men of considerable brilliance except that they are all overseas. All the good research they are doing is being done in other places. Why should that be? Twenty years ago Australians led the world in many of these areas. Why do they not now? We have destroyed many of these people. We have killed the incentive and the initiative that they had. Where are we heading?

Let us take the area of marine science. We have a greater area within our 200-mile limit than we have in our land area. What are we doing about research in that area? What do we know about the mangrove areas or the Great Barrier Reef? We have a magnificent research vessel, the Aurora Australis. It looks lovely tied up at the Hobart wharf. It would look a jolly sight better if we provided it with some fuel and let it go to sea. What about research generally? What do we know about the waters and the fish that are in the waters? Precious little. Why? These waters have a lot of very valuable material in them, but we do not do anything about it and we do not let anybody else do anything about it. We have this magnificent boat tied up at the Hobart wharf. When we read newspaper articles on the subject, we find that not one word of credit goes to the Government for what it has done. Every article that I have seen over the months is critical of the Government's performance in this area, and it is not suddenly going to come right unless somebody makes it come right.

It is extraordinary that the Government believes that it can say to the CSIRO, `Go out and get 30 per cent of the money you need and get on with your research'. There are many areas of CSIRO research in which it is just not appropriate to try to raise that sort of money. There are other areas where, if it does raise the money, the money is tied, which reduces the amount of discretionary funds it has for other jobs, and it accordingly winds down on other research. Every tied job it gets reduces the funds available for other areas of research. It is so short-sighted; it is so absolutely stupid. I do not care whether it is the Treasurer, the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) or the Prime Minister himself who says that has to be done; what is going on is absolutely stupid. Unless we start this generator we will never improve our position internationally, but it does not seem to matter to the Government that we are going down and down.

I will briefly touch on the Antarctic. It has become clear in the course of the Estimates hearings and as a result of other committee hearings conducted at about the same time that all is not well with the operation of the Antarctic Division. One thing that is clearly not right is that it is in the wrong hands. Why the Antarctic Division should be in the hands of the Minister for odds and ends-for sport, recreation and whatever else-I do not know. It is clearly inappropriate. The Minister for the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories (Senator Richardson) clearly has no interest in it. At one stage he was asked whether he had been to Kingston, south of Hobart. He said yes, he had. We knew very well that he had not, because the people down there were absolutely disgusted at the fact that, while he was trotting backwards and forwards to Tasmania once or twice a week, he had never been to the Antarctic base. Later, when we quizzed him on it a second time, he admitted that he had telephoned the base but he had not been there up to that point. Is it any wonder that morale is low when the Minister deliberately misleads the Senate by giving the wrong information?


Senator Cook —Mr Acting Deputy President, I raise a point of order. There is an allegation that the Minister has deliberately misled the Senate. There is no evidence of that. I suggest that the allegation be withdrawn.


Senator ARCHER —I withdraw and say that the Minister at one stage said that he had visited the Antarctic base when in fact he had not. Later he admitted that what he had said was wrong. Does that satisfy the Minister? That is in fact what happened. The Minister in fact admitted that he was wrong. I would have thought he would have known whether or not he had been there before.

Let us get onto the question of sledges for the Antarctic. Why we have to build sledges in Germany when we can build the ship that is going to carry the sledges in Australia baffled even the Minister. We clearly need to work this one out. The stupidity of spending money on buying sledges made in Germany which were ordered nine months before they were needed and which, because of the weather conditions, still have not been delivered 14 months later, requires attention. It is a crazy business.

We also have the question of the Lady Franklin. Due to bad management and bad planning, the Lady Franklin was sent to the Antarctic area at the beginning of October last year and, of course, could not get into the base, whereupon it turned around and came back. It was also discovered that some of the gear had been left on the Hobart wharf and it was then necessary to get the Air Force to parachute it onto Macquarie Island. This is the way this enterprise is run. This is Minister Richardson's bailiwick. Again I say that he has no interest in it. Morale is low as a result and management is less than adequate.

I turn to the matter of foreign fishing. We have been told that the main aim of the fishing service is to improve the Australianisation of foreign fishing in these external waters. After a number of questions during the Estimates hearings, we found that in spite of that, and in spite of trying to get Australians involved in one way or another, we had hived off considerable tonnages of the allocation that we were making and let them go to the Republic of China on a straight fee fishing basis. The Chinese paid $336,000 in access fees to fish the North West Shelf, and that was all. They take the fish, pay the money and go. That is not helping the Australian fishing industry one iota. We found in the cut-up of the tonnage that 2,850 tonnes were not allocated. Why they were originally gazetted as being available and then not allocated, I am not sure, except that subsequent correspondence says that they were being held for Australian fishermen.

The fact is that at that time a company was prepared to move in, to build considerable equipment in Australia, to replace its ships with ships built in Australia and to market either inside or outside Australia, whichever was decided. When we raised this during the Estimates hearings we were told that the Government had considered it but it was not appropriate. I have a letter which more or less confirms that in various words. I still cannot understand why this was so, and I am a long way from being satisfied as to why we get this sort of answer. Why should we sell our fish to some foreign country when we could establish a great Australian industry in Western Australia? I am sure that the Western Australian senators would like to know that too. It is another matter which I hope we will be able to deal with later on when we get to the committee stage.

I believe that this Government's extraordinary priorities regarding the income producing areas of the nation as against the non-income producing areas require a lot more attention. I am disgusted at the way the priorities are worked out, and we will deal with that at a future time.

Debate interrupted.