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Wednesday, 24 May 1989
Page: 2570

Senator ZAKHAROV —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Science and Technology. Is the Minister aware of concern expressed by the Australian Association of Rural Fire Authorities that funding cuts to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) are threatening to force the closure of the National Bushfire Research Unit? Is there any basis for this concern? Will the Government continue to fund research into bushfires and the safety of fire fighters?

Senator BUTTON —It may be a matter of some surprise but I am aware of this concern expressed by the Association of Rural Fire Authorities over the closure of the National Bushfire Research Unit. That unit was established four years ago within the CSIRO to conduct a national research program into bushfires. It was originally intended that the unit would be jointly funded and managed by CSIRO and users of the research. In pursuit of that arrangement it was hoped that the unit would receive external funding of $200,000 from fire authorities to plan and manage research in conjunction with local authorities. Users of the research carried out by the unit have shown no willingness to contribute to the program. The Government regrets the poor level of response from the States, particularly when the risk of bushfires in this country is so great.

My colleague the Minister for Science, Customs and Small Business, Mr Jones, proposes to ask the Prime Minister to write to State Premiers asking them to raise their level of participation in bushfire research. However, due to the lack of user support for the national body, CSIRO sees no need for the continued existence of the research unit as a separate entity. The research being conducted by the unit will continue as part of the normal operations within CSIRO's Division of Forestry Research. CSIRO has taken this action because the cost of providing the unit with separate management and administrative guidelines was excessive, given the failure of the States to contribute to the unit's activity. The division will certainly maintain the present level of funding for bushfire research, which is about $270,000 a year, and will seek individual collaborative research projects with other bodies including those which were envisaged initially as potential collaborators. It is anticipated that there should be considerable demand for CSIRO'S expertise in this area. To that end, CSIRO is setting up a liaison committee for the bushfire program to provide a method of interaction with users.