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Monday, 29 May 1989
Page: 2895

Senator McGAURAN —Has the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce seen a report in Saturday's Melbourne Age under the by-line of the winner of the 1989 Michael Daly Prize for Science Reporting in the Print Media, that is, Mr Graeme O'Neill, which confirms the Government's misleading funding figures for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)? It is correct that the Government, in calculating the funding figure for the CSIRO in 1987-88, omitted to make an allowance for the inflation rate? Is the 1987-88 funding figure therefore artificially low and does it not make the projected funding for successive years, which are all represented in 1988-89 dollars, appear more generous in comparison? As a result of the misleading base figure for 1987-88, is it not a fact that CSIRO will be worse off over the next three years than it was last year? Who is responsible for this error in basic arithmetic, or did the Government intentionally use a misleading base figure so as to give the mistaken impression that funding for the CSIRO was escalating, when in fact it was decreasing in real terms?

Senator BUTTON —My understanding of this matter is that it is not the funding estimates which were flawed, but rather the information which was supplied to the journalist Graeme O'Neill. Figures circulated to journalists at the release of the May science statement were not, in the view of the Government, flawed. They were supplied for CSIRO's appropriation in 1987-88 terms, while the amounts given for the years 1988-89 to 1991-92 were in 1988-89 dollars. It is standard practice to make comparisons between budgetary figures from different years in nominal terms. It should be noted that the figures quoted for the 1989-90 year and the two subsequent years are in 1988-89 dollars and thus will need to be inflated by the CPI figures in those years.

To say that is not to deny that the Government has progressively decreased the CSIRO's appropriation budget over the past six years. These reductions were part of a policy of making the CSIRO more reliant on externally generated revenue. I should also point out that decisions by the Government in March this year provided CSIRO with an additional $5m for equipments for this current year and allowed CSIRO to retain all its external earnings, thereby adding a further $2.1m to its budget this year, $6.5m next year and $11.6m in 1990-91. When combined with the additional $90m provided for CSIRO in the May statement over the next five years, this reflects a substantial increase in funds since the August 1988 Budget in the Government's contribution to the Organisation.

Senator McGauran also put a couple of smaller parts in his question. I would make the point that the CSIRO budget position was considered at recent board and executive committees of the Organisation. A three-year budget is now being finalised and will allow for substantially increased flexibility to accommodate resource and priority changes, which are determined by the board of CSIRO in consultation with management.