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Tuesday, 17 August 1993
Page: 125

(Question No. 238)

Senator Chamarette asked the Minister for Science and Small Business, upon notice, on 19 May 1993:

  (1) Is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) researching methods of preventing termite damage to buildings in Australia; if so: (a) what are the details of all research projects involving attempts or successful experiments to control, prevent and/or exterminate termite infestations; (b) for each research project, what is the name of the researcher and the section of the CSIRO conducting it; (c) for each research project, what are the details of funding received by CSIRO, including the source of the funding; and (d) are some of the CSIRO researchers engaged in research of termite control or extermination methods as specified in (b) competing for funds with each other.

  (2) If CSIRO researchers are competing for funds with each other, are they in a conflict of interest situation when advising on alternative methods already available, or about to become available, to control or exterminate termites other than those which they are researching.

  (3) If CSIRO researchers are not competing for funds with each other, why are they not in a situation of conflict of interest.

  (4) Are CSIRO researchers permitted to provide privately paid consultancy services; if so: (a) for whom have CSIRO researchers consulted on matters concerning termite control methods; and (b) who were the CSIRO researchers who provided private consultancies on matters concerning termite control.

Senator Schacht —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

  (1) The CSIRO Divisions of Entomology and Forest Products have been engaged for many years in research to protect wood and wood products from wood-destroying insects, particularly termites. The latter insects are the major cause of attack and damage to timber-in-service.

  (a) The termite projects currently undertaken by the Division of Entomology are:

  Improved baiting techniques for control of termites.

  The evaluation of chemical and certain physical soil barriers to replace organochlorine insecticides (= cyclodienes) for protecting buildings.

  The assessment of plastics and other materials for resistance to termite attack.

  The use of the fungus Metarhizium as a biological control agent for termites.

  The use of entomopathogenic nematodes as biocontrol agents against termites.

  The Division of Forest Products termite projects are:

  Evaluating granite particles, commercially marketed under the name "Granitgard", as a potential physical barrier against subterranean termites when retrofitted around existing buildings. Granitgard has already been accepted as an alternative termite barrier to chemical barriers in the protection of new buildings in all regions of Australia below the Tropic of Capricorn and has been incorporated into the revised Australian termite standard.

  Working closely with members of the pest control industry in developing novel baiting techniques in termite control in which the emphasis is on environmentally acceptable strategies, and the minimum use of chemicals in the environment.

  Evaluation and screening of chemicals that may prove suitable candidates as termite attractants when incorporated into termite bait systems.

  Developing and screening new chemical formulations that may prove suitable as bait toxicants.

  Evaluation of inclusion compounds as an alternative treatment to arsenic trioxide. The inclusion compounds have a similar mode of action as arsenic trioxide, but have negligible human toxicity. Commercialisation is expected later this year.

  Laboratory and field evaluations of novel wood preservatives which are more environmentally acceptable. In addition, the evaluation of diffusible solid rod preservatives for remedial wood preservation.

  Research into principles of laboratory and field techniques for the evaluation of wood preservatives and termiticides.

  Evaluation of wood fibre/cement composites against termites.

  Research into interaction of decay and termites in determination of natural durability of native and exotic timbers.

  Panel products preservation.

  Developing practical procedures in the non-destructive detection of termites in buildings using acoustical emission techniques.

  (b) In the CSIRO Division of Entomology Dr Tony Watson, Dr Michael Lenz, and Mr Leigh Miller are involved in all the termite projects. In addition, Dr Richard Milner and Ms Judy Staples are involved in the project on Metarhizium and Dr Robin Bedding is involved in the project with nematodes.

  In the CSIRO Division of Forest Products, Dr J R J French is involved in the first five projects listed above and Mr J W Creffield is conducting research in the other projects.

  (c) Total external funding received by the Division of Entomology for work on termite control is currently around $150,000 per annum.

  External funds received by the Division of Forest Products for work on termite control is approximately $100,000 per annum. Details of industrial funding sources and the work involved is subject to confidentiality agreements.

  (d) The termite research of the Divisions of Forest Products and Entomology do not overlap, but may be viewed as complementary when considering the broad area of termite attack and damage, and the Divisions' major clients are the chemical and wood preservation, and the pest control industries.

  The research in the Division of Entomology involves the development of biological methods of termite control using fungal pathogens and nematodes for a number of termite species and the use of improved baiting systems and killing agents against Mastotermes and Coptotermes particularly in Northern Australia. Studies are also being carried out on the use of a range of chemical and physical soil barriers as an alternative to cyclodiene insecticide to protect buildings and other structures from termites and the ability of selected plastics and other synthetic materials to withstand termite attack. Research being carried out by the Division of Forest Products is centred around the ability of timber and timber preservatives to withstand termite attack, plus some work on granite chip barriers and baits for termite control.

  Both Divisions participate in joint field trips and perform collaborative research between the two laboratories and overseas termite researchers (for example, principles of test methodology for laboratory and field techniques).

  (2) The CSIRO researchers do not compete with each other for funds, rather they complement each other's research efforts. Communications between each Division are frequent, and areas of research are discussed and understood. In fact, researchers from each Division are currently engaged in a collaborative research project on termites in Thailand with the Thai Department of Forestry, funded by the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research. Advice to the general public involves options, and considering the wide range of research being undertaken by both Divisions, conflict of interests is not an issue. The working relationship between the two Divisions is seen as interactive, rather than competitive.

  (3) See answer to (2) above.

  (4) CSIRO staff are not permitted to provide private paid consultancy services [CSIRO Terms and Conditions of Employment (Para 21 & 23)].