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Wednesday, 19 June 1996
Page: 1865


Senator WEST(6.47 p.m.) —I want to continue this evening with a topic that I had commenced this afternoon in the debate on matters of public interest—what is happening to the Australian Geological Survey Organisation. I want to go on beyond that, in the time I have tonight, to talk about some of the other attacks on regional programs and regional organisations by this government.

The Australian Geological Survey Organisation, as I mentioned earlier, is a Public Service body. It underpins Australia's internationally competitive energy and mineral resources industries by maintaining a high quality geoscience knowledge and skills base. I get that definition and wording from the coalition's 1996 resources policy statement. But we now discover that they are going to have something like a 27 to 30 per cent cut in their staff numbers. We are going to be losing that skills base.

The coalition policy states that this is the organisation that provides baseline information and related services to the mining industry and is crucial for the maintenance of an attractive regime for investment in Australian minerals and energy exploration and development.

This government—the same government that four or five months ago was making this statement—is in fact going against what they spoke of in their policy statement. They have obviously just forgotten the value of this organisation. We know, from media reports in the Australian, in the New Scientist and in some other very reputable journals, that the industry itself is very concerned. Everybody in this country recognises the value of the mining and resources industry to this nation. It also has a major benefit to people in regional areas of Australia because that is where the majority of our minerals are.

The maps that are provided benefit not only the mining industry but also land management. This is the government that wants to flog off one-third of Telstra and put a billion dollars for an indefinite period into the environment because they consider it to be of concern. They want to remove the capacity of AGSO to be able to provide the mapping on which they can base land management in this country. That is absolutely ridiculous. It is a double standard. It is a false economy because the more information we have about the land and the geological make-up of this country, the better we will be able to manage our land, the more we will know precisely where our mineral resources are and the better we will be able to assist the farming community as well to cope with things like dry land salinity caused by rising water tables.

We are discovering that when water is put into some of our natural geological formations salt is leached into the surrounding countryside and surrounding areas. It becomes vitally important that we continue to know where these areas are. The more research and data we have, the better we will be able to manage our natural countryside. But this government obviously does not care about that.

AGSO provides a base information line from which organisations and companies are able to go out and research. I spoke earlier today about the Newcrest mine at Cadia in the central west. Anyone who read the Sunday papers would have seen the two-page article on this project and the benefit and value that it is going to bring to the community.

There are other mineral deposits being discovered in other areas of central western New South Wales. I know that AGSO has also been involved in a joint project with the governments of South Australia and New South Wales in the Broken Hill area. They had a plan for a five-year mapping program. That has been reduced to 2½ years.

Anybody who is familiar with the area of Broken Hill and with Broken Hill itself will be aware that that ore body is decreasing, it is running out. We need to undertake as much research as possible to provide baseline data to encourage and to facilitate the entry of mining companies into further exploration in that area. If we do not, I think that we are going to be criminally negligent in not providing the people in that community with the possibility of further development in the mining industry for which they have the infrastructure and the skills base and for which they are rightly very proud.

Broken Hill several years ago suffered a major problem when Pasminco closed one of the mining shafts because of inaccessibility and low commodity prices. We have to make sure that we do not lose the rest of Broken Hill. If you have cutting of funds to the joint project of the state and the federal governments and cutting back of the project from five years to 2½ years, you have to realise that you will have less information.

Of course, you have to add to that the fact that the skillshares out there are being cut. They do not know what is going to happen to the CES offices. All this erosion of services and facilities in these areas will have a major impact upon these communities. I urge people to be very conscious of the impact that the reduction of funding for, and the reduction of staff numbers at, the Australian Geological Survey Organisation is going to have on people in that particular area.

Another thing that is under threat is the CSIRO station at Chiswick, near Armidale. This involves the CSIRO's animal production division, which has done a lot of research on, and has given support to, the merino wool industry. People are aware that the wool industry is suffering pretty tough times at present. The last thing that they need is to lose this CSIRO research facility at Chiswick.

The research facility ties in and works very closely with the cooperative development centre at the University of New England, at Armidale. There is a synergy between the two organisations. You are getting the scientists and research fellows from both organisations working together and working for the benefit of the local area and for the benefit of the primary producers and the woolgrowers in the area.

During the election campaign, the honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair) said that he would guarantee that this particular establishment would stay open. However, on reading the local media in recent times, it has become quite apparent that he is unable to give that guarantee. He should never have given the guarantee, because he is unable to deliver the guarantee. He, like everybody else, is having to wait to see what the outcome is going to be.

I noticed in the Armidale Express of the 10th of this month that he has urged community support. I would also urge the community around the area and those involved in rural production—the New South Wales Farmers Association and organisations like that—to do as he says, to get in and support the maintenance and the retention of the CSIRO establishment at Chiswick. It is vitally important.

I note also in an editorial from the Armidale Express that they are also saying that it is time for `Sinkers' to get stuck in. In fact, they are calling on him to do something and to make sure that his government, the government of which he is a member, does not close this establishment. It would be to the detriment of the primary producers, to those who are involved in the research and to those who are involved in the nearby University of New England. These sorts of facilities in rural Australia are vitally important. They are just two instances of what is going to be cut by the current government.