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Tuesday, 7 May 1968

Mr Malcolm Fraser (WANNON, VICTORIA) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I move:

That the Bill be now read a' second time.

The purpose of this Bill is to amend the Science and Industry Research Act 1949- 1966 to provide financial provisions appropriate to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and to make other minor amendments. During an examination of trust accounts the Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts considered the need for the continued existence of the. Science and Industry Trust Account established under section 25 of the Science and Industry Research Act. The Committee decided that this Trust Account no' longer served any useful purpose and recommended that the Account be closed. The changes now proposed as a consequence will permit the adoption, of financial arrangements for CSIRO similar to those of other Commonwealth statutory corporations. The principal features of this arrangement are that the funds to be provided out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund for the use of the CSIRO will appear as a one line entry in the Appropriation Acts and will be paid over to the CSIRO for use in accordance with approved estimates of expenditure* The corporation will operate its own bank accounts and be responsible for its own accounting arrangements subject to audit by the Auditor-General.

The Science and Industry Research Act 1949-66 provides that CSIRO be a body corporate which exercises its powers and functions under the Act subject to the approval of the Minister. CSIRO is empowered by the Act to undertake scientific research in connection with and for the promotion of primary and secondary industries, the training of scientific workers, the making of grants in aid of pure scientific research and has a number of other functions incidental to these principal activities. The Executive is the governing body of CSIRO. In carrying out these complex operations the Executive has the responsibility, with the approval of the Minister, for the administration of CSIRO subject to such necessary safeguards as are required to recognise its responsibility to the Minister and to the Parliament. The Act gives to the Executive the responsibility of defining and carrying through the scientific programme and of making decisions subject to the Minister's authority that are required in this connection. The

Act also provides the Executive with direct responsibility for making appointments of scientific and other staff to the Organisation. The success which CSIRO has achieved in serving the needs of Australia through scientific research can be attributed to the responsibility which the Executive has been given to exercise its scientific and practical judgment in the selection of a programme of work and in the appointment of scientific and other staff to carry through this programme.

The financial provisions now proposed give the Executive and the Minister with necessary safeguards the same degree of responsibility and flexibility as are inherent in the other provisions of the Act. These proposals are consistent with the views expressed by the Joint Parliamentary Committee of Public Accounts. That body, while not formulating any alternative arrangements to be adopted on the closure of the Trust Account, stated:

One of the main problems of a governmental research organisation is to retain a flexibility so vital to successful research while still obtaining the funds so necessary to the conduct of research. Your Committee sympathises fully with the desire of the Organisation to preserve this freedom of action insofar as research activities are concerned.

In addition to these financial provisions, there are several other minor proposals. When the Act was amended in 1959 to increase the size of the Executive to nine members, no change was made in the size of the quorum of the Advisory Council, of which the Executive is part. It is desirable that the quorum of the Advisory Council should be enlarged and it is proposed that the number be twelve. The opportunity is taken to update the provision of the 1949 Act requiring the Executive to seek the approval of the Minister for the appointment of persons the maximum salary of whom exceeds £1,500. The present proposal raises this to $10,073. It is proposed to permit the Executive, with the approval of the Minister, to appoint in exceptional cases a senior scientist who does not meet the normal requirements of physical fitness. Finally the Bill clarifies the way in which the Organisation exercises its power of delegation under the Act. I commend the Bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Crean) adjourned.

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