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Thursday, 27 April 1972
Page: 2122

Mr STEWART (Lang) - by leave- Mr Speaker, I must congratulate the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) on the speech which he has just delivered. It is the most intelligent contribution that he has made for some time. It was a speech which I would feel proud to hear from my own Leader. It showed a great deal of common sense and indicated a desire to see that Australia is prepared for the future scientific and technological developments that will come. The proposal referred to in the speech is an excellent example of planning or, as we on this side of the House call it, socialism. To me, socialism is the best use of our manpower, brainpower and financial or natural resources in the best interests of the people and the nation.

Mr firstcomplaint about the speech that the Prime Minister has just made is that it has taken so long for this Government and other governments of the same complexion to recognise the need for this type of forward planning. But my major complaint relates to the fact that the proposal is almost a direct steal from the science and technological policy of the Australian Labor Party. To prove my point, let me give some quotations from the speech which we have just heard. The Prime Minister commenced his speech by saying:

I rise to inform the House of new arrangements that the Government will make in relation to science and technology in Australia. These arrangements will involve the establishment of an Advisory Committee on Science and technology and provision for an appropriate secretariat. The function of this Advisory Committee is to furnish co-ordinated advice on actions and policies that would assist in the alignment of our science and technology, to our national objectives.

On 1 1th September 1969 the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Whitlam), in a speech at the symposium of the New South Wales Division of the Australian and New Zealand Association for the Advancement of Science held at the University of New South Wales, said:

First, there should be a Minister for Science and Technology,. Not only would this be a new portfolio, but 1 believe it would involve a new concept in ministerial practice. A Minister tor Science and Technology would not be conceived as being directly responsible for the activities embraced within bis portfolio in precisely the same way as, say, the Postmaster-General or Minister for Social Services are regarded. Responsibility in the traditional sense implies direction by the Minister for the framing and implementation of the policies to be administered by his department officers. This is not an appropriate role for a Minister for Science. His role would be to facilitate, rather than to direct; to act as a channel of communication between the Cabinet and scientists, and between scientists and the Cabinet; to give an overall coherence to science policy, to see that a proper connection was maintained between scientific and broader political considerations in its formulation. Together with an Australian Science Council he would formulate policy recommendations for submission to Cabinet, and would seek, through the operational arm of his portfollio - CSIRO and comparable organisations - and to some extent through the Australian Science Council, the implementation of policy. 1 shall quote again directly from the speech of the Prime Minister so that noone can accuse me of misquoting either the Prime Minister or the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition. The Prime Minister also said:

The rapid, and at times spectacular, advance made by science and technology in recent y.ears has brought with it a number of problems. For example, some research has become very expen sive in terms of manpower, money and equipment. Indeed some fields require facilities which are beyond the resources of almost any single one of the developed nations - beyond the resources, that is, if the country concerned is to maintain balance among the competing claims on the public purse. As a consequence, countries have been compelled to make explicit choice from among its various scientific and technological projects and to determine priorities for the allocation of resources. There is an increasing tendency therefore for countries to concentrate part of their resources on particular areas in which they have demonstrable need, expertise, or unique environmental opportunities. In addition, there is a growing tendency to avoid the national development of large and very expensive projects and to look towards the possibility of co-operation on an international basis.

Later he said:

What I do want to emphasise is that the Government takes the view that, before deciding to support new areas of science and technology, it is mandatory not only to assess the potential benefits, but also to forecast possible undesirable results. Only the best advice that can be obtained for this purpose is good enough.

Australia has reached the stage where it becomes more important than ever to judge our priorities carefully because we cannot cover the whole field. We are therefore obliged to make decisions as to which of the demands should be satisfied. It may also be necessary to create opportunities for new scientific and technical developments so that specific national objectives can be achieved. We have thus 2 aims - to resolve the demands and promote areas outside of these demands. Neither can be neglected and a balance must be achieved.

In his speech on 1 1th September the Leader of the Opposition said:

Bearing these points in mind we can now consider what should be the basic aim of national science policy,. First, and foremost, such a policy should be aimed at guidance and management rather than direction and control. Second, it must envisage means by which the government can obtain guidance for the continuing formulation of science policy and can also obtain appropriate scientific advice as an integral part of the processes of general policy formulation. Third, the policy must aim at getting value for money spent. We must here be careful to define value in a fairly broad sense. Strict cost-benefit analysis is inappropriate to research activity if only because the ostensibly useless research results of today may turn out to be the basis of a major breakthrough tomorrow. Fourth, the policy would need to ascertain the order of priorities to be afforded the major areas of research. It would closely, examine the question of specialisation in those areas of science where research can most truthfully be followed. Small countries such as Holland, Sweden and Switzerland show the benefits of scientific and industrial specialisation. Fifth, a policy should assist to maintain and improve the effectiveness of scientific activity by minimising unwarranted duplication and by providing facilities for more rapid application of discoveries. Sixth, the policy should aim to deploy available scientific and technological resources so as to bring about planned innovation. Although the nature of a scientific breakthrough cannot be firmly predicted, competent scientists can often give a fairly clear indication of areas in which breakthroughs may occur if adequate finance and efforts are applied. In addition, deployment must take account of the possibility of 'surprise' - the unexpected scientific discovery that is of relevance to a large number of disciplines, an example of which is the laser.

Having given these two or three examples from the speeches of the leader of the Opposition at a symposium on 11th September 1969 and the Prime Minister tonight, I want honourable members to note the similarity of phrase - the closeness of thought. What the Prime Minister said tonight is almost a direct steal of Labor policy.

If these examples are not sufficient I refer to Australian Labor Party policy formulated and adopted at the Federal Conference in Sydney in 1965 and which appears in the 1971 issue of the 'Platform, Constitution and Rules' of the Australian Labor Party. Mr Speaker, let me again bore the House by quoting this in its entirety because I feel that from now until the election the Government, which feels that it cannot win, is looking for new ideas and is taking them almost directly from Labor Party policy. The policy that was adopted in 1965 at the Sydney Conference reads:

Science must not be regarded as a compartment, separate from other aspects of life. It is a fountainhead of human progress, the source from which technological and social changes spring, and it affects all aspects of life.

Australia desperately needs national scientific research and development, but also enable the results of scientific research and development in Australia, and elsewhere, to be applied in every aspect of Australia's industries and in its culture.

Labor therefore proposes -

1.   A Minister with direct responsibility for science and technology.

2.   An Australian Science Council, with a rotating membership of senior academic, industrial and governmental scientists, and a secretariat, to assist Parliament and the Minister on science and technology.

The heading to the Prime Minister's statement is 'Advisory Committee on Science and Technology'. Labor policy is for an Australian Science Council with a rotating membership taken from academic and industrial circles. This policy was for mulated in 1965; the Prime Minister's statement is made in 1972. I continue my quotation from Labor policy. It states:

3.   A Parliamentary Standing Committee on

Science and Technology, charged with reviewing policy on science and technology, and the scientific aspects of general governmental policy.

4.   To spend more on scientific and technological research and development, and to introduce long-term budgeting for this.

Australia needs to expand its activities in scientific and technological research and development, and its scientists need greater independence from unnecessary cotrols.

Labor therefore proposes -

5.   A review of the organisation of governmental scientific and technological research, and of research funding bodies, to be carried out by the Australian Science Council.

6.   Maintaining CSIRO and freeing it from Pub lic Service Board control.

7.   Expansion of research work in the universi ties.

8.   Establishment of a body similar to CSIRO to conduct research in the scoial sciences.

9.   An independent National Science Foundation to distribute funds to individuals and teams in universities, research institutes and industry, and for research in physical and social sciences and technology.

10.   Geological research and survey, forestry research and atomic energy research to be carried out in CSIRO or similar independent statutory organisations.

11.   Establishment of a representative and expert working party on all aspects of air and water pollution.

12.   Portability of superannuation between scientific and technological establishments throughout Australia.

I repeat that that policy was laid down in 1965. What has been said by the Prime Minister today is almost a steal from Labor's policy. There is a change of wording and it is called an advisory committee whereas Labor called it the Australian Science Council. The things expressed in the Prime Minister's speech today were expressed by the Labor Party in 1965. Let me cite the final remarks in the Prime Minister's statement today:

Up to the present time in developing policies for science and technology it has been our practice to seek advice through formal or informal channels from those sources most able to assist However, with the experience of other countries as a guide and the increasing range and complexity of the problems which we face it is now timely to change our approach.

It has taken the Government only 7 years to catch up to the Australian Labor Party policy in this regard. From what the Prime

Minister has said it would appear that following an overseas visit by the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) Cabinet has caught up with ideas that it should have been aware of 7, 8 or even 10 years ago with the advice available to it. I could make a lot of further comparisons between the speech of the Leader of the Opposition on 11th September 1969 and the speech of the Prime Minister but I do not intend to do so. I emphasise that Labor's science and technology policy was formulated in 1965 after consultation with scientists, technologists and industrialists. The Australian Science Council which we proposed would and should be more effective than the advisory committee proposed by the Prime Minister. In elaborating on the Labor Party's proposal for an Australian Science Council, the Leader of the Opposition on 11th September 1969 said:

This Australian Science Council would be an executive and policy-formulating body responsible to the Minister, rather than an advisory body. It would have a permanent secretariat and a rotating membership consisting of persons drawn from the CSIRO, the Atomic Energy Commission and such other civil science and technological instrumentalities as might be established by a Labor Government, together with persons drawn from industry, universities and independent research institutes. We envisage that these nongovernmental representatives would be elected by and from the professional scientists in each principal field of the physical, social and applied sciences. All would held office for 3 year periods, and a proportion would be full-time members. We envisage also that there would be several continuing sub-committees of the Council, one for each major field of physical, social and applied science, e.g., biological sciences, behavioural sciences. The members of these committees would be elected by and from the appropriate group of professional scientists.

This Council would be the central element in the 'policy' ann of the Minister's portfolio, but would not concern itself with the internal policy of 'operational' organisations such as CSIRO, which would remain, as now, directly responsible to the Minister.

The Prime Minister's statement today announces proposals and policies that have been adopted in various other countries - members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development - .10 years ago. The policy of advisory committees is now being seriously questioned in those countries. For example, recently Professor Martin Perl, of Stanford University examined the effectiveness of independent scientific advisory committees in the

United States Government. He concluded that they are effective on limited technical questions. However, on broad technical questions - these include most of the crucial environmental questions - the scientific advisory system is ineffective. Environmental questions will in the future increasingly occupy the attention of governments and will require public funds for their investigation. Any effective science policy must recognise this fact. Labor believes that its proposals, formulated in 1965 and which we expect to implement after the election in November, will serve Australia better than will the advisory committee proposed in the Prime Minister's belated and inadequate announcement today.

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