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Wednesday, 17 May 1972
Page: 2713


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) -! move:

That all words after 'That' be omitted with a view to inserting the following words in place thereof: while welcoming the proposal to establish the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the House views with deep concern the possibility that the work of the Institute may be hindered by the pollution of the sea water by the establishment of a nickel refinery near Townsville and is of the opinion that the successful operation of the Institute demands the immediate passage also of the Territorial Sea and Continental Shelf Bill in order to secure to the Commonwealth the powers necessary to deal with pollution and like problems which may arise'.

Until recent months the Government gloried in not having advisory councils to give direction and purpose to its scientific research. Then a body came into being which might give some direction to marine science research and the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) made a statement about an advisory committee in the sciences. The situation in the marine sciences has been similar to the situation regarding science as a whole; that is, no independent policy advisory committee existed in the area. As the Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) stated in a speech to the Academy of Science in 1960 in which he made a philosophy of this purposelessness:

We may then be wisest to continue our pragmatic evolutionary approach seeking advice from different people as different projects arise. In '.his way we can establish a network of informed ad hoc relationships.

This viewpoint may be the explanation of the Government's long disinclination to establish far-ranging policy advisory machinery in the marine sciences. Australia's interest in marine science is obvious. Over 60 per cent of Australia's population live within 100 miles of the sea. Because of this all Australians are aware of the ocean and the recreational aspects of the ocean are a popular part of our culture. As an island we are completely dependent upon shipping to support our international trade. Our continental shelf has an area of over 800,000 square miles and is the fourth largest in the world, after that of the United States of America, the Soviet Union and Canada. It contains the largest and scientifically most interesting reef structure in the world. The discovery of off-shore oil and natural gas, first in Bass Strait and more recently on the north west shelf have greatly altered our energy situation.

As Noakes of the Bureau of Mineral Resources has pointed out, exploration for minerals other than petroleum on our continental shelves has already been significant and discoveries of tin, phosphorite, mineral sands and manganese nodules have already been made. However, to quote Noakes. 'It is therefore important that we recognise that although technology has enabled us to begin a new era of investigation and development of mineral resources off-shore, these resources, apart from those associated with the consolidated rocks of the shelf and slope, occur in environments of which 've have little real knowledge. With the exception of construction material, other resources off-shore are not likely to be discovered or developed as readily as was petroleum; indeed, success in the future in all fields off-shore is likely to depend on how effectively we tackle the tasks of investigating new environments and improving technology to cope with the problems of exploitation.

For many years it has been apparent that the marine sciences in Australia are fragmented and poorly financed. This is nowhere more apparent than in the constant struggle for marine scientists to obtain ship time and in their pleas for an oceanographic vessel for Australia. Until recently the picture was one of increasing interest in industry, principally in the field of petroleum, and increasing academic interest - examples of which are the formation of the Australian Marine Sciences Association in 1963 and the establishment of the Horace Lamb Centre for Oceanographical Research at Flinders University in 1965 - with declining official interest going on at the same time. From the early 1960s to 1967 the budget of the Division of Fisheries and Oceanography of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation declined as a part of the CSIRO budget. In the Navy the effort given to the hydrographic service also declined. Peter Robinson' in the 'Australian Financial Review', quoting a paper from the Royal Australian Navy hydrographic service, said that it was planned for the Navy to continue hydrographic surveys after the War, with 3 surveying ships and 3 tenders. Robinson stated:

The planned level of 6 ships assigned to surveying duties has not been achieved since. For 2 years, indeed, no ocean surveying at all was carried out. In 1952, a more modest programme was reinstitated with one or two vessels working at a time ... in 1960 the Royal Australian Navy assigned 2 modified river class frigates, HMAS "Diamantina' and HMAS 'Gascoyne' to oceanographic work. The idea was that they would spend part of their sea time on naval assignments and the remainder carrying scientific teams from the CSIRO and other interested organisations - but mainly the CSIRO. For 6 years these 2 ships provided the facilities for the only really sustained period of pure oceanographic research in Australian history.

The Interim Council of the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences itself quotes a statement by the United States National Council on Marine Resources and Engineering Development, which was published in 1968. This statement is the declaration of the achievements of the Government in this field at this time. The American survey of the National Council on Marine Resources said this about Australia:

It has been estimated that no more than 2 per cent of the total Australian research and development budget is spent on the marine sciences. In relation to overall scientific activity in the country and the benefits which might accrue from marine exploitation, this percentage is very low.

It is interesting to note that this report, prepared in the United States, was up until the publication of the Interim Council's own report the most comprehensive statement of marine science activities in Australia available, and it is a work carried out in the United States while the Government allowed marine sciences in Australia to die.

Captain A. H. Cooper of the Royal Australian Navy was reported as stating in 1965 in relation to marine sciences:

In Australia many agencies are making observations for their own projects, but the investigations are of a fragmentary nature. For the nation's future well being there must be a well founded Government policy and a concerted programme of observation and research. He made a proposal for the formation of a national committee to plan and co-ordinate oceanography in Australia. Commonwealth Department!! should have the means of co-ordinating their oceanographic activities and of obtaining the advice and assistance of the Universities and other nongovernmental agencies.

But the Minister was committed to the view that we should continue on our pragmatic, evolutionary approach, seeking advice from different people as different projects arise. In this way we establish a network of informal and ad hoc relationships. It does not sound like an effort of science; it sounds like an old boy network. The functions that Captain Cooper was recommending in 1965 would appear to be similar to the functions suggested by the Interim Council for the proposed Australian Marine Science Council. By 1967 increased activities by universities and by the CSIRO began to put considerable pressure on ship time. Australia, of course, had no research ship. The Government responded by establishing a committee to allocate the available ship time. As Hawkins stated:

As a stirring in the hoped for awakening of the Government to this national responsibility, a Technical Committee on Oceanography, with representatives from Government Departments and Universities, has been constituted. This Committee which grew out of an interdepartmental national advisory committee on oceanography which SM has not been formally constituted acts in an advisory capacity to the Navy in the allocation of the very limited ship time available - although CSIRO still received preferential treatment.

Hawkins also stated in the same paper:

Government research in oceanography has been extremely limited. ... In view of the very meagre national effort in oceanography, the Universities of Australia have a particularly important part to play in this area of research. This is not to say that University research has not a very important role in a properly conducted national programme in oceanography, but that it has an even greater significance in the absence of such a programme. Further the lack of a fully equipped research vessel and the grossly inadequate time available on poorly equipped Navy ships is a very severe impediment to both University and Government research.

In regard to his own research programme he stated:

With regard to the problems which face us in conducting such programmes, these are of 2 kinds: First, the lack in this country of a fully equipped research vessel or even sufficient time application on a relatively unequipped Navy ship such as HMAS 'Diamantina', and secondly, the need to obtain sufficient financial support to obtain the necessary equipment and carry out the survey.

The Australian Marine Sciences Association established in 1967 a sub-committee to report on developments in marine science in Australia. It commented on the changing situation regarding ship time with the withdrawal of one of the Navy frigates from service and stated:

Under this system the amount of ship's time available is likely to be even more fragmentary then before, and the number of positions aboard few.

In 1967 Peter Robinson of the 'Australian Financial Review' wrote 2 articles on oceanography in Australia, one of which I have already mentioned. A selection from another article of his will set out the frustration experienced by scientists. He said:

There are stirrings of both ambition and bitterness among Australians engaged in oceanographic fields of research - hope that the growing commercial interests in off-shore resources may stir Government aid to oceanographic research, coupled with bitterness at the almost total lack of facilities for advanced research in the field.

Like space research, in fact, oceanography is intrinsically a modern organisational or operational concept rather than a traditionally independent and clearly defined scientific discipline, This may explain the remarkable neglect which oceanography has so far had in Australia, a country which has more to gain from an intensive exploration of its surrounding waters than most, but which is also notably averse to the co-ordination and long range planning of many inter-related projects.

This is the ad hoc relationship approach that the Minister felt was our chief glory when he spoke to the Australian Academy of Science. The article continued:

The present state of oceanography in this country is in fact very typical in its fragmented improvisation, its underfinanced scattering of remarkably talented, dedicated scientists and its dependence on the willingness of other nations to give poverty stricken Australians a helping hand with such expensve equipment as ships and computers.

Last year the Australian Marine Sciences Association held a round table discussion on the sea going needs of Australian marine scientists, ships and shore support, and proposals for implementation and representations to the Commonwealth Government. It passed a resolution that 'the Australian Marine Sciences Association strongly deplores the lack of facilities available for all workers in every aspect of oceanography, and strongly urged that representations be made to the Government to take steps to rectify the situation'. Outlining the current situation in Australia, the Interim Council of the Australian Institute of Marine Science said:

Although the aggregate effort in marine science is small by comparison with that of many other countries and unrealistic in relation to Australia's needs, its effectiveness is further handicapped by excessive fragmentation. Marine science is essentially inter-disciplinary, requiring sizeable research teams at any single institution - a point repeatedly stressed by overseas marine scientists whom we have consulted. As noted above, much of the present Australian research, especially in universities, is conducted in comparative isolation and often with inadequate facilities. Only in limited fields have real attempts been made to overcome this isolation and to promote co-operation and joint effort.

The above quotations and statements illustrate the state marine scientists in Australia had reached before the decision by the Government to establish the Townsville Institute. In the light of the report of the Interim Council, it is clear that the Government's action was inappropriate, as there was a lack of investigation at least at the public level prior to the decision to establish the Institute. The choice of the site was inappropriate to the concept of establishing a 'centre of excellence', to use the words of the right honourable member for Higgins, in the marine sciences. The amount of money originally suggested as the cost of establishing the Institute was inadequate to fulfil the stated aims. The decision was taken without considering the appropriate institutional linkages with other marine science organisations both within the governmental structure and outside.

The Interim Council, which had terms of reference merely to investigate the needs of the Institute, reported on a number of border issues in order to get some sort of adequacy in what it was saying. Firstly, the Townsville site was useful for only limited purposes and not for the broad range of purposes as suggested by the Government. Secondly, the Council pointed out that there is a need for further institutions to conduct research for which the Townsville site is inappropriate. Thirdly, for the limited number of activities envisaged for the Townsville Institute more money is required than was first suggested by the Government. Indeed, to fulfil a complete range of research in marine sciences a much greater amount of money is needed than that shown in the body of the report. Fifthly, the establishment of a nickel refinery in Townsville may conflict with the functioning of the Institute. Sixthly, there is a need for broad policy machinery to co-ordinate and plan marine science in Australia. Seventhly, the key lack in Australia is ship time for marine research.

This summary does not, of course, represent the bulk of the recommendations from the Interim Council's report, but deals mainly with the broad considerations regarding overall policy, and in particular those aspects which are not dealt with by the Bill currently before the House. In the Australian Institute of Marine Science Bill of 1972 the Government has implemented those recommendations from the Interim Council regarding the establishment of the Institute. It does not implement the broader considerations regarding the development of marine science. The Minister for Education and Science (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has accepted that marine science has been rather neglected in the past in the sense that the efforts of isolated groups, through praiseworthy in themselves, have scarcely been commensurate with the magnitude of the problems which await investigation'. That is an acknowledgement that ad hoc relations were not adequate. In respect of the broader issues, the Minister has mentioned that 2 of them are far reaching and important and are being examined in depth by the Government from within its own resources. That is a rather meaningless statement which holds out no immediate prospect of the development of marine science which the country needs.

As regards ship time, the key logistical problem of marine science in Australia, the Minister stated:

The question of acquiring a vessel of about 120 feet is one which is being examined by the Government in the context of rather similar requirements by the Division of Fisheries and Oceanography of the CSIRO.

He said this despite the fact that the Interim Council reported:

We stress most strongly therefore that the provision of proper sea going facilities, expensive though they might be, is vital to the success of the Institute at Townsville.

In other words, Townsville was considered in conjunction with a ship. So far the ship is not forthcoming. The Council further reported:

Indeed we would go so far as to say that if there was any danger that money for these facilities

The ship - could not be found, it would be unwise to proceed with the establishment of the kind of institute we propose.

According to the latest data, the Council has stated:

We consider it desirable that CSIRO should have a vessel for use in its own research programmes.

The Government's action in introducing this Bill and accepting the portion of the Interim Council's report that it has accepted will solve one problem only, that of establishing an Institute of Marine Science to study tropical marine science at Townsville. The basic problems of marine science in Australia, as revealed in the Interim Council's report, remain, and marine science in Australia cannot develop adequately until they are solved. The following sections of this paper discuss the direction indicated for Australia by the Interim Council. The report reveals that there is a fundamental incompatibility in having a 'centre of excellence' at a site in Townsville with a small budget. It states:

We fear that in seeking to arrange excellence in the smaller institute proposed for Townsville, we might fail to achieve excellence in any one branch of marine science. We further recognise that the geographical situation of Townsville and its distance from the larger population centres impose some limitations upon its suitability as the major Australian Institute in such fields as physical oceanography and marine and coastal engineering. We should prefer to see additional funds for these branches of marine science devoted to the development of existing or new research centres elsewhere in Australia.

Consequently the Interim Council concludes that rather than being a wide ranging centre of excellence 'the research programme of the Townsville Institute should be concentrated in those regions and in those branches of marine science for which Townsville forms a natural geographical centre'. The report draws out the limitations of the site. For instance, adequate berthing facilities and storage space are unavailable at Cape Pallarenda. Townsville is unsuitable as a major centre for all fields of research in marine science. Townsville, so the report goes on, may be an unsuitable site for a governing body of the Institute with a policy making function. This function has not been adopted in the legislation.

Nickel sulphur is highly dangerous to fish and other marine life, and the development of a nickel smelter near the Institute could introduce significant pollution. The report suggests that every effort should therefore be made, supported by appropriate legislation, to ensure that all forms of pollution from areas in the vicinity of Cape Pallarenda are kept to levels below those which are toxic to any forms of marine life. The Council speaks about appropriate legislation. Unless the Commonwealth assumes its powers over the territorial sea, I do not know whether it will have any power to legislate to protect the Institute against these toxic effects, if these toxic effects are in fact present in the nickel refinery.

In many research fields the report indicates the unsuitability of Townsville. I am not saying this as a criticism of putting the centre at Townsville. I am saying it as a criticism of the idea that all our eggs should be in this one basket for so long. With regard to underwater research and technology, the report states that it would obviously be quite impractical for the Townsville Institute, with its limited resources, to compete in this field. With regard to physical oceanography, the report states:

The implementation of a full programme of research and physical oceanography would be much beyond the limits of financial resources envisaged for the Townsville Institute.

With regard to marine and coastal engineering, the report states:

The Institute at Townsville will not command the facilities, nor will it be well situated geographically, to serve as an Australian centre for marine and coastal engineering.

With regard to research on living resources, the report states:

These important areas of research could not be catered for by the Institute at Townsville.

The report states:

The principal aim of the Government was to establish a research centre physically located in the vicinity of Townsviile.

However, this choice has introduced severe limitations into the type of research that the Institute can carry out. As a consequence, the report suggests the need for new institutes elsewhere to fill these gaps. The report stated that research on beaches, estuaries and coastal waters could be: the primary responsibility of a new institute to be established at a more suitable locality.

In regard to physical oceanography, the report states:

Because of ship requirements it would appear to be preferable to establish such a centre in the south and eastern parts of the continent, either by expansion of an existing institution or by the development of a new institute suitably located in relation to major universities and of interested research organisations. As a centre for marine and coastal engineering should be established where strong scientific and engineering facilities are available and where the problems, especially of the preservation and pollution control are most acute, a site in close proximity to one of the State capitals on the temperate coastline of Australia would be suitable.

The fact that the Interim Council's thinking was dominated by the question of shiptime has been adverted to previously. It is an aspect which comes up many times in the report. The members stated:

We are concerned that Australian experience in the past has been that vessel facilities have almost always been inadequate for the research needs; this applies to Australia's major marine research institution, the CSIRO Division of Fisheries and Oceanography.

The report continues:

The difficult factor limiting the development of oceanography is the shortage of shiptime. The Navy, has not been able to make sufficient shiptime available to meet the needs of other bodies. This limitation has had serious impact on the oceanographic work of CSIRO and especially on that of the universities. There can be no doubt that the situation in Australia compares most unfavourably with that in some other countries. While at best, the interested Australian group have had to share the part hiring time of use of one or two vessels, most of the major institutions overseas have at least one ocean-going vessel upward of 120 feet for their exclusive use, as well as several smaller craft. Many have several large ships. A progressive increase in the number of ocean-going ships is desirable.

Whereas the United States National Science Foundation devotes 41 per cent of its expenditure on marine sciences to ships in support operations, there are no similar sums for the Australian Research GrantCommittee.

I have referred to limitations on Australian marine science caused by the present lack of finance. The Interim Council, in its report, adverts to many large gaps in marine science research in Australia which will require additional financing in the future, as well as the obvious need to support existing research. These gaps were referred to when the need for additional institutes was adverted to and are detailed in section 3 of the report of the Interim Council. These gaps were revealed in the survey conducted by Professor B. R. Morton, Professor of Applied Mathematics, Monash University, in his paper to the symposium on marine sciences conducted by the Australian Academy of Science.

This Bill is welcome as a beginning. We fear that the Institute cannot be, without all these other developments, the great centre of excellence that the former Prime Minister envisaged. It is a welcome first step. It would be good to hear from the Government a complete programme of development. It was welcome to hear from the Minister of the construction of a ship which no doubt will eliminate some of these criticisms on ship time, when it is in existence. But it is alarming that, although every commentator on this subject regards Australia as having so much to gain from the development of marine sciences, Australia is far behind in work in this field and needs much more than simply this very welcome Institute which, rather doubtfully, the report of the Interim Council assigns to the city of Townsville where, at any rate, it is adapted to certain aspects of tropical research.







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