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Thursday, 26 May 1983
Page: 1041

Mr BARRY JONES (Minister for Science and Technology) —For the information of honourable members I table the annual report of the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board for 1981-82. I seek leave to make a statement.

Leave granted.

Mr BARRY JONES —I thank the House. The report dated 30 June 1982 is addressed to my predecessor, the Honourable David Thomson, M.C. It covers the first full year of operation under the amendments to the 1976 Act.

The retiring chairman, Dr Walter L. Hughes, C.B.E., in his letter of transmission to the former Minister for Science and Technology, expressed the frustration felt by the Board and its disappointment at government interference with the Board's freedom of action. First, legislative and administrative delays associated with amending the Act meant that the Board did not begin operating until September 1981. Second, limits imposed on forward financial obligations seriously circumscribed the Board's capacity to write new business. This meant that advance payments of grants could be made only where a company provided adequate security for the recovery of any amounts which subsequently became repayable. Third, by March 1982 the contractionary policies of the Fraser Government, and the report of the Industries Assistance Commission inquiry into budgetary assistance to industry, made the future of AIRDIB very uncertain. This uncertainty affected both applicants and the Board, which felt unable to commit funds for projects spread over three years. In 1980-81 a total of $50,713,000 had been paid to applicants. However in 1981-82, of the $49,180,000 appropriated for the scheme in 1981-82, only $24,198,000 was actually spent-just 49 per cent. The reasons for the very lage shortfall are set out in the report in paragraphs 26, 32, 33 and 34. Further uncertainties were also created by the imposition of staffing constraints and at 30 June 1982 the total number of AIRDIB staff was less than it had been three years earlier. I am glad to advise that additional staff had been made available to AIRDIB during 1983.

The report provides valuable information on the extent to which the Board was able to achieve the objectives of the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act. It indicates the potential of the scheme as an instrument for promoting the development and improving the efficiency of Australian industry. The Labor Government recognises the necessity to increase investment in industrial research in Australian industry and will use AIRDIB as an important instrument in the promotion of the sunrise industries identified in our science and technology and industry policies. New appointments to the Board, to be announced in the next few days, will reflect the Government's determination to develop such high technology industries as biotechnology, computers and software , industrial ceramics, medical technologies and scientific instrumentation. New directions will be given to AIRDIB to enable it to support projects for the development of computer software in accordance with Labor Party policy and the Act will need clarification in this respect.

The party policy also provides scope for legislation to extend the powers of the Board to offer loans, guarantees or equity participation in addition to, or in lieu of, grants as appropriate. At present the Board can make grants in only three categories-commencement grants, projects grants and public interest grants . Among the most intersting of the public interest grants has been support for the bionic ear, which I showed the House yesterday, being developed by the University of Melbourne and Nucleus Ltd, and Australia's participation in the Starlab project, a joint United States-Canada-Australian venture in which we will provide the scientific instrumentation for this orbiting telescope, which we hope will be up by the time of the bicentennary. The Government congratulates the Board for what it was able to achieve in a very difficult year and expresses its gratitude to Dr Hughes and the other outgoing members.

Sitting suspended from 1.3 to 2.15 p.m.