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Thursday, 25 August 1983
Page: 285

Mr CHYNOWETH —My question is addressed to the Minister for Science and Technology.

Honourable members interjecting-

Mr CHYNOWETH —I hear lots of murmurs from members of the Opposition. They will be interested in the science of cloning. What provisions are made generally in the Budget for the promotion of biotechnology as a sunrise industry in Australia ? In particular, what steps are being taken towards advancing Australian research on the biochip? Is it correct that this novel device could make the silicon chip obsolete?

Mr BARRY JONES —Thanks to the generosity of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer and the Budget process, I am glad to announce that there is a mimimum of $12.2m available in this Budget for the promotion of biotechnology as a sunrise industry.

Mr Hodgman —You robbed CSIRO.

Mr BARRY JONES —At least $8.7m of it is specifically for the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, you goat. As a letter from the Chairman the other day concedes, the CSIRO has had far more for the development of generic technologies under this Government in the first Budget that it had in the preceding years of the previous Government. So there are no worries about the CSIRO.

Of the $12.2m, $400,000 is allocated to the Howard Florey Institute by my colleague the Minister of Health. The rest is divided among the Australian Industrial Research and Development Incentives Board, the national biotechnology program and the CSIRO. We are at the beginning of an explosive increase in biotechnology, because of all the sunrise industries, it is the one that has the greatest implications.

Mr Hayden —In what way?

Mr BARRY JONES —I shall return to that interjection in a moment. The question specifically raised the matter of the biochip. For example, there are genetic manipulation, cell manipulation and culture, enzyme applications, and fermentation technology.

Mr Hawke —They have cell manipulation at Pentridge.

Mr BARRY JONES —It is more significant, as the Prime Minister says, than the cell manipulation at Pentridge. The research areas are valuable in human health, food processing, water treatment, plant agriculture, veterinary health, and animal husbandry-about which many members of the National Party would know.

Mr SPEAKER —Order! I remind the Minister that he is answering a question, not making a statement.

Mr BARRY JONES —Indeed, Mr Speaker; I was asked about the implications of the Budget. I was asked specifically about the biochip. The bio-chip combines two lead technologies of our period-micro-electronics and biotechnology. Whereas conventional microchips use silicon as the semiconductor which sorts and processes information, the biochip uses organic material, particularly protein. The structure of protein is far more complex than silicon, so it can store a great deal more information. Biochips can have hundreds of times the computing power and speed of conventional chips, and a tiny biochip implanted in the spinal chord of a paraplegic could pickup electrical signals and move paralysed limbs or restore functions in damaged eyes or hearts.

Dr James McAlear, from Gentronix Inc., Maryland, pioneer of this development, will be attending a two-day conference in Melbourne next month organised by the Howard Florey Institute. He will also be addressing the National Technology Conference in Canberra from 26 to 28 September. Some of the moneys available for biotechnology in the Budget will undoubtedly be directed towards developing the biochip in this country.