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Tuesday, 11 October 1983
Page: 1590

Mr LINDSAY(9.59) —I wish to speak briefly tonight to the estimates for the Department of Science and Technology. In 1972 the Australian Institute of Marine Science was established by an Act of this Parliament. The Institute is located near Townsville. Two important functions of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, inter alia, are: To carry out research in marine science and to co-operate with other institutions and persons in carrying out research in marine science. The sum of $6.3m is provided in the Budget to enable the Institute to carry out these functions. The allocation of funds to the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Townsville for the 1983-84 financial year represents an operational increase of 7.7 per cent over that allocated in 1982-83. In the area of capital funding there has been an increase of 13.2 per cent over that allocated in 1982-83.

Since the establishment of the Institute it has made commendable progress in developing as a centre of excellence in tropical marine studies. Further progress of the Institute can only be accelerated with the provision of additional staff. The present staff ceiling is 104, and the knowledgeable view is that the appropriate staff ceiling for the Institute by the next three years should be at least 130. Since 1979 recommendations have been made to the Federal Government seeking appointment of additional research staff and support staff. Instead of providing additional staff to carry out the required research work, the previous Federal Government dithered and shelved consideration of the matter for two years. The Australian Institute of Marine Science Council, in its report for the year 1980-81, stated:

In keeping with its charter and with the stated expectations of Government, the primary goal for the Institute is to undertake research towards an integrated and effective understanding of the marine environment and its living communities . Its primary concern is with the Great Barrier Reef, adjacent tropical coastlines, and surrounding waters . . .

The Institute's research has developed an emphasis towards understanding the ecology of coral reefs and mangroves. Corals and mangroves proliferate throughout the Great Barrier Reef region, with mangroves growing mainly in the silty areas and coral reefs mainly in areas that are silt free. Both coral reefs and mangroves share the common features of complexity, high productivity and extreme diversity of plant and animal life.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science is not concerned in coastal engineering, fisheries research, ocean geoscience or physical oceanography to any significant degree. By virture of the specialisation of the Institute in coral reef and mangrove ecology it is able to establish a scientific reputation for excellence both nationally and internationally. Institute scientists are now among the leaders in the international marine science community. The Institute has achieved a first class international reputation in mangrove and reef research and is at the same level, for example, as the University of Miami. The pioneering work on mangrove and reef research, if maintained, will establish Australia in a dominant world-wide position in this area.

The Australian Institute of Marine Science has hosted a number of international workshops, and, indeed, overseas symposia have benefited by the contributions of Institute scientists. Clearly the quality and national significance of the work of the Australian Institute of Marine Science at Townsville is a matter for congratulation. Indeed, that quality is recognised by the Hawke Government, an authentic Australian government. Clearly leading in this field is our own Federal Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones).

In the United States of America, the Institute is known as a desirable place to visit. There are very few fully equipped research laboratories in the tropics. As a fully equipped marine laboratory with easy access to a variety of tropical ecosystems, it can fill a world-wide need in this field. The sum of $300,000 is allocated for the acquisition of scientific equipment this financial year. Scientists must have state of the art equipment. I request the Minister to secure in future Budgets additional funding in this area to enable the acquisition of state of the art equipment so that scientists at the Institute can maintain their high profile and excellence in this area.

There is a constant flow of visiting scientists, particularly from overseas, to the Institute. All of these visitors require working space and general laboratory support. The sum of $50,000 is allocated for assistance for visiting scientists. Of the 21 research scientists at the Institute, only 10 are permanent and 11 have fixed term appointments. It is clear that the number of visiting scientists appear to be limited by the number of staff available to act as scientific hosts. Furthermore, it is essential that the present policy of support for visiting scientists should be matched by a generous policy towards staff participation in overseas research and meetings. This is essential for the maintenance of the reputation of the Institute.

For the Australian Institute of Marine Science to continue to fulfil the objectives set by the Federal Government, to fulfil its statutory obligations and to maintain and further develop this reputation for excellence as a major scientific research institution, the Government must ensure that staff levels are increased as soon as possible to a minimum of 130 positions, including at least six additional research scientists. It is of paramount importance for the Institute's intellectual health that a continuing influx of visiting scientists be encouraged and that the staff of the Australian Institute of Marine Science be given generous support for travel, both within Australia and abroad. The Institute has been the victim of a shortfall in capital funding since its inception. This is a significant disadvantage in competing with researchers throughout the world in pursuing science of excellence and of world standard. Cost increases of overseas equipment have occurred because of changes in the exchange rate of the Australian dollar. I ask the Minister to provide substantial additional funding next financial year.

Mr Chairman, nearly $60m is provided by the Budget to enable the Commonwealth Bureau of Meteorology to carry out its work. This evening I would like to mention five north Queensland projects which are part of a 10-year re-equipment program now commencing. Funding for the initial phases has been approved in the 1983-84 Budget. Purchasing action has commenced with respect to off-shore weather stations and installation of these stations is planned for 1985-86 onwards. Furthermore, 34 outstation units of automatic data collection systems have been purchased. Twenty-seven of these units have already been installed. New radars are planned for installation at Gove by October 1985. A new radar is planned for installation at Cairns in 1986. With respect to the township of Weipa, it is planned also to install a new radar at that site at a future date. Furthermore, a moored buoy in the Gulf of Carpentaria is planned for installation in the second half of the 10-year program. Telemetry and communications for flood warning, design and planning in respect of that project are proceeding and the implementation will progress through 1984 to 1986.

The projects will make a major contribution to the safety, economy and welfare of communities in north Queensland. They will significantly improve meteorological observing networks in north Queensland, resulting in better forecasting and warning services, particularly with respect to tropical cylone warnings, flood warnings and services for aviation, defence, shipping and small craft. Replacement off-shore weather stations will maintain the early warning network for tropical cyclones. The radar at Gove and Weipa will fill major gaps in the present network. The replacement radar at Cairns will maintain a vital facility. The moored buoy in the Gulf of Carpentaria will provide observations from a data-sparse area. Automatic data collection and telemetry will speed data to bureau centres, resulting in more timely warnings. The Hawke Government is to be congratulated with respect to this initiative.

More than half of the total budget of the Department of Science and Technology this year is allocated to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. Seventy-nine staff members are located at the CSIRO establishment at Townsville. Twenty-four of them are research scientists. A number of projects are proceeding this financial year. I refer to research into improved pastures, the growing of legumes such as stylosanthes, the introduction of legumes and other plants to achieve pasture improvements, and the growing of leucaena, a legume. This legume is an excellent stock feed if the toxicity in the legume is removed. Cattle in the Philippines, Indonesia and South America consume leucaena and suffer no ill effects, but in Australia consumption of this legume by cattle results in a loss of hair, weight and eventually death. However, CSIRO at Townsville has cultured a bacteria which degrades the toxicity in the leucaena to enable it to be fed to livestock. Work is still in progress in respect of this project.

CSIRO at Townsville has obtained commendable results in cattle tick control. Stylosanthes viscora, a secretion from hairs on the stem of the stylosanthes plant, attracts ticks and kills them. Scientists have isolated this substance. Work on this project is proceeding, and it is a major innovation with respect to the CSIRO research work in Townsville. Studies are in progress also into the response of cattle to low levels of superphosphate.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! The honourable gentleman's time has expired.