Science, the environment and Commission for the Future

In September 1984 Cabinet considered a submission by Environment Minister Barry Cohen on the conservation of wet tropical forests between Townsville and Cooktown. Cohen noted that the road from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield was substantially complete and confrontation over the issue had diminished. However the area was still without adequate conservation protection and the Queensland government was opposed to any further UNESCO World Heritage nominations in the state. Cohen offered Cabinet five options, ranging from leaving the issue entirely to the state, to seeking World Heritage nomination for the area. Cabinet decided to discuss the funding of conservation projects with the Queensland government, but not to proceed with unilaterally seeking World Heritage nomination. On 17 June 1985 Cabinet agreed to a recommendation by the NSW government that 205,000 acres of rainforest in NSW national parks and reserves be nominated for World Heritage listing (see A14039, 2877).

In June 1985 Cabinet accepted a proposal by Science Minister Barry Jones that a Bicentennial Science Centre be established in Canberra, noting that $10 million of the estimated $14 million cost of the Centre was likely to be funded as Japan's bicentennial gift to Australia. Jones told Cabinet that the majority of the Australian population was scientifically and technologically illiterate, and that the Centre would adopt a dynamic 'hands on' approach pioneered by the Australian National University's Questacon. However in November 1985 Jones and the Prime Minister advised Cabinet that Japan would not make a decision on its bicentennial gift until at least February 1986 and that even then the gift might prove to be less than the anticipated $10 million. If the Centre was to be completed for the bicentennial in 1988 construction would have to begin by May 1986, but it was unlikely that sponsorship would have been settled by then or that it would meet the full cost of the project. The submission recommended that the Commonwealth underwrite the project, prompting a complaint from Bill Hayden that at a time of 'extreme fiscal tightness' the government was still able to find funds for 'popular monuments' such as the America's Cup, the National Maritime Museum and the Science Centre. Cabinet deferred a decision until more information was provided about possible sponsorship (see A14039, 3474). The Centre opened in 1988 at a cost of $20 million, half of which was contributed by the Japanese Government.

In October 1984 Cabinet approved a proposal by Barry Jones to establish a Commission for the Future. The Commission was to initiate a continuous public information process to 'demystify' science and raise public awareness of the social and economic impacts of technological change, addressing in particular concerns about the effect of such change on employment. Cabinet would appoint the seven members of the Commission, but it would be at arm's length from government and would be free to encourage discussion without political or bureaucratic constraint. Jones strongly opposed locating the Commission within a university, which would be 'the worst possible environment, an academic one'. The Commission was established in 1985, but had a controversial existence and was abolished in 1998.

Selected documents

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2019