Senate debates

Wednesday, 2 December 2020



7:27 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Deputy President:

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present—and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system—ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Those words I just quoted were actually from a bloke by the name of Dwight Eisenhower, who said those words in his departing speech way back in 1961. I must admit that I was only put onto this part of the speech today. It's probably better known of course for his reference to the military-industrial complex.

What I find amazing about this speech is just how prophetic it was in anticipating the problems of the conflict of interest between education for the sake of education and knowledge versus the need, obviously, for greater funding. This is such a well-known speech because Eisenhower predicted back in 1961 the threat of the military-industrial complex. A lot of people will say, 'Oh, here's Rennick again, putting on his silver tinfoil hat'. You can call me a right-wing nut job, but one person you can't call a right-wing nut job is the person who, in my view, was the greatest leader of the 20th century—Dwight Eisenhower. He led the invasion forces at D-day, he was the first supreme commander of NATO, he was the head of Columbia University and, of course, he was President of the United States for two terms. He oversaw a great era in American history. He built lots and lots of infrastructure, which just happens to be one of my favourite topics. I often wonder what he would think if he was alive today. He was worried then about the military-industrial complex. And today we have many industrial complexes—the superannuation industrial complex, the renewables industrial complex, the childcare industrial complex, the higher education industrial complex. There are so many vested interests in the role of government.

In the last paragraph of that speech, Eisenhower said:

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system—ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

One of the important things we have to do is stand up to our bureaucratic elite. In my view, they have gravely let us down in many, many ways. I want to touch on a couple of those issues briefly. The first one that really grinds my gears is the $430 billion defined-benefit superannuation liability. In this year's budget for the first time it was discounted by one per cent, so we got to see the true cost of this liability for our children. About one-third of that $430 billion is for the military. I have absolutely no problems with that. Our military deserve to be looked after in retirement. I am going to get these numbers confirmed if Treasury answer my questions on notice from estimates—and I had better get them—but the remaining $300 billion works out at over $1 million for every retired bureaucrat. Everyone says: 'You can't go back and change the defined benefit scheme because it's a violation of property rights.' I would disagree with that, because, in order to have a property right, you have to have a valid contract, and a valid contract requires an offer and an acceptance. There was never an offer by the elite to the people that said: 'We want to pay ourselves a golden handshake, a defined benefit pension, that's going to cost you over $1 million per person.' That is just one example of how our bureaucrats are part of this technological elite and how, in my view, they have overused their powers.