Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Department of Science and Technology Studies


Decisions by governments involving the funding and application of science and technology are increasing in complexity. Paradoxically, there is an increasing demand for greater public participation in these decisions. There are a number of reasons for this: the recognition that science and technology can have far-reaching implications and consequences and may involve considerable risks, high costs, and ethical, moral and environmental considerations. Furthermore, there has been a growing distrust, or at least a questioning, of the authority and neutrality of science and the credibility and trustworthiness of scientific institutions. The establishment of the Australian Animal Health Laboratory with its long, and at times highly controversial history, reflects these changing attitudes towards science and technology, and scientists and scientific institutions

The idea of establishing a laboratory for the diagnosis of exotic animal diseases arose in veterinary circles around 1960. Part One of this thesis traces the development of this idea, into a proposal to construct a maximum security animal health laboratory for diagnosis, research, training, and vaccine production and testing, to be administered by CSIRO. The control of the laboratory and the functions it was to perform became the subject of bureaucratic competition and territorialism, and the process of negotiation, bargaining and consensus formation continued until 1974 when the Parliamentary Public Works Committee Inquiry was held. This detailed account of the decision-making processes within the bureaucracy reveals the political, non-scientific basis for many of the arguments and decisions.

By way of contrast. Part Two looks at the public arguments presented to the PWC justifying the need for the laboratory and the need for it to perform the various functions. The structure and procedures of the PWC limited participation, and the proceedings were dominated by the proponents of the scheme. Furthermore, the underlying assumption of the rational model of decision-making required that rational, scientific arguments be constructed to justify the proposal, with no suggestion of the uncertainties, value-judgements and political factors involved in the process.

Part Three examines the public controversy which erupted over the decision to import live Foot-and-Mouth Disease virus into the laboratory in advance of an outbreak. As the debate continued and the scientific basis of the decision to import the virus was called into question, doubts were raised about the need for the laboratory. These doubts, fuelled by opposing expert views, eventually called into question the decision-making process and the role of scientists and scientific institutions in decision-making and their authority credibility and trustworthiness.

Although not the initiators of the idea to establish the laboratory CSIRO played an important role in the decision-making process. Once the strategic decision to establish this laboratory was taken, the issues were defined as ones requiring expert scientific consideration, and CSIRO was seen as having the necessary expertise. This was accepted unquestioningly by the PWC. However, during the course of the public debate, assumptions, value-judgements uncertainties, and political motives underlying the decisions were exposed, and as a result, the authority, and credibility of CSIRO was undermined. The government's decision to ban the importation of the live FMD virus for at least five years against the recommendation of CSIRO, while defusing some of the conflict, further undermined CSIRO's authority. And it was not until the issue had been re-defined as one for expert scientific consideration, with the formation of the Fenner Committee inquiry, that some of this lost authority was regained.

This study documents the consensus and conflict, the negotiation and confrontation, and the post-hoc reconstruction of arguments, and reveals the complex and continual interplay between science and politics in the shaping of a major public decision.

02Whole.pdf (7362 kB)