Interview: Trade Secrets
Industrial: It’s About Overtime, Stupid
Unions: Full Steam Ahead
Bad Boss: The BBQ Battle Axe
Economics: Different Dimensions of Debt
History: Raking the Coals
History Special: Wherever the Necessity Exists
History Special: Learning from the Past
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Politics: Regime Change for Saddam
International: World War
Corporate: Industrious Thinking
Review: Jack High
Culture: Duffy’s Song
Satire: A Nation of Sooks
Poetry: Mr Flexibility
The Locker Room
Month In Review
Lessons from History
State Based Organising
Gino on the Gong
The Germans came to Australia after World War II and played a key part in the industrial development of post-war Australia. The influences of their technical and scientific expertise on science and technology and the making of an integrated manufacturing industry was limited. The ingrained economic rationalism that dominates Australian economic thinking to this day ensured that an industrial scientific complex did not develop in Australia.
Industry policy is an untouchable idea in Australia. The two major political parties seem happy to let market fundamentalists dominate, except when it comes to very particular constituencies (eg the Productivity Commission itself, as it and its predecessors should surely have been wound up by now if the economic principles they espouse were applied to themselves).
It was not ever thus. Protection (the term protection is used by the fundamentalists as a way to taint the notion of industry policy) was used to get any sort of capability of manufacturing in Australia. C J Dennis, in the days when Protection v Free Trade was the major political division in Australia, wrote a very perceptive story of what happens when the free traders get their way in the Glugs of Gosh when warehouses lined the shore for all the imports. The dominance of Melbourne manufacturing made sure industry did get protection.
After World War II the aim Dept of Post War reconstruction had the serious mission of recasting the Australian economy. Basic scientific and industrial research was a part of this agenda. Evan Jones has been delving into the archives to look at how German expertise was used to build this capacity in Australia.
Unlike other allied countries, the German expertise was not sought to try and a chive the edge in the rapidly escalating Cold War. The 'Employment of Scientific and Technical Enemy Aliens' Scheme (ESTEA).
The best known story of scientists being moved from Germany is that of rocket scientist Werner von Braun, who took Tom Lehrer to court which lead to Lehrer stopping his brilliant satirical performances and recordings. Braun was taken illegally to the US by one of the military factions.
The German scientists were sought out because of the advanced level of their researches and the application of their technological know how.
Evan Jones tells us that the various allied authorities were fairly ambivalent about getting the scientists into their countries, but at the same time they did not want to miss out if others were benefiting from them. British strategies turned to getting the scientists into civil industry, rather than focusing on the military objectives, mainly because the military couldn't reach agreement with the USA on military personnel to oppose the Soviet Union..
Australian officials sought expressions of interests from the states without much success, except from the Cain Govt in Victoria, who was interested in the scientists for developing the electricity industry.
The Division of Industrial Development (DID) in the Dept of Post-War reconstruction had very capable people who were keen to develop a grand strategic plan for Australia, having just come through the twin disasters of the great Depression and World War II. Manufacturing industry had expanded for wartime production and the aim was to maintain its viability. As Jones says, there was no military-science establishment in Australia, so the ESTEA scheme was an industry-science one.
The defence forces did become interested in the Germans however. This came to the fore mostly with the Long Range Rocket Weapons Program But Australians were pretty mucg=h a junior partner in this, even though it was in Australia.
The Director of the DID, Breen, emphasized that the main aim of the Australian research and development effort using the imported scientists was improving production efficiency in domestic manufacturing, as there wasn't enough local expertise. Most of the scientists were employed by the government, although were in larger private companies. As many Australian firms had head offices overseas, there wasn't a lot of response.
Jones sees the success of using the scientists as testament to the drive of the personnel in the DID, and the support of the ALP government post-war in moving to revive the Australian economy and set it on a new footing. In Britain, by contrast, the scheme was an administrative fiasco with problems of payment accommodation and assignment for the scientists. Part of the problem was that the British seemed intent on making war trophies and slaves of the scientists, as they were regarded still as enemy aliens. The Dept of Immigration and its minister, Calwell, were resolutely opposed to free immigration of the scientists. German nationals were not allowed to immigrate straight after the war, but rules were altered later to cater for the national political imperative of rapid populaton growth.
This enabled around 150 scientists and technicians to begin employment between 1947 and 1953. The types of skills they embodied included engineers, chemists, physicists, geologists and food technologists.
The most lasting contribution in terms of change was related to Cain's need to improve electricity generation in Victoria. Dr Friedrich Danulat invented the 'Lurgi' process for extracting gas from brown coal and Erich Bruggemann was a designer of the Lurgi plant. These gave a huge boost to depressed regional areas of Victoria (now depressed again after the cataclysmic effects of the Kennet Govt's privatisation of the Victorian electricity industry in the name of market fundamentalism).
Other scientists worked in areas less successfully, for example Dr Karl Kumetat, an organic chemist with skills in photography, was under-utilised in dairy industry research.
The CSIRO Division of Industrial Chemistry also got a boost from the German scientists.
DID also deployed the scientists in broader industry studies and F. Kreide visited 300 factories and reported on how they were changing and what sort of developments were needed to improve production planning, quality and inspection procedures, labour efficiency and training. Some small businesses were growing rapidly and this sort of expertise was needed to guide their development.
Overall, some at the time felt that the scientists should have been more used on this industry wide basis rather than working exclusively for individual firms. Training schemes which could have flowed through industries did not happen enough. There was high-level expertise but not enough effort was put into developing skills for lower level technicians.
Jones says that a "well-conceived scheme would have envisaged...integrated structures and their associate demands...The Germans had lessons for Australia not merely regarding theoretical principles and applications, but also regarding the more intangible dimensions of organizational design and culture."
The scheme was wound down during 1954. The German economy had recovered so emigration was less attractive. Private employment in Australia stagnated at this time too. The change to a Coalition government also led to a change in attitude and the place of DID in the bureaucracy was less assured.
Jones sees the destruction of the culture of the strategic use of outside assistance to encourage manufacturing. Large companies like BHP and ICI had their own direct links to power-brokers in government and bureaucracy and were not interested in system wide intervention, study and development. Improving managerial skills became the focus of productivity improvement. American technological imports were preferred to local developments.
Jones sees the economic rationalism of Treasury firmly in place at the time, as the Chicago School's Roland Wilson was firmly in control at the time. He ensured the death of the possible alternative policy that DID had begun to develop.
German personnel worked in potentially strategic research centers. These centres were not firmly linked to one another and thus did not have enough weight to continue broad development. CSIRO grew and continues to show its importance as a leading research facility but still struggles each year to attract real support from government. The dependence on overseas innovation (pre the Depression from the UK, post-war from the USA) reasserted itself after a brief period when there were structures emerging that could have lead to a fully integrated industrial-scientific complex in Australia. The culture that led to this failure remains with its hands firmly on the levers.
Jones, Evan (2002) The Employment of German Scientists in Australia after World War II. University of Sydney School of Economics and Political Science. Discipline of Political Economy. Working Paper. October
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