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Thursday, 10 March 2005
Page: 7

Mr TRUSS (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:22 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The primary purpose of this bill is to increase the existing maximum allowable rate for the rice research and development (R&D) levy from $2 to $3 per tonne. This proposed increase has been progressed after a request from the rice industry.

The rice industry is now facing a third year of significant drought related production downturns which have placed financial pressures on the industry’s R&D programs due to subsequent reductions in levy revenue. The rice industry is seeking an increase in the maximum allowable levy rate to provide them with the flexibility to better manage future fluctuations in levy revenue. This will allow the industry to ensure adequate funding is maintained for core R&D programs.

The government believes that by using innovation to drive productivity growth and boost profitability on farms, Australia’s rural industries can continue to play a key part in maintaining our national prosperity. Australia’s rural industries have also long recognised this principle and have shown a longstanding and widespread willingness to invest in innovation through industry-wide levies. In this context the government was happy to put forward these changes to assist the rice industry manage their R&D programs into the future and for producers to continue to take up R&D outputs, whether they be to adopt new practices or bring out new products.

The bill will also provide mechanisms for the introduction of regulations for the implementation of the operative rate of the rice R&D levy. Currently, changes to the rate of the levy are done through a ministerial declaration published in the Gazette. This bill enables these functions to be rolled into new regulations which will be tabled soon after this bill receives royal assent. By switching to regulations it will bring the operation of the rice levy into line with the majority of other primary industry levies. It will also provide a greater level of scrutiny by parliament than is available under the existing arrangements.

The government will only favourably consider a request to raise the operative levy rate beyond the current $2 cap if the request demonstrates compliance with the government’s levy principles and guidelines. These guidelines include a requirement that there be widespread industry support for such a request. The current operative levy rate will not be affected by this bill.

This bill reflects the government’s willingness to assist rural industries to develop internal capacity to manage significant threats to ongoing sustainability, such as drought.

I commend the bill to the House and present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gavan O’Connor) adjourned.