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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2526


Mr FITZGIBBON (Hunter) (16:09): The opposition will be supporting the passage of the Primary Industries Research and Development Amendment Bill 2017. The bill amends the Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989, known as the PIRD Act. It allows statutory research and development corporations governed by the PIRD Act to undertake marketing activities funded by voluntary contributions, removes the requirement that statutory RDCs can undertake marketing only where a marketing levy is attached to the corporation and expands the definition of marketing activities to allow incidental activities such as consulting about or planning marketing activities. This will allow RDCs to consult about, plan, scope and organise marketing on behalf of industry, as well as to commission marketing activities. The amendments in the bill will not alter the current process by which industry establishes a new levy, but instead will remove the requirement for a formal levy in order to undertake marketing activities.

There are 15 RDCs; however, only four of them are still governed by the 1989 PIRD Act. They are the Fisheries RDC, the Cotton RDC, the Grains RDC, and the Rural Industries RDC, which is now known as AgriFutures. Of the other 11 RDCs, nine of the 10 industry owned RDC corporations and the Australian Grape and Wine Authority can conduct marketing without reference to the source of the funding. They are governed by industry-specific legislation.

In 2013, legislative changes to the PIRD Act were made to expand the functions of the R&D corporations to include conducting marketing on behalf of industry if a marketing levy was attached to the R&D corporation. However, following the passage of the Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Act 2013, some small industries indicated that the cost of establishing and collecting a statutory levy for marketing is too high. The Fisheries RDC has sought agreement from the minister to amend the PIRD Act to allow for the voluntary collection of funds to be used for marketing activities. There are a number of seafood sectors, including Southern Rocklobster Ltd, Australian Barramundi Farmers Association and Oysters Australia, who are actively considering how they will engage with the Fisheries RDC with regard to marketing. The Fisheries RDC provided further clarity to benefits associated with voluntary marketing activities. The FRDC is unique in that it does not collect mandatory research and development levies. They are collected on a voluntary basis. This voluntary arrangement has allowed the FRDC to develop a relationship of trust with industry and, in percentage terms, is over government matching caps for research and development dollars, which is a standout outcome for that RDC.

Due to this trusted relationship, it was proposed to roll over marketing funds currently held by the Seafood CRC, which closed on 30 June 2017. This bill should have been done before then to allow the funds to be rolled over to the Fisheries RDC. Sadly, though, this bill is too late. It was not passed prior to 30 June 2017 because the previous agriculture minister did not ensure it received sufficient attention and priority. Again, sadly, we know that the former minister was preoccupied with his boondoggles and pork-barrelling exercises and other distractions, rather than the interests of the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. The Seafood Cooperative Research Centre company was facilitating the voluntary collection of marketing contributions for the Australian Prawn Farmers Association and the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries, representing the wildcatch prawn sector. These funds have been used over the last four years for the very successful Love Australian Prawns marketing campaign.

The Seafood CRC company was going through the process of winding up and was no longer going to be in a position to facilitate the LAP—the marketing program—and other voluntary campaigns. The intention was that the Seafood CRC pass the balance of the funds it currently holds for that campaign and the Australian Wild Abalone campaign to the FRDC, which would, in turn, facilitate the ongoing management of the campaign. Due to the poor timing of the implementation of this bill, the Australian Prawn Farmers Association, the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries and the Abalone Council Australia have had to make other arrangements for marketing funds, as the funds could not be rolled over from the FRDC—again, because the minister didn't get his act into gear in an appropriate time and manner. This is not the only example of the Turnbull government's failure to ensure efficient use of funding.

The failure of the Turnbull government to develop evidence based policies is damaging the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. The former agriculture minister is one of those prominent members of the Turnbull government who, time after time, ignored the evidence based policies to his own satisfaction. Even the former federal director of the Nationals, Scott Mitchell, has stated:

The Nationals must now work as a united and disciplined team for their constituents.

   …    …

A united team working on the substantive issues that matter to rural and regional Australians—rather than populist policy issues that often have unintended consequences and fail to deliver long-term benefits—is what is most important.

   …    …

It is of secondary concern to the Nationals' leader to be a household name.

I think we know who the former national director was talking about. I'm sure you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Coulton , and I'm sure every member of this House knows that he is talking about the former Minister for Agriculture, who spent four years in his portfolio and did nothing but play to his political base. He did nothing but talk about pork-barrelling exercises, his boondoggles, his Regional Investment Corporation, which is a public policy disaster. The relocation of the APVMA to his own electorate was the most prominent and outrageous pork-barrelling exercise I've seen in my 22 years here. Was there any substantial policy? Of course not.

The very fact that we are debating this bill is, I think, a case in point. I made a speech in this place last week about the priorities for the agriculture sector. One of the key points was research and development. This is an eminently supportable amendment to the act, but it embraces none of the real challenges we have before us if we're going to be serious about meeting our aspirations in the agriculture sector. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.