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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 293


Senator GRIMES (Manager of Government Business) —by leave-I present the Government's response to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources on the Commonwealth's role in rural research and extension services. I seek leave to have the statement incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows-

In June 1981 the Senate referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources the matter of ''the Commonwealth's role in rural research and extension services and the contribution of those services to the development of the rural sector and the Australian economy''. The Committee's report titled ''The Commonwealth's role in Rural Research and Extension Services'' was tabled on 30 November 1982.

2. Since coming to office the Hawke Government has given a deal of consideration to rural research and has recently made a number of decisions on the funding and the administration of rural research funds. The report of the Committee proved helpful in our deliberations.

3. The Committee has emphasised the vital importance of research relevant to Australia's agricultural sector, both on-farm and off-farm, to increasing the efficiency and international competitiveness of Australian agriculture. We do not dispute the Committee view of the continuing need for a major public sector research effort. To quote from the Report ''the structure of rural industry makes it unlikely that industry could conduct its own research. The generally held view is that in the absence of public involvement there would be a significant under-investment in agriculture research.''

4. Looking towards the future, the Committee's view should be noted that gains from research will be harder to win as problems become more complex and more subtle. Again, to quote from the report ''research into such subjects as plant genetics and molecular biology aimed at producing more disease resistant plant varieties, higher yielding and drought resistant plants, soil erosion and salinity and biological control of pests and weeds is necessary if the significant contribution of Australian agriculture to the national economy is to be maintained.''

5. The Government is now in a position to provide its response to each of the Senate Standing Committee's recommendations made in the report. The recommendations and the Government's response follow.

RECOMMENDATION

1. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) be given the support necessary to ensure that, in future, statistics relevant to agricultural research will be gathered and published more quickly (p. 8 of the above titled report).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The ABS has completed a review of the research and development surveys, from which statistics relevant to agricultural research are produced and, within existing resource constraints, is planning to increase the frequency of the surveys from triennial to biennial. Improved processing systems from the 1984/85 data year are expected to improve the timing of publication of information from these surveys.

RECOMMENDATION

2. The ABS investigate and report on the practicability of gathering statistics for private sector expenditure on research relevant to agriculture (p. 8).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The ABS currently collects research and experimental development data from private sector businesses from which it publishes data on expenditure on research in agriculture and related fields such as chemical fertilisers and agricultural machinery. No data are collected from farm enterprises. Collection of data is not considered worthwhile as research and experimental development by such enterprises is considered to be insignificant.

RECOMMENDATION

3. CSIRO be no longer subject to the staff ceilings imposed on the Commonwealth Public Service (p. 17).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The concept of staff ceilings in the public sector has been replaced by human resource budgeting, the objective of which is the integration of staffing and financial decision making. This is to allow managers maximum scope in the disposition of the resources they have available to meet their responsibilities. In the case of CSIRO and other similar authorities the controls to be adopted will be limited to total appropriation and total staff usage expressed in staff years.

RECOMMENDATION

4. Where CSIRO is directed by the Commonwealth Government to give increased emphasis to new areas of research, for example manufacturing industry and energy research, then that research should be funded through increased appropriation and not at the expense of existing worthwhile program (p. 17).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Noted. The Government is aware of the importance of CSIRO's contributions to the rural sector. Any directions to have CSIRO move into new fields of research are only given against the background of the total resources available to CSIRO and the Organisation's ability to allocate resources to meet changes in priorities.

RECOMMENDATION

5. The Australian Science and Technology Council (ASTEC) examine the structures and processes involved in developing priorities for scientific research and providing policy advice and if necessary make recommendations for the rationalisation of these structures and processes (p. 19).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

One of ASTEC's main and continuing functions is to examine the structures and processes involved in developing priorities for scientific research and providing policy advice, and when necessary the Council makes recommendations on these issues to the Commonwealth Government. ASTEC made several recommendations in 1979 concerning the national effort in rural research, and is keeping the area under active review. The process of developing priorities for rural research is complicated by the involvement of both Commonwealth and State government laboratories, as well as industry and tertiary education institutions; as a consequence there are significant roles to be taken by the Australian Agricultural Council (AAC) and its committees, by producer groups and by professional organisations.

RECOMMENDATION

6. As a secondary consideration to the scientific imperatives of its programmes, CSIRO should seek to decentralise its research facilities, particularly those which engage in research that is influenced by local or regional factors (p. 20).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Noted. In the context of whatever resources are made available CSIRO should ensure that its rural research effort provides for a balanced coverage of the major regional conditions in Australia.

RECOMMENDATION

7. CSIRO, in consultation with the relevant Commonwealth Departments and State Governments, examine the implications of 'building in' to its staff and financial policies provisions for collaborative developmental research with State Departments to ensure that CSIRO agricultural research is adapted to the needs of individual States without unnecessary delay (p. 21).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Accepted, subject to the usual constraint of the availability of resources.

RECOMMENDATION

8. The enabling legislation for each rural industry research fund be amended to require levies to be reviewed at intervals not greater than every three years (p. 24).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government has decided to replace the legislation for each rural industry research fund with omnibus legislation. The legislation will, of course, reflect current industry contributions. Industries will be free to review their contributions and to propose changes as frequently as annually if they so wish. It should be noted, however, that in reaffirming the $ for $ matching principle, the Government has also decided that there be an upper limit to its contribution up to an amount equal to 0.5 per cent of gross value of production of the relevant industry.

RECOMMENDATION

9. The Commonwealth Government act with all possible speed to implement the recommendations of industry committees for levy increases (p. 24).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government has adopted the objective of raising the level of industry contributions to 0.5 per cent of GVP within five years. Nevertheless requests for increased industry contributions cannot be divorced from the impact those increases will have on the Commonwealth commitment to match, up to 0.5 per cent GVP level. For this reason, proposals for increases below this level can only be considered annually in the Budget context. However, for proposals above this level, there should be minimum delay in achieving an increase in industry contribution by the amount requested.

RECOMMENDATION

10. The Commonwealth take positive steps to encourage the expansion of the Rural Industry Research Fund System (p. 25).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government endorses the joint industry-public sector nature of the rural industry research fund system. Requests to establish new RIRFs will be given sympathetic consideration where the requesting industry can generate a reasonable and sustainable annual levy income and where the research requirements cannot effectively be combined with an existing scheme.

RECOMMENDATION

11. The Commonwealth provide matching funds on a 2:1 basis to new RIRFs for two years after they attain statutory fund status (p. 25).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government considers, particularly given the realities of the current budgetary position and the research effort provided by other institutions to emerging industries, that the matching arrangements as announced should be maintained.

RECOMMENDATION

12. A National Soil Conservation Council be established by the Commonwealth Government in consultation with the States and that the Council initiate a National Soil Conservation Program (NSCP), similar to the National Water Resources Program, to be adequately funded by the Commonwealth (p. 27).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government considers land degradation to be one of the most important long-term problems threatening agricultural production and has already initiated a NSCP which it is intended will combat further degradation and contribute to restoration of our most important agricultural resource base. Funding of $4 million was announced in the 1984-85 Budget. The NSCP has been established in co-operation with the States and will be developed in accordance with sound land use principles and national water resource priorities. It recognises, however, that primary responsibility for protection of the land rests with the individual land-holder and with the States. Inter-governmental co-ordination is undertaken through the Standing Committee on Soil Conservation of the Australian Agricultural Council.

RECOMMENDATION

13. The Tertiary Education Commission review the implications of restoring the link between Commonwealth Postgraduate Research Awards and research assistant salary scales (p. 32).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government will consider the level of Commonwealth Postgraduate Research Awards in the context of its consideration of student assistance schemes generally. This will be looked at by the Department of Education, since it is the body responsible for administering the awards, though consultation with the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission would be involved.

RECOMMENDATION

14. The universities be represented on the Standing Committee on Agriculture (SCA) (p. 32).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Standing Committee on Agriculture is an inter-governmental consultative committee serving a Ministerial Council (AAC). The Government considers that it would not be appropriate for universities to have membership of this Committee. State members consulted noted that while representation of universities was inappropriate, the universities had contributed significantly to SCA/AAC deliberations through Standing Committee's technical committee and conference system.

RECOMMENDATION

15. The Commonwealth develop a policy on agricultural research which states explicitly the reasons for and objectives of Commonwealth involvement and relates those reasons and objectives to its current activities (p. 35).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government's policy is to improve the organisation and administration of agricultural, forestry and fisheries research, and to increase funds for rural research with the objective of identifying areas of greatest need and delivering the most efficient use of the research dollar. Research is considered vital to increase the efficiency and competitiveness of rural industries. Although an upper limit, based on a percentage of gross value of production, has been introduced for each Rural Industry Research Fund, the principle of matching funding will continue. The Government considers that returns to investment in research in rural industries are high and that there is a serious risk of under-investment without Government intervention. Assistance to research is regarded as a particularly appropriate means of assistance to rural industry having regard to the non-distortionary nature of its effect and the widely recognised need to develop the potential benefits of our basic research effort. The Commonwealth contribution recognises the external benefits to the wider community and is considered essential to encourage participation of the relatively fragmented primary production units which are unable to appropriate all the results of research to themselves.

RECOMMENDATION

16. An Australian Agricultural Research Grant be established (p. 36).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

Recognising that support for multi-industry research and research for the smaller rural industries and for new or infant industries in Australia is inadequate, the Government increased its allocation to the Commonwealth Special Research Grant in the 1984-85 Budget from $279,000 p.a. for each of the three previous years to $500,000. The expanded fund will be put on a statutory basis and renamed Australian Special Rural Research Fund.

RECOMMENDATION

17. A Bureau of Rural Research be established after effective liaison with the States to define its role (p. 38).

GOVERNMENT RESPONSE

The Government allocated $0.5m in the 1984/85 Budget to allow initial steps to be taken for the establishment of a Bureau of Rural Resources in the Department of Primary Industry. The establishment of the Bureau will increase the level of expertise available to the Minister and the Department for formulating policies required for the proper management of the nation's agricultural, forestry and fisheries resources, including identification of research priorities.