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Thursday, 16 June 2005
Page: 72


Senator COLBECK (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (1:17 PM) —I thank Senator O’Brien for his comments and his support of the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment (Rice) Bill 2005. He is right: it is an important piece of legislation. It is needed to sustain the research and development effort for the rice industry which has been dramatically reduced by necessity due to a lack of funds through the reduction in the rice crop. The support of the opposition for this piece of legislation is certainly welcome.

The government is certainly happy to support the rice industry’s request for the amendment and, as Senator O’Brien said, it increases the maximum allowable R&D levy rate from $2 a tonne to $3 a tonne and changes the way the operative levy rate and associated levy administration issues are enacted from ministerial declaration to regulations. This change provides a higher level of accountability back to the parliament than the current arrangements and brings the levy arrangements for the rice industry into line with arrangements for other agricultural industries.

It should be noted that this bill will not change the rate applied to the collection of levies from the industry which the legislation refers to as the operative rate. The industry will need to come back with a proposal to change the current operative rate under the new maximum cap that is consistent with the government’s levy principles and guidelines. The key to this is the need to demonstrate industry support for changes in the operative levy rate, and I understand that the industry is currently progressing that. This measure is in addition to the government’s decision in April to grant full EC assistance to rice growers in the Murray Valley who have been impacted by the last three years of record low irrigation entitlements. This EC decision will provide assistance to eligible rice producers for a period of 24 months.

I trust that the levy changes proposed in the bill will help the industry continue its excellent track record of innovation. I certainly know the importance of the R&D effort to the industry. As Senator O’Brien said, it has helped it to reduce its water use immensely. It is unfortunate that, over the last few weeks, the industry has received some poor publicity due to some incorrect information being published in the media in relation to the amount of water that the industry uses. It is important to note that they use significantly less water than was reported. I think 21,000 litres per kilogram of rice was the figure reported in the Australian, when the figure is significantly less—something in the order of 1,600 litres, not something in the thousands. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.