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Thursday, 25 September 2014
Page: 7156

Agriculture


Senator WANG (Western AustraliaPalmer United Party Whip in the Senate) (14:24): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Agriculture Senator Abetz. Just over a year ago the government promised, as part of their election campaign, that they would provide an additional $100 million to agricultural research and development. Since then we have seen very little government action on their promises. Will the government clarify their commitment to agricultural research and development instead of putting the system under pressure through constant reviews and parliamentary inquiries?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:25): Before answering the question I congratulate Senator Wang on his first speech, delivered on Tuesday night. I think all of his colleagues right around the chamber enjoyed it.

Senator Wang is right to ask about the government's commitment of an additional $100 million to agricultural research and development because that was part of our promise to the agricultural sector at the last election. I can confirm for Senator Wang and the Senate that, in fact, that $100 million extra was in this year's coalition budget. In other words, in the very first budget that we have delivered we have, yet again, delivered on another election promise. That confirms, hopefully, for Senator Wang, that we as a government are genuinely concerned to assist one of the great pillars of the Australian economy—namely agriculture—with research and development funding. We believe that putting it in our very first budget highlights our commitment to that vitally important sector.


Senator WANG (Western AustraliaPalmer United Party Whip in the Senate) (14:26): I have a supplementary question. When will the $100 million funding start flowing to agricultural research?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:26): It will start flowing as a result of this year's budget. I am not sure whether that part of it has already found its way through the chamber or not.

These projects for research and development are by way of a competitive process. Applications will be open very shortly and we then expect, once the decisions are made over the four years, for these projects to start being funded. Unlike those opposite, we do not just throw money at a proposal or because we have announced extra funding. We ensure that everything is done in a purposeful manner to ensure that we get possible value for the Australian taxpayer and the actual purpose for which it was designed. That is why it will be a competitive process and applications will open very shortly.


Senator WANG (Western AustraliaPalmer United Party Whip in the Senate) (14:27): I have a further supplementary question. How much from the $100 million is being diverted to fund the Department of Agriculture's administration of the program?


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Government in the Senate, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service and Minister for Employment) (14:27): I can inform Senator Wang that, on my advice from Mr Joyce's office, $3.2 million will be used for the administration of the program. My maths is not very good, but given that it is $100 million I can therefore assert that 3.2 per cent of the fund will be used for administration. That is, if I might say, in contrast to previous administration in this area, as I understand it—under previous Labor and coalition governments—of about 15 per cent.

So we are seeking to minimise the administrative cost of this program as much as possible to ensure that the vast bulk of it—nearly 97 per cent—can actually go to program delivery of research and development so that we can grow the agricultural sector even further.