Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry
29/01/2016
Agricultural innovation

AYRE, Dr Margaret, Senior Research Fellow, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne

NETTLE, Associate Professor Ruth, Leader, Rural Innovation Research Group, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne

SANTHANAM-MARTIN, Mr Michael, Lecturer, Agricultural Production Systems, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne

[14:04]

CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I advise you that this hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings in the House. I now invite you to make an opening statement, if you wish, and we will follow that up with some questions.

Prof. Nettle : Thanks very much, Mr Chairman. We represent the University of Melbourne and, as I am sure you would be aware, the university has a broad interest in innovation processes and research industry collaboration. We have just established the Carlton Connect Initiative on the Royal Women's Hospital site. Also, as you have heard, we are from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, so we are also part of building the next generation of agricultural scientists and the education required for them. However, today we are appearing as an applied research group within the faculty—the Rural Innovation Research Group—and we apply social science to the issues of agricultural innovation, which is the purpose of this inquiry. In our role as researchers we are often directly embedded in the questions and problems that particular different industries in Australia are working on, like dairy, cotton and red meat. Often we are asked to investigate specific aspects: why isn't adoption occurring or how can we work better to have more innovation? We particularly look at what is working and why. We have international connections, particularly in the European Union and in New Zealand, about similar issues.

Regarding our understanding of the purpose of this inquiry, obviously it is focused on the potential of new technologies to improve the efficiency and productivity of agriculture. Specifically to the three terms of reference, I will make a very brief opening comment on each one and then we will take questions from you. First, you asked: what scope do we see for improvement in agricultural productivity? Our view from our research is that there is definitely huge scope, which I am sure you have heard and the submissions reflect that, to drive improvements from existing technologies as well as new technologies. We would argue that it is not just about the technology itself, even though drones are very interesting. It is about the system that sits around those technologies creating value. What enables farmers to get the benefits from these technologies? For instance, one of the areas that we work in is the advisory sector—a key conduit for supporting adaptation and learning, and adapting something like the data that comes from drone technology into useful information to drive benefit for the farm. But we know that there has been a lot of change to the advisory sector and extension services over three decades in Australia. For those particular technologies, that is part of the challenge: it is actually the advisory system. That is an example. If we just focus on the technologies, there could be risks. We might miss things.

Another example that we use here is that there are many advances going on around genetic technologies in dairy systems, particularly on plants and animals. We have research involved in animal genetic improvement, but particularly some of the plant based ones. There are great possibilities from changing some of the nutritional benefit of ryegrass, for instance. There is also still huge opportunity for improvement in overall grazing management and pasture utilisation with existing technologies. Also, with some of the new genetic advances coming forward, it is all about who is going to be your private sector partner and how is that going to be integrated into the advice that some of the private providers provide to farmers? That is where some of the effort is required. The systems idea, I suppose, does not just focus on technology. I have covered it a bit.

Your second term of reference goes to our opinion of those emerging technologies. We definitely see high scope. As to how we have analysed those technologies in some of our research, working with farmers, advisors and researchers, we have labelled the selection of technologies that you have in the inquiry as 'high-challenge technologies'. Basically, they are not off-the-shelf; they are not plug-and-play. From a farm level, the promise is not: 'If you buy this and put in the system, you will get a 10 per cent increase in productivity' or 'this much return on investment'. For a number of reasons there are rapid changes and advances in some of the technologies coming about. There is huge competition, so farmers are often faced with hundreds of offers and it is not necessarily coming through their normal conduits—for example, going to their industry body. So there are those rapid changes. The other aspect is that, although an individual farmer might benefit or be seeing the benefit, or wanting to take on these, we know that a lot of these also have, what we put in the bucket of the social licence challenges—partly that were touched on here with the previous witnesses.

In our experience, whether it is genetic modification, the legal implications of big data, or those other policy changes, we believe that the social licence aspect does need to be taken very seriously and that is a part of why we need to look at the system around the technology. Because engaging the community in these discussions is a part of how those technologies are used and adopted.

Finally, our submission was mainly linked to your third term of inquiry about the barriers to adoption. We have summarised some of what literature and our research suggests are well-identified and known factors. It depends a lot on what the technology is and it depends a lot on the different populations of farmers. We know that dairy farmers differ from cotton farmers and from grain farmers—often from a population or a regional perspective. We know it does depend on what the relative advantage is and that cannot often be known upfront. You cannot make the promise, 'When you do this, you will get that benefit'. It is a learned process. The capacity to be able to have some sort of demonstration of benefits and the capacity to learn or adapt particular technologies are very important components of the adoption process. In some ways we always turn the question: 'What are the barriers for adoption?' on its head. We think that is a very research-focused question. How can we get people to do this? Whereas, you can turn it around to be, 'What are the opportunities that a farmer might see?' and 'How can we actually engage who needs to be involved in seeing those improvements realised?' Therefore driving that value. And we see a roll of government there.

Broadly, about this adoption question, I looked at a lot of the submissions and a lot of them do talk about collaboration and it is hard to say that again without it being passe. The New Zealand industry has really invested heavily in this in their whole primary sector. They talk about 'co-innovation' and how they can change their system of research development and extension to that of co-innovation. In Australia, we often seem to focus on—and this is in general, not just in agriculture—doing a big search for different technologies and then we focus on selecting a winner, and that is most of the job. That is where the investment goes. But the innovation process requires the implementation and the capture of benefits—which we discussed here before—and we spend less money on that, in general, and put less emphasis on it. It is within a sector or within a region that we need to be doing that more. It seems to me that, to address some of the questions of the inquiry, it is about how we are going to spend more effort, resources and capacity on the implementation and value-capture part of technologies.

Just before concluding, my colleagues have introduced themselves, but we thought we might be individually of benefit. Dr Margaret Ayre is a social researcher who has a lot of experience in multidisciplinary projects: working with farmers, different regional groups and scientists modelling applied science—particularly in water and climate change adaptation. In the past, she worked in Northern Australia with Indigenous communities around water management. As Michael mentioned, he recently completed his PhD alongside the Alpine Valleys project that you saw yesterday, particularly around agricultural governance and the importance of place-based innovation strategies.

CHAIR: In your submission, you mentioned the capacity-building of farmers and advisors to deal with all the data that is going to be coming through, and I can tell that you are quite excited about Melbourne University's investment in this area. We took some evidence yesterday from a number of people who are fairly underwhelmed by the educational investment in developing new farmers—that there is very little focus in the general schooling area and even in the university and the specialist sector, that we are well wide of the mark and are not turning out enough people with a top understanding of the systems of agriculture, of marketing and of technology right across the board, and that we had dropped the ball. Do you have a comment on that?

Prof. Nettle : This was part of a topic of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry we were part of, as well. Over a number of years this issue has been identified, and as a tertiary provider we are one part of the continuum. Two initiatives we have in Victoria formed a network between the vocational education and the tertiary education providers around streamlining and providing pathways in the agricultural space—steps towards trying to address some of these long running issues—but from the University of Melbourne's perspective, because of our stakeholder engagement and comments like this, we have reorganised and launched our new Bachelor of Agriculture, which begins this year with close to 200 new entrants. Part of the curriculum design—and Michael can speak to this—is to address some of those constraints. It does involve understanding and looking more at agricultural systems. It brings in other capacity from across the university, particularly, say, for precision agriculture that might require IT capacity and engineering capacity to assist graduate capability in that area, and it has a strong industry placement and internship—

CHAIR: Is this a new capacity within your university? This is an extra 200 students in agriculture, or have they switched?

Prof. Nettle : That is our first-year enrolment for this year, and it has been going up 50 per cent per year for the last three years. We are the largest in Australia for agricultural graduates.

Ms PRICE: So it is not a new degree; it is a redesigned degree?

Prof. Nettle : It is a redesigned and relaunched degree.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : It is a complete redesign of every year of the degree. The majors and the structure of each year have been completely redesigned from the ground up.

CHAIR: As a result, you think that is generating new interest from people wanting to do the course?

Prof. Nettle : That has definitely been part of it. Obviously, this is our first year of running the new curriculum, but the increased enrolments have been partly because of people's increased interest in agriculture, in food, in the environment and in sustainability, and because of public commentary about needing those jobs, which always influences graduate interest.

Ms O'NEIL: Tell us a bit more about the new design and what innovation-related aspects there are to the new model.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : The students on day 1 will be told that being an agricultural professional will involve them in being able to look at the world through multiple different lenses, and to be able to chop and change between those lenses as required. The lenses they have to understand are science, so the scientific principles of how plants grow and how animals grow and how food is produced; sustainability, so agriculture in its natural environmental context; justice and ethics, so the societal expectations around agriculture; professional practice, so what their role as an ethical professional is; and markets, of course. Those are not taught as subjects. They are presented as domains of learning that they will be expected to pick up incrementally through all their subjects, with the aim that they are building a portfolio of knowledge, skills and mental attitudes to be an agricultural professional for the 21st century. That is the structure of the degree.

I also wanted to comment on Mr Ramsey's question, because you talked about the pre-tertiary stages of education, and, if there is an opportunity later, perhaps I could talk about how the Alpine Valleys project has taken action on that front.

Ms McGOWAN: I would like to thank you for your work. It is just great. Congratulations of being such innovators because it has been so critical that we have good professionals coming out, and that little story about how you have innovated is great.

Ruth, if I could just get your input on this New Zealand model about co-innovation, because I am really keen to know how we create the learning environment in a community context so that the people—the community that is going to be working with this innovation—understand it. Could you give us a little bit more about that co-innovation, what its principles might be and what skills we need to have in the system to make it work?

Prof. Nettle : That is a very good question. The one thing that is very interesting about the project is that it was a collaborative effort. It is a federal government or a national government funded initiative with co-investment by most of the industry bodies in New Zealand, such as the horticulture industry, the dairy industry and forestry. It was for seven years and it is entering its fourth year, at the moment. It is an overall learning activity, that was agreed from the beginning, to look at how they can have more innovation and more productivity in all of our agricultural industries. They felt they could best do that by working collaboratively, not just doing it within the industry.

It involves—without going into too much of the design of the project—each industry having their particular case study that they are wanting to pursue. For instance, they have a lot of issues around nutrients in water in the south island, so they have a couple of industries focused on how we can have more water productivity and less nutrient outflow. For dairy, dairy-herd fertility is a big issue: 'How do we work in the system of the whole dairy-herd reproduction to have better outcomes?'—if that gives you the flavour. They have set up a way for all of the industries to learn the systemic issues or the institutional issues with our innovation system as well, which is what I think is quite unique. You have, basically, all of the CEOs of the industry groups and the government sitting together, at times—obviously, it is hard to get them in the room—to discuss if we have a role that might be blocking innovation, here.

What they have managed to do is to consider the industry productivity and what we have to do to work better, together as an industry, between research, farmers and the advisory system. They have also said that might not be where the problem is. It could be about the way we are investing in research. It could be about something not being invested or funded in. In a nutshell, that is what they have taken on: to examine their whole innovation system fortheir primary industries.

Some recent papers our colleagues have written said that they still believe there are a lot of good things happening in the industry levels—more connection with farmers. The horticultural industry has reported large changes in design of some of their, for instance, kiwifruit or their other production systems, because of this much closer connection with research. The advisers are involved and the farmers are actively engaged in some of the research designs et cetera. They are getting quite good outcomes at the individual level.

What some of the institutional analysis is suggesting is that there are still the funding models around starting with the science and, then, making sure the results get used. They say the whole of the New Zealand innovation system is driving that model and it is blocking some of what could be more possible on the ground.

CHAIR: Could you say that again? I am not fully understanding it.

Prof. Nettle : It is similar to Australia. The way the federal government invests directly into some of the science investments, the way the organisations are arranged and the way the research is funded means that it is still a science push or a results—

Ms PRICE: It is the reward system. This is what we have heard from a number of universities as well. I am interested that you have touched on that just slightly. That is the reward system and somehow we need to change the reward system so it is not just research for research sake; the researchers are solving a problem that needs to be solved. It is not necessarily just about the science and getting published in international publications, which is the current reward system. We somehow have to have industry involved. That is what you were saying about New Zealand: the reward system is different because there is an expectation that they were going to solve a problem that needed to be solved and worked with industry. We do not really have that here in Australia, to the same extent.

Prof. Nettle : That is right. The other aspect that they found, which is also similar to Australia, is that there are a large number of players. There are a lot of private sector providers. The role of the industry groups or the role of government to broker or coordinate or work with what is working well or direct traffic, I suppose, tends to be quite invisible. You just expect that to happen, but it is becoming more important, as is leadership around managing the innovation process and the sectors. We are not talking about within an organisation; we are talking about with sectors. That is a capacity. You mentioned skills. That is what they are suggesting is missing or is not as well advanced as it could be. There are key people who are very good at playing that role and offering leadership in that area. That is an area for future development. It is about the management of the process. I do not mean micromanagement; I mean directing traffic and shaping. That is what generates some of what we are saying are productivity outcomes or benefits. It is about investing in that capacity.

Ms McGOWAN: What you are talking about is fascinating. We are interested. Ruth, maybe you could talk a bit more about the leadership business. We have heard, everywhere we have gone, that it means different things to different people. There is the diversion of research between ag, the CSIRO and somewhere else and not bringing it together. The national vision for research: what does it look like? We hear the word 'leadership' bandied around a whole lot as one of the limiting factors, because no-one is taking a leadership role and who will take a leadership role in innovation? I quite like what you were talking about. Maybe that is what New Zealand is discovering. Is there anything else that you have picked up in watching that model that might be useful for us?

Prof. Nettle : Yes. I think Margaret could add something here about the water space. Firstly, I had the privilege of working with a dairy industry drought response many years ago, through the millennium drought. There were 56 different dairy organisations working together to address a crisis or a problem. We had some research alongside that about the collaboration process. What we learnt from that, and it is what I take into my teaching—I teach a leadership subject in the masters area in the faculty—and it is not in the textbooks, is capacity around collaborative or shared leadership. That is, the skills to be able to work with numerous leaders to solve problems and deal with issues. But, in our training, teaching and capacity building, we tend to focus on the individual and their skills and capacity, but it is about how they operate in shared leadership. The experience in the dairy sector was the ability to be able to do that across key organisations in the industry at that time. It has probably not been repeated since. It was particularly the capacity to share leadership to solve problems. I think that is what is needed around the new technology space.

CHAIR: There has been a lot of talk about New Zealand over the last couple of days, it must be said. I guess that comes about because we have been dealing a lot with the dairy industry as we tour through Victoria and, of course, they are very good at what they do over there. Are their productivity gains much better than ours as a result of this focus they have there, and are they are making strides and leaving us behind in many ways, or not?

Prof. Nettle : In dairy?

CHAIR: That is probably where we have heard it the most, about their concentration, and I know their free trade agreement with China led to the opening up of new markets and that we have actually seen a lessening of lamb production out of New Zealand as they swung from prime lamb production into dairy, and it is the golden child at the moment. Are they leaving us behind, in these areas of genetics and robotics and breeding, where we seem to be having quite a bit of activity, it must be said?

Prof. Nettle : I believe, from a total factor productivity perspective, they, along with all industries, would say that this is a big issue for them. On your first question, about: are they ahead of the game for that measure—

CHAIR: Yes—are they ahead?

Prof. Nettle : No, it is not from that, but I think through focusing on: 'What is the collaboration we need to do to solve these particular issues?' like in the Alpine Valleys project, and what they are doing in climate adaptation at the moment, through Dairy Businesses for Future Climates, engaging farmers in these conversations—I think it is some of what they do from a collaborative leadership perspective in these key areas, particularly their people area. From a Dairy Australia perspective, they are the one rural development corporation that invests the most of their wedge of investment—so there is models and plans, and sustainability, but people has the biggest wedge. That, to me, showed the percentage of spend on people, compared to all the others; so that is the link. I thought Margaret could just comment a bit on Dairy Businesses for Future Climates, because it engages farmers directly in conversations about climate. It might of interest.

Dr Ayre : We are involved in an Australian government funded project, under the Filling the Research Gap initiative, called Dairy Businesses for Future Climates. It is led by Dairy Australia. There is a multidisciplinary team, but the farmer working groups in each of the three case study regions of Gippsland, South Australia and Tasmania are the key designers of the research in many ways. It has been a really fascinating project and we are at the point now where we are writing up the results. I think that, as a model of collaboration in research, particularly with the appointed Dairy Australia project manager being a farmer herself, it has been a really great experience, and an important model of research into which government can continue doing best.

CHAIR: Tony?

Mr ZAPPIA: Michael is going to tell us about a project, which I think Cathy said she was familiar with; I was not. Do you mind explaining?

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Sure. I think Ms McGowan and Ms Price and Mr Ramsey were up in north-east Victoria yesterday. Starting in 2011, some community leaders, dairy industry leaders and local government people in north-east Victoria decided that there was a link between the health of agricultural industries and the health of small communities, and, at the same time, they saw an opportunity for the dairy industry in particular to grow, whereas in some of these small remote valleys the number of dairy farms had been declining steadily for a long time. My PhD involved observing what took place over a four-year period with this bunch of stakeholders deciding, 'Is there something we can do together to benefit these rural communities and benefit the Australian dairy industry?'

On to the point that we made earlier about collaboration: Ruth said it is passe; it is very passe to say that you need everyone around the table to make innovation happen. The thing is: it is just so difficult to do. It really is hard—this shared leadership that Ruth spoke about. So I had the privilege of seeing it happen in real time over four years.

Presumably you saw yesterday that at that north-east Victorian regional scale you now have local government, you have the North East Catchment Management Authority, you have state schools and you have the federal Regional Development Australia committee. All these stakeholders have committed to a blueprint for action that they all think will benefit the future of the dairy industry and the future of those communities.

I suppose my learnings from observing that process for four years is that remarkable things can happen when you achieve this kind of collaboration. The place based nature is important because there is relationship capital that you can draw on when you are working in a place, and place can be of different scales: it can be a community scale or a regional scale. So there are benefits from being in a place. It takes a long time and it takes skilled and shared leadership. The outputs, in terms of what happens, cannot necessarily be fully laid out at the beginning. So there was a shared direction at the beginning; we think that there is shared benefit in focusing on the development of the dairy industry. But at the beginning it was not clear what would have to happen to enable that benefit—that evolved over the four years.

So, thinking: what does that mean for government? It means that there is a benefit in supporting place based collaborative processes. They take time and you may not know exactly the nature of the action at the beginning. Investment from Regional Development Australia through Regional Development Victoria was actually critical to the success of that project. It just injected a small amount of money at a critical time to keep the collaboration happening and to facilitate the leadership of that collaboration.

So it is too early to say if we achieved remarkable growth in north-east Victoria's dairy industry, but certainly the potential for that industry to thrive into the future is much greater now than it was four years ago as a result of this collaborative effort.

Ms PRICE: You may or may not be surprised to know that we had the dairy industry in here. They knew nothing about this group of people, which I thought was outstanding.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Dairy Australia—

Prof. Nettle : I forget who it was. I did not see the names of who was here.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Dairy Australia invested significant funds in that project through their regional development program, Murray Dairy. It just depends on who you had.

Ms PRICE: That was not the indication they gave us.

CHAIR: Just to touch on something completely different: in fact, if there is a downside to the technological revolution it is the loss of people in our industries—and you touch on that in your submission. It is something that I talk about a fair bit at home. Melissa in particular would be very au fait with this because we represent Wheatbelt country and, gee, we have been good at getting rid of farmers. But we grow more wheat every year, we grow better quality and we grow it in a more environmentally-friendly way. The farming methods are getting better and better. Everything is good about it, except we need fewer people. Surprisingly enough, yesterday that did not seem to be quite the case in the dairy industry—just talking with the group up there. In fact, with their productivity per person—even though the number of farms has shrunk quite dramatically and they have got bigger, they are operated in a different manner. But largely, they still seem to need the labour and they are only getting a slight productivity rise per person. There are more per cow and all that kind of thing, but per person there is a slight rise.

Given that—and we are all very enthusiastic about the technologies, and I would say, 'Go out and adopt,' and, 'This is what we need to do for Australian agriculture,'—how do we address the other side of that equation, which is the shrinking of our local communities?

Prof. Nettle : Have you got another couple of hours?

Mr Santhanam-Martin : That was the entire topic of my PhD, by the way.

CHAIR: Okay—so you know the answers then!

Mr Santhanam-Martin : It is not a—

CHAIR: Yes—

Prof. Nettle : First topic, and then I will throw to you. One of our research areas is workforce issues in agriculture and the technology interface. That is what I meant by, 'Have you got another few hours?' But we do not. We have studied what has been happening with the trajectory in workforce in agriculture, but particularly comparing dairy and cotton. We are working with those industries about these issues. This is such a big area that there is not enough focus on the huge changes that are occurring around the intersection between technology, farm size, climate and workforce implications. So farmers are rapidly adapting their workforce organisation and their structures. The main reason why you are not seeing it as much in dairy is that they have more complex systems around livestock and multi-enterprise. Even with robotic milking you do not get the reduction, necessarily, in labour saving—you need more skills et cetera. For many decades we have been saying, 'This is going to be great. We can have more technology. We'll need better skilled people. That'll be more attractive.' It is this virtuous cycle.

However, that is actually not, in general, how it is playing out. One, we do need more training and education around the skills and technology. But with that comes: what is going to be our workforce structure and what reward are we going to give people working in our farming systems? That is just one point. The other is that there is still a requirement for a large casual workforce and the need to be very flexible and adaptive, mainly around the availability of water. So that is driving—in the grains and cotton industries—a reliance on migration or casual forms of workforce, but it is driven more out of these other factors. So, from a general perspective, before I hand to Michael, let me talk a bit more about why it does involve a discussion with community, and what industries can do is to suggest that this has not been looked at enough. We are still assuming this virtuous circle. I am not answering your question there, but I think this is where we do need to engage the community and regions where agriculture is taking place because that is where the workforce discussions take place, and that is something which Michael looked at in his work in the Alpine Valleys: the nature of the farm change; how are the farms going to be?

CHAIR: It is enormous and very rapid.

Prof. Nettle : Yes.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : That is right. I make exactly the same point in my thesis: because we are always driving for productivity and efficiency, that one of the ways that farmers are always looking to improve efficiency is to cut labour out of their farm systems, and that has a community impact. So I am speaking now from the reasoning that I developed in my PhD. This is not an industry view or it is not an Alpine Valleys community view; it is my view. My view is that the dairy industry, or perhaps agriculture more generally, has not confronted this tension full in the face, because it is a profound tension. Australian agriculture understands that societal expectations are rising all the time and our international customers have rising expectations, so the Australian dairy industry is accredited by Unilever as the only national-scale dairy industry to be accredited as sustainable. Now, in the environment space and in the animal welfare space, that means incremental improvement. The industry's understanding is that, in the space of the relationship between farming and community, they are already doing it—the industry understands there to be an automatic and natural benefit between growing agricultural production and community benefit. Now, I do not think it is as simple as that, because of what you have pointed to: the implications of technological change for labour utilisation. So my suggestion is that thinking about the community aspect of sustainability requires industry to think about labour utilisation as an aspect of farm business management—as an aspect of farm business management for sustainability. So, obviously, you have to run your farms profitably, but that does not necessarily mean that you focus on cutting labour as your go-to option.

CHAIR: I would say, though, that many times a farmer will tell you, 'If we were making a bit more money we'd employ more labour.'

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Sure.

CHAIR: But my experience is that is not right. That is what they think, but it is not right, because when you learn to do something with less labour and better times come around you are more likely to actually capitalise on that: you will expand your farming enterprise or you will buy more machinery or you will save it or whatever. But you will not put the labour back that you do not really need anymore, because you have learnt to live without it.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : So there is that aspect of what does industry sustainability mean and what is the place of local communities within that, which I do not think industry is thinking about in as sophisticated a way as it could be. The second aspect is the community scale conversations—and this is really interesting. I have found in my research that rural communities, as I am sure you know from your electorate, have this often very strong sense of community identity and community spirit until it comes to individual landholder, land management and business management decisions. And, then, that is it—the community steps back.

CHAIR: There are rugged individuals.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Yes.

Ms PRICE: The definitions are different.

Mr Santhanam-Martin : Yes.

Ms PRICE: The farmer would say, 'Yes, I want a sustainable community, but if I can cut costs out of my business, which means I get rid of a labourer, that makes my business more sustainable.'

CHAIR: Or shop around the town or a lot of other things.

Prof. Nettle : I think so. I think that this is where the collective interest and the leadership are required at a community scale in many of your large-scale electorates, for instance. Yes, if there are a large number of farms that are going more to contract workforce or casual workforces, there are still things that can be done at a community scale in that. What can be done from a collective interest, I think, is something that we have looked at in dairy and in the cotton sector, where we tried to do it because of mining reducing in the Emerald region. If you leave it to individual cotton growers, they would say, 'No, because the mine's going down we're getting a workforce on our farms now, so we don't need to worry about workforce anymore.' So it does point to the role of government and the collective interests around the workforce—issues to do with technology. I think it is an important area.

CHAIR: We are going to have to move on, but thank you for covering that off at the end.

Ms PRICE: Thanks very much.

CHAIR: Thanks for your attendance here today. I do not think you have been asked to provide any additional information but, if you wish to, please forward it to the secretariat. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence and have an opportunity to request any corrections to any errors that may be there. Thank you very much.

Prof. Nettle : We thank you for your interest and for the opportunity.