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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee
01/02/2012
Higher education and skills training for agriculture and agribusiness

STOCKWIN, Mr Ben, Executive Manager, Primary Industries Education Foundation

[14:07]

CHAIR: Welcome. On behalf of the committee, thank you for your submission. I invite you to make a short opening statement. At the conclusion of your remarks, I will invite members of the committee to put questions to you.

Mr Stockwin : Firstly, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to present and share some insights the foundation have gained in the last 22 months since we became operational. We believe we are uniquely placed as the peak body for primary industries education in schools to provide the committee with an overarching view of higher education and skills training as it relates to attraction from within the schools sector.

Just under two years ago I was a primary school principal in the northern suburbs of Hobart, Tasmania. I think it is safe to say that in the time I have been in this role one thing I have learned is that the primary industries sector understands about as much as schools do about the primary industries sector. I think these two points are undoubtedly linked. The theme I would like to touch on briefly in my opening statement is that, if the primary industries sector is to attract and retain a suitably skilled and diverse workforce, the following needs to occur: learning about the primary industries sector needs to start early; best practice needs to be identified and matched to the needs of mainstream schools and teachers; and government needs to provide initial investment in quality whole-of-industry initiatives for schools that involve programs that have already been shown to work. We believe the research supports the fact that investment in primary school in primary industries education needs to start much earlier than occurs at present.

For the primary industries sector to thrive and adapt to the challenges the next 50 years will present, two things will need to exist: an informed community that understands and is supportive and proud of its food and fibre producers and an increased number and diversity of people seeking a career within the sector. For a community to appropriately debate the merits of contentious issues such as water usage, live exports, animal welfare or genetic engineering, for example, they have to possess a decent base level of knowledge built up over time through the school system. One cannot expect a quality community debate about the cotton industry in Australia, for example, when nearly half the year 10 students questioned in our recent Australian Council for Educational Research survey believed cotton socks were an animal product. Likewise, 10 per cent of first-year undergraduate students in a recent University of Sydney survey believed beef counted towards their vegetable intake.

A similar long-term approach is necessary to attract students to a career within the sector. Numerous surveys have indicated that students make their career choices much earlier than earlier thought. Consensus appears to be that around 40 per cent of students determine their preferred careers while still in primary school. How can a student envisage a career in an industry about which they know nothing outside of cliched storybooks? Surveys also point to the influence parents have on children's choice of career. This highlights both the vicious cycle we find ourselves in and the importance of a long-term strategy and vision. If parents go through school without appropriate exposure to primary industries education, how can they guide a choice for their children in this area?

For a long-term vision to be successful, we need to understand the needs of teachers and work with them. Primary industries education needs to be both a context for all learning from kindergarten to year 12 and as an optional specialist subject within high school. However, mandating primary industries education for all schools is not an appropriate option. Neither is the continued production of centralist, expert driven, single industry produced resources blindly mailed out to Australian schools, as is currently the case.

At the recent Australian Council for Educational Leaders national conference, their President, the current Director-General of the ACT Education and Training Directorate, Dr Jim Watterston, presented the list of current policies that every principal in Australia is required to implement to meet their ongoing funding requirements. This list was more than a dozen new separate policies and initiatives. How will primary industries get a look-in? We need to make sure that, whatever we do, we make it easier for teachers to do their work.

By matching primary industries education with a teacher's need—for example, the implementation of a new national curriculum—we are confident of high levels of uptake. If supported appropriately, teachers will teach it. One hundred per cent of primary school teachers and 91 per cent of secondary school teachers questioned in our recent survey believed it was either very or somewhat important that students learn about food and fibre production. In addition, our current network includes over 2,000 teachers from across Australia, representing 600 individual schools.

However, more support is needed to engage Australia's 9½ thousand schools. Whilst the foundation has undertaken a national stocktake of existing resources for schools in Australia and commissioned a national survey of student and teacher knowledge and attitudes, there has been virtually no research to better understand how the primary industries sector might positively influence the mass of teachers and students towards better appreciating what the primary industries can and do offer.

A parallel example of what may work is the Australian Academy of Sciences' excellent teacher resource, PrimaryConnections, which sought to turn around the lack of quality in teaching and learning related to science in primary schools, which in turn was identified as a reason for the decline in undergraduate science enrolments. Within five years of the publication of this resource it is now being utilised within 74 per cent of Australian primary schools. The reason for this success was that it met the needs of teachers.

Initial government investment in school education related to primary industries is required. At present government investment in school based primary industries education is at about two per cent of the level of government investment of other school based programs, such as the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation or the Financial Literacy Foundation—two per cent. A decision to invest at similar levels such as those two examples would raise the status of primary industries education in schools, provide appropriate resourcing at a time when teachers are looking for resources to assist them in the implementation of a national curriculum and also provide incentive and encouragement to attract further industry funding.

Before I conclude I would like to draw the committee's attention to the existence of a similar organisation to ours which has been operating in the UK for nearly 10 years—Farming and Countryside Education, also known as FACE UK. We stay in regular contact with each other to share learnings and insights. They recently conducted their own survey which benchmarked the views of children aged seven to 15 on food, farming and countryside issues. The survey was received after our submission was lodged and we are happy to make it available to the committee. One finding of the survey was that only seven per cent of students surveyed believed IT skills were necessary skills for a farmer to have. Also, its conclusions were similar to our own—that is, student and teacher understanding was low, they wanted to improve this but did not know how. Thank you again for the opportunity to address the committee.

CHAIR: Thank you for that introduction. Senator Gallacher, would you like to start off the questions.

Senator GALLACHER: The challenge before you is quite significant. How are you going to get children or rural workers interested in vocations in that area when, as we have just heard, the pay for a trained vet is $40,000 per annum? That does not compare with what a truck driver can earn in rural Australia.

Mr Stockwin : I believe at the moment, because there is such a low knowledge about careers, it is around providing a positive example of what a career in the primary industry sector looks like. That is one such example, but there are also dozens of others. I heard other questions from the committee this morning focusing on the rural workforce. NFF data shows that approximately half the careers in the primary industry sector are urban based careers, so it is around presenting the whole gamut of careers available within the industry. For example, our own network in the industry includes people from farmhand positions through to the international commodities manager at Westpac Bank. All of those are primary industry related careers that need to be presented in a positive light. At the moment that understanding and knowledge is just not there, and students are not aware of what choices, if any, are available to them.

Senator GALLACHER: Is it true that rural families, particularly farming families, who are educating their children are moving out of the area, that you are not retaining those people as well?

Mr Stockwin : I am not in a position to comment on that. One comment I hear fairly often is that bequeathing a family farm to your own children can be a form of child abuse. However, I think that illustrates that sometimes the industry itself can be its own worst enemy, so it is about promoting what a modern career in the primary industry sector looks like. For example, the recent survey I touched on earlier indicated that only 57 per cent of students linked scientific research to farming and only 45 per cent of students saw farming as an innovative practice. Clearly, from just the brief time I have been in this role, that is certainly not the case.

Senator GALLACHER: From your association's perspective, what is the most important outcome you would seek out of this committee's deliberations?

Mr Stockwin : I think the raising of it on the agenda, as Senator Back mentioned earlier, would be a primary outcome that we would seek. Another would be the importance of this issue over the next 50 years in terms not just of skills and workforce but also the food security issues. Also, the general acknowledgement that whatever initiatives take place need to start from very early on in schooling, not just commence in years 11 and 12, as is the case now. As we have heard from a couple of presenters already today, our own industry can sometimes talk down the industry, there are negative reports within the media, and then we have initiatives tapping kids on the shoulder in years 11 and 12 saying, 'Why don't you come and work for us? That is clearly not working at the moment.

Senator GALLACHER: Your organisation is of the view that intervention is required and that the market will not sort this out?

Mr Stockwin : Yes.

Senator McKENZIE: Obviously teachers are keen to make it happen. What curriculum resources are actually available at present for teachers to use?

Mr Stockwin : We undertook a national stocktake, which is available on our website and I can make it available to the committee, has identified over 1,000 individual resources available from 450 separate locations. So it is not necessarily the case that there are not things out there. But it is very difficult for teachers to find them, some of them are not matched to the needs of teachers and it is very piecemeal. A lot of the funding from industry has been spread so thin it is almost ineffective. The initiatives that we have found to be the most successful and most liked by teachers are also the least sustainable because they are dependent on very insecure funding sources or they are dependent on a local champion. Once the funding source dries up or the champion moves to another school or gives up their career, the initiative goes as well.

Senator McKENZIE: One potential way is to access university and student teachers if as they come through. I am wondering what your foundation is doing in connecting with academics and teacher training at universities.

Mr Stockwin : At this stage it is very early days for us. We are running on a very low budget at present. We do have as part of our membership of the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture so we are planning around ways that that can occur. In looking at initiatives such as the Pixie program, which supports scientists moving into schools, we are running through the existing list of resources I mentioned, providing some quality control to those resources and promoting those we see as being successful to schools so that they can achieve a broader audience.

Senator McKENZIE: In your prior life as a school principal, did you have ideas around infrastructure which is required to get not only teachers but obviously young people engaged in all things agriculture? I was lucky enough to attend a school which had a farm, but given the experiential learning opportunities that this particular area of the curriculum would supply, do you have any comment about the investment in infrastructure at the school level or university level in the teacher training courses which might be required to make this happen?

Mr Stockwin : It is a very contextual issue based on each school. As an ex-teacher you know that each context is different and has its own needs. One size fits all in resourcing may not necessarily be the case but it is around the engagement of teachers to provide them with support and knowledge so that they can develop things in their local context but what I have seen is very varied. I have seen some of the farms that the WA agriculture colleges have of hundreds if not thousands of acres through to schools effectively growing their own fruit and vegetables for their parents in a $4 hay bale. It is many and varied but it is around providing teachers with the knowledge, understanding and skills that they can then pick something that is suitable for their context.

Senator McKENZIE: And why not Victoria? You are in Queensland and New South Wales.

Mr Stockwin : When you say 'we', the way the Primary Industries Education Foundation is structure is that there is me and a board of directors. I have an office split between Canberra and Hobart and at the moment we are more about facilitating existing initiatives and making them discoverable in one place. As I said, we are running on about 15 to 20 per cent of the budget we would like to have. I would love to have an office and people in Victoria and in every other state of Australia as time permits, but at the moment we are identifying a very low cost and effective way to do what we can.

Senator McKENZIE: I notice your membership of the RDC and it seems to be the thematic of the day, the fractured nature of our commodity groups and all the conversations and people who want something to change and getting it all together. I notice your membership—you have some but not all. Is that something which needs to happen? The NFF submission made reference to that.

Mr Stockwin : The RDCs were originally conceived as the primary industry membership based on a number of factors. For research and development, which has been touched on today, the 'e' in the extension seems to have dropped off their core business. Every RDC is different, as you are aware. They have their own individual drivers. Some see themselves as being purely research based and will not consider school education. Some of them are more marketing in nature and broad based collective approaches such as ours do not necessarily ring any bells. We have five of the 15 RDCs as members and even that level has been difficult to attain. A lot of them do not see it as their core business. Talking about what outcomes we could have from a committee such as this, the clear articulation from the minister that investment in school education by the RDCs is an appropriate use of the co-funded dollar would be a wonderful outcome as well.

CHAIR: Can you take us through again where your humble funding comes from?

Mr Stockwin : We are a membership based organisation. One of our members is the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries, although that funding arrangement finishes this financial year and at this stage it is looking as though that may not continue. We have Meat and Livestock as a member, Forest and Wood Products as a member, the Fisheries RDC, Cotton Australia and the Australian Egg Corporation Limited. They are our industry members. We also have education members who pay a very small membership fee, and they are the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, the National Association of Agricultural Educators, and the CB Alexander Foundation.

CHAIR: How long has the foundation been in existence?

Mr Stockwin : We have been in operational since April 2010. The first board was appointed in September 2009.

CHAIR: You have heard the evidence this morning. The information you have given us in terms of at what age children make decisions or at least get indicators, that is new information to my way of thinking. As you say, the general view of the past has been that kids make their decisions halfway through secondary school. You are saying that 40 per cent of children make the decision in primary school. As always on these committees we are looking forward to considering evidence and then trying to work through what sorts of recommendations we would make to the government of the day. There is universal view that we are, hopefully, at the bottom of a trough. Someone made the point about critical mass—if it goes much lower. Take a three- or four-year vision, would it be represented in every state and territory? Would that be the next aspirational goal for you?

Mr Stockwin : No, not necessarily. There is myself and a board. However, whatever funding comes through the door we always aim to keep the foundation's base as operationally small as possible so whatever funding we do have can be put towards providing real results and real resources for teachers. We have developed an online web portal called primezone.edu, developed by Education Services Australia, which is a government owned business which also produces the website for the Australian Curriculum. We are working with them and we have built some fairly strong capacity into that to future-proof it over the next five or six years.

What we would like to see within two to three years is that website populated with as many quality resources as are available. That is looking at what resources are currently available rather than developing our own, which will come intern once we have done the gap analysis. But it is around identifying what works, making it discoverable in one place and helping it meet the needs of teachers. So referencing it to the Australian Curriculum, making sure that a teacher can go on there and find what they need within two or three clicks.

We are at a stage where we can make the technology work for us, so we do not need to have people physically based in each state. However, it is one thing having resources available on the site, but it is that face-to-face interaction with teachers that is going to make the difference. As Senator McKenzie will know, improvement in education can only go as fast as teachers will let you. I often joke about teachers having the God complex, and being a teacher I can say that—unless they are all knowing or all powerful about a subject they just won't teach it. So it is around providing resources in the one spot and making it easier to find as well is being able to provide the teacher professional development that tells them and informs them how to deliver it and how it can meet their needs.

CHAIR: Can I take you to the point you made about who influences decisions by children. Obviously they themselves, their parents and teachers. Around Australia this week and next week we are going to have an opportunity that is going to go missing—it has for years and it could go on for years. That missed opportunity is the number of new teachers who are going to go into rural areas to start teaching for the first time. Very often they are new to teaching. They will in the main either be neutral about going to the country or they will be negative about going to the country. The experience we all have is that there will be little interaction with the local town or community. If they form a team and play basketball of a night time for heaven's sake do not beat a team of locals! Halfway through the year it will be winter. The blokes might have a game of footy, the girls might play hockey or whatever. There will be no engagement with the local community in those towns into which they are going. If I am wrong, you two tell me, but I know I am not wrong.

A phenomenal opportunity exists, doesn't it, at practically no cost, to have the city or the town shire council participants working with the local principals at the primary schools and/or high school to actually welcome these new teachers to the community—first of all, socially. Secondly, it would be to actually engage with them about what is the nature of the industry in which they are going to teach, and the subjects that will be in front of them will be products of that local community, and I am speaking now of the farming community. It is at almost no cost because you have put the cost onto local governments and local communities. Imagine a scenario in which new teachers are actually welcomed so that they are given the opportunity to engage with leaders in the local community, which leads to them being invited, either as a group or as individuals—and possibly even with a mentoring program if it worked—to be able to put their feet into agriculture in those small communities or into—if there is some agriculturally related industry going on like seed cleaning, local machinery manufacturing or fertiliser provision through the local stock agent—situations so that the experience for them becomes a positive experience. So they pick up something of the industry so that inevitably—as you say, there is the god factor—once they do feel a bit confident about it they might actually start feeding it into the education programs. If nothing else, when they leave that country town or that country experience and go back to cities to teach they are going to have a very different attitude to take to city kids about the experience they had in rural Australia while they were teaching. Is that an opportunity that you believe we are missing now? Do you believe that is an opportunity that, with the engagement of all the others in these small country communities—the local governments, the chambers of commerce and industry et cetera—we could actually harvest?

Mr Stockwin : Absolutely. The best learning that takes place is contextual. Some have suggested that the reason for high levels of disengagement in education by rural and regional students is the fact that there is no relevance in the curriculum delivered in local schools and it does not actually reference to what is occurring outside the school grounds. You are absolutely correct in your observations. To take it a couple of steps further, it is about being able to influence teacher training, for example. So while these teachers are going through university it is about being able to have ready-made units of work that they can implement depending on what area they are going to, so if they are going to a grain-producing area they know where to get resources on grain and that is also so if they are going to cattle or dairy areas and so on. I have mentioned the organisation, Farm and Countryside Education. One of the magic wand things that we would love to do in the future is replicate an initiative that they have begun which is, for want of a better phrase, a farmer accreditation program where they have an online list and database of primary producers who are willing to host teachers and their students. They go through the OH&S issues with the primary producer, which is absolutely critical for a teacher nowadays, and they also provide a very simple scaffold to the primary producer about the sorts of things to mention to kids who are this high or that high. So that is something that works really well and I would imagine that it would dovetail nicely into what you have just described.

CHAIR: I asked the question because I could imagine there would be an enormous amount of in-kind support for that. In Western Australia make one phone call to Co-operative Bulk Handling and I bet you that they would fall over themselves to make the resources available. I have no doubt that farm machinery manufacturers or retailers or stock firms would too and local governments would because local governments know that they should be doing a lot more for what I would call 'itinerants' instead of having that 'we' and 'they' mentality. I ask that because as I was reading through your submission again it really came to me that if teachers do influence children at the time. If teachers who have been in the country go back to the city and then have an influence, negatively or positively, for years to come the friendships forged at that time should or could actually have quite a profound impact over time.

Mr Stockwin : Absolutely. There are two points on that. The first thing is that you will find that, of those teachers that go back to the city schools, often all you need is one champion within a school to kickstart a program. Also, one thing is that when we look at a stocktake of the resources that we have the intention of that is to avoid the mistakes of the past. A program or a facility such as you describe would need some sort of coordinating body to ensure that it continues, otherwise we will see good intentions go by the wayside when one or two people move on or people who are a champion of it change and so on. There would be a fantastic uptake. We were talking about the difficulties of engaging some of the RDCs in such a program, and part of their limitation is that they have limited strategic plans of three, four or five years in focus, when we are talking about long-term visions, and they refer back to their stakeholders. However, we have found that the closer you actually get to the levy-payer, the stronger the support is for programs such as ours because at the end of it they want to be understood, they want to be liked and they want the Australian community to be proud of what it is that they are doing. So I am sure there will be no shortage of people taking it up.

CHAIR: There is this concept now of regional development authorities around Australia that in many instances are looking to where their business might lie. I can see a synergy in those areas. It is probably the first time that committees such as this one have seen much of the information you have provided. I think it is timely. Thank you.

Mr Stockwin : I have another point on that. The information is there, but the fact is that from an education angle there is nothing new in that. It is appreciated that you have enjoyed it. In the last couple of days it has been brought to our attention that DEEWR's own recent project, a national career development research project—and I will forward this to the committee after today—has identified exactly the same conclusions as we have put in our submission which are around when students make their decisions, which is critically within that primary school area. That research project has been recently published.

CHAIR: Senator Rhiannon, in his opening comments Mr Stockwin told us that in a survey 60 per cent of kids thought that cotton was an animal derived product and that 10 per cent of university undergraduate students thought that beef protein was actually part of their vegetable protein intake. Do you have any questions on that?

Senator RHIANNON: Yes. Thanks very much to the foundation. It has been informative and it certainly gives us some hope about how things can be turned around. I was very interested in how you set out the very strong association between animals and primary industries. I think we have all seen examples of that ourselves. You set out how strong the care for and love of animals is and how it can be can bring people to this education path and this work. I am interested in your comments about the perception that animal cruelty in some of our agricultural methods may affect the choices children make about their education and their careers. Do you think that seriously addressing animal welfare in these industries may go some way to turning around people's decisions about their career path?

Mr Stockwin : Absolutely. From my perspective as an educator, animal welfare issues are absolutely critical. As a foundation, when we commence the production of our own resources rather than shying away from contentious issues, such as whether it is live exports or animal welfare in the farming situation, we want to support the teacher with balanced, factual information that allows them to have the conversation in the classroom. It is those areas of contention that make wonderful teaching and learning opportunities within a classroom. It is a real-world problem that adults have been struggling with and have no clear answer for that students find interesting. As part of our network, we have had initial engagements with groups such as the RSPCA and Animals Australia about how we may do that in the future. But that is certainly an area we are keen to tackle hopefully once we are in a position to develop our own resources.

Senator RHIANNON: You touched on this issue to some extent, and it is certainly something that has struck me strongly since I have been considering the work of this inquiry, and it goes to the negative images and the associated stereotypes. This has been a strong theme coming through. I am interested in addressing those problems. I am also interested specifically in the skill shortage that we are facing and how the negative image may impact some areas more than others. Could you go into that a little deeper than the witnesses before? I am not being critical of them; I did not ask them the question.

Mr Stockwin : Again, it comes back to supporting teachers with quality, factual information that they can deliver in their classroom. I alluded to and then touched on briefly in my opening address the fact that because there is a lack of quality resources readily available for teachers two things occur. Either it is not taught at all and so therefore students have no perception outside cliched story books and the historical view of what modern agricultural, fishery or forestry practice looks like, or they fall back on their own personal bias and their own backgrounds and so on. So I believe highlighting innovative, positive practices from the primary industries sector and promoting those through school education is one way.

I thought myself quite learned and as educated before I stepped into this role, but in the last 22 months some of the innovative practices, particularly in the area of sustainability that primary producers are involved in, have just amazed me. I know as an educator they would make fantastic units of work to teach and the students would be very informed. I think by presenting that at age appropriate levels from kindergarten through to year 12, students will then determine that it is not back wood, low paying, dirty work, although there will still be some of those roles, which will appeal to some people. It is a modern, technologically advanced, environmentally sustainable practice in many cases and I think those are the positive examples that we do need to present.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks very much. Obviously related to that is this issue of ethics education and how we integrate that into the course. Ethics can be taught in a whole range of ways and, when we are talking about image, I think that what we are trying to grapple with is what our responsibilities are to these other sentient beings. Often people are grappling with ethical issues without calling it ethics. Is how you are picking that up as educators and helping integrate that into courses, because that in turn can help address this image problem, being addressed in some way?

Mr Stockwin : In very piecemeal practices and, I would say, in individual isolated cases. What we would see is—

Senator RHIANNON: Sorry to interrupt, but does that mean that the initiative is more dependent on who the educator is rather than coming through in a coordinated way?

Mr Stockwin : At present, yes. I will reflect on my own experiences as principal of Bruny Island District School off the south coast of Tasmania. This is where I got the bug for it. I inherited a Hampshire Down sheep stud when I took on the principalship of the school and was told, 'You can do anything to the school, but just do not get rid of the sheep stud.' We Bruny Islanders are a very diverse community. We had third and fourth generation loggers and farmers. We had a large proportion of people living alternate lifestyles and retirees, wealthy retirees from Sydney and Perth predominantly. One such activity we undertook was that we raised on the school farm pigs for meat. I had had experience previously in using an approach called community of inquiry, which is a philosophical approach to use with children. Through our own network among the teachers we invited a lecturer in philosophy to come down from the University of Tasmania and guide us through a few things. We had among the group students who, as I said, were third and fourth generation and raised their own pigs on their own farms and so on. We had students in the class who came from vegetarian and vegan families and so on. The level of debate and interest and discussions that happened in a group of 9-, 10-, and 11-year-olds took me by surprise. That is one example of how I saw it work when I was involved in it.

Broadly speaking, the foundation's role is around facilitating and coordinating the things that we know are working well. In that instance, it would be identifying a practice that perhaps is working well and looking around how we can make that a model and discoverable to teachers in other parts of Australia.

Senator RHIANNON: On that ethics issue, would you feel that developing that in a more coordinated way, with it becoming a theme of the work, would help address the image issue that the industry is facing?

Mr Stockwin : Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: Excellent.

Senator McKENZIE: This is my last question. The foundation is mentioned a lot in the final report on workplace training and skills in agriculture, handed down in 2009. I just wanted to provide you with an opportunity to make comments on that. You are tasked with a few things to do through a lot of recommendations, and I am just wondering (a) how it is all going and (b) where it is all at?

Mr Stockwin : Specifically, there are two that we have focused on because they highlighted us as having the coordinating role. Recommendation 2 is around improving the access to materials, resources and so on. We launched our one-stop web portal, primezone, towards the end of last year. That currently has 50 to 60 resources for teachers on there. We currently have around 400 ready to upload, waiting to go. Unfortunately, what we are waiting on is further funding to enable us to do that.

Senator McKENZIE: Have you heard from the department about that funding to implement these recommendations?

Mr Stockwin : They have funded us for the past three financial years. It is implicit that that funding is to assist us in doing that as well as the other tasks that the foundation is charged with. However, the funding can only spread so far. In terms of recommendation 2, we have launched the one-stop web portal; we have undertaken a national stocktake of resources, which I mentioned before, and updated that twice; and we also commissioned the Australian Council for Educational Research to do that national benchmarking survey. That was in part funded by the DAFF contribution. However, as I have mentioned, that is as far as we go with the funding that we do have.

With recommendation 4, which is around monitoring the efforts to improve initiatives in this area, again we are hamstrung by the funding that is available to us. We have updated the stocktake. We have provided quality assurances around some initiatives that are occurring. The report itself mentioned over 134 separate initiatives in training. Being one person who only commenced in April 2010, I have to say there is a limited amount that we can actually do. Again it comes down to a funding issue.

We have had discussions and some coordination with some of the bodies mentioned, such as AgriFood Skills. We are in regular contact with AgriFood Skills Australia and Rural Skills Australia and we are currently developing a memorandum of understanding with PICSE to discuss how we may operate. The foundation itself is a broad-brush for Australia's 9½-thousand schools and every student within them, and PICSE is around explicitly looking at tertiary-bound science students. So we consider that if we are successful doing what we are doing we will create a bigger pool and a bigger catchment of students who will go into the PICSE program.

Senator McKENZIE: Recommendation 6 specifically says to report back to the Primary Industries Ministerial Council in late 2010. Did that happen?

Mr Stockwin : No. We are currently looking at engaging with the Primary Industries Ministerial Council to provide them with an update. We are looking for an appropriate time to engage with them and bring them our view of the land so far.

Senator McKENZIE: Excellent. Thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Stockwin. Time has beaten us. Thank you again for your submission and for appearing.

Proceedings suspended from 14:47 to 15:00