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NFF [National Farmers' Federation] 'Developing Partnerships' Roundtable [30 August 1995]: address

Mr Chairman. Ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to commend the National Farmers Federation for holding this Roundtable.

I have a very strong personal commitment to Research and Development and believe that it holds the key to the future for rural industries. I also believe that industry and government must work in partnership to meet the challenges that face our industries.

We live in a time of rapid change. Being responsive to changing circumstances is the only way to stay in business.

Change provides continuous opportunities to develop new partnerships, reassess the relevance of research priorities and deliver effective research and farm management services. At the same time, there is a need to ensure more effective integration of decision making to continually improve knowledge production, synthesis and diffusion.

The effective diffusion of knowledge is one of the major challenges that face us in determining a strategy for Ramp;D. We all know that there is no point in funding Ramp;D if it is not used.

But catering only for the "early adopters" of innovations and expecting the remainder to pick them up in time is not enough. This process can take 30 years or more. We should aim to improve the speed and breadth of diffusion of tested, proven techniques and technologies, so that the overall levels of agricultural productivity, profitability and ecological sustainability are significantly improved.

We need to have catalysts for strategic planning at commodity, product and issue-specific levels. And to foster partnerships and networks among government, government research agencies, universities and industry to address issues of mutual concern and develop collective solutions.

The RDCs have the confidence of industry and are already performing this catalytic role; and I would like to see that role more strongly acknowledged and expressed.

The overriding objective of this Roundtable should be to enhance the partnership between the public and private sectors in Ramp;D, for the benefit of the nation as a whole.

A few years ago NFF "New Horizons policy" statement argued that agriculture cannot continue as a "stand-alone" industry, and that its ability to compete will be increasingly determined by the ability of all segments of the industry, and related sectors, to work together.

Since that time many commodity groups have developed 5 or 10 year industry plans. Many of the various Research and Development Corporations have also now commissioned projects in a similar vein.

I believe that it is now opportune for Government and industry to seriously address the future.

Australian agriculture and rural communities will look substantially different in 10 years time.

Economic, environmental and social pressures will continue to shape and reshape the sector.

International and domestic markets are changing rapidly.

We have already seen a major shift in the composition and direction of our trade:

away from commodity exports to higher value added rural products

and away from our traditional markets in Europe and North America toward Asia.

Coupled with this there has been an increase in enterprise diversity in Australia. We now have canola, emu, bison and essential oil producers operating alongside our wool, wheat and cattle producers.

Adjustment is occurring in the size of farms and nature of farming.

Family farms still account for almost 90 per cent of farms in Australia.

A considerable proportion of farms can now earn a significant proportion of their income from off-farm sources. At the other end of the spectrum there has been rapid expansion of large corporate and family farms.

For example, 10 per cent of farms in the wool industry now produce over half the value of wool produced in Australia. In fact the top 1 per cent account for about 17 per cent of the value of production.

Productivity improvements have enabled farms to survive in the face of long term declining terms of trade. Pressure will continue for further gains in yields, cost reductions and improved farm management to improve profitability.

The future for Australian Agriculture lies in understanding and identifying the underlying pressures that will fundamentally shape the operational environment of the future.

There are in my view a number of threshold issues that need to be addressed.

. the land and water resource management;

. changes in international and domestic markets;

. the role for processing and value adding;

. the structure of farms and production diversity;

. productivity growth and technological improvements; and

. the rural community and social welfare issues.

Those issues traverse every aspect of the rural future.

The only practical way to deal with issues of such magnitude is through a whole of industry and government approach.

The Rural Research ant Development Corporations and the Research Bureau's within my Department represent the tools for Government to initiate work on these issues. Industry has at its disposal a wealth of knowledge and commercial experience that should also be brought to bear on these issues.

That is the basis of a strong and enduring partnership between Industry and Government.

The "where to" for Australian agriculture is not going away.

I propose to initiate a long term process to address in detail these key strategic issues that are fundamental to the future of Australian Agriculture.

This will be the "Agriculture 2010 Initiative".

It is my intention that the end result of this project will be a Government White Paper on Agriculture.

This will be a multi-stage study.

The entire approach will be under the auspices of the 'Agriculture 2010" taskforce which will comprise a group of prominent Australians with broad ranging commercial, agricultural and community skills.

I will be announcing the composition of the Taskforce at next year's Outlook Conference following the completion of the initial scoping study but I am very pleased to announce that Committee will be chaired by John Button.

The first stage, to be completed by December 1995, will be a scoping study to be undertaken by the DPIE portfolio through its research bureaux in direct consultation with all the Rural RD Corporations and all relevant industry and community groups.

The key task of the scoping study will be to establish the Terms of Reference for the "Agriculture 2010" Taskforce.

The scoping study will also establish the consultative framework to empower the community, industry to work with the government to develop policies, actions and strategies for the future.

All stakeholders must to be given the opportunity to have input and actively participate in the processes.

I will ensure that the full weight of all relevant Government agencies are behind the "Agriculture 2010" project.

All Rural RDCs, ABARE, BRS, the IC will all be tasked with responding to the Terms of Reference. This will be a collaborative research approach of a magnitude never before attempted.

I would also be looking to the key industry, including the NFF and its commodity councils, and other community groups to also develop responses to the strategic issues being considered.

The time frame I have in mind would have the preparatory work completed by the end of 1996.

The "Agriculture 2010" Taskforce will then take over the management and coordination of this initiative. This will culminate in a major industry workshop in early 1997. Each participant will provide a report and recommendations to the Taskforce.

The Taskforce will have the responsibility of drawing together the issues and initiatives from the research phase to prepare a Green Paper on Strategic Agricultural issues and recommendations for Government consideration.

The Government's response will be White Paper on Agriculture in the 21st Century by mid 1997.

This is an approach that will redefine the concept of partnership. Industry, Government and the Research and Development community all have an integral role to play in bring this initiative to fruition.

A collaborative and co-operative approach is essential to the future of our rural industries - no sector or group can afford to stand aside from this approach.

This is about redefining the future for Australian Agriculture.