Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Shadow Minister warns against plans to merge ABARE and the Bureau of Rural Sciences.

Download WordDownload Word



This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.


It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.


For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.





Friday 30 May 2003

Shadow Minister warns against plans to merge ABARE and the Bureau of Rural Sciences


ELEANOR HALL: A 60-year-old Australian institution is about to lose its identity. The Federal Government is moving to merge ABARE, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, with the Bureau of Rural Sciences.  


ABARE is a key source of independent advice to the Government and has provided economic analysis and forecasts since the 1940's, on such crucial issues as natural resource management and climate change, and the Opposition is warning the Government's planned merger will compromise ABARE's integrity. 


Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government's planning to announce next week the merger of the two currently independent research organisations.  


They produce not just crop reports, but advice on tricky political issues too. Just this week the Federal Government relied on their socio-economic assessment to phase out the clearing of remnant vegetation in Queensland. 


Labor Senator Kerry O'Brien says alarm bells should be ringing about the impending demise of ABARE. 


KERRY O'BRIEN: One of the critical issues is the independence of research bodies like ABARE. There needs to be a degree of autonomy for that professional independence to exist.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: In a draft merger plan, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests criticises the current model for releasing "sensitive information with minimal, if any, consultation" and for what it calls "the propensity for professional independence" to translate into "autonomy". 


So it appears ABARE isn't being attacked politically by the Government, but from within the bureaucracy, for exercising its independence. 


Agriculture Minister Warren Truss, though, backs the plan. 


WARREN TRUSS: Well the decision is one that the Secretary will make. He's obviously spoken to me about it. I've indicated that I have a view that this sort of process is a reasonable one.  


The Government has no plans to in any way compromise the professional independence of the two bureaux. We want them to continue to provide fearless advice to the Government. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Both organisations are currently overseen by the head of the Agriculture Department, who favours the merger, but Labor's Kerry O'Brien is concerned ABARE's independence will be compromised through tighter controls, because the boss of the new bureau will have to report through a new advisory council to the head of the department. 


KERRY O'BRIEN: The Secretary doesn't control what's released on a day-to-day basis. He doesn't control the findings that those bodies make on the information that they collect.  


In terms of their independence, in terms of their ability to make findings that aren't constrained by the views of Government, I don't think that that control is there now and it shouldn't be.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Dr Robert Bain, the founding director of ABARE, says if the merger proceeds, the Bureau's unique autonomy must be protected and cherished and not tied to the political correctness of the day. 


ROBERT BAIN: The important thing is that they be independent of the day-to-day department controls and can report directly to the minister and directly to the government.  


It's an inquiring, intellectual sort of a culture that really gets people asking the hard questions rather than just saying 'oh, well, we think this is what the minister wants and let's write it this way'.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition says the Government should wait until there's proper consultation with industry groups, such as the New South Wales Farmers Association, headed by Mal Peters. 


MAL PETERS: Agriculture relies very heavily on the information that comes from ABARE. It is independent and always very accurate. If that capability was lost, that would be a great disadvantage for agriculture.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: While the Government hasn't finalised its decision, AM understands the merger's still set to go ahead. 


ELEANOR HALL: Alexandra Kirk reporting.