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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7092

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (11:07): I rise to speak on the Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 and cognate bills. The bills will implement a number of changes to the research and development corporations which will, hopefully, facilitate small but positive improvements to these organisations to continue the proactive evolution of research and development for agriculture and agribusiness.

The amending legislation allows statutory RDCs to undertake marketing activities where the relevant industry requests this and agrees to raise a marketing levy. Currently, nine of the 15 RDCs are industry owned and can undertake marketing activities. The amending legislation will allow the remaining RDCs to also undertake marketing activities. This does not impact on government matching funds, which can only be applied and used for research and development activity. However, industry owned RDCs have demonstrated that benefits can result from combining these roles.These bills make arrangements for providing government matching funding for voluntary contributions made by industry to an RDC. Again, a number of RDCs already do this and the arrangement will be extended to all RDCs.

Industry clearly recognises that research and development investment returns far outweigh the costs. These changes are intended to encourage voluntary private sector investment in rural R&D and to ensure equal treatment of RDCs by government. The bills will provide maximum levy and charge rates for each specific commodity, to reduce the cost and delay associated with primary industry electing to increase their investment in R&D and/or marketing.

The requirement for the minister to consult with and take account of the views of levy payers when setting operative rates will be strengthened. The minister will be prevented, as he should, from setting a levy or charge rate above that recommended by industry. For statutory RDCs, board selection processes will be streamlined to reduce the time and cost of vacancies.This includes cutting the size of selection committees and creating a reserve list of suitable candidates to allow for the unforeseen circumstance where the preferred board member pulls out or serves a very short tenure. Amendments also provide that funding agreements between statutory RDCs and government will be required from July 2014.

Over the last decade, funding agreements between the government and industry owned RDCs have been used to manage governance and clarify partner arrangements. This bill extends funding agreements to the government relationship with statutory RDCs. Funding agreements create a flexible mechanism, which can be further modified to reflect the changing needs of the parties. Funding agreements will be used to promote transparency and accountability, and these agreements will be tabled in the parliament.

Another change will see statutory RDCs no longer having to submit their annual operating plans to the minister for approval. The minister will still get the operating plans but industry will not be required to wait for his approval every year, as governance issues will already have been managed through funding agreements.

The Primary Industries and Energy and Research and Development Act 1989 will be amended to clarify funding arrangements for fisheries sectors which have a statutory levy in place that is specific to that sector. The amendment will allow the future establishment of levies for individual fisheries sectors, where requested by that industry. The amending legislation also incorporates a widely supported 1995 ministerial direction requiring the fisheries RDC to spend industry funds raised from a particular fishery, industry sector or jurisdiction on R&D projects relevant to the source funds.

The government conspired with the Productivity Commission to cut R&D funding, but I am very happy to say that industry and the coalition shamed them out of it. In an effort to regain credibility on R&D, the minister put out a research and development policy statement in June. These changes to legislation are an effort to show that Labor are now doing something in this area and are trying to get the public to overlook six years of neglect, along with policies from the government that have caused immense problems for industry and destroyed the confidence of this sector.

One thing that the Productivity Commission report showed was that the Australian taxpayer gets good value out of R&D—to some extent, this bill deals with that issue—and also that we can get a better result out of research and development by the various RDCs and the various industries working together better, and I think that is needed.

The biggest issue with this legislation is the haste with which Labor is pushing everything through in the last week before we rise. Industry has had little time to review the changes, given the legislation has only been available for industry for a little over a week. Consultation has been far less than that required for good process. We will allow the bill to pass through this House, but we do reserve the right for the Senate to perhaps demand an inquiry to allow the coalition to get the assurance that industry supports this legislation. We are happy with the bill as read in this House.