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Wednesday, 26 June 2013
Page: 7094

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (11:14): The Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment Bill 2013 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Amendment Bill 2013 amend 10 acts within the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolio to implement the government's rural research and development policy. The acts being amended are primarily the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989, the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Act 1999 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Act 1999. They also include the Pig Industry Act 2001, the Dairy Produce Act 1986, the Egg Industry Service Provisions Act 2002, the Wool Services Privatisation Act 2000, the Forestry Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2007, the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2000 and the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act 1997.

Currently there are 15 RDCs—six statutory RDCs and nine industry owned RDCs—providing services to a diverse range of rural industries. RDCs provide a mechanism for industry to invest collectively in research and development, and in marketing in the case of industry owned RDCs. The shadow minister mentioned the Productivity Commission's report, and that highlighted the need for more money to be provided in the sector from the private sector and that the investment of public dollars is used to leverage more investment in R&D for rural Australia. I think that these bills will help us in that direction following on from that Productivity Commission report.

The Australian government assists these industries by establishing a levy if any industry so requests by collecting the levy and by returning the funds to the relevant RDC, less the cost of collection. In addition, the government matches the RDCs' eligible R&D spending up to the legislated limits. The amendments will assist the RDCs to deliver improved services to levy payers and to lift the productivity of Australia's rural industries, including the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.

The bills will improve the efficiency, transparency and accountability of the rural research and development corporations and make technical amendments. The amendments aim to assist the RDCs to deliver improved services to levy payers and to lift the productivity of statutory funding agreements for the RDCs. This is proposed to drive performance improvements and increase transparency in the delivery of the R&D services. Funding agreements have been a flexible mechanism to provide government guidance and oversight to industry owned RDCs. These amendments will extend that mechanism to statutory RDCs.

Amendments in the bill change the process for selection of statutory RDC board directors to improve transparency and efficiency. The amendments promote due consideration of diversity in the selection process. These amendments aim to ensure high-quality boards for RDCs and reduce the time and delay associated with securing them.

The bill proposes to allow the collection and matching of individual fishery industry levies, subject to the cap based on the gross value of production of that individual fishery. This will allow specific fisheries to propose levies to invest in R&D in their industry and to undertake marketing in a similar way to other rural commodities.

Part of the bill seeks to remove redundant sections of the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989, including those relating to the RDCs and R&D funds which no longer exist. For example, they changed the name of the Primary Industry and Energy Research and Development Act 1989 and removed energy because there is no energy research agency currently covered by the act. Energy research is now part of the Resources, Energy and Tourism portfolio.

The amendments will not change any levy or change rates that are in operation at the moment, but they will streamline the process for changing rates in the future. Levies and charges may be increased following a request by the industry that will not be allowed to be set above the rate recommended by the industry. This will allow industries to manage their collective investment in research and marketing while also providing a safeguard for levy payers against arbitrary increases in rates.

One of the things we recognise with rural bills is the constant need for rural and regional research not only at the industry level. This was reinforced yesterday when I had a visit from the Regional Australia Institute, who showed me a new online tool for assessing regional liability, called Insight. I have to recommend it to all, because it does not matter which side of the House one is on; we all need to know how we can help regions prosper. Knowledge is strength and it can help you predict more accurately how your region, your local government area or your state will travel in the future. It can make comparisons, add information and develop policy. Along with knowledge, we need to have efficiency, transparency and accountability in legislation so that research and development information is available to guide and innovate our rural and regional industries, hopefully beyond the politics of the day.

Take, for example, the Forest Marketing and Research and Development Services Act. The forest industry is going through all sorts of changes at the moment and there need to be ways to assist the industry to capitalise on the opportunities presented by its sustainable products. Unlocking their potential requires innovative skills and the key ingredients of innovation are learning and workforce development. The sorts of skills needed and the direction in which the industry might head can be determined by ensuring the research is up to speed.

In my position as chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry, it seems that most of the recommendations made during our various inquiries have elements of pointing to the need for more research. There is also encouragement to ensure that levies are raised to undertake the research that particular industries need to develop their plans for the future, not in isolation but in the region in which they operate.

While on the question of the ARFF committee, I pay tribute to the work of the member for Hume, Alby Schultz, my opposite number on the committee, who is retiring from the House and who made his valedictory speech only yesterday. I take this opportunity to thank him for his work on the committee in his role as deputy chair and previously as chair. He has been of enormous support to me as deputy chair. Our work over the years, although not always agreeing, has been able to find a common way through. Our committee has achieved some excellent research for the parliament and there has nearly always been bipartisan support. So thank you, Alby, and we wish you all the best for the future.

These bills are mainly small in the sense of change but they ensure the modernisation of legislation, taking out the redundant parts and pulling some of the levies under one umbrella to give some more flexibility, all of which gives the industry a greater opportunity to undertake work that will put it in a more viable space for the future and helpfully promote our regional industries. I commend the bills to the House.