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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1843

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (10:01): I rise to speak in support of the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Amendment Bill 2013 and associated bills. I am pleased to support these pieces of legislation. Rural research and development has a great impact on the electorate of Parkes and the strong agricultural sector in that area. The innovations that come from our rural research and development corporations have been greatly useful to agriculture in Australia. It is important that we continue to pursue this innovation in order to increase our productivity. The RDC model is one that is envied across the world. The research and development corporations were established in 1989 and, I might add, were supported by my predecessor John Anderson when he was minister for agriculture. We have had gains through increased productivity for the last 24 years.

The federal government will provide around $250 million to research and development corporations in the current financial year. This money goes to the future of our agricultural sector. Starting in the next financial year, the government will allocate an additional $100 million in funding for rural RDCs. This recognises the good and important work that these research corporations undertake and also signals to the industry that this government is serious about supporting agriculture in Australia into the future. I would like to point out that, while not all research projects go on to be widely implemented, it is also vital that the research keep pushing the boundaries. This is where there are gains to be made in productivity.

These bills will allow the RDCs to meet the changing needs of the industries that they are there to support. The RDCs will now be able to undertake marketing activities at the request of the industry and where the industry agrees to raise a marketing levy. There has also been strong evidence that marketing in combination with R&D is particularly beneficial for an industry. Currently nine of the industry-owned RDCs undertake marketing, and this is a common-sense move by the government if an industry supports a marketing levy.

These bills encourage further voluntary private sector investment by RDCs by allowing the government to provide matched funding for voluntary contributions up to set limits. The money invested in R&D is paid back through productivity many times over, and we can see the benefits that R&D has brought to Australian agriculture over the years. At the moment only a few of the RDCs are able to receive government matched funding for voluntary contributions by business.

As one of our key election commitments, these bills will reduce the red tape burden on industry. One of the ways in which this will be done will be by removing product-specific maximum levy rates. This will allow RDCs to react more quickly to emerging trends and issues. There will also be changes to the statutory RDCs to streamline the board selection process and reduce the time cost of filling a vacancy. By reducing these costs of red tape, the RDCs will be able to focus more readily on research.

I would now like to acknowledge some of the innovations that have come about through the rural research and development corporations. The farmers in my electorate benefit directly from the research undertaken by a number of corporations. I might just say from my own background as a farmer, before I came to this place, I and my family have always been involved in undertaking research. In the late seventies when glyphosate was first discovered as an agricultural chemical, in conjunction with Monsanto and the New South Wales department of agriculture, my brothers and I undertook trialling in zero-till methods of farming. We were hampered in the early days because the equipment we were trying to use was not fully adapted to zero till. But those early results and the fact that something was done that had not been done before ultimately led through the work of many, probably mainly Jeff Esdaile from the University of Sydney's Livingston farm, to the development of a farming technique that has now revolutionised agriculture right across Australia and, indeed, the world. At another stage, through the New South Wales department of agriculture I was involved in water use efficiency studies. The experiment on our farm over a 12-month period, conducted from the research station at Tamworth, looked at the ability of the soil to conserve moisture over a longer period of time. So I think it is vital that we keep at the cutting edge.

One of my great frustrations in the six years that I have been here up to this point is that pretty well all the funding that has gone into agriculture for research and other things has come through the prism of climate change and, I think, a belief by the previous government that farmers were poor simple souls that needed the government to come and save them. I can remember numerous occasions when the previous minister for agriculture, the Hon. Tony Burke, would talk about helping farmers adapt to climate change. That statement really did show that former minister's complete lack of understanding of the agricultural sector.

Australian farmers are not following the world on these things, they are actually leading the world. The reality is that, in this last year, there was a wheat crop through eastern Australia that was grown on very, very minimal moisture. It was a crop that 30 years ago would have been a complete failure, but because of cutting-edge technology, agronomy and research, varieties through genetics and a whole range of other things, Australian wheat farmers this year have produced a crop where in previous years it would have been a failure.

This bill will go a long way to enhancing the abilities of Australian farmers in a range of things, whether it is in intensive livestock, poultry, pork production. An RDC has funded, with Alfa Laval, the development of a robotic dairy. Those things will bring efficiencies. So there is a whole range of things that will put Australia at the forefront. It was an election promise by the coalition that we would increase funding and focus on agricultural research. That is what farmers want. Our farmers are not looking to be helped out as if they are struggling third-class citizens. Our farmers are needing that assistance through government to keep them at the forefront of world production, and this bill does that.

I might close by commenting on comments that were made outside this place earlier this week from a well-known agriculturalist, expert in all things agricultural. He is the secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes—apparently, he is an expert. He said that family farms are a thing of the past and that we should corporatise rural Australia. His ignorance on this issue is breathtaking.

There is a place for corporate farming, and indeed right throughout the Parkes electorate we have some large-scale industries, super funds and a whole range of people who have invested in agriculture. I can tell you right here and now that the most efficient, productive and progressive farmers in my electorate are the family farms. The larger family farms not only have a successful business model; they have a model of business and management that is lean, efficient, reactive, agile—those are all the things you need in running a farm.

Quite frankly, the family farms will still be leading the way in Australia long after corporates have come and gone. We have seen people come along who have made money elsewhere and they think: 'If these dopey famers can make money, what could a clever person like me do?' We see them come—I am sure in the seat of Maranoa we see them go, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott. The family farms are the ones that are here to stay.

In conclusion, I support this bill. It is a great honour to be in a government that is going to support research into agriculture. As a farmer previously and as a member of parliament that represents a third of the land mass of New South Wales, this is what the people of the bush are looking for. They do not want Big Brother looking over them; they want a hand to be kept at the forefront of agriculture as they have in the past. I recommend this bill to the House.