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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 89

Mr JOYCE (New EnglandDeputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (11:51): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia's rural industries are among the most innovative and productive in the world. Continued investment in rural research and development (R&D) is vital to ensure ongoing growth and improvement in the profitability and competitiveness of Australia's agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food sectors. In recognition of this, the Australian government works with industry to co-invest in research through our world-leading rural R&D system.

Much of this work is delivered through the 15 rural research and development corporations, known as RDCs. RDCs provide a mechanism for industry to come together and invest collectively in R&D. The government assists by establishing and collecting a levy on behalf of an industry, if an industry requests this. The government also matches an RDC's eligible R&D spending up to a legislated cap. It is estimated that for every dollar that the government invests in rural R&D, farmers generate a $12 return over 10 years.

Feedback from primary producers is an integral part of how RDCs work. RDCs are required to consult with industry on their activities, and to give those who fund the research, via levies, an opportunity to provide input into the strategic direction of the corporation.

Numerous reviews and inquiries, including the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee's inquiries titled Industry structures and systems governing levies on grass-fed cattle,and Industry structures and systems governing the imposition of and disbursement of marketing and R&D levies in the agricultural sector, have identified improved consultation with levy payers as key to the ongoing strength of Australia's rural R&D system. Several of these inquiries recommended that the establishment of levy payer registers would offer a way for RDCs to consult more effectively with the primary producers who fund them.

Mr Deputy Speaker, might I say at this point in time: I congratulate you on your first role as the Deputy Speaker in the chair. Well done! And you are a person who would understand levies better than most, especially the Grains Research and Development Corporation, given your previous life as a farmer.

The government agrees that levy payers should have more of a say in how their levy funds are spent. RDCs should know who their levy payers are. Levy payer registers would provide RDCs with the ability to identify and consult directly with levy payers on research priorities and levy expenditure, and to accurately and efficiently allocate voting entitlements for polls, where this is relevant.

This bill makes possible the establishment of levy payer registers by RDCs by amending the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991. As it stands, the act only permits the distribution of levy payer information to the wool and dairy RDCs. This bill remedies this by allowing the government to provide levy payer information, for the purposes of a levy payer register, to the 13 other RDCs.

The bill removes the legislative impediment to the development of levy payer registers. However, recognising that a 'one size fits all' approach would not be appropriate given the diversity of Australian agricultural industries, the bill allows for the distribution of levy payer information to an RDC to occur only where an RDC, in consultation with industry, requests it, and that request is approved by the minister. The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources would then work with the RDC on the administrative design and development of a register. This is consistent with the government's approach to the broader R&D levy system, which is centred on industry support.

The bill also allows the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to permit levy payer information to be provided to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is consistent with the Australian government's Public Data Policy Statement, which commits to securely share data between Australian government entities, and to improve efficiencies and inform policy development and decision-making.

The bill maintains current practices for distribution of the name and address of the person or body that lodges levy returns with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, to RDCs, industry representative bodies, and others. In limited situations, the person that lodges returns is also the levy payer (for example, in the turf industry).

The bill does not permit disclosure of information included in a levy payer register by an RDC or the ABS to a third party, except in limited circumstances and where expressly permitted by the Secretary in writing. This aims to protect the integrity and security of levy and charge payers' personal information.

Where an eligible recipient is permitted to disclose levy payer information to a third party, that person or body may only use the information for restricted purposes relating to R&D, marketing, biosecurity or the National Residue Survey, or in connection with any activity carried out by the RDC for the benefit of producers in the industry it serves.

Where levy payer contact details are to be provided to an industry representative body, the administrative arrangements will enable levy payers to choose to opt out and not receive information.

The passage of this bill is the first key step in allowing for the development of levy payer registers, making it possible for the RDCs to identify and connect directly with those who fund their work.

Through greater levy payer engagement in the R&D system, RDCs will be able to better align research investments to industry priorities—improving returns to primary producers and contributing to a more profitable, competitive and sustainable agricultural sector, and always making sure they target bringing a better return back to the farm gate.

We will work with the RDCs and industry to make this happen.

The government is committed to an Australian R&D system that remains transparent, consultative and delivers tangible benefits to Australia's agricultural industries into the future.