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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 635

Senator COONEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Research and development have been essential to the wellbeing of rural Australia, and it is important that they be sustained. Therefore, reports in the media that the government intends to cut its contribution to industry levies for rural research and development call for comment from the minister. Would the minister heed that call?

Senator COLLINS —I thank Senator Cooney. I must say that I think the government questions today in question time have been significantly better than those of the opposition. It is a line ball, perhaps. I am aware of these speculations, and they are not well founded. I have pleasure in advising the Senate that this speculation has no basis whatsoever. Today I have released the joint government-industry task force report reviewing the administration of rural R&D, an extremely important matter, to assist Australia's agricultural producers, and indeed processors, in tapping an extremely valuable and growing industry in the Asia-Pacific region.

  The task force report that I released this morning found that the model of an independent corporation managing industry and government contributions to rural research and development is performing extremely well. There is clear evidence that the model is making research and development more relevant to industry needs and facilitating increased involvement and investment by industry in research. Cabinet has now agreed to investigate options for a long-term strategy of continued government support, including funding of rural research. The impact of these arrangements on the competitiveness of the rural industry will be a key factor in this analysis. The findings of this second phase of the review will be utilised by the government through 1995 as it develops a response to the Industry Commission's report on research and development.

  Contrary to the rumours, matching funding for rural research and development will continue in its current form—that is, the current dollar for dollar funding—right through to 1995-96. The 19 research and development corporations and councils will manage over $250 million for investment in primary industry and energy research. The government will provide over $130 million of these funds. I must say that I think this is a highly appropriate way for federal government funds to be directed to assist industry—that is, in research.

  Research and development support is but one of the programs within the Department of Primary Industries and Energy that are designed to achieve the objectives of long-term sustainable development, structural change and, importantly, social justice in rural Australia. The rural adjustment scheme, Landcare, and the agribusiness and community access programs also play key roles in developing a sustainable rural sector that can make an effective contribution to the productivity of Australia.

  Over the next three years this government will provide around $1 billion for these five programs. These programs will be utilised to facilitate structural change on a regional basis. Often the process of change is best addressed by looking beyond the particular industry or producer to include the rural communities which support them. This approach will not be pursued at the expense of individual producers; rather, its purpose is to enhance and to extend the government's ability to help producers become more viable.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

Senator Panizza —Mr President, on a point of order: on my calculation, at least one minute 15 seconds has been lost today by ministers not sitting down when they were due to, including the Leader of the Government in the Senate. I believe that you should allow another question to be asked by the opposition.

The PRESIDENT —I have sought advice. The government always ends question time exactly an hour after it has started. Points of order are not included as extra time.

Senator Panizza —That is not what I based my point of order on. I was talking about the elapsed time when ministers did not sit down when the light went off, including the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who had a second go at a question of at least one minute 15 seconds.

Senator Robert Ray —Because of the absolute obsession with timekeeping here, we took a note today of when question time started so that we could remind our leader, who is a bit absent minded at times. Senator Gareth Evans got on his feet one minute 45 seconds after the expiration of an hour. So even if 1 1/4 minutes were lost, those opposite still got 30 seconds more, which is more than they deserved.