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Wednesday, 25 March 1987
Page: 1473

Mr COWAN —I address my question to the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to reported media statements that the advancement of agriculture in Australia in the years ahead may well fall behind that of our competitors. Is it a fact that the present adverse economic climate makes it extremely difficult for our farmers to have confidence in improving efficiency? I refer particularly to high interest rates. What economic measures is the Minister prepared to recommend to the Government to assure the future profitability of rural industries?

Mr KERIN —The question of interest rates was addressed yesterday in discussion on a matter of public importance raised by the Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia. I think that the honourable member for Lyne was referring to some publicity that was recently given to statements made about farm productivity. Some of that is coming from the New South Wales Farmers Association. The Secretary to my Department made a statement recently about productivity and the need for continued emphasis on research. I think that he particularly instanced the fact that yields for wheat have been going up faster in other countries than they have in Australia. There are many reasons for that and they extend over a long time. I would like to say, in defence of the performance of our research facilities and the performance of the wheat industry generally, that we work in a much harsher environment and we do not have the massive amount of subsidisation which for example, the European Economic Community has, which has stimulated greater production per hectare.

With the new arrangements that the Hawke Government has put in place with respect to research-the re-formed Research Council-the amount of money going into research has almost doubled during the life of this Government and we now have a far greater orientation in that research, concentrating, I think quite sensibly, a little more on marketing and definition of markets for the products that we produce. I think that, in the short term, there are probably more gains to concentrate on marketing and management than there are in a straight-out increase in production per se. Nonetheless, the effort is being more than kept up with respect to on-farm productivity.

There is always a need for a central core of research funding and that is best delivered through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The amount of funds going to agricultural research in that organisation still ranges between 28 and 29 per cent. Great progress is still being made there, particularly in the plant area. My colleague the Minister for Science recently opened such a facility at Black Mountain. I believe that the amount of money being spent on production research is very high, and this is by far the most important thing that government can do for the farm sector, because it is a true public responsibility.