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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 593

Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(8.56) —These Bills, which were floating around all through the autumn session, are an indication that, once again, the current Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) brought them in with little or no discussion with the various rural organisations. The legislation had passed through the House of Representatives before the National Farmers Federation even had a chance to meet and discuss it. As I have said, once again we have an indication of the apparent contempt in which this Government holds the rural industry by bringing in these various pieces of legislation. Negotiations between the Government and the NFF were held. Various amendments were proposed-some by the NFF-some of which were not accepted by the Government and so the drama went on. In fact, this legislation was never discussed in the Senate before we rose for the winter recess. I am led to believe-I find it rather astounding-that Mr Kerin claimed that the Opposition blocked the passage of these Bills through the Senate. Of course, anybody who had anything to do with the Bills and who was waiting to speak on them would know that that was not the case. They were listed quite regularly on the Notice Paper and on the red business sheet for the day, but because of the discussions that were going on, they never quite made it before the list was ruled off and we went home for the winter recess.

We have had the consultations and negotiations and we now have amendments that have been agreed to by the Government and the NFF. I understand that Senator Cooney will foreshadow those amendments when he speaks after me. Those amendments will be moved in the Committee stage and the Opposition will support them. They relate mainly to the Rural Industries Research Bill 1985 and a couple of consequential amendments relate to the Rural Industries Research (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Bill 1985.

Despite all the problems that the rural industries have had, such as the weather and markets, they still represent 45 per cent of our exports. I think it is essential that the people of Australia realise that, at a time when our current account deficit is in the vicinity of $10 billion, the rural industries still play their part in our balance of trade. Of course, it is necessary for research to be done to help the industry in its marketing, in developing new strains or breeds, or whatever it is that is needed to upgrade the herds and the grain crops to keep us in the forefront of world primary produce and thus help us with our balance of payments. I saw some interesting figures the other day that indicated that the debt accrued by the rural industries currently stands at $6 billion, which works out at about $35,000 per farm. Currently, the average farm income is less than $7,000. That indicates that all is not bright with the primary industries even though they make a substantial contribution to our balance of trade.

The Rural Industries Research Bill amalgamates existing rural research legislation and provides one Act for the administration of rural industry research funds. As I understand it, at present there are 14 trust accounts covering barley, chicken meat, cotton, dried fruits, dairying, fish, honey, oilseeds, pigs, poultry, wheat, wine, wool and tobacco. The Federal Government will help with dollar for dollar assistance for research. Of course, these dollars will be obtained by means of levies on the various commodities I have mentioned.

One major concern which has been expressed all the way through, which has not been addressed by amendment, is the Government's attempt to recover administrative costs from the various bodies. In fact, under this Bill, it would appear that the Minister can direct any research council to pay Department of Primary Industry administrative costs without any accountability to the industry. A statutory charge of about 84 per cent of all salaries seems to be charged on top of those salaries in the area of administration. I will look at a couple of those things in a minute. It is interesting that the Australian Chicken Meat Federation, in a letter to Mr Hunt, pointed out this fact. The letter, from Dr J. G. Fairbrother, stated:

Our industry is not opposing the proposed legislation. We believe we can operate within the legislation without any detrimental effect on the research program. We are concerned however that the Department of Primary Industry is embarking on a cost recovery program which is out of proportion to the service offered. Nevertheless we see little point in assuming the role of secretariat . . . ourselves.

I raise that point because there is concern; the industries that are encompassed in this legislation are worried about the administrative costs. I give the example of dairying. The expenditure on research programs for dairying was $1.4m over 60 projects with administrative costs of $78,478. Yet for beef, which is not within this program, there was an expenditure of $12.2m, or about 10 times that spent on dairying, on 180 projects with administrative costs of only $51,000. We are also concerned that the charges may soak up a disproportionate amount of funds in the smaller industries. While administrative charges take up only 5 per cent of wool funds, administrative charges take up to 20 per cent of poultry research funds and 17 per cent of honey funds. The National Farmers Federation actually took this up in one of its proposed amendments, which was to delete clause 9 (1) (e), but I understand that the Minister did not agree to that and in his letter stated:

I am not prepared to accept your proposed amendment regarding cost recovery for Investment Management.

However, he did give this undertaking in page 2 of his letter:

I undertake that my Department will continue to review the administration of investment services and to consult annually with Research Council Chairpersons on the key elements of costs to be recovered. I will also have this matter discussed at the annual RIRF co-ordination meeting. Through these two means, industry will be provided with an opportunity to assess the efficiency with which investment management is conducted. I will also have these details clearly stated in the Senate debate, which action, as you are aware, brings an obligation for implementation of the action so stated.

With that guarantee from the Minister, the NFF did not seek to pursue its amendment to delete clause 9 (1) (e). As I have said, this legislation is here in the autumn session because of lack of consultation with the industries. They ran into all sorts of problems. The consultation did take place, there has been agreement and the amendments will be made. As I have said, Senator Cooney will foreshadow amendments. We in the Opposition will support those amendments and thus support the Bills.