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Monday, 16 September 1985
Page: 595


Senator COONEY(9.03) —I have some comments to add to those that Senator Collard has already addressed to the Senate. As he has said, the Rural Industries Research Bill 1985, in its eventual form after the amendments to be proposed by the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) have been inserted, will be agreed to by the Senate. As I understand it from Senator Macklin, the Australian Democrats will also support it. Senator Collard has said some generous things about the Bill. However, one objection which he had was to the provisions of clause 9 (1) (e) which requires that, from the moneys in the research funds, payments be made for the management of the various funds. He said that, depending on the fund involved, such management costs will take a disproportionate amount of the income in the funds. He said that, depending on the fund involved, such management costs will take a disproportionate amount of the income in the funds.

It is to be remembered in this context that the Government is putting in half of the amounts in the funds, up to a level equivalent to half a per cent of the gross value of production of the particular industry. It should also be remembered that one of the ideas of this Bill is to make research more separate than perhaps it has hitherto been from government. Those two considerations make it proper, at least at this stage, that the management funds be taken from the research funds rather than that they be paid for by the Government.

Senator Collard pointed out, quite correctly, that the rural industry is still central to the economy of the Australian nation. Of course, I agree with that. This Government, in recognising that, recognises the value of investment in the rural industry, particularly of research in that industry. For that reason it has worked closely with the rural industry in getting this Bill into the form it will be after the amendments have been made. In that respect, it has conferred, as Senator Collard said, with the National Farmers Federation.

The Bill will upgrade the operations of at least 11 rural industry research funds. The philosophy behind all this is that industry and government in this area should in the future act together, as they have in the past. It is intended that from now on the rural industry research councils will be more commercial in their orientation. In that context there has been much discussion recently on privatisation of government bodies. I make the point that, in considering whether something ought to be privatised and in considering whether government ought to enter into the field of any particular industry, the question is not so much whether privatisation as a creed is correct; the consideration is whether a particular result can be more effectively obtained from the private sector, the public sector or, as in this case, a combination of both. It is my submission to the Senate that this case is a very good example of how government and the private sector in the form of rural industry can get together to set out a plan which will help, as Senator Collard has said, a very central industry, a very vital industry to the Australian economy.

It is hoped that the partnership that will be formed through this will be most effective. It will be interesting to see how things have gone at the end of the five-year period contemplated in this Bill as the first of the planned periods that will be addressed by the various councils. I hope that Senator Collard will be back here then so that perhaps at that stage we can debate how things have gone.

There are three features of the Bill which I wish to comment on at this stage. Firstly, this Bill provides for greater participation by each rural industry concerned in the direction of the form of research into its own factors. In other words, the machinery set up by the Bill-this will be particularly so in its amended form-will enable an industry to give direction to the form of research which it considers is correct for its industry. As the amendments which I will come to shortly show, it also contemplates that the Minister for Primary Industry, particularly in the initial stage, will give an indication of where he thinks that research ought to be carried out and an indication of what he considers are the correct priorities in investigating the way in which particular rural industries can be affected. That is the first thing.

Secondly, in a sense the Bill will deregulate research in rural industry more than has been the case to date. Up to now the Minister has given very precise directions as to how research in any particular industry ought to occur. Under this amendment, the Minister will give his initial indications of where he thinks research ought to occur in the five-year period. The council will then be able to direct its own research unhampered by any close direction from the Minister. To that extent, these Bills will open up the area of research and make it freer from government direction than was previously the case.

The third thing the Bill will do is to require the council to play a more active role in the direction in which research ought to go. In other words, up until now the particular body or person undertaking the research has determined to a large extent the direction of that research. As things are arranged under this Bill, it will become the duty of the fund to give direction as to how research funds ought to be devoted. It will work out the appropriate areas of research and look for the appropriate people to carry out research in these areas.

At this stage I indicate the amendments which will be moved by the Minister and which, as I understand it, will find acceptance from the Opposition and by the Australian Democrats. These are the amendments to the Rural Industries Research Bill. The first amendment is to clause 8. The effect of that amendment will be that, in respect of the Barley Research Trust Fund and the Wheat Research Trust Fund, interest earned on the funds will be distributed proportionately amongst the various bodies that contribute to them.

That is the item referred to in proposed new section 9 (1) (e). The Barley Research Trust Fund and the Wheat Research Trust Fund are two funds to which the various States contribute. That amendment will ensure that the interest that becomes available from those funds will be distributed in proportion to the amounts that have been contributed by the various entities.

Under the second amendment, which I have already mentioned, the Minister will determine in writing the form of the research and development that he considers is appropriate for the research fund to develop. That amendment was sought by the industry because, understandably, it was concerned to know exactly what the Minister thought was the appropriate area within which the Research Council should operate and should look for people to carry out the appropriate research. That amendment will make clear to the fund what the Minister considers is the appropriate policy for it to adopt. In the light of that, the fund can go ahead and make its own choices as to where the research ought to go, keeping account of what the Minister has had to say. The Minister shall say what he wants over the five-year period and within that context each fund will make its own choice. It is in that context that I said before that the funds will have much more freedom of choice than was formerly the case.

The next amendment sought, which is agreed to by the Government, relates to the composition of the selection committee. Under that amendment there will be at least three people from the industry, instead of up to three, who will join the selection committee. This will mean that the industry will have the determining voice in deciding who will join particular research councils.

The next amendment is a very sensible one. It is that the selection committee, in determining who shall be on a research council, will advertise the fact that it is looking for people to be appointed to that body. Firstly, it will advertise in newspapers that circulate throughout Australia, and, secondly, by giving notice in writing to orgainsations in the relevant industry which may be concerned to have people appointed to the particular council. Again, that will ensure that the work of the council is known to the best people available. Hopefully, several applications will come forward so that the range of talent available can be looked at and the best person can be obtained from that area.

As I understand it, they are the amendments to the main Bill. There are also some consequential amendments to the subsidiary Bill, which go to matters of drafting only and which cause no particular concern to the Senate. In the light of the amendments which will be moved by the Minister, the Bill is very non-controversial. The fact that the Bill is non-controversial does not mean that it is not one of the more important Bills to come before this place. Hopefully, it will advance rural industry in Australia and will help it over the struggles it is going through presently. The Bill has come before the Senate after discussion with all the appropriate bodies, including the National Farmers Federation, and it has unanimous support.