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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 124

(Question No. 608)

Senator Calvert asked the Minister representing the Minister for Resources, upon notice, on 23 September 1993:

  (1) Has the Government received any expressions of concern regarding the operation of the Australian Centre for Furniture Design (ACFD).

  (2) From where have such concerns emanated.

  (3) Is the ACFD currently financially viable.

  (4) What was the gross operating loss for the ACFD for the financial years: (a) 1989-90; (b) 1990-91; (c) 1991-92; and (d) 1992-93.

  (5) What evidence of its own success did the ACFD offer the Federal Government when it sought additional funding of $450,000.

  (6) On what basis did the Government consider that the ACFD warranted such funding.

  (7) Does the Government expect the ACFD to be financially viable at the expiration of the $450,000 grant.

  (8) Has the Government set performance criteria for the ACFD in relation to the receipt of ongoing grant allocations; if so, what are the criteria.

  (9) Did the Tasmanian State Government support the grant of $450,000 to the ACFD; if not, why not.

  (10) What was the gross operating loss for the Australian Furniture Research and Development Institute (AFRDI) for the financial years: (a) 1989-90; (b) 1990-91; (c) 1991-92; and (d) 1992-93.

  (11) Has the Government received any requests for additional funding from AFRDI; if so, what is the Government's justification for not providing further funding for AFRDI.

  (12) Is the Government prepared to provide the necessary financial support to ensure the future of AFRDI.

Senator Sherry —The Minister for Resources has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

  (1) & (2) The Australian Furniture Research and Development Institute (AFRDI) recently wrote to the Commonwealth expressing concern over the provision of additional funding for the Centre for Furniture Design (CFD).

  The Commonwealth is also aware that some members of the Tasmanian Forests and Forest Industry Council have expressed concerns regarding the rate of progress by the CFD in achieving its objectives.

  (3) Yes. With the assistance it is receiving from various sources, including Helsham monies, the CFD is currently financially viable. In the absence of the additional Helsham monies, the Centre would need to restructure its activities and rationalise its resources within available funds.

  As with a number of other projects being funded under the Helsham Package, the long term expectation is that the Centre will become self-supporting.

  (4) The CFD has advised that it did not suffer a loss in any of those years. Financial procedures within the University of Tasmania relating to expenditure of Helsham monies and other funding monies prevent overspending.

  (5) In June 1992, at the time the then Tasmanian Minister for Forests requested additional Commonwealth financial assistance for the Centre, the CFD provided the Commonwealth with reports covering the Centre's progress and achievements. It also provided material illustrating a number of items of furniture designed at the CFD.

  The CFD also demonstrated its capabilities in furniture design when in 1992 it received a Collaborative Research Grant of $200,000 over three years for a specific purpose project from the Australian Research Council.

  (6) Continued funding of the Centre for Furniture Design within the Helsham Package was seen as an opportunity to assist the development of an innovative furniture manufacturing industry in Tasmania and encourage the use of the State's distinctive native timbers. This is consistent with the 1988 Heads of Agreement between the Commonwealth and Tasmanian Governments concerning activities to be funded under the Helsham Package.

  (7) Yes. To aid this process, an advisory board comprising representatives of the Commonwealth, the Tasmanian Government and industry is to be established to assist the CFD in meeting its objectives, and achieving financial self sufficiency.

  The CFD is aware of the expectation that it will adopt a commercially oriented approach to enable it to become self-funding once the funds are exhausted in 1995-96.

  (8) The CFD will be required to meet the objectives of the project and to submit progress and financial reports annually. As noted in the response to Question 7, an advisory board is being established to assist the CFD in meeting its objectives.

  (9) The Tasmanian Government approached the Commonwealth in June 1992 seeking Commonwealth funding of $150,000 per annum over the following three years for the CFD.

  This additional Commonwealth financial assistance was sought by the then Tasmanian Minister for Forests to ensure that "this national initiative can be maintained". The Minister strongly urged Commonwealth support for the Centre, an initiative he believed to be consistent with the vision that both Governments have for the future of the forest products industry in this country. The Tasmanian Government did not, however, wish the additional assistance to be provided from the Helsham Package.

  (10) AFRDI has advised that it did not suffer a loss in any of those years.

  (11) & (12) A representative of AFRDI sought additional funding for the Institute during discussions in June 1992 with officers of several Commonwealth Departments. AFRDI has also recently made direct representations to the Commonwealth Government for additional assistance.

  AFRDI was advised during the discussions in June 1992 that the only source of funds available for this type of activity would be under the Helsham Package and that the arrangement for allocating Commonwealth assistance for projects under the Helsham Package is for the Tasmanian Government to approach the Commonwealth seeking approval of funding for specific activities.

  No such approach for additional funds has been made by the Tasmanian Government in respect of AFRDI to date. In addition, all funds currently available under the Helsham Package are now fully committed to projects.

  As well as the $1.4 million already provided for AFRDI under the Helsham Package, the Commonwealth is assisting the Institute in other ways, including by public recognition of its role and function as the national body to research, test and appraise furniture products, and the use of AFRDI by Purchasing Australia for all testing for furniture for "common use" contracts.

  The long term expectation is that AFRDI will become self-supporting.