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Tuesday, 8 February 1994
Page: 516

Senator BURNS —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Can the minister advise the Senate about developments in wool processing technologies, and the means by which these technologies are being brought to market?

Senator COLLINS —A few minutes ago I said that over the past few weeks I had been speaking with a wide range of industry groups. One of the common threads in the representations those groups made to me, and indeed expressed very strongly at a recent meeting I had with the National Farmers Federation, was the great importance that all of those groups played in the direct benefits that are accruing to primary industry in Australia through the research and development commitments that this government has made.

  In question time yesterday, Senator Schacht drew the attention of the Senate to a major agreement reached between CSIRO, the Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation and ICI to develop and market two new innovative and environmentally friendly wool processing technologies that will be of great benefit to the wool industry in Australia. The Australian Wool Research and Promotion Organisation is one of 14 R&D corporations within the primary industries portfolio. One of the most substantive achievements of John Kerin when he was minister in this portfolio was establishing that framework of R&D operations.

  The arrangement is that the RDCs promote industry research by acting as a medium between the research providers and the industries which benefit from that research. The dollar for dollar funding arrangement between the government and industries across the sector has brought about a tripling of industry investment in R&D from $31 million in 1985 to $93 million this year.

  Last Friday, I met with the chairs and chief executives of the 14 research development corporations and the five research councils to gain their impressions of the value of this mechanism. Whilst acknowledging scope for fine-tuning, they believed that the model was a source of advantage against our international competitors. It was described to me as being unique in the world in R&D and primary industry. They also identified substantial benefits flowing from the research they had commissioned, and one particular survey of projects revealed benefit cost ratios of over 10 to one. I indicated at the meeting my keen interest in promoting research as a means of ensuring Australia fully exploits the emerging opportunities in international food and fibre markets. The RDCs can facilitate this process by gathering the best possible market intelligence to anticipate changing customer demands and tailoring their research programs to ensure that Australian rural industry can meet those demands.

  This government is rightly proud of its achievements in raising the nation's research efforts from the embarrassing levels of past administrations. We will be striving to maintain a focus on innovation as a source of economic growth.

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