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Monday, 31 March 1980
Page: 1239

Senator Colston asked the Minister representing the Minister for Productivity, upon notice, on 18 March 1980:

(   1 ) Who are the major shareholders in General Nurseries Pty Ltd, Government assistance for which was outlined in a Media Release of the Minister for Productivity on 22 January 1980.

(2)   If other companies have shares in General Nurseries Pty Ltd which arc those companies and who are the major shareholders of those companies.

(3)   What is the paid-up capital of General Nurseries Pty Ltd and any company listed in (2 ).

(4)   What profit or loss has been made for the past five years by General Nurseries Pty Ltd and any company listed in (2).

(5)   Which persons are carrying out the 'technological research and development for an integrated plant nursery system covering plant cultivation (from initial seed germination and through the critical growth phase), packaging, transport and export distribution' mentioned in the Minister's Media Release.

(6)   What arc the qualifications of the persons mentioned in(5).

(7)   Which of the persons mentioned in (5) are employees of General Nurseries Pty Ltd and for whom do the other persons mentioned in ( 5 ) work.

(8)   How much of the $900,000 involved is for salaries and for what other purposes is the remainder being used.

(9)   Will the Department of Productivity share in any of the long-term profits accruing from this project.

Senator Chaney - The Minister for Productivity has provided the following reply to the honourable senator's question: (I), (2), (3) and (4) In the Media Release of 22 January 1980, I announced that the Commonwealth would initiate a project to develop an integrated plant nursery system covering plant cultivation, packaging, transport and export distribution. the purpose ofthe project was to assist the Australian horticultural industry to participate in the large international markets for indoor plants. 1 stated that the original concept for the project was proposed by General Nurseries Pty Ltd and that following a detailed evaluation of the situation and further development of the original concept I had authorised the Department of Productivity to fund and co-ordinate a project under the ' public interest ' provisions of the Industrial Research and Development Incentives Act 1976. The Department, assisted by private industry, would co-ordinate a joint government-industry co-operative effort to develop the equipment and handling systems to allow the Australian horticultural industry to become a major exporter. No assistance for General Nurseries Pty Ltd was outlined in my statement and no contractural relationship exists between the Department and General Nurseries Pty Ltd. Therefore the Department has had no reason to seek detailed information on the company's shareholding or financial performance and I am unable to provide the details requested by Senator Colston.

(5)   Advertisements have been placed in the major newspapers throughout Australia, outlining the project and seeking registration of interest. The large number of registrants is being evaluated and some of these with the necessary skills will be invited to submit detailed proposals. It was recognised that no one organisation would have the range of skills and expertise necessary to undertake the project and the advertisement sought registration of interest from companies or groups of companies who were interested in undertaking all or part of the task. General Nurseries Pty Ltd along with other nursery companies is free to submit a registration of their interest.

(6)   As stated in the answer to (5) the final selection of participants has not been made but it is anticipated that the project will require people with qualifications in systems engineering, materials handling, detailed engineering design and horticultural disciplines.

(7)   See (5).

(8)   The estimate of $900,000 is the sum of the estimates made for the development of the individual sub-systems through to production of a working prototype. The estimate includes a provision of approximately $400,000 for detailed systems analysis, preparation of specifications and equipment design. The remainder is required for the development and construction of the prototype equipments and their integration and installation as a complete working system.

The funds for the prototype development and construction element of the project includes salaries, materials transport, use of computer facilities, etc.

A preliminary analysis of the current estimates based on similar development work indicates that the expenditure for salaries and wages for the total project would be approximately 70-80 per cent of the funds provided.

(9)   The Department of Productivity will not directly participate in the long-term profits of the horticultural industry.

This project is being undertaken on the basis of its contribution to the community in terms of the following criteria: a more effective use of Australian resources; a contribution to the expansion of exports and an increased export orientation of industry; an enhancement of the ability of Australian industry to compete with imports; the improvement of industrial productivity; the development of new, improved and innovative Australian industrial capability; the encouragement of the rapid introduction to Australia of advantageous new technology; a reduced reliance on the use of imported technology: the creation or maintenance of employment opportunities; and an enhancement of the social well-being of the Australian community.

Whilst respecting any prior right, the industrial property including all patents, designs and equipment produced in the course of the project will belong to the Commonwealth. At the conclusion of the project the Commonwealth will licence or transfer the technology to industry for manufacture and implementation on terms to be agreed. It is anticipated that the successful development of the nursery system for exporting plants will provide significant benefits to not only the horticultural industry, but also the transport and other support industries, as well as yielding new sources of export income for the benefit of all Australians.

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