Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Education, Science and Training, Senator Brandis. Is the minister aware of the argument his colleague Senator Abetz put to the Senate yesterday. He said:
I know of no scientist—no person—that believes that weeds are not a direct and present threat to the biodiversity of this country ... There is no dispute about that.
Given those comments, can the minister explain the government’s decision to stop funding the highly successful weeds cooperative research centre? Why did the government shut down the weeds CRC when it had universal industry support and was delivering significant benefits at farm level? Why has the education minister ignored something that her ministerial colleagues described as a direct threat to our biodiversity?
Opposition senators interjecting—
I find myself in agreement with the wisdom of Senator Abetz on all matters, Senator Carr, which is more than can be said for your attitude to your frontbench colleagues. Nevertheless, let me inform the honourable senator of the following matters concerning Australian weed management.
The Cooperative Research Centre for Australian Weed Management’s bid for a further seven years of funding from July 2008 has, I can inform the senator, not been successful. It will continue to commission research until June 2008. The weeds CRC, which has received $33 million in funding in two previous CRC rounds, has undertaken important research and development which is helping to tackle one of Australia’s most significant natural resource management issues—namely, weeds.
It is estimated that weeds cost the Australian economy $4 billion annually. It is thought that they are costing the environment a similar amount, but this is very difficult to quantify. Whilst I acknowledge that this is a very difficult job in deciding on successful candidates, I am very disappointed at the decision, as there is significant research required to tackle the issue. I am aware that the Productivity Commission, in a recent draft report, Public support for science and innovation, criticised the criteria for determining which applications for CRC funding are successful.
They are not determined by ministers, Senator Wong, as you know. The CRC and the criteria used to determine which applications are successful are a matter for the Department of Education, Science and Training.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Now that the minister has confirmed that the government is shutting down the weeds CRC, can he explain to the Senate why it is doing that, particularly given the importance of the work that this CRC has undertaken? What alternative strategy does this government have for continuing research into this $4 billion annual problem for Australian farmers? Doesn’t the minister agree with the leading scientists and the CRC managers that only change in the government’s current policy for the funding of agricultural and environmental CRCs can ensure that collaborative research in these areas will continue? Rather than blaming the panel, is it not the case that it is government policy that directs the panel as to what CRC criteria will be applied?
I can inform the honourable senator, who asks about additional measures that the government is taking, that the government is investing $44 million in the Defeating the Weed Menace Program.
The government, Senator Carr, if you cared enough about the issue to listen to the answer, has invested in a specific program, the Defeating the Weed Menace Program—$44 million this year. It is not the case, as you well know, Senator Carr, that every application for a renewal of funding under a CRC is successful. You well know that programs expire from time to time but, on another front, in a stand-alone, dedicated program, the government is investing $44 million on the very menace that you identify.