Thursday, 4 December 2008
Questions without Notice: Additional Answers
I wish to provide answers to the questions I took on notice, in my capacity as Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, during question time on 25 November from Senator Payne. The answers are very detailed and lengthy and I seek leave to incorporate them in Hansard.
The answers read as follows—
Answers to questions taken on notice during question time on 25 November 2008 from Senator Payne to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Sherry
(1) ‘My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Sherry. I refer the minister to comments made by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry in a speech to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation on 19 November:
“Governments must refocus on investment in agricultural research and development to boost productivity within’ the constraints of land and resource availability.”
‘What steps will the government take to ensure that this approach is upheld in government policy in all Australian jurisdictions?’
The Australian Government is committed to a dynamic agricultural sector and continues to be a strong supporter of rural research, development and extension.
In 2006-07 total expenditure by the rural research and development corporations and industry-owned companies (RDCs) was in the order of $525 million. The government’s investments in rural innovation, research and development and training include matching contributions, exceeding $200 million for the each of the financial years from 2003-04 to 2007-08, to the 16 rural RDCs.
The important partnership and financial support of government and industry recognises the significant contribution research and development makes to the productivity of our primary producers. Agricultural productivity has increased more than two per cent per annum over the last 30 years.
The government is also committed to helping address the impacts of climate change on our rural industries and is investing $130 million in Australia’s Farming Future. The Climate Change Research Program ($46.2million) will invest in the leading edge research and development that is needed to reduce greenhouse gas pollution; improve soil management; and help farmers adapt to a changing climate. FarmReady ($26.5million) provides training opportunities for primary producers and aims to get research findings from the lab to the farm, enabling farmers to develop strategies to adopt and respond to the impacts of climate change.
The Regional Food Producers Innovation and Productivity Program will provide $35 million over four years to encourage innovation and improve food productivity for regional food producers and processors in Australia. The government is deeply committed to research, development and extension in our rural industries. This is vital to meet the challenges of drought, climate change, food security concerns and the global financial crisis.
The Australian Government will ensure national priority areas for rural research, development and extension are not left behind. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is working through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council and the rural research and development corporations to maintain Australia’s national research capability. The government will use the nation’s research resources more efficiently and effectively to deliver the best outcomes right along the value chain. The activities of the Primary Industries Ministerial Council ensure the states are working together to see the most important areas for rural research and development are adequately resourced.
The National Primary Industries Research, Development and Extension Framework (National RD&E Framework) is being jointly developed by industry peak bodies, rural RDCs and the Primary Industries Standing Committee. It includes fourteen industry sectors and seven cross-sector research, development and extension plans. The framework provides the structure and institutional arrangements needed to strengthen national research capability and better address cross-sectoral and sectoral research and development. The Primary Industries Ministerial Council considered and endorsed progress on the development of the framework on 6 November 2008. Research, development and extension in primary industries are essential to increasing productivity and sustainability.
The report of the review of the national innovation system (Cutler Review) highlighted under-investment in research and development by previous governments and foreshadowed the need for increased investment and stronger strategic planning. The government will be responding to the report in the near future. The government has also acted on its commitment to establish a Rural Research and Development Council. The Minister recently selected the members of the new Council. The Council will provide high level advice and coordination to better target and improve the effectiveness of the Australian Government’s investment in rural research and development.
(2) ‘ …in the light of Mr Burke’s statement about the importance of investment in agricultural research, can the minister advise whether Minister Burke has made representations to Minister Carr about the CSIRO being forced to close the Rendel livestock research laboratory in Rockhampton and the plant research laboratory in Merbein near Mildura and being forced into the 50 additional job cuts in science research generally?’
The CS IRO has advised that it is maintaining its research efforts in the areas of wine/rootstock and livestock. The CSIRO advises that staff will be located at sites other than Merbein and Rockhampton. The CSIRO has advised that it currently invests approximately 30 per cent of its budget in agriculture and agriculture-related programs. The CSIRO advises that the total budget for the Agribusiness Group is approximately $315 million for 2008-09. The CSIRO advises that it has also increased funding for climate and water research.
(3) ‘… can the minister advise how Mr Burke’s comments measure up with the New South Wales Labor government’s decision to sell off nearly 90 per cent of Hurlstone Agricultural High School in Western Sydney and its productive land, and also the world-leading Glen Innes Agricultural Research and Advisory Station? Will the minister make representations to the New South Wales Labor government to prevent these sales from occurring, both in Glen Innes and at Hurlstone, and Hurlstone itself becoming unviable and no longer productive?’
The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry recognises the importance of a continued rural research and development effort. Keeping Australia’s farmers ahead of the rest of the world is a key priority for the Australian Government especially in the face of increasing international concerns about food security.
Research into soil carbon is a priority of the Australian Government and research projects on improving Australia’s soils will be the first tranche of projects under the $46.2m allocated for research under Australia’s Farming Future. The government will also be prioritising research into reducing greenhouse pollution and adapting to climate change. The government will work together with industry and local community on these issues.