Support for the Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bill 2013

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (12:15): I am delighted to be speaking on the Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bill 2013, along with the associated bills, the Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment Bill 2013 and the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Amendment Bill 2013.

As the member for Murray rightly points out, it enjoys support across the chamber. In fact a version of the bill was first introduced into the 43rd Parliament by the then government on 19 June this year. The bills did pass through the House of Representatives but unfortunately did not get through the Senate by the time the parliament was prorogued in August this year and, as a result, the bills lapsed. They now come before the House in substantially identical form to that which was presented before the 43rd Parliament.

It is important subject matter, important legislation, because it goes to food and our capacity to produce it not only now but also in the future. We know that Australia is presented with a great challenge but also a great opportunity when it comes to feeding the world and ensuring that we can meet the demand for a growing middle class, particularly in our region, and a growing demand for our food, particularly our protein related agriculture.

The Rural Research and Development Legislation Amendment Bill updates and refines the Australian Research and Development Corporation model, the RDC model, in line with policy commitments made by the then Labor government in the Rural Research and Development Policy Statement during the previous government's term in office. In preparing the policy, the former government met and consulted with stakeholders around the country and took into account the many submissions and the interests of those groups. Extensive consultations continued in the process, leading to these legislative amendments before the House today.

In short, the bill will allow statutory RDCs to carry out marketing activities on behalf of their industries if a marketing levy is in place. RDCs undertaking marketing will be able to deliver their industry expertise to provide cost-effective and targeted marketing activities in accordance with industry needs and priorities. Importantly, as I have just said, this is about industry-led marketing initiatives building on the expertise and the research that is done by these industry-led bodies. I do note that no charges to levies, rates or new levies are a part of these amendments. However there is capacity to increase levies in consultation with the industry and industry-led initiatives.

The amendments will encourage private sector investment into rural R&D by extending to all RDCs the arrangements for government matching funding to voluntary contributions for eligible research and development. Statutory funding agreements for statutory RDCs are proposed to drive performance improvements and increased transparency in the delivery of R&D services. Funding agreements have been a flexible mechanism for providing government guidance and oversight to industry-owned RDCs and these amendments will extend that mechanism to statutory RDCs.

The amendments promote due consideration of diversity in the selection process. The amendments aim to ensure high-quality boards for RDCs and reduce the time and delay associated with securing them. The bill proposes to allow the collection and matching of individual fishery industry levies subject to a cap based on the gross value of production of that individual fishery. This will allow specific fisheries to propose levies to invest in R&D for their industry and to undertake marketing in a similar way to other rural commodities.

The burdensome requirement for ministerial approval of statutory RDC's annual operating plans will be removed, and other minor technical matters have been addressed in the bills. The Primary Industries (Excise) Levies Amendment Bill 2013 removes the maximum levy rates for research and development, and marketing levies on primary industry products.

Similarly, the Primary Industries (Customs) Charges Amendment Bill 2013 removes the maximum charge rates for R&D and marketing changes that are duties of Customs. The numerical maximum levy and charge rates will be removed and the rates will be limited to no more than the level recommended by an industry body, following consultation with the levy and charge payers. The amendments will not change any levy or charge rates that are in operation at the moment. They will streamline the processes for changing the rates in the future. Levies and charges may be increased following a request by industry, but will not be allowed to be set above the rates recommended by industry. As I have said, this is an industry driven initiative. This will allow industries to manage their collective investment in research and marketing while also providing for a safeguard for levy payers against an arbitrary increase to rates.

As I said at the outset, the bills enjoy bipartisan support. They have their origins in the former government and they are informed by our general policy in relation to this area—one was set out by the former minister, Senator Ludwig, in his plan for the food industry into the future, cognisant of the fact that there is a growing world demand for food and, in particular, protein products, and that Australia is well placed to meet this growing global demand.

We know we face enormous productivity changes within the industries. We also know that we face enormous climate and environmental challenges within the industries. But I believe that Australian ingenuity, driven by industry based research and development, will enable us to overcome these challenges and will ensure that Australia and Australian producers are well placed not only to meet the food demands of our domestic markets but to reap the benefits of meeting the burgeoning demands of a growing middle class within our region and throughout the world. For these reasons, Labor supports the legislation and joins with the government in hoping that they enjoy a swift passage through the House and through the other place as well. I commend the legislation to the House.