The proponents of the bid to establish a Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Northern Australia say the proposal remains alive despite the Federal Government’s decision to scrap funding for new CRCs this year.
In Tuesday night’s Federal Budget the Abbott Government announced that the next round of funding for new CRCs, which was due in July, will be cancelled as it seeks to find $80 million in savings from the CRC program over the next four years.
Only continuing CRCs will be able to apply for funding at this year’s July 3 deadline.
Beef Central understands that funding applications were being planned for more than 20 new CRCs this year, all of which now face an uncertain future.
That includes the bid to develop a CRC for Northern Australia, otherwise known as the AgNorth CRC, which had the significant existing backing of WA, NT and Qld State Governments, several Universities, the RIRDC, the CSIRO and a number of private sector investors.
The AgNorth CRC bid aims to bring a coordinated approach to delivering research and removing barriers to investment that will enable significant capital to flow into agricultural development across Northern Australia.
The proponents note that there are unquestionable but largely untapped opportunities for Northern Australia to supply growing food markets in Asia, but at present there is very little coordination of these opportunities.
Former NFF president and MLA chairman David Crombie and ex-Elders managing director Mike Guerin have been appointed to lead the bid.
Mr Guerin told Beef Central today that a CRC focused on northern Australia was an important part of the Abbott Government’s development agenda when it came to power, and closely aligned with its Northern Australia White Paper process.
The bid team was still waiting to talk to the Government about the bid’s future in the wake of Tuesday’s budget announcement.
However, Mr Guerin said the bid partners had received “enormous encouragement” to continue from a large number of areas including existing private sector backers, universities and State Governments.
“We will know (the Government’s view) in the next few days, but our assumption at this stage is that we remain alive, and what we’re setting out to do will be done,” Mr Guerin said.
He said that if the Government does not provide funding to the AgNorth CRC bid, there was strong support for the existing concept to be progressed in another form.
“There are a lot of conversations underway about how we could reconstitute this in a different way, if indeed we couldn’t sit under a CRC process,” Mr Geurin said.
“A lot of people have indicated they would like us to set the foundation up for this work over multiple years in the north in any event.
“There is a reasonable chance we will be able to hold the bid together.”
CRC Program’s future hinges on review
Meanwhile the Cooperative Research Centre Association has expressed deep disappointment in the $80m of funding cuts and says the future of the CRC program will now be determined following a review, which was already scheduled to be conducted this year.
“Obviously it is bad news,” CRC Association CEO Dr Tony Peacock said. “I hoped we had done enough to show the Government the value of the CRCs, and I do believe they understand its value. CRCs deliver applied research that has been demonstrated to boost GDP.
“$80 million is a lot, and I feel terrible for those people that have been working so hard on the current funding round. But no existing CRCs are affected, including those in contract negotiations following the last round. We have a major review coming up and we need to redouble our efforts again to demonstrate the value of the Program.”
CRC Association Chairman Tony Staley said the forthcoming review will be critical to the program’s future.
“Every time we have been reviewed in the past, we have shown that cooperative, large scale collaboration with the end-users in the driver’s seat is effective. Seeing the amazing outcomes from the current CRCs, I’m confident we can show that value to the Government”.
Dr Peacock pointed out that the Government had to make some very tough choices.
“Obviously, I’d have preferred no cuts. But I recognise that the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Scheme and the ARC’s Future Fellows scheme are really valuable too, and they were without any budget. So I’m glad resources were found for them. Many of our partner agencies like CSIRO and DSTO are going to go through pain, and others have gone altogether. The Government has to make these hard decisions and our job is to make sure CRCs continue to perform. Clearly the Government wants to see effective applied research working closely with industry — no one is better positioned to deliver that than the CRCs”.