News

Rural research bodies to face regular independent reviews

James Nason, 24/07/2012

Rural research and development corporations (RDCs) including Meat & Livestock Australia will be subjected to regular independent performance reviews in future, following changes to rural research arrangements announced by agriculture minister Joe Ludwig yesterday.

There are currently 15 statutory and industry-owned RDCs operating in Australian agriculture, overseeing about $715m in federal funding annually.

In the red meat sector they include the industry-owned organisations Meat & Livestock Australia, the Australian Meat Processing Corporation and Livecorp.

Addressing an Agforce meeting in Brisbane yesterday, Senator Ludwig said research overseen by rural RDCs played an important role in improving the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of Australian agriculture.

However, more transparency and accountability was required in the way RDCs operate.

Under the announced changes, all RDCs will be required to commission regular independent performance reviews.

The results of each review go first to the minister, along with proposed action to address any identified deficiencies, and will then be made publicly available.

Government representatives will also attend meetings of RDC boards on a semi-regular basis in future in an observation capacity.

RDCs will also be required to publicly release the minutes of board meetings and outcomes of project selection processes.

“Scrutiny, discussion and review of RDC activities should promote better informed decision making and improved outcomes from producer and public investments,” the policy statement released by Senator Ludwig said.

The Government will ask ABARES to conduct system-wide performance reports on Australia’s rural RD&E system every three years.

In a bid to further improve the transparency of research programs, results and outcomes, the Government says it will only provide matching funding for voluntary contributions “where no commercial in-confidence provisions relating to release of the R&D would preclude general access by the industry and community any longer than is needed to apply for agreed intellectual property protection”.

Changes have also been made to the board selection processes for statutory, Government owned corporations which will require boards to provide the minister with a set number of nominated candidates that is higher than the number of vacancies. 

This applies to statutory RDCs such as the Rural Industries RDC and the Grains RDC, but Beef Central understands these changes do not apply to industry-owned RDCs such as MLA that use a committee based of peak council representatives and existing board members to select candidates.

A Productivity Commission inquiry last year recommended that the Government reduce the amount of funding it provides to rural RD&E, however the Federal Government has rejected the recommendation.

In the statement released yesterday Senator Ludwig said rural industries consisted of large numbers of small producers who individually may not have the capacity to invest in RD&E. RDCs provided a way for an industry to invest collectively through levy collections, and matching Government funding provided an incentive for industries to do so.

Public investment in rural RD&E provided community benefits from having profitable, sustainable and competitive rural industries, he said.  

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