A NEW institute to raise the profile of rural and regional research has been launched in Canberra this week.
The National Institute for Rural and Regional Australia (NIRRA) will act as an umbrella group to bring together rural researchers from across the country into one network, help to better promote existing rural research, and attempt to cut out duplication in similar fields of study.
Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, officially launched the new institute and unveiled its specially-created website, announcing funding for two Honours students to work at the institute.
Director, Dr Linda Botterill, a political scientist based at the Australian National University and well known for her recent work on drought policy reform, said the institute was born of an idea to initially raise the profile of rural policy research at ANU.
However, the higher echelons of ANU encouraged her to go bigger than the university and develop the nation's first institute dedicated to rural affairs.
"The purpose of the institute is to raise the profile and make more accessible the rural and regional research that's already being done across Australia in a range of universities and at the CSIRO," Dr Botterill said.
"It always struck me, particularly in my discipline of political science, that rural issues have tended to be the poor relation.
"If you pick up an Australian Government text book there'll be chapters on welfare policy and industrial relations policy and you won't find one with a chapter on rural policy.
"Yet all the big policy issues of the 21st century and the things that are engaging people's attention are impacting on rural and regional Australia.
"They're issues like water management and climate change and drought and food security, GM.
"And if you look at social issues, like rolling out the broadband network, the demographic changes associated with the sea change movement, all of these things are rural and regional issues."
Dr Botterill said through NIRRA researchers would be able to raise the profile of these issues in community debate and make the research that's already been done visible and accessible to policy makers, to the media, to interest groups and to the general public.
Dr Botterill said there weren't necessarily a lot of gaps in rural policy research, but it was just not particularly visible.
She said much of the institute's focus would be on rural policy rather than scientific research like plant or livestock breeding.
She said there would not be a specific focus on climate change at the institute because it was already so well covered in other research areas.
Mr Burke, however, is keen for some sort of research in the area of climate change and productivity though, stipulating that the $15,000 government grant he announced at the launch to fund two Honours students be in those fields.