Growers want facts on GRDC move

22 May, 2015 02:00 AM
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Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann.
We are less certain about the costs and benefits to grain producers of such a move
Grain Producers Australia chairman Andrew Weidemann.

AUSTRALIAN grain growers have returned fire in their dispute with Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce over moving the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) to Wagga Wagga, in NSW.

Members of the National Farmers' Federation Grains Policy Council (NFFGPC) and the Western Australian Grains Group (WAGG) said they wanted to see a business case for relocating the GRDC out of Canberra, especially one showing how the grains industry will benefit.

Grain Producers Australia (GPA) chairman Andrew Weidemann made a united statement on behalf of his group and AgForce Queensland, Grain Growers, Grain Producers South Australia, the NSWFarmers Association, Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association, the Victorian Farmers' Federation Grains Group, WAFarmers, and WAGG.

He said the Minister’s request for GRDC to consider moving to Wagga meant growers’ levy funds - an estimated $31.2 million - would have to pay for the GRDC relocation.

“The Minister’s aim to boost regional communities and create jobs in regional centres is fine and as residents of regional Australia we understand such issues very well,” he said.

“However, we are less certain about the costs and benefits to grain producers of such a move.”

Inevitable disruption

Mr Weidemann said the primary concern was the inevitable disruption to GRDC operations caused by the process of moving the organisation.

He said that disruption would occur through direct loss of skilled staff and their knowledge of work in progress, or diversion of resources to undertake the actual move.

“The disruption will need to be assessed for its impact on regional researchers, right across Australia, because they are people the industry relies on for advice and critical direction on research-related activities,” he said.

“How will causing all this disruption actually benefit growers?

“We are unclear as to why the grain industry should pay for what is clearly a community project more suited to general taxpayer funding.”

Mr Weidemann said GRDC funds were contributed by growers to be spent on work benefitting the grains industry.

He said the grower groups wanted to see a business case that explained how spending more than $30m to relocate the GRDC would produce a better result for productive agriculture than spending the money on research.

“We have researchers and research organisations crying out for funding to help lift the industry’s productivity, so it’s a big issue,” he said.

“GPA and Australia’s various grain grower representative organisations have been in discussion with the federal government for some time about the challenges facing the GRDC, its governance structure and how it communicates with the levy-paying growers it exists to serve.

“Nowhere have our proposals for improvement suggested shifting the organisation, because the reality of travel in regional Australia is that wherever the office moves to, while it might be closer to growers in the immediate vicinity, it will be further away from everyone else.

“The industry is in discussion with the government about the potential to transform GRDC into an industry-owned corporation.

“If or when that occurs it will be a very important step, so surely it should be up to that organisation to decide its office location, rather than pre-emptively making decisions like this,” he said.

“Research expenditure and good management of that process is vital for the grain industry’s productivity and lifting productivity is our priority.

“We invite the Minister to explain the business case for this project he is suggesting we must fund.”

Impacting competitiveness

GrainGrowers chairman Andrew Carberry reinforced Mr Weidemann’s comments on behalf of the other grower groups.

“With the tight operating margins in farming, we need to be on the cutting edge of innovation,” he said.

“Any disruption to the GRDC’s operations or gaps in research may have flow-on impacts to the competitiveness of farming businesses.

“When looking at proposals such as decentralisation, we must keep this front of mind.

“The Minister has made his position clear on this matter and as grower groups we are now working collaboratively to work through the best outcome for grains research.

“We look forward to the ongoing discussion with the Minister on how we can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of grains research, of which location of facilities is an important element.”

Expected resistance

Speaking to Fairfax Media last week, Mr Joyce said he expected resistance from various groups opposed to the move.

“I will get pushback and with industry you’ll always get pushback when you make statements against the status quo,” he said.

“But I’ll just say this - I’ve read all these arguments before like in 1945 when none wanted to move to Canberra, with 13,000 people in this pokey country town.

“They said ‘Canberra will never work, it’s insane and we’ve all got to stay in Melbourne’.

“Now that argument has evolved so much that no one wants to leave Canberra because apparently it won’t work anywhere else.”

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Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
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READER COMMENTS

the advocate
22/05/2015 4:40:12 AM

Perhaps the debate is about the wrong issue! We should all be focusing on how all or many of the so called grdc "triumphs" , are stuck in the slow lane (extremely slow), to commercialisation. How many years has it been since breakthroughs are hailed in frost, drought and salinity tolerance and yet little or nothing! (Rees came and then fizzled!)
Jock Munro
22/05/2015 4:46:30 AM

The GRDC insiders club is pushing back against the move and obviously Minister Joyce is not surprised. GPA has no members and no money and does not represent growers. How GPA came to be granted Representative Organisation status raises serious questions. Growers should also know that GRDC paid GPA to review its own operations! Grain Growers should also be very careful when they claim to represent producers. The organisation has a corporate structure that is not appropriate for producer representation.
Unhappy cocky
22/05/2015 6:00:27 AM

Well said. There are only two people that think this move is a good thing. One will go down in history as the worst ag minister ever and that includes the infamous Joe. The othe pines for the single desk and has absolutely no idea on Ag related issues except that it must have been better in the sixties.
Jock Munro
23/05/2015 5:27:51 AM

Unhappy, have you taken a vote?! The GRDC is run on sixties and beyond ideas - they call it cold war Marxism whereby growers pay a compulsory levy but are not permitted to vote for directors or to nominate for a position in a free and open election. Perhaps, unhappy, you could begin lobbying for a change but don't be surprised if you fall out with the insiders club who run GRDC.
Unhappy cocky
25/05/2015 8:01:43 AM

Well then Jock tell your mate the minister to allow GRDC to become an Industry owned corporation then you can vote for your directors. Just don't move it and gut it before that is done.
Jock Munro
27/05/2015 9:20:43 AM

Unhappy cocky - why can't a statutory authority have an open and democratic vote? I don't want to see the thing gutted but I loathe the undemocratic nature of the beast.
Unhappy cocky
27/05/2015 5:50:33 PM

jock I tell you why statutory authorities cant vote for their directors. Because ministers and politicians cannot keep their hands off.

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