IN AMIDST the debate on the best model for levy-payer funded research and development organisations, one important detail is often forgotten, according to the general manager of a grower group responsible for overseeing the Grains and Research Development Corporation (GRDC).
“No two research entities in Australia are alike, you can’t put any of them, whether statutory bodies or industry owned companies (IOCs) in one box,” said David McKeon, GM at Grain Growers.
“The way the industry specific legislation is designed has a big implication in the way the business is run.
“In the case of the red meat industry and Meat and Livestock Australia, the peak industry councils, such as Cattle Council and the Sheep Meat Council, have a high amount of hands on involvement,” Mr McKeon said.
“On the other hand, the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) charter is a lot less geared to the overseers being involved.”
Mr McKeon said the running of statutory research and development (R&D) corporations had also altered due to changes to the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development (PIERD) Act, which was adjusted to allow RDCs to conduct marketing activities.
However, Mr McKeon said in some industries there had been a transition from an RDC model to an IOC because of a desire to conduct their own R&D as an organisation.
He said the motivation to not rely solely on external research had seen Sugar Research Australia convert to an IOC.
Mr McKeon said the IOC model had some strengths, especially in terms of operations.
“There are really strong points in having an IOC model, there is the operational flexibility there that is really desirable.”
“For any other body looking to switch to an IOC, we’ve seen a few lessons that could be learnt from those that have gone before, but as a model, an IOC definitely has its strengths.”
Equally, Mr McKeon said the RDC model could work well with some minor tweaks to the PIERD Act.
“Some minor legislative change, such as creating the ability to undertake internal R&D would iron out many of the issues people have at present with the RDC model,” Mr McKeon said.
However, in terms of the GRDC, which is the highest profile levy-funded organisation still operated as an RDC, there is a groundswell of grower support for a transition to an IOC.
Ray Marshall, Grain Producers Australia board member and Pingelly, WA, farmer, said he was in favour of an IOC.
“The only way forward for the grains industry is an IOC,” Mr Marshall said.
“It will give growers more autonomy and more interest in their organisation and how their levies are spent.”
In its analysis dating back to 2011, the Productivity Commission (PC) said the Australian agricultural RDC model was unique globally.
The PC said the Aussie R&D system was highly regarded globally due to the synergies throughout the research sector it created and said in broad terms, it felt the model was correct way to increase investment in agricultural R&D.