GRDC relocation slammed

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian

Despite deep divisions among industry groups on who should oversee the Grains Research and Development Corporation, grain leaders across the country appear united in their opposition to the decentralisation of the research and development body.

According to key industry spokespeople, while the three GRDC regions could be given greater resources, the core functions of the organisation should remain in Canberra.

Calingiri farmer Ruth Young, who is also a former western region panel member of the GRDC, said the debate over decentralisation was a non-issue.

She said since the organisation's research investment was already decentralised, with research programs running across Australia's grain producing regions, the location of the management structure was not important.

Ms Young says decentralising the entire organisation would be a waste of grower funds.

"Where the GRDC is based is not relevant," she said. "If GRDC is getting the investments right, then the debate shouldn't need to be about where the management structure is based."

Ms Young said moving an organisation of that magnitude to a regional town such as Wagga Wagga in NSW or Northam in WA would probably create problems, including attracting staff.

"It needs to be in a centralised location that is a big enough centre to have commercial flights and be easily accessible by board and panel members," she said.

"I don't think the debate should be about greater accessibility to the management structure by growers. If growers want to contact a board member, panel member or GRDC staff member, they can ring them, and panel members make themselves available at field days and functions all over the State."

WAFarmers grains section president Duncan Young said his organisation supported the retention of the core functions of the GRDC in Canberra.

Mr Young said any dramatic decentralisation of the entire organisation, be it to regional NSW or regional WA, would be a waste of grower funds.

"If it happens it's a glorious waste of money, and what's it going to achieve?" he said.

According to Merredin farmer and former GRDC board member and western panel chairman Mick McGinniss, the GRDC should have been based in Adelaide when it was established in 1989.

"Adelaide was the logical place for it to go, given that Adelaide is really the central point for all grain growing areas, and everyone can get there and back in a day," he said.

"But I think that opportunity has passed now, and the location of the management structure is really irrelevant in terms of grower outcomes."

But Mr McGinniss said greater resources could be invested in improving links between growers and scientists, and this may mean increasing the GRDC's presence in the three regions.

"The money they put in a grower's pocket is the final proof in the pudding," he said. "If a grower makes money out of research and it makes him more sustainable, then the investment loop is working. If there is a disconnect there, where the grower feels he's not getting anything out of research, then the investment cycle is not working.

"It's a loop that has got to be readdressed on a continual basis and having a local profile and an understanding of the issues facing agriculture on a day-to-day basis is important to ensure the research remains cutting edge."

But Mr McGinniss agreed decentralising the core of GRDC into a regional town such as Wagga or Northam was simply political grandstanding.

Farm consultant Paul McKenzie, who has often been critical of the transparency and cost-effectiveness of the GRDC, said it was just a reshuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"Shifting the location is going to be another dead-weight loss of huge amounts of money spent, for no tangible benefit to farmers," he said.

"Does it involve a reduction in the levy? Is this what they are going to use their bank account of $220 million of farmers' money for?

"They have only just relocated (in Canberra), how much did that cost, where is the transparency on that move?

"When you are looking at razor-thin margins in farming businesses, the idea of spending further farmer money on decentralising the organisation is ludicrous."

A spokesman for Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said the minister has received numerous requests from State and local governments, regional universities and other grain stakeholders seeking the relocation of GRDC functions to their regions.

"The minister is committed to the relocation of jobs to regional Australia, and the creation of industry centres of excellence that are located in areas where the industry actually operates," he said. "As part of the consultation period the minister is open to any proposal that can achieve these goals."

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