GRDC revamp blueprint

Jo FulwoodCountryman
A shortlist of the tasks that would need to be undertaken if the GRDC was to transition from a statutory corporation to an IOC.
Camera IconA shortlist of the tasks that would need to be undertaken if the GRDC was to transition from a statutory corporation to an IOC. Credit: Countryman

The Grains Research and Development Corporation should move towards an Industry Owned Corporation, according to findings from an independent strategic governance review released last week.

The Marsden Jacobs report cites amendments to the Primary Industry Research and Development Act 1989 (PIRD Act) as limiting the decision-making autonomy of the GRDC, which would impact on access to financial reserves, employment flexibility and the GRDC's ability to establish new business entities.

According to the report, in order to deliver the best possible research and development outcomes for levy payers, the GRDC needs a governance structure that sharpens its connection to growers.

"This requires the removal of unnecessary red tape and constraints to accountability and decision making autonomy," the report stated.

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"While the GRDC appears to be making progress in improving transparency and performance to levy paying growers, we have received clear feedback that many grains sector stakeholders believe there are substantive risks to the durability of a current statutory corporation model."

The report identifies these risks as political and bureaucratic interference in decision making, and disenfranchisement of growers through insufficient accountability back to growers.

WA Grains Group chairman Doug Clarke welcomed the report, saying the findings were moving in the right direction for industry research and development reform.

"We are very supportive of a move to an industry owned corporation, because of issues such as accessing the $200 million reserve account," he said. "This is an opportunity for change and for progressing other key issues such as proportional representation and a right to vote on the amount of the levy."

WAFarmers Grains Section President Kim Simpson said his council, which had supported a change to an Industry Owned Corporation, had called for more grower control and input into the decision-making processes of GRDC. "The whole thing is going to come down to the details, there are risks whichever way you go, but if it's going to be industry controlled, there has to be the right people controlling it," he said.

They have to be accountable to growers."

Mr Simpson said it would be critical for grower groups to be involved in the consultation process in changing the current statutory body into an Industry Owned Corporation.

"I certainly think that grower groups need to be involved, plus a lot of experts. The intricacies of this process aren't something you pick up over night, to make this sort of change. They will have to look at the other models out there, and see where the problems lie, and go from there," he said.

But PGA Western Graingrowers Chairman John Snooke said of greater significance to the industry would be an independent analysis of the performance of the GRDC, and a financial audit, so the levy payer could know if the levy was of benefit or not.

"All these processes are actually ignoring the levy payer," he said.

"We need to have an understanding of the reserves, and where this money is invested."

Mr Snooke said more focus needed to be put on the GRDC, with the report a starting point for reform.

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