Anger at audit plans

Jo FulwoodThe West Australian
The Audit suggests that all CRC s be abolished.
Camera IconThe Audit suggests that all CRC s be abolished. Credit: The West Australian

Industry leaders are up in arms at recommendations by the Commission of Audit to abolish key agricultural programs.

WAFarmers president Dale Park has labelled the report as "economic irrationalism at its best", saying long-term damage would be done to the agricultural industry if the recommendations were implemented by the Federal Government.

The National Commission of Audit was established by the Australian Government as an independent body to review and report on the performance, functions and roles of the Commonwealth Government.

The report has recommended abolishing the Rural Financial Counselling Service, the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme, and Co-operative Research Centres.

It has also recommended reducing government funding to rural research and development corporations and Landcare programs.

Mr Park said if the Federal Government implemented the recommendations, it could profoundly affect the productivity and sustainability of WA's agricultural sector.

"We have always been encouraged to have triple bottom-line reporting, where we take into account financial, environmental and social responsibilities," Mr Park said.

"This report doesn't even make the financial justification, let alone consider the other two.

"Clearly, this report is purely an accounting exercise.

"If the Federal Government was to implement the recommendations relating to agriculture, it would result in a deflated and less confident sector, ultimately producing a reduced economic capability.

"Each of these programs exists for a reason - to ensure the agricultural sector can build its capacity and resilience to ensure productivity and sustainability into the future."

The report recommends for Co-operative Research Centres to be abolished, with funding rolled into the Australian Research Council Linkages program.

Co-operative Research Centres Association chairman Tony Staley said his organisation was "profoundly shocked" by the recommendation to abolish the CRC program.

"I can't for a minute believe that Government will take on this recommendation," Mr Staley said.

Mr Staley said he and the CRC Association's chief executive, Dr. Tony Peacock, had recently had useful discussions with the Government and Opposition.

"No one gave a hint of knowing anything that a recommendation like this might be in the pipeline. I really believe Ministers Macfarlane, Pyne, Dutton and many others, including the Prime Minister, have a good appreciation of how much the CRCs have delivered," he said.

According to the report, the Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme would be abolished, and the current cap on dollar-for-dollar matching industry contributions by government for research and development corporations, which is set at 0.5 per cent of gross value of production, should be halved over a 10-year period.

National Farmers' Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar said the report suggested the Commission of Audit had a limited understanding of agriculture.

"The agriculture sector understands the pressure the Budget is under. Indeed, after many recent droughts farmers know a bit about tight finances," Mr Linnegar said.

"But the fact is there is simply no 'fat' to cut in agricultural investment by the Government if the ultimate aim is a stronger economy."

He said according to OECD figures, Australian Government support to agriculture was worth almost 13 per cent of farm income in 1986 - it was now less than 3 per cent.

"This compares with our international competitors receiving up to 60 per cent," Mr Linnegar said.

"We have some of the best research and development programs in the world," he said.

"Innovation in agriculture through initiatives such as our rural R&D corporations and co-operative research centres has been one of the major factors underpinning the success of our industry."

_Commission of Audit Report _

Abolish *:

·Rural Financial Counselling Service

·Farm Finance Concessional Loans Scheme

·Centres for Co-operative Research - including Future Farm

Industries, Sheep Industries, Australian Pork, Australian

Seafood, Dairy and Poultry CRCs

·Export Market Development Grant Scheme

Reduce government funding and support to *

·Landcare

·Austrade

·Rural R&D corporations

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