Responses from the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources about the New Plant Biosecurity Partnership will be alarming to our plant industries.
Senator Carr asked a very simple question to the department about what will happen to plant biosecurity once the Plant Biosecurity CRC comes to a close and this is what the Senate Estimates committee was told:
Mr Quinlivan: Well the question is, is the National biosecurity system and the private firms involved in the horticultural grains sector, which is a subject matter for that CRC, investing adequately in biosecurity services for the plant industries so that the conclusion of that CRC doesn’t leave a large hole in both the operational performance and the R and D investment being made in the sector and as you know, the main investment vehicle in this sector is via the R and D corporations but the state federal governments and private firms all have a very large role here. So the question is going to be whether there is going to be sufficient effort and investment on the part of all those parties to offset the loss of the CRC when it closes and that remains to be seen but it’s certainly true that, at least on the part of the Commonwealth Government, the level of effort will be maintained and the R and D corporations have indicated they planned to increase their investments in this area.
Senator Carr: Mr Secretary, I appreciate the response you’ve given me, but it is the bleeding obvious that it will have to fall to someone else. My question and I’m concerned about whether or not in the Department’s view, there is an adequate replacement for the plant biosecurity CRC.
Mr Quinlivan: The answer would be that it would need to be adequate.
Senator Carr: I am asking a different question – in the Department’s view, is there one there now? This is a body that has ceased funding. Funding ceases in 2018. That’s less than 12 months away. Under the CRC act, there is a requirement for this CRC to wind up its operations, which it is doing now. My question to you Mr Secretary, in the Department’s view is there an adequate replacement body there in practice in place now?
Mr Quinlivan: I have already answered that question and I said no.
Senator Carr: No?
Mr Quinlivan: No.
Senator Carr: What is the Department doing about getting one?
Mr Quinlivan: We are, we are intending to maintain our effort and are encouraging state governments to maintain and increase their effort and we are talking to the R and D corporations as I said about increasing their level of investment in this area of R and D into plant biosecurity, and the signs are quite positive that the relevant R and D corporations, it’s about half the group of the R and D corporations, are planning to do just that and are setting up a program to increase their effort in this area.
The lack of any real funding or overarching strategic policy for Australia’s plant biosecurity will be of great concern to our plant industries.
Advice to the Opposition is that in conjunction with plant RDCs, Plant Health Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) and the Council of Rural Research and Development Corporations will act as the key investment decision making body.
The advice continues to state that “It is important that DAWR are represented at a high level to ensure the national priorities are discussed.”
Yet the Secretary of Barnaby Joyce’s department was unable to provide any real information about role the department will play in the new partnership or what actual funding agreement existed to ensure certainty to this new body.
The new body will also be seeking co-investment by universities, international and domestic research institutes and agencies, but based on the evidence provided today to the Estimates hearing they shouldn’t hold their breath.