SENATE COURTYARD, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2016
SUBJECT/S: Relocation of Research Development Corporations and the APVM, Barnaby Joyce’s Ministerial Office Move, Page Electorate Pork Barrelling.
JOEL FITZGIBBON, SHADOW MINISTER FOR AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY, AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR RURAL AFFAIRS: Well this morning Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce confirmed his determination to put his own political interests ahead of the interests of Australian Agriculture. We are all gobsmacked that he’s still determined to relocate Research Development Corporations and the APVMA.
The relocation of the RDCs is not supported by the RDCs themselves, in fact it has been aggressively resisted by those in our research organisations and it is certainly not supported by the levy payers; those in the agriculture community. This is reckless, can I remind everyone notwithstanding the name Research and Development Corporations do no research. Research Development Corporations use levy payer money to contract-out to researchers the research projects they are planning. So this is a fiction to suggest that pushing the RDCs out close to the grower is going to somehow enhance the research effort. Indeed just the opposite is true because these scarce dollars paid by levy payers need to be spent in a most efficient way and what you need when you are tendering out for a contract is competitive tension, and locating any RDC close to one research institution and therefore suggesting that there is going to be strong co-operation between the two also suggests that there won’t be competitive tension and the levy payer will not receive good value for money.
Now, the RDCs have been resisting this move so there has been a somewhat compromise. Now we are going to have a hub and spoke situation where each RDC will have two offices, one in Canberra maybe one in Adelaide maybe one elsewhere. This is not an efficient use of the money. It is going to create inefficiencies; travel between the offices is the most obvious example.
This Government said it would do more R&D in agriculture prior to the election. It has cut funding including funding to the Rural Industries RDC with CSIRO and some of our CRCs the list goes on and on and this determination to relocate the RDCs will further diminish the research effort.
Now the Minister today declared that he was going to have his; his felt the fight back on the relocation of the APVMA, the clinicals regulator, so now he is going to have a cost benefit analysis of the relocation of the APVMA from Canberra to where, guess, Armidale in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate. That comes of course on the back of his decision to relocate the ministerial office from Sydney to Armidale at great expense to the taxpayer and of course a great expense to anyone who wants to secure access to the minister. Both the RDCs and the APVMA are going to be gutted by these moves. Their staff do not want to and will not move from Canberra and this is particularly serious in the case of the APVMA which of course has a large number of professionals including scientists living in Canberra, kids in Canberra schools, who will not be moving to Armidale and that will be a great loss to the organisation and therefore to the agriculture sector, and the chemicals companies which supply it. Again, a very, very bad idea. You do not need a cost benefit analysis to work out that moving the APVMA to Barnaby Joyce’s electorate is a dumb idea.
The third issue that I want to raise is the idea of co-operatives and the funding that was put in the white paper to fund as we understand it, a program to teach farmers how to form and run a co-operative. Some $13.7 million was allocated for this project. Some $200,000 went to the Rural Industries RDC to do a scoping study on how this program might be rolled out but despite that, the minister then also commissioned Page MP, a marginal coalition seat, Kevin Hogan to do his own consultation and planning notwithstanding the work done by the Rural Industries RDC. We asked some questions about this in estimates a couple of nights ago, and we asked for the report that the Minister was about to act on from Kevin Hogan. We were told that they couldn’t release the report without consulting Kevin Hogan and despite having more than 5 hours at least to do so they couldn’t find Kevin Hogan in Parliament House to ask his permission to release his report. So today I again ask Barnaby Joyce to release Kevin Hogan’s report and explain why it is that officials in Senate Estimates said that there had been a "deviation" from the plan to send the elsewhere the $13 million marked for the Rural Industries RDC. The question becomes where is the Minister going, where is the money going Minister? There is speculation it might be going to Kevin Hogan’s electorate, if that is true, it would represent blatant pork barrelling on the Minister's part and certainly doesn’t sound like a proposal designed to assist Australian Agriculture.
JOURNALIST: Mr Fitzgibbon what would Labor do to in terms of these relocations, would you reverse it if you came to government?
FITZGIBBON: Well it’s very difficult to unscramble the egg. If they're going to be employing new people in Adelaide for example to replace the people who are just simply just unprepared to move its hard. But it raises another point, this is being sold as a decentralisation proposal. Well two of them are a going to Adelaide and some might argue that’s decentralisation proposal but I would suggest otherwise. But the staffing numbers we’re talking about at Adelaide are maybe 1 to 4 for each of the two organisations – one person, one organisation maybe 4 or 5 in the other, but that’s typical of moving to Wagga etc. These don’t involve large numbers of people and are hardly going to inject stimulus into regional economies and of course won’t even be felt in Adelaide - in the city of Adelaide - so there is no merit in these proposals we want to stop them rather than think about turning them back but again where the big numbers are is in the APVMA. Chemical companies are based in our Capital cities. These multinationals want totravel to Canberra not to Armidale in Barnaby Joyce’s electorate. And of course we politicians - ministers, the shadow minister and others are regularly seek briefings from the APVMA on matters that might affect agriculture and of course the APVMA is to be in Armidale not just down the road from Parliament House, this is a very big mistake.
JOURNALIST: And what do you think Malcolm Turnbull’s plan is, he has asked for a cross benefit analysis of the move there was speculation before Christmas that Barnaby Joyce had been bounced by the Prime Minister but he just seems to have delayed ?
FITZGIBBON: There is no doubt that most of the Coalition didn’t take much notice of Barnaby Joyce’s rantings on this issue early on but as we edge closer to a final decision people have become alert to the situation and become more involved and there is no doubt that the Economic Ministers and probably the Prime Minister, have become involved. They can see a crisis looming with the APVMA so rather than embarrass Barnaby Joyce in one fell swoop they’ve got this fiction of a cost benefit analysis which is simply to investigating the obvious. With the RDCs I think it is the same and that’s why we are now going to have a hub and spoke approach so as not to embarrass Barnaby Joyce. They are going to allow him to do a hybrid model which will allow some people in the RDCs to stay in Canberra while sending others out to places like Adelaide. So it’s an embarrassing development for the Minister no matter which way you cut it but my main objective is to stop this in its tracks.
JOURNALIST: There is talk about Linfox being interested in making bid Kidman and Co. which you know is 3.5% of the nations agriculture land, there’s talk that the Chinese are looking at buying, with Linfox being an Australian owned family company and considering meeting some of the requirements of the national interest test the Foreign Investment Review Board, do you support a move like that at all?
FITZGIBBON: Well I suggest the best approach for politicians is to stay out of it. We want young people coming back to agriculture and the best way to ensure that young people come back to agriculture is to make sure agriculture is as profitable as possibly can be and that those churning or selling their enterprise to someone else gets the best price for the asset and to get the best price you have to open up the market to all-comers and the FIRB can only deal with any application which might be before it at any given time so what I want to ensure is that when landholders are seeking to sell their property to someone else, that they are able to secure the best possible price rather than be so concerned about who’s buying it.