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TAS Country : November 25th 2010
12 Tasmanian Country Friday, November 26, 2010 Opinion www.tfga.com.au Investment outcomes take time TFGA matters with Jan Davis AUSTRALIA has a long history of investment in rural research and development. The strength and productivity of our sector has been built on the back of this investment. However, it should be remembered the return period on such investments can be quite long, so today we are benefiting from the investments made by past generations, notably in the 1960s and 1970s. In the past 10 years government investment in rural research and development has been declining and, consequently, outcomes are reducing. Yet as world food demand increases and food security becomes a significant public policy issue, improved productivity is important if we are to retain (or even increase) our ability to both feed Australians and make a continued contribution to the world's requirements. This means we need to continue to invest in research and development rather than contemplate any reduction in expenditure, which is what the Productivity Commission is proposing. It claims, in effect, that farmers are the beneficiaries and they should pay for it themselves. Community and government expectations have been increasing for producers to undertake production system changes and environmental works that often have more public than private benefit. There is a clear case for government funding to support any developments that have public good benefits. The terms of reference for the Productivity Commission review are very narrow: any meaningful assessment of the rural research system needs to look at all aspects, not just government funding to research and development corporations. The logical way to approach this issue is to identify the outcomes we seek and then work out how to achieve them, rather than just slash and burn at one little corner of the picture. It highlights the importance of the Federal Government's commitment to a national food strategy and an innovations strategy. A research and development investment strategy should then be developed to support this. One of the issues with the current system has been lack of clarity from Government about its expectations. It is not possible to meet expectations if no one knows what they are. So an obvious priority has to be greater clarity and transparency around this. Another issue has been the lack of substantive data around returns on investment and public benefit. There needs to be agreement on how performance is to be measured. The current situation is fragile. There is limited investment in blue- sky pure research because governments are withdrawing from the space and private investors want applied research with short-term and quantifiable outcomes. There is an acknowledged issue around a declining skills base in the sector and diminishing career paths. There is, at the very least, a perception that governments have abandoned the sector, and their rapid withdrawal from traditional extension activities reinforces this view. Yet there are more and more complex issues on the horizon that will need significant investment in research and development, including things such as: climate change; carbon capture and storage; increasing yields and decreasing margins impacting on long-term business viability and hence food supply; emerging Westernising economies such as China and India with an almost insatiable demand on food resources, etc. There is a real risk that making changes now on a piecemeal basis without a more detailed understanding of the wider context may have long-term impacts that are not obvious until it is too late and may push the system past tipping point. While the proposed new structure, called Rural Research Australia, would achieve some of these aims, there are also risks in the model. The best option is to consider the desired outcomes and look at the most effective way to achieve them in the short, medium and long terms and recognise that this may mean several steps to a final outcome. Our original submission to the Productivity Commission review into rural R&D is at www.tfga.com.au We will be making further comment about the importance of continued public support for, and investment in, research and development that will equip our farmers to continue to deliver high-quality food. Your Say HEALTHY DEBATE: The medical centre at Ouse. Take community views into account WHAT a shame the author of the article ''Health hub outdoes hospital'' (Tas- manian Country, Novem- ber 19) did not seek wider views on this very import- ant subject. At the start of the changes the then Minister for Health Lara Giddings appeared to have a set agenda, which unfortunately did not in- clude listening to locals. We had an excellent facility at Ouse and with a minimal amount of expenditure and continuing help from local volunteers and organis- ations it could have been exactly what the com- munity needed. It would appear that while the staff at the health hub do an excellent job in the duties they perform with the money that has been spent and is still being spent, the com- munity could have been given the multi-purpose centre that they sought -- where residents and tour- ists do not have to time when they get sick or have an accident to the hours between 8am and 5pm and remember not to make it a weekend or public holiday and where, when the time comes that our senior citi- zens can no longer at home, they could be close to family and friends. The views of many of the wider community are still the same as they were at the beginning and com- pletely oppose what has been given. JOHN AND JUNE PILCHER Bothwell SENSATIONAL TRADE-IN DEALS ON FARM ATVS! 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