Looking for updates in the status of the review of RIRDCs, I came across this document:
What makes this document of interest is that the author is not well defined in the document, but reading the first page it is clear that this is the position of the Productivity Commission.
I was surprised at some criticisms made in this document to the draft of the PC council (available here). Some of these are:
-The PC states that the Draft over-emphases the contribution of R&D to the rural sector’s performance.
The Council’s draft plan goes too far in the central planning direction. Examples include:
• specification of how the overall rural R&D investment portfolio should be delineated on a share of spending basis between ‘transformational investment’, ‘near term adjustment’, ‘capacity building in people’ and ‘international links’
• the nomination of various specific ‘winner’ activities in which the Australian Government should invest or focus its policy settings on, such as R&D related to bio-based production
• the concern to bring the whole ‘paddock to plate’ value chain within the planning net. The case for including downstream activities in the sort of directive R&D plan envisaged by the Council is weak. Other than provide generally available R&D tax incentives, there would be few if any upsides to set against the inevitable risks and costs that would come with this sort of government involvement.
The PC does not support government involvement in rural R&D. The document states: “the Council appears to have unquestioningly accepted the food security catchcry that has come to dominate discussions on future rural R&D policy. However, the many challenges that the rural sector will face in coming years are not of themselves a reason for government to take the lead role. In fact, as most sectors in the economy will face significant challenges — including from climate change, an ageing workforce, and intensified global competition — reliance on this ‘rationale’ would require government to take charge of investment decisions across a wide sweep of economic activity.”
The PC argues that food security is not in itself a reason for a government to be involved on domestic rural R&D and that the prospects of Australian food supplies ‘running out’ appear remote. No analysis of data was presented to support this case or indeed, in the entire critique, yet the PC finds the Draft lacking in analysis (!?).
I was surprised because I thought that the Draft from the Council contained already bad news for rural R&D. But the PC is essentially suggesting that the draft is not tough enough!
Further, the PC observations fly in the face of the report “Australia and Food Security in a Changing World”, produced by the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC) . This report states that a national and coordinated approach to food is needed. This includes not only the supply chain partners (i.e. farmers, manufacturers, retailers and service providers). It also includes policy makers, regulatory agencies and research organisations.
Key recommendations out of the report:
a) The establishment of an Australian Food Security Agency, which coordinates the development and implementation of
policies and programs targeted to improving Australia’s food security.
b) Australia should increase its investment in agricultural R&D, to harness national expertise and take a leading role in national and international programs targeted to improving low input farming systems.
c) Development of incentives to recruit and nurture future generations of innovative and adaptive farmers, researchers and associated professionals for the Australian food production and processing sectors.
d) Improve engagement with the community and partner organisations to elevate the status of food in Australia and build cooperative commitment to an improved food value chain.
Unfortunately, the well presented, well thought argument of the team headed by Dr Penny Sackett (who has left now her position as Chief Scientist) has no chances to succeed against a clear drive by the PC to decrease R&D funding. The “tough budget” already promised will make sure of that.