The Coalition Government has introduced legislative changes to enable the development of levy payer registers, which will give primary producers more say about how their levy funds are used.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, said amendments to the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 had been introduced to the Parliament in response to strong feedback received from industry and the findings of two Senate inquiries into industry structures and systems governing agricultural levies.
“Levy payers have told me in no uncertain terms that they want to have more input into how their hard earned dollars are being spent—and rightly so,” Minister Joyce said.
“Australia’s agricultural levy and research and development system is a world-leading model, but producers deserve more transparency around how the funds are managed—as do taxpayers, whose tax dollars are also used as matched funds.
“These amendments will allow levy payer information to be provided to research and development corporations (RDCs), for very specific purposes—but only if a rural RDC, in consultation with industry, decides to establish a register. The RDCs are governed by the same privacy principles as the rest of the Australian Government.
“As well as enabling RDCs to request levy payer information, this amendment will also allow industry representative bodies—where they are prescribed in legislation—to obtain access to levy payer contact details for specific purposes, subject to approval by the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.
“This change will support prescribed industry representative bodies’ efforts to engage with their constituency. It will help them to adequately consult on key industry issues—ensuring that they can appropriately advise on levy expenditure where they have a legislated role to do so.
“Levy payments have been, and continue to be, instrumental in boosting productivity in the agriculture sector, and are a substantial investment by producers.
“Direct feedback from levy payers will help RDCs ensure their research and development investments align with industry priorities, resulting in improved returns for primary producers.
“This will also help our RDCs to identify and communicate directly with levy payers, and allocate votes for polls efficiently and accurately, so producers can make their voices heard.
“Each RDC, and indeed each agricultural industry, is very different so it’s up to each industry to decide whether or not they’re interested in such a register, and I expect RDCs will be in contact with their industry over the coming months about their preferences.
“This is a sensible, positive change where there is a clear role for government in pushing through legislative change. Once the change is made, it’s up to the RDCs to work with their levy payers and my department on setting up any registers.
“The Coalition Government is here to serve producers first and foremost—and we’re always doing our best to boost profits and transparency for farmers, and we genuinely do listen to concerns.
“We’re doing our bit in pushing through these changes, and now it’s over to each RDC to work with industry, agree on an approach and forge ahead.
“Once that happens, my department will work with any interested RDCs on making these registers a reality.”
The government’s commitment to R&D is demonstrated through the provision of more than $260 million this year in Commonwealth matching funds for rural R&D corporations—a $30 million increase on matching funds provided in 2012–13.