THE alleged dysfunction of Australian Wool Innovation in recent weeks is behind calls for a review into the Research and Development Corporation model.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon is supporting an inquiry into the effectiveness of the current RDC system amid widespread behaviour and governance concerns of AWI chairman Wal Merriman that is before Senate Estimates today in Canberra.
Mr Fitzgibbon’s calls are in response to a lack of action taken by Federal Agricultural Minister Barnaby Joyce to investigate the governance concerns at AWI.
In the past fortnight, Minister Joyce has refused to weigh-in on the current controversy surrounding AWI chairman Wal Merriman, instead encouraging all interested woolgrowers to attend the industry group’s annual general meeting on November 17 to have their say.
“There is sufficient conversation (about AWI) happening to justify a close examination by Barnaby Joyce,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
- Merriman's express post apology
- Wilson: Govt. has “every right” to examine AWI and Chair Merriman
- Australian Wool Innovation’s lengthy board terms under scrutiny
“If Barnaby Joyce is examining the matter he should say so publicly in order to maintain confidence in the system and its oversight, and if he hasn’t been showing an interest he stands condemned because as a minister, that is his role.
“These are matters that raise alarm bells in my mind and certainly are matters Joyce should have been dealing with days ago.”
These matters include Mr Merriman covertly watching a confidential industry focus group behind a one-way mirror in June, allegations he withheld proxy voting information from shareholders, as well as claims he breached the industry group’s code of conduct and putting at risk the $14 million statutory funding agreement.
Those levy payments are too valuable to leave us guessing whether that money is being well spent, too valuable to question whether the government framework is appropriate for modern times
“The standards have to be higher than any in the land, even though it is an industry owned organisation, it operates with the authority of the government,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
He said a review into the current RDC structure was overdue, and proposed investigating the appropriateness of current funding arrangements of AWI and Meat and Livestock Australia.
“We claim it is the best in the world, and it may be, but 30 years on (since the RDC structure was formed) it is worth asking questions whether the model delivers the most efficient and effective return for levy payers,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“Those levy payments are too valuable to leave us guessing whether that money is being well spent, too valuable to question whether the government framework is appropriate for modern times, and too valuable for a minister to sit back and not question how that money is being spent.
“More and more money, in my view, is being spent on short term measures rather than longer term research and development, with a lot of siloing in our RDC system and not sufficient cross-sectoral work in my view.”
He called the current system “opaque, complex and very difficult” for any levy payer to understand.
MLA managing director Richard Norton said it was time for the RDC structure to be reviewed in a methodological manner to assess the outcomes and futures strategies in delivering innovation.
“Any model that is 20-plus years old should have a review,” Mr Norton said.
“If you’re operating an RDC as a business, there are not too many businesses that operate with the same business model for more than 20 years.
“That could mean RDCs coordinate back offices, boards merge – as long as everyone is prepared to go through a review process.”
In relation to the current RDC structure, Mr Norton said MLA can demonstrate long term outcomes spanning more than a decade, and encouraged Red Meat Advisory Council to think of longer planning cycles for the red meat industry.
AWI spokesperson Marius Cuming said it was not an appropriate for AWI to comment.