Australian primary producers are a proactive lot—and they know the value of investing in their future.
For many years now, by paying levies primary producers have benefited from strategic activities such as research and development (R&D), marketing, biosecurity responses and the national residue survey.
The bulk of those levies go to the rural R&D corporations (RDCs), and the rest are an essential part of our export processes.
The RDCs are a partnership between industry and government, which matches industry spending on R&D because stronger primary industries have flow-on benefits for communities and the economy.
As co-investors, government and industry both influence the RDCs’ strategic and research priorities.
Since the early 1990s, industry has provided input through industry representative bodies, and these bodies’ important role will remain.
But in 2018, technology is making access to individuals cheaper and easier, and it makes sense for RDCs to be able to directly disseminate new knowledge and consult with levy payers, as well as with representative bodies.
Until now, only two RDCs—Dairy Australia and Australian Wool Innovation—have been able to consult producers directly, to run their levy polls.
To do this they have a legislated levy payer register—a database of producers who pay levies and charges.
A recent Senate inquiry into the levy system recommended that levy payer registers be available for all RDCs, and the government agreed.
Now, each RDC in consultation with its industry can choose to have a levy payer register. A new levies IT system at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has been launched, together with legislative amendments to enable levy payer registers.
These registers will allow RDCs to better connect to producers and levy payers. They will help RDCs to deepen their understanding of producers’ R&D needs, on-farm practices, productivity concerns and market access priorities, helping RDCs to tailor their investment strategies more finely.
These registers will allow RDCs to better connect to producers and levy payers.
Where levy payer registers are established, RDCs will be able to ask producers for feedback about their programs, and to have a say in their priorities and planning.
Levy payer registers will contain levy payers’ contact details and the amount of levy they pay—information collection agents already have—but would be required to pass on to the department to populate a register. Clearly this is personal information and must be kept safe.
Levy payer data will be held securely by the department for the RDCs, which will access the information through their own portals. Both the RDCs and the department are bound by the Privacy Act 1988 and the Australian Privacy Principles. The RDCs can access and use the information held on their levy payer registers in accordance with the legislation and their own functions. The Australian Bureau of Statistics could also access levy payer data from a register in line with the services it provides to the Australian community.
An RDC will need my express written approval if it wants to release levy payer information to another party.
In assessing requests for these approvals I will consider very carefully whether the proposed use of the information is allowed under the legislation, whether the information will be kept safe and whether the recipient is suitable to receive the information. I can also impose conditions on the approval and revoke the approval if necessary.
As the pace of change increases, strengthening the ties between the RDCs and producers through levy payer registers will help strengthen primary industries by targeting R&D to meet the challenges of tomorrow and beyond.