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Rural Research and Development Corporations

  • Year: 2011
  • Author: Productivity Commission
  • Publisher: Productivity Commission
  • Published Location: Canberra, ACT
  • ISBN: 9781740373449
  • Country: Australia

Key points

• Through the Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs), rural industries and the Australian Government together invest some $490 million a year in R&D.

• This co-investment model has important strengths, including: helping to ensure that public money is not spent on research of little practical value; and facilitating greater and faster uptake of research outputs.

• However, as currently configured, the model has some significant shortcomings.

– It does not cater well for broader rural R&D needs.

– The overall level of public support for industry-focused research is too high given the sound financial reasons that producers or industries would have to fully fund much of this research themselves.

– The basis for the Government's matching contribution to RDCs provides no incentive for producers to increase their investments in the model over time.

• While the broad model should be retained, significant changes to the way in which the Government contributes its funding are therefore called for. Specifically:

– The current cap on dollar for dollar matching of industry contributions by the Government should be halved over a ten-year period.

– A new, uncapped, subsidy at the rate of 20 cents in the dollar should be immediately introduced for industry contributions above the level that attracts dollar for dollar matching.

– A new, government-funded, RDC — Rural Research Australia (RRA) — should be created to sponsor broader rural research. With RRA in place, the other RDCs (except for the Fisheries RDC) should be left to focus predominantly on funding research of direct benefit to their industry constituents.

• These new arrangements would result in a modest reduction in total government funding for the RDC model — though with a similarly modest increase in private contributions, the overall amount of funding available to the RDCs could increase.

– More importantly, the redistribution of some public money to broader research would deliver better value for the community from its investment in the model.

• These funding changes should be supported by a new set of program principles, setting out the broad obligations on RDCs in return for their public funding and how the Government should discharge its responsibilities on behalf of the wider community.

• Some more specific changes should also be made, including to:

– enable (though not require) the appointment of a 'government director' to the board of an RDC

– improve the robustness and transparency of project evaluations, independent performance reviews, and the monitoring of program outcomes by the Government.

• There is also a need for better data on overall rural R&D funding and spending.

– However, overlaying the framework with a target level of total spending on rural R&D, or a target 'research intensity', would not be appropriate.

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