THE chairmen of Australia’s two leading national grain grower lobby groups have said the scandal surrounding Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) will have an impact on any moves to change the structure of the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
Andrew Weidemann is chairman of Grain Producers Australia (GPA), while John Eastburn is at the helm of Grain Growers (GGL).
GPA and GGL are the joint representative organisation (ROs) entrusted with monitoring the GRDC’s performance – a duty enshrined in legislation.
Both men said the AWI incident, which has seen its chairman Wal Merriman front Senate estimates to justify courses of action taken by the industry owned research and development company, would alter the prospects of GRDC transitioning from a statutory body to an industry owned company (IOC) similar to AWI.
“Does what has happened to AWI make a difference to GRDC? In the Minister for Agriculture’s mind, yes, absolutely it does,” Mr Weidemann said.
He spoke in reference to Barnaby Joyce, who is contesting a by-election to retain his seat of New England due to being found ineligible to sit in parliament due to dual citizenship, but is expected to win comfortably and return as Agriculture and Water Resources Minister.
PM Malcolm Turnbull is holding the portfolio until after the December 2 by-election.
Speaking regarding the impact of AWI's recent actions and the resultant negative publicity towards research and development corporations funded by government and compulsory levy payments, a government spokesperson in the Agriculture Minister’s office said issues would be addressed individually.
”The Coalition recognises that a one-size fits all model may not deliver the best research and development outcomes for our farming industries,” they said.
“The government is focused on ensuring farmers’ R&D levies are spent on boosting farm returns.”
Mr Weidemann said the controversy at AWI indicated a problem within the organisation.
“From the outside looking in it certainly appears AWI have got it wrong, the challenge for the grains industry is to learn from these mistakes and ensure growers’ best interests are served,” he said.
Mr Eastburn was similarly forthright.
“There’s no doubt the issues at AWI has had a great impact on thinking, it has meant the former ag minister is now very unwilling to consider an IOC in the grains sector due to the rubbish coming out of AWI, which is an IOC,” he said.
Both men’s strong position on the impact of AWI’s woes is unusual, with ag leaders historically loathe to criticise other commodity groups.