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Secretary's review

Photo of Conall O'Connell
Conall O'Connell

The prolonged drought in eastern Australia is finally breaking. However, many drought-affected farmers and rural communities still required our assistance and support over 2009-10, and will do so into 2010-11. The Australian Government provided $225 million in Exceptional Circumstances income support to 19 000 farming families and small businesses.

We've made good progress on new drought support measures. The suite of pilot programs developed following the National Review of Drought Policy are intended to shift the emphasis from crisis management to risk management, to help farmers and farm businesses plan and prepare for a more challenging climate.

In partnership with the Western Australian Government, we have started a 12-month pilot program of new drought measures in parts of Western Australia. Implementation of these will be reviewed to inform further policy and program development. The Australian Government has provided $17.9 million for the trial.

We continued to help our primary producers and rural communities adapt and respond to the challenge of climate change. 2009-10 was the second year of the $130 million Australia's Farming Future program.

We delivered: $37.6 million investment in the Climate Change Research Program, to provide practical ways for farmers to reduce emissions from their livestock and soil while increasing productivity; $3 million for FarmReady Industry Grants aimed at increasing self-reliance and preparedness for climate variability; and business planning and training grants for nearly 600 farmers under the Climate Change Adjustment Program.

Through Caring for our Country we continued to help local communities, Landcare groups and farmers to care for the land and protect Australia's natural resources. More than $300 million was committed through Sustainable Farm Practices and Community Action grants to community groups, industry and agencies.

We have renewed our commitment to evidence-based policy development. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization has emphasised the need for sustained agricultural productivity growth over the first half of this century if we are to maintain world food security. Over the year ABARE's statistical analysis of data on productivity growth in broadacre agriculture suggests that Australia's historically strong agricultural growth has faltered in recent years. There is evidence that there are two key drivers of this slowing of the rate of growth-namely drought conditions over the past decade and a decreased rate of investment in research and development.

This emphasises the need to help our industries prepare for drought-rather than just providing support when a crisis emerges. It also adds to the concern that climate change is likely to adversely affect agricultural productivity.

In addition to drought, a fall off in the rate of investment in research and development has been identified as a key driver affecting the rate of broadacre productivity growth over recent years. Research and development plays a vital role in capturing productivity gains and building the competitiveness of Australia's food and fibre industries. Given the long-run decline in the terms of trade for farmers, increasing the rate of productivity growth is also essential for profitability.

Against the background of this analysis, we made a contribution to the Productivity Commission's review of the current research and development corporations model. Our submission to the Productivity Commission reinforced the need for well-targeted government spending.

We have also supported the work of the Rural Research and Development Council, chaired by Dr Kate Grenot, which is developing a National Strategic Rural Research and Development Investment Plan to be submitted to the minister. As a continuing function, we have administered the R&D levy system, which provided $551 million during 2009-10 to research and development corporations and companies.

In addition to action on drought policy and rural research and development, we continue to support improvements in the food and fibre supply chain to promote productivity and competitiveness. The department made significant progress on the agriculture and veterinary chemicals reform agenda, including the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) Early Harvest Reforms and the Grown in Australia food labelling outcomes. Other complementary work included supporting the wheat industry to build sustainable long-term markets with customers across Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.

AQIS inspectors Lachlan Coleman and Jessica Mintern-Lane examine garlic imported from Mexico at the AQIS office in Melbourne
AQIS inspectors Lachlan Coleman and Jessica Mintern-Lane examine garlic imported from Mexico
at the AQIS office in Melbourne. (Photo: DAFF)

The major development in Commonwealth fisheries management over the year has been the significant reductions in allowable catch of southern bluefin tuna (SBT). In October 2009, against the background of advice from its Scientific Committee that the spawning stock biomass is between 3 per cent and 8 per cent of the original spawning biomass, the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) agreed to a 20 per cent reduction in the total allowable catch (TAC) for the 2010 and 2011 fishing seasons. The CCSBT agreed to work to develop a Management Procedure in 2011 to be the basis for agreeing the TAC for 2012 and beyond. Actions to ensure the sustainability of this migratory species will continue to present major challenges for our SBT industry.

The department has continued to safeguard Australia from exotic pests and diseases. More than 20 000 pest and disease identifications are made every year. This year our dedicated people helped keep foot-and-mouth disease from entering the country and quickly picked up and managed Newcastle disease in a consignment of imported pigeons.

We are now focusing our attention on the more serious biosecurity risks to make best use of resources. We are working with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service on risks and risk profiling.

In the 2010-11 Budget, the Australian Government announced a down payment on the major reforms outlined in the 84 recommendations of the Beale review into Australia's biosecurity arrangements.

Work is under way to position the government to replace the Quarantine Act 1908 with a modern regulatory framework that is adaptable to changing risks. We have restructured the work of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS), Biosecurity Australia and other areas of the department into a single Biosecurity Services Group with a focus on the management of risk across the biosecurity continuum.

The new Biosecurity Advisory Council became operational on 1 January 2010. Made up of experts in agriculture, environment, health sciences and business management, and chaired by Mr Andrew Inglis AM, the council gives independent advice to the minister on biosecurity matters. Independent audits and inspections by the Interim Inspector General of Biosecurity, Dr Kevin Dunn, have also begun. In addition, Professor Peter Shergold AC has now completed his independent assurance reports to the minister on our progress in implementing the recommendations on horse importation from Commissioner Callinan. Professor Shergold gave us a clean bill of health and complimented our work.

We negotiated a new biosecurity agreement with the states and territories–subject to endorsement by COAG–including consultation over Australia's appropriate protection level and guidelines for the conduct of biosecurity risk analyses.

During the year we continued to lead national efforts to suppress or eradicate a range of exotic invasive pests, such as Red Imported Fire Ants and Asian Honey Bees. Efforts to create a sustainable policy and funding framework to support this work will continue into 2010-11.

We completed a series of import risk analyses on prawns and prawn products, horses from approved countries, unshu mandarins from Japan, paprika (capsicum) from South Korea, stone fruit from the United States and apples from China. We also assessed the risks from Candidatus Liberibacter psyllaurous, which affects tomatoes, capsicum, tamarillos and other plants in New Zealand.

Complementing our work on import risk analyses, our biosecurity services work provides assurances to exporters and overseas markets that our export produce meets overseas certification standards for biosecurity.

Deputy Secretary Mellor visits Northern Region outpost of Nhulunbuy. L-R Vern Patullo, Rona Mellor, Robert Langlands, Chris Dale, Nick Harris. (Photo: Paul Mery, AQIS)
Deputy Secretary Mellor visits Northern Region outpost of Nhulunbuy. L-R Vern Patullo, Rona Mellor,
Robert Langlands, Chris Dale, Nick Harris. (Photo: Paul Mery, AQIS)

As part of our Export Certification Reform Package, new fees and charges rolled out on 1 December 2009. There will be fundamental reform to our export certification services in 2010-11 with $75.7 million allocated to cut red tape, including by funding IT system upgrades to help improve export market access. While this reform is being finalised the new fees will be partially offset.

The department was successful in securing new and improved market access for a range of agricultural, food, fisheries and forestry products. In 2009-10, we expanded market access for high quality beef to the European Union and achieved certainty of access for frozen beef to Russia. We also negotiated new and improved access for a range of horticulture commodities including cherries to South Korea and mangoes to Japan.

We continued to work to improve animal welfare standards with international partners, maintaining access for our industries to the live export trade. We negotiated with partners such as Bahrain and Qatar to improve standards of care in the live export trade.

The department provided detailed policy advice and implemented programs to tackle illegal logging-including options for regulating to ensure imported wood products have been sourced from timber that is legally harvested. We also increased Australia's engagement on Pacific maritime security matters to protect fish stocks.

We participated in the Doha Round and free trade agreement negotiations to pursue beneficial outcomes for Australian exporters. We also contributed to the world wide conversation on global food security by supporting the minister in advocating for good economic, agricultural and trade policies.

The 2009-10 portfolio budget was tight, which encouraged us to look critically at our business and to make structural changes. By streamlining the delivery of the department's corporate functions, such as finance, communications and human resources, we were able to allocate resources to priority areas.

A significant achievement was the implementation of a new internal budget system and process. As part of this, we developed a more transparent corporate cost allocation model, enhanced reporting capability and renewed internal budget policy disciplines.

Changes to the department's structure have already realised efficiency gains and better coordination across the divisions. We also developed a Program and Project Management Office to strengthen our implementation skills and a Strategic Policy Unit to strengthen our strategic capability in cross-cutting policy issues. These initiatives position us to respond to the Australian Government Ahead of the Game reforms.

The department also strengthened governance around information and communication technology (ICT). We finalised our ICT Strategic Plan for 2010-2015 and developed a supporting governance framework. In June 2009, we engaged a new IT service provider to deliver improved IT infrastructure and more advanced systems security.

We also created new opportunities for integrated research by merging the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Bureau of Rural Sciences to form a single bureau from 1 July 2010.

In May 2010 we launched a new program to encourage innovation in the department. I-Gen is a ‘grassroots’ initiative that will support and promote ideas and help connect people within the department who want to share ways of doing our business better (see case study on page 7).

Investments in our people, including improving the diversity and gender balance of our executive, have contributed to our success as a responsive and responsible department. Other key achievements include finalising the department's People Strategy which addresses workforce planning, staff development, and human resources service delivery and support, and the National Indigenous Employment and Capability Plan.

Recruiting and retaining Indigenous Australians is a priority for the department. We have committed to achieving a target of three per cent Indigenous employment by 2015–significantly higher than the Australian Public Service average. Our Indigenous employees can be found across all facets of the department, from policy officers through to quarantine officials.

Finally, we have reinstated the Graduate Program for 2011, attracting 70 new graduates committed to supporting Australia's agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food industries. It's a pleasure to know that we are being joined by a new generation of talented and dedicated DAFF staff members in 2010-11.

I-Gen – connecting people and ideas

A Hand in Harvest (Photo: Heather Parkes, AQIS, Annual Report Photo Competition winner)
A Hand in Harvest (Photo: Heather Parkes,
AQIS, Annual Report Photo Competition winner)

I-Gen stands for Innovation Generation. The initiative encourages all staff to present ideas to improve the way the department operates, and provides the tools and support to turn the ideas into projects.

The initiative began in response to a notion that DAFF staff have innovative ideas but few avenues to develop and implement them.

Launched on 7 May 2010 after a successful pilot with the Biosecurity Services Group in Canberra, I-Gen's main aim is to generate a culture of innovation in the department. Its key principles and components include:

  • support and linkages for people with ideas
  • a systematic and coordinated approach to manage ideas
  • tools to assist innovation and enable ideas to develop into projects and outcomes
  • a mentor system to support proponents of ideas
  • regional and divisional coordinators
  • a single repository for innovative ideas
  • a means to assess and review the state of innovation in the department.

I-Gen already has its success stories. One involves the Australian importation of ornamental bulbs. Each year, Australia imports nearly 100 million ornamental bulbs for commercial cut-flower production. For years, AQIS has inspected each consignment many times, which is time-consuming and costly.

After an analysis showed no serious quarantine diseases had been found on the bulbs for more than five years, AQIS set about finding a more efficient and effective way to monitor the imports. Through I-Gen, a proposal to explore different import clearance procedures for certified ornamental bulbs was developed and piloted.

AQIS and industry collaborated on the project and developed a new approach that required importers and growers to keep detailed records of all bulb imports and their movements. AQIS will target inspections to reflect the risk profile of the bulbs and audit the records regularly to ensure compliance with the new arrangements.

Everyone benefits–industry saves money and AQIS uses fewer resources but still manages the risk effectively. This new approach is due to be rolled out at the end of 2010.

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