RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT
Senator SIEWERT-I will start with the question that I asked earlier and that is: how many projects, as
opposed to programs-I am aware of the programs you run-do Land and Water have running at the moment, either on its own or in partnership with other research organisations or industry groups?
Dr Robinson-Currently on our books we about 120 research projects, and we have given in-principle commitment to another 26.
Senator SIEWERT-'In-principle' agreement means, I presume, that you are currently negotiating those with partners.
Dr Robinson-Partners or providers, yes.
Senator SIEWERT-Let's start with those first, because they are probably going to be easier to deal with.
I presume that means that those will no longer go ahead.
Dr Robinson-We are about to enter into a process to assess every project on our books as to its relative priority and make a judgment, according to the budget we have, as to what will continue and in what form it will continue. Those 26 will be each assessed depending on at what point in that negotiation they are. For example, for a couple of projects in that 26 that we have not even approached the research provider yet, and there are a couple of other projects at the other end where either ourselves or the research provider has actually signed the contract. So in that instance they will be put into the pool to be assessed with the other 120.
Senator SIEWERT-Where a contract has already been signed?
Dr Robinson-Where at least one partner has signed the contract, so it was agreed.
Senator SIEWERT-For some of the projects, the 26 in principle, it sounds like a number are significantly advanced and all you are waiting for is signatures of the other partners.
Senator SIEWERT-Of the 120 research projects, presumably some of them are varying from one year to go on then for a number of years.
Senator SIEWERT-What period of time is Land and Water committed to for those projects?
Dr Robinson-You are right, there are different lengths of commitment on those projects, although the majority are due for completion in roughly the next 12 months under the current strategic research and development plan. There certainly are some exceptions, for example, particularly in our innovations program where three- or four-year projects were signed in the last 12 months, and in a couple of instances elsewhere where projects have already been extended into the following financial year, but the majority will be finishing in the next 12 to 14 months.
Senator SIEWERT-What value overall are those projects?
Dr Robinson-I would have to take that question on notice.
Senator SIEWERT-If you could. Could you also let us know-I am presuming if you cannot answer that question, you cannot answer the next one-the value of the commitments for the projects that are ongoing over the next three or four years, the innovation projects you mentioned.
Dr Robinson-Yes and, if I may, would you like me to value LWA's commitment or total partners' commitment, because we separate the two?
Senator SIEWERT-That is a good point. I would like both because what I am trying to find out obviously is what partnerships you have with organisations where the funding that LWA provides will be critical to the ongoing project.
Dr Robinson-And that question is one of the criteria that we are putting in our selection process-can the project continue without funding?
Senator IAN MACDONALD-Are you contractually bound, the entity itself? What happens if you have agreed to support other researchers, you have entered into an agreement to fund them and you are no longer in existence in a year's time? What is the legal liability?
Dr Robinson-Just about every one of our projects has a clause which we never thought we would use. It says that if Land and Water Australia lost its funding, we would be able to terminate contracts.
Senator SIEWERT-So there is no financial commitment by terminating those programs?
Dr Robinson-We are seeking legal advice on that, but at this point, as soon as we terminate we are required to meet the liability until that notice of termination.
Senator SIEWERT-So you have a liability up until a notice of termination-is that what you just said?
Dr Robinson-That is what we are seeking advice on.
Senator SIEWERT-To the point of termination as in you have half the funding for next-
Dr Robinson-No, the point of termination is when we notify the research provider.
Senator SIEWERT-And you have not notified any research providers?
Dr Robinson-No, we have not undertaken that selection process yet.
Senator SIEWERT-As I understand from your previous answer, you are currently going through a process of looking at which projects will fold if Land and Water is not involved. Is that a correct understanding?
Senator SIEWERT-Do you have a ballpark figure for how many of the 146?
Dr Robinson-No, not at this point. We are compiling the full list of projects to make sure we have all the appropriate data in there to make these assessments.
Senator SIEWERT-When will you have that completed?
Dr Robinson-We are hoping to do the assessment this week. When I get back to the office, I will find out what the status of the data is as to whether we can proceed with that assessment.
Senator SIEWERT-I might be going into dangerous territory here, but I am sure they will tell me if I do: is there another organisation similar to yours which carries out the breadth of research that Land and Water Australia carries out?
Dr Robinson-We do not believe there is.
Senator SIEWERT-Concerning the money that is leveraged by the department-'leveraged' is not the right word, but the economic benefit that is gained from every dollar that is invested in Land and Water
Australia-have there been comparative studies done to other RDCs?
Dr Robinson-Indeed. There has been a comprehensive first go, across all the RDCs, at doing return on investment analysis and, collectively, the RDCs submitted that report to the minister, I think, just before Christmas.
Dr O'Connell-There is a collective report from the RDCs which made an assessment of an 11 to one ratio across the RDCs in general, including Land and Water. I believe the across-the-board number was 11 to one.
Senator SIEWERT-If you look at all of them?
Dr O'Connell-Apparently. This is a report from the RDCs; it is not a departmental report. I think that report is public so we can get that. It is on the web.
Dr Robinson-It was not a complete portfolio across the RDCs, but it certainly selected hero projects and random projects. Again, the return on investment analysis is very difficult in the environmental and social area where we have a lot of work, and the 11 to one, similar to our $4.60 return, is based primarily on the productivity gains not quantifying the social and environmental gains.
Senator SIEWERT-Have you had an attempt at doing that?
Dr Robinson-Yes, we have been attempting it for years. I am not sure that we have achieved that nirvana just yet.
Senator McGAURAN-Can we get a copy of those 146 projects?
Dr Robinson-I would be hesitant to give you a copy of the 26 uncontracted because they are not-
Senator McGAURAN-Fair enough-120?
Dr Robinson-Yes, 120. We certainly should be able to give you a listing.
Senator SIEWERT-I want to go back to the contractual obligations. Are you seeking legal advice as to whether there are any legal obligations that will remain once LWA finishes?
Senator SIEWERT-So, it is unclear?
Dr Robinson-It is unclear, although that clause is a fairly clear clause. In each of our research contracts it says that should we suffer a loss or a substantial loss of funding then we have the right to terminate with no liability. But we are checking those to ensure our legal advice is correct.
Senator SIEWERT-I suppose you do not know which projects will be closed down, but I am wondering how many jobs will be lost and how much research capacity will be lost if a percentage of those projects do not go ahead-somewhere between 120 and 146 projects.
Dr Robinson-At this point, it is almost impossible to say until we have done that process but, even then, it will be up to the individual research providers as to how they handle their funding cut should they be terminated.