A complex world requires sophisticated responses

Australia’s rural producers and industries face a range of unique biophysical, environmental and societal challenges while also being highly exposed to global competition. A major element of the national response to these challenges is an effective rural innovation system, and a cornerstone of this system is a unique industry-government investment partnership delivered through the Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs).

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There are 15 Rural RDCs across agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries in Australia. Each one is tasked with delivering tangible and practical improvements for their industries in terms of productivity and profitability, sustainability, and the community. They do this through strategic and targeted investments in and partnerships for research, development and adoption, and in some cases, market access, market development and promotion.

Funding for the RDCs combines contributions from industry, usually collected as levies on production, and funding from the Australian Government. The government only provides funding for research, development and adoption activities, and the functions needed to support the research investment program. Everything else is fully-funded by industry.

Each RDC is focused on specific commodities and sectors. This means it is important to also work together as needed to address common issues and complex challenges. Check out our animation for some examples of how we are doing this.

Of the 15 rural RDCs, 5 are statutory corporations or authorities, owned by the Commonwealth and established under legislation.

The remainder are industry-owned, not-for-profit companies established in accordance with Australia’s corporations law and declared through regulation as the service providers to industry for specific activities.

Levy payers have the opportunity to become members or shareholders and participate in decisions by attending annual general meetings and electing directors.

The Rural RDCs provide a range of services to the industries that they support and are funded through a mix of taxpayer and industry contributions. Their particular role and place within the rural innovation system as investment managers, custodians of public and private funds, and service providers to industry and government, means that there is a high regard for ensuring a strong focus on governance and accountability of funds being managed, on efficiency and effectiveness of process employed, and on delivering value and impact from activities.

Historically all of the RDCs were established as agencies of the government under Commonwealth legislation, the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989 (now the Primary Industries Research and Development Act. The Act outlines the expectations, functions, roles and responsibilities for the RDCs, including delivery of economic, environmental and social benefits to rural industries, rural and regional communities, and the nation, through strategic investments in research, development and technology transfer or adoption.

Over time many of the RDCs have transitioned to become independent, not-for-profit companies owned by the industries they serve. This has happened where industry has seen an opportunity to merge and streamline organisations and structures, and where flexibility was needed to provide services such as market development, market access and promotion. There are now 10 industry-owned company RDCs.

All RDCs are led by Boards of Directors to ensure the portfolio of investments and activities is balanced between short-, medium- and long-term needs of industry and government, and that proper governance and accountability frameworks are in place and operate effectively. All RDCs have a funding agreement with the Commonwealth Government to make explicit the government’s expectations and requirements. Under the funding agreements each RDC formally meets with the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources at least twice a year. Funding agreements can be found on the RDC websites.

The statutory authority RDCs must comply with their enabling legislation, which is the PIRD Act 1989 for the Cotton, Fisheries, Grains and Rural Industries RDCs, and the Australian Grape and Wine Authority Act 2013 for Wine Australia. In addition, as government agencies these RDCs must also meet other whole-of-government policies and requirements, and particularly the Commonwealth finance and administrative arrangements as detailed in the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013  and associated instruments and policies.

The industry-owned companies are established under Australian corporations law and are bound by those requirements. The internal management of the companies is governed by the provisions of the Corporations Act 2001 that apply to the company and the constitution of the company. You can download the constitution for each of the industry-owned RDCs from the websites of those organisations.

All RDCs produce annual reports which detail activities, results, expenditures and major developments for the previous financial year. Long-term priorities are documented in multi-year strategic plans, while annual plans identify key activities for a given 12-month period.

Annual general meetings are held by the industry-owned companies, and the statutory RDCs formally report to Industry Representative Organisations as declared through regulation. Each RDC also undertakes significant consultation and engagement activities through the year with industry, government and other relevant stakeholders.

The RDCs are also accountable to the Australian Federal Parliament, and regularly appear before Senate Estimates hearings and other Parliamentary inquiries.

The Rural RDCs are a network of organisations which have been formed under a partnership between different agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries and government to drive innovation and improvement in and for rural industries. The RDCs come together through a structure called the Council of Rural RDCs which provides a forum to discuss and work collectively on important issues.

The role of the Council is to support and facilitate the RDCs working together to fulfil their broad purpose and deliver economic, environmental and social benefits for rural industries and the broader community.The Council focuses it’s effort where collective action will deliver the best outcomes and greatest impact.

The aims of the Council are to:

  • support, encourage and facilitate continual improvement in the delivery of efficient and effective services to rural industries and the community, particularly with regard to research, development, technology transfer and adoption
  • effectively represent and position the Rural RDCs as participants in the rural innovation system
  • influence national and rural innovation policy
  • provide a unified voice for the RDCs on matters of national importance.

On 30 August 2016 the Council endorsed an updated Strategic Approach to guide Council activities.

The Rural RDCs are all members of the Council, and they are represented at the Council level by both the Chairs and Chief Executives of each organisation. The full Council meets twice a year.

The Council is headed by a Chair who is elected by the Council. The Chair may be supported by a Deputy Chair who is also elected to the position.

The Council is supported by a small secretariat.

Chair

The Chair of the Council is Dr Michele Allan. 

Executive Officer

The Council is supported by a small secretariat in Canberra. The Executive Officer for the Council is Mr Tim Lester.

Collaboration and Communication Manager

Tony Murray is the Council’s Collaboration and Communication Manager.