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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Implications of the restriction on the use of fenthion on Australia’s horticultural industry
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
Ruston, Sen Anne
Gallacher, Sen Alex
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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee
(Senate-Wednesday, 16 April 2014)
CHAIR (Senator Sterle)
Content WindowRural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee - 16/04/2014 - Implications of the restriction on the use of fenthion on Australia’s horticultural industry
KASSEBAUM, Mr John, Principal Policy Officer, Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals, Biosecurity SA, Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
SECOMB, Mr Nick, Manager, Plant Health Operations, Biosecurity SA, Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
ZACHARIN, Mr Will, Executive Director, Biosecurity SA, Department of Primary Industries and Regions South Australia
CHAIR: I welcome officers from the Department of Primary Industries and Regions, South Australia. Thank you for waiting patiently, gentlemen. It is always good going last because if anyone bags you out you have a chance of reply! Wonderful! We have got the good guys at the table. Everything said about you today has been positive—it is great!
I remind senators that the Senate has resolved that an officer of a department of the Commonwealth or of a state shall not be asked to give opinions on matters of policy and shall be given reasonable opportunity to refer questions asked of the officer to superior officers or to a minister. This resolution prohibits any questions asking for opinions of matters of policy and does not preclude questions asking for explanations of policies or factual questions about when and how policies were adopted.
Officers of the department are also reminded that any claim that it would be contrary to the public interest to answer a question must be made by minister and should be accompanied by a statement setting out the basis of the claim.
I now invite you to make a brief opening statement before we go to questions. Mr Zacharin, you are the one in the middle, so I reckon you are in the firing line. Off you go.
Mr Zacharin : We did not put a written submission into this committee, but I do have some information here that I think will assist the committee in their determinations. It should take about five minutes to run through some of these dot points.
CHAIR: Please do.
Mr Zacharin : In relation to the role and responsibility of regulation and pesticides, the regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemicals is a shared responsibility between the Commonwealth and the states and territories. The Commonwealth, through the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, or, as we call it, the APVMA, is responsible for the pre-sale assessment and registration of agvet chemicals and prescribing safe conditions of use. This registration is based on scientifically sound and rigorous assessment of risks underpinned by data. The states and territories, through post-sale control of use, give legal effect to these conditions of use. An intergovernmental agreement underpins this relationship. It was recently updated in 2013 as part of a COAG review of chemicals and plastics.
Fenthion is also subject to controlled substances law, or more commonly called 'poisons law', and workplace health and safety laws administered by the states and the territories. In 1994 fenthion was nominated for review by the national regulator, then called the National Registration Authority, based on a range of concerns, including residues in food. The APVMA published its assessment of revenue data for food producing uses of fenthion in September 2012. It found:
… that use of fenthion on certain crops could lead to consumers being exposed to levels of fenthion above the public health standard (the Acute Reference Dose).
In October 2012, the APVMA issued new instructions prohibiting or restricting use of fenthion on a range of crops to eliminate this public health risk.
PIRSA supports the science based approach of risks as undertaken by the APVMA, particularly where there are risks to human health. We also note that fenthion is not registered for use on food producing plants in the European Union, the US, Canada or New Zealand. However, we contend that better outcomes for public health and the development of effective alternative treatments and management strategies could have been achieved with a more efficient review process followed by a transparent and effective implementation schedule. This would have provided the confidence necessary for industry to invest in the development and implementation of new practices required to manage fruit fly risks. It would have also helped to reduce some stakeholder disengagement and avoidance of difficult decisions, which can occur when decision-making is continually extended and final deadlines are unknown.
In relation to the role of fenthion in fruit fly programs, as you have heard from other witnesses today, South Australia is the only mainland state free of fruit fly. Therefore, the use of fenthion within South Australia has been and is limited because fruit fly is not present. Fenthion was previously used as a cover spray in the eradication of fruit fly outbreaks in South Australia in the sixties and seventies, but this was discontinued in the 1980s because of fears about damage to the environment, death of birds and the effect on beneficial insects, particularly pollinators. Fenthion was also used as a ground spray during this period but with less negative effects.
So fenthion has been seen as a silver bullet chemical treatment in jurisdictions with fruit fly for treating host produce prior to sending it to South Australia or other markets. It appears to have been a very successful treatment in terms of mitigating the risk of fruit fly infected produce because of the very small number of reports of infested commercial fruit in previous years when compared to recent years in South Australia, although from our perspective the increase in fruit fly detections was already occurring prior to fenthion restrictions coming into place. That is really due to the greater fruit fly pressure in recent times as area-wide management has been abandoned in some jurisdictions.
In recent years, South Australia has agreed to alternative phytosanitary trading arrangements based on a systems approach for interstate market access from endemic fruit fly regions for a range of commodities, including strawberries, tomatoes, eggplants, capsicums, chillies, plums and mangoes. This has included the use of alternatives to fenthion such as a trichlorfon, restricting applications to pre- and post-harvest treatments only and post-harvest inspection.
PIRSA considers that the loss of fenthion as a phytosanitary treatment for a number of commodities, combined with limited alternative treatments and the spread of Queensland fruit fly in New South Wales and Victoria, places South Australia at an increased risk of receiving fruit fly infected produce. However, PIRSA also considers the spread of Q-fly, combined with limited government or industry funding for effective mitigation or control measures, is a far greater threat than the loss of fenthion itself.
Eradiation is now an alternative for many commodities. New Zealand has been receiving eradiated produce from Australia for many years and considers this form of treatment to be extremely effective as a phytosanitary measure for the treatment of pests. Food Standards Australia New Zealand, FSANZ, has approved eradiation in Australia and New Zealand for herbs and spices, herbal infusions, tomatoes, capsicums and some tropical fruit. They are currently assessing an application seeking permission to eradiate 11 other different fruits. While irradiation is an attractive alternative to fenthion, currently there are unfortunately only two commercial irradiation facilities available and both of these are in Queensland.
So what are the implications for South Australia? The implications for South Australia from changes in horticultural chemical treatment are still relatively unknown, although there has been an increase in the number of fruit fly infested consignments of stone fruit reported this year, mainly from Victoria. This increase in detections in commercial fruit is related to an increase in fruit being imported from areas of Victoria and New South Wales that were previously fruit fly-free areas rather than changes in the use of fenthion. Also, most have originated from Victoria where growers and exporters are still adjusting to new treatment regimes as part of the new systems approach. This may indicate that the loss of fenthion treatments has placed an increased risk of fruit fly infected produce entering South Australia and/or the replacement treatments are just not as effective as fenthion. However, our view is that there is a significant amount of misinformation circulating regarding replacement options which when used correctly are highly effective. You only need to look to Queensland growers who operate in an endemic fruit fly environment and have no problem exporting their produce.
South Australia anticipated there may initially be interruptions in the supply of some tropical fruits, stone fruits and out-of-season fruit and vegetables, such as tomatoes, capsicums, kiwis and eggplants until replacement treatments could be implemented. However, there has not been any significant interruption in supply. South Australia also expected that there may have been restrictions on exports of South Australian fruit fly host produce in the event of an outbreak in this state outside Adelaide. Again, that has not been the case because of the development of the interstate certification arrangement 56—ICA-56—for application in fruit fly outbreak suspension zones. ICA-56 provides for arrangements for the movements of host fruit and vegetable produce from within pest-free areas in all production areas within South Australia should there be a fruit fly outbreak.
What are these systems approaches? Treatments using a system approach have been gradually developed and implemented in recent years, understanding that we were going to lose access to these chemicals. South Australia undertook to work with fruit fly endemic jurisdictions to negotiate revised conditions for market entry of fruit fly host material. For example, in developing ICA-56, we worked with the other states. A systems approach integrates different risk management treatments to achieve an appropriate level of risk management and protection. These are incorporated within the new ICA arrangement. These arrangements may not deliver an equivalent level of pest risk mitigation when compared to fenthion. The area of doubt around systems approaches type treatments is that they involve multiple steps or stages and a number of critical control points, whereas dipping with fenthion is a one-step process and nearly failsafe. The contrary position is that, with a systems approach, the failure of one measure will be unlikely to greatly increase the risk of infestation, whereas failure of a fenthion treatment greatly increases the risk. Fenthion is also susceptible to poor water quality and dilution of treatment through a day. Similar to a systems approach, it has to be used correctly. South Australia has recorded four instances of fruit fly infested produce in the current fruit fly season. Of these, three entered under a systems approach treatment arrangement.
How are we going to manage fruit fly from here? As previously mentioned, fenthion has not been used for the control of fruit fly in South Australia since the 1980s anyway. When isolated incursions of fruit occur in South Australia and require a response, we utilise an organic bait and toxicant called Naturalure and a combination of sterile insect technology. Where a fruit fly outbreak response occurs in a production area, South Australia can allow the application of the new ICA-56 systems approach via a sanitary measure for growers wanting to export from within the 15-kilometre suspension zone to sensitive markets. PIRSA has raised its compliance effort in relation to imported host consignments from endemic jurisdictions and has also increased the requirement placed on importers in relation to inspection arrangements for imported consignments—for instance, increasing the ratio of produce inspected per consignment. However, to combat the scourge of fruit fly in the future, the South Australian government has made a strategic $3 million investment in the establishment of a sterile insect technology facility to be built in Port Augusta. This investment supports a national $21 million research and development consortium in partnership with the CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship, Horticulture Australia Limited, Plant and Food Research Australia—which is the commercial arm of Plant and Food New Zealand—and the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries to develop a male-only line of sterile Q-fly. So, for us, the future is moving from a solution in a can to an integrated pest management approach.
SIT is used in many countries for the control of Mediterranean fruit fly. The national R&D consortium is confident that a sterile male-only Q fly can be achieved and propagated for commercial release over the next five or so years. SIT provides the best outcome for the produce, avoids chemical resistance, can be used in sensitive and urban environments, does not impact on pollinators and supports the increasing use of beneficial insects that are used to control other pests in the horticulture industry around Australia. So South Australia would encourage and welcome all interested parties to support and collaborate on this national SIT program, as it is one of the most promising strategies for managing fruit fly into the future.
CHAIR: Thanks, Mr Zacharin. It is a shame we cannot clone your common sense into other states. If there was a Med fly incursion here, is Biosecurity South Australia confident you could bring it under control and eradicate it without the use of fenthion at this stage?
Mr Zacharin : We have not had a Med fly incursion into a major production area—
CHAIR: I understand that.
Mr Zacharin : so that is a hypothetical question.
CHAIR: Now don't play the hypotheticals with me, please. You are not in Senate estimates and I am not trying to break your minister's backside! Let's deal with the hypotheticals. Let's not play that silly game.
Mr Zacharin : Over the last five years or so we have eradicated nine Med fly incursions in metropolitan Adelaide. We have a great success rate of (1) detecting the fly and (2) then moving to eradicate it, so we have that confidence. In a production area it would be far more challenging, but we would use the same strategy that we have employed with the current Q fly eradications.
This is a shared responsibility: government cannot do it alone, industry cannot do it alone. Everyone has got to be involved in these eradication programs. It takes all levels of government, all levels of industry and the community if you are going to win the battle. We would be confident in the relationship we have here with the people within the growing region of the Riverland and in our emergency response protocols, our standard operating procedures and the approach that we currently use to be able to do what we have done with the Q fly outbreak here.
CHAIR: I am not trying to trap you. If I was trying to trap you, don't worry, you'd hear me coming! I am not. I know people are hanging of every word you say, but what is actually coming out of today's hearing is that, firstly, you guys do not have Med fly up here, fortunately, but also that the industry has the highest regard and respect for Biosecurity South Australia. You have led the charge around the country. I will not argue that. The Western Australians are asleep at the wheel and, as I said, if APVMA had taken your attitude and sat down and negotiated then maybe we might be somewhere closer. What I am trying to get from you as the expert, Mr Zacharin, is: are we right in being told that fenthion is the only chemical that can kill the larvae of the Med fly?
Mr Zacharin : No.
CHAIR: Okay. Help us out.
Mr Zacharin : Cold storage will kill larvae. Methyl bromide will kill larvae, through fumigation.
CHAIR: Isn't methyl bromide on the hit list too? Wasn't there talk about that in WA or from APVMA in estimates?
Mr Zacharin : Not to our knowledge. Also, in an associated fashion, the use of the spray Karate as a ground spray could lead to destruction of larvae as they try and pupate or move out of pupate to hatch.
Senator RUSTON: Can I just seek a clarification on your response. You said methyl bromide and cold storage. You cannot do that in an orchard.
Mr Zacharin : Correct. What we are saying is that you move away from the 'silver bullet'—you use a systems approach.
CHAIR: Yes, but you would have to come from a clean start, wouldn't you? You would have to have all your ducks lined up, all your systems in place. This would have been part of the idea of sitting down and negotiating and starting implementation years back. Unfortunately, we have missed the boat.
Mr Zacharin : Yes, it is a different approach, it is a different mindset, it is a change of people's behaviour. If you cannot get a change of behaviour it is going to be very difficult. You have to set yourself up well in advance. You have to have your traps out there. You have to know where your flies are, what your population is. You have to understand the preharvest treatments you are going to go through. We use Naturalure when we move into an eradication. It is an organic bait to knock down the fly populations, but Naturalure is not used by the other states at the moment. Why? I do not know.
CHAIR: And we have seen firsthand the challenges in WA. I will not say that the Riverland is blessed, but fortunately it is a growing area whereas there are suburbs in the middle of Perth and houses being built—it has just gone haywire, it has gone absolutely crazy.
Senator GALLACHER: You mentioned five years for the Queensland sterile fly. Is that five years of science or five years of money? Would more money make a difference?
Mr Zacharin : The scientific experts have indicated to the consortium that they believe it will take five years for them to get a robust sterile line of male only Q fly that can then go into commercial production. We can look at the history of the Med fly. The type they use around the world at the moment is called Vienna 8. They started with Vienna 1 and they are now at Vienna 8 strain. You have got to make sure that you have a very robust sterile fly that has high mating propensity, that can outcompete other wild males that may be left in the population and is also attractive to the wild female. So you constantly have to improve the fly type.
Senator GALLACHER: Isn't there a market where you can go and buy this population and use it here?
Mr Zacharin : Yes. We have been relying on purchasing our sterile Med fly from the facility in Perth. The South Australian government has been funding the Western Australian government to the tune of $700,000—
CHAIR: I think you have stopped it, haven't you?
Mr Zacharin : for the last eight years. Because we were not having many Med fly outbreaks we thought there might be a more cost-effective way of doing this. We have been working with the department of agriculture federally looking at other Med fly operations around the world and getting an import permit to import those flies. The current market price suggest that we could import those flies for about $1,500 per million. We are paying $700,000 to the WA government and we would be lucky if we are taking one million flies a year. So you can see that it was not very cost effective. If you look at the Med fly operations in Guatemala, they are producing 1 billion flies a week and exporting to 13 or 14 different countries. They are assisting Mexico, they are assisting California, and they are assisting other countries around the world. They have changed their approach—again, from a solution in a can to an integrated pest management program-and they are back into EU markets and other restricted markets. So it is about making a determination nationally that we are going to go for this approach and then helping each other to achieve that. I believe we have got skills in South Australia through all our eradication campaigns over the last 15 years that are not available in the other states—we have been doing it; they have not.
CHAIR: Has WA asked for any assistance—apart from taking the money each year?
Mr Zacharin : We have worked closely with them on the sterile program but they do not really ask us about how we do it or what we are using. To me, it is very strange that we are trying to build a facility here so that we can do something about Q fly when there has been a longstanding Med fly facility in Western Australia that does not seem to get much use.
Senator GALLACHER: So you cannot go and by the Q fly in Guatemala or wherever?
Mr Zacharin : No. The Queensland fruit fly is an Australian fly!
Senator GALLACHER: And that is why the science needs to be done on that particular strain? And it is the science that will take five years, not an investment of more money?
Mr Zacharin : It is currently a $21 million R&D program not just to deliver a male only line of Q fly. We are looking at better lures and the use of smart traps. You will have seen some of the CSIRO's current work putting small electronic devices on the back of bees. They are now just about able to shrink that down again and put them on the back of fruit flies so that they can track the fruit flies. This is an integrated program. We are looking at a solutions approach for regions. Give them better lures. Give them smart traps. Give them the tools with which to monitor their fly population. Tell them how they go about doing their ground sprays and foliage sprays. Tell them how they go about releasing steriles and how many they will need. This is an integrated package and we are looking for a commercial partner to assist us with this in the future. We cannot do it by ourselves and industry cannot do it. It really has to be a public-private partnership of some sort.
Senator GALLACHER: Where does the federal influence come to bear? Is it clear and present, or is it looking at what is happening? Have you got some federal guidance, input and influence into all of this?
Mr Zacharin : Each state has their own plant health legislation, but we have national protocols in terms of how we can export our produce. So we have to work through Canberra in terms of what protocols we have in place, because they negotiate our access into these export markets. At the moment we have different arrangements for Japan, America, New Zealand—you name it. It is what those countries ask us to do. Australia has to comply or you are just not in that market. So, in the future—and we are already working with the department of agriculture on this—if we are going to move from a chemical approach to a sterile insect technology approach, that will have to be negotiated with our export partners. And those things can take years, so you need to start now. But we know that there are a lot of other countries around the world who use Medfly, and they are into those export markets, so it is just a matter of understanding and starting the negotiation now so that it does not come as a surprise in a few years if we are successful with this fly and regions want to move to sterile insect technology.
CHAIR: I would not pre-empt a recommendation into a report that we have not finished looking into yet, but one would think that someone has to take a lead. One would think that as a nation it affects all of us, all the states.
Mr Zacharin : I would say that is the role of the Commonwealth government.
CHAIR: Absolutely, but, in saying that, you guys are leading the charge over here; it is just amazing that my home state is in an absolute shambles, and it should not be.
Mr Zacharin : We have already had long discussions with the Department of Agriculture and Food in WA about us being able to supply them with Q-flies if they need them in the future, and of course we are still interested in their Medfly. We are open to building the partnerships across all jurisdictions.
CHAIR: You just need the grown-ups in the room, don't you.
Mr Zacharin : Some are engaging with us; some are not. We do not really know some of the reasons why.
CHAIR: I think that is very, very clear, from the evidence taken, Mr Zacharin. Thank you.
Senator RUSTON: I want to go back to prosecute really specifically one of the questions that Senator Sterle was asking you about Q-fly and Medfly and the capacity of the current incursion arrangements that you put in place here a few months ago. Is the Q-fly significantly different from the Medfly in terms of how it behaves and how you have to respond to it?
Mr Zacharin : Our response plan is generic in relation to both of them, but I understand that they do have slightly different ecology.
Senator RUSTON: What I am trying to get to is: could there be a situation where we can manage Q-fly under a softly approach, a non-chemical type approach that you used here, but it may not work with Medfly because Medfly is a more voracious—
Mr Zacharin : It is working with Medfly in metropolitan Adelaide.
Senator RUSTON: So do you see a difference between what you would need to do in dealing with the actual death of the fly in a metropolitan area versus a horticultural environment like you would have up here?
Mr Zacharin : We will face those challenges when we come to them, but—
Senator RUSTON: You are doing that hypothetical thing again.
Mr Zacharin : One of the biggest issues in having to move to an eradication in a production area, particularly at the time of the year when we had the incursion, in January, is there is a lot of fruit on the ground, because you are coming towards the end of the harvest seasons for particular produce. That provides a huge amount of material for flies to land on and lay eggs. It may be with a Medfly situation that we would have to put more effort into the hygiene part of our response, which would mean removing the fruit off the ground. We did that in some respects with the properties here where we detected flies and larvae. A huge amount of fruit, as you have heard, had to go into deep burial pits to make sure that any larvae that came out of that fruit was not going to survive. If you look at the large area in the Riverland, if we were going to try to remove all the fruit off the ground if it happened again in January-February, that time of the year, it would take a huge number of resources to be able to do that. Of course, that would help reduce the risk and help us get on top of a Medfly incursion, but I just do not know how far we would have to go. I am not evading the question; I just do not know how far we would have to go in our hygiene operations for Medfly compared to what we have done with Q-fly.
Senator RUSTON: I suppose my question then comes back to the fenthion chemical argument. If you are talking about a fly that is obviously a bit stronger and a bit more aggressive in its marketplace, instead of having to go through and clean up all the fruit that is on the ground you could just go through and spray it with fenthion on the ground and you would have the same result. Then you could just whip the slasher over the top of it and get rid of it.
Whilst what has happened in the last five or six months has been a brilliant outcome for South Australia, I just wonder whether we are ready to move to a situation immediately where fenthion is no longer available in any jurisdiction, or whether there is still a possibility for some limited use under extreme circumstances. I know that you take the pure approach—and I do not think that anyone is going to argue in the longer term that that is not where we have to go to—but I suppose I am talking about the transitional phase for the other states, between where they are at the moment and where they would like to be, which is where we are. Are you saying that you believe that we can move the other states to be in the same situation as South Australia if we no longer have any capacity to use fenthion?
Mr Zacharin : Yes, I think they would be using different approaches. They would be using ground sprays and foliage sprays other than fenthion. We could not use fenthion even if we wanted to. We do not have a permit to use it.
Senator RUSTON: You have not chosen to get one.
Mr Zacharin : We would not get one, would we?
Senator RUSTON: You would have in January, if you had sought to get one. You are saying that if they used a combination of chemicals and techniques that currently exist we could move New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia to a position of eradicating existing populations, and then move into the prevention—
Mr Zacharin : Yes, but it is not a quick fix. It takes time. It takes significant resources and it takes a change in behaviour.
Senator GALLACHER: Do you see any evidence of the resources being invested or the change in behaviour that is required? Is that apparent?
Mr Zacharin : In what context?
Senator GALLACHER: You are saying that the eradication would require significant resources and a change in behaviour. In your experience has there been any evidence that that is happening anywhere?
Mr Zacharin : It is certainly happening here. Since the outbreaks, we are trying to clean up here.
Senator GALLACHER: I am trying to get you to talk about New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland or Western Australia.
Mr Zacharin : No, the other states are certainly struggling. That is because if you do not have this public-private partnership, one cannot do it without the other. Governments are not going to provide the technical leadership in some respects.
Senator GALLACHER: Are you saying that the partnership is between the growers and the departments in those states—
Mr Zacharin : Yes.
Senator GALLACHER: and that the relationship that is evident here in South Australia is not apparent anywhere else?
Mr Zacharin : We have not observed that.
Senator GALLACHER: Why do you figure that is, given that—
Mr Zacharin : That is a question for others, I think. Fruit fly is a priority for the state government here. It has been a priority for all state governments.
CHAIR: It should be a priority for all state governments.
Mr Zacharin : If you do not have a good relationship with growers I do not know how you are going to win the battle. You are operating on their properties, with their produce, their markets and their profitability so there has to be a joined-up approach between the technical experts, the government regulation and the growers, or it is just not going to work.
Senator RUSTON: You made comments about the commercial arrangements and the potential commercial opportunity that this technology provides. You have three or four partners now and you are looking for a potential commercial partner. How does that play out? The state government, in this instance, and the research and development body for horticulture are involved, and a research and development organisation from another country is bringing expertise in. Are any of them truly commercial partners or are you seeking to bring in an additional partner that is totally commercial and would be looking at this purely to deliver a commercial outcome at the other end?
Mr Zacharin : Our experience overseas is that they are more successful if they are operated as a commercial operation, at the end of the day. So we have signed a memorandum of agreement with all the research organisations: once we have a good, robust line of male Q-fly we will licence the intellectual property to a commercial operator. So that person has access to the facility and has access to the IP at, hopefully, a rate that is not going to cause them any grief. So they can move to provide these flies to growing regions wherever they are needed across Australia. And this has to be an area-wide approach. It is no good one orchardist going out and buying a bucket of Q-fly steriles. That is not going to work. It has to be in growing regions. That is why I say it needs a change of behaviour, because everyone is going to have to work together; they are going to have to monitor their traps; they are going to have to put out their lures; they are going to have to put out their organic bait, because you have to know, 'Do you have any flies in the area, and, if you do, how many?' because that will dictate how many flies you need to release per week and how often.
Senator RUSTON: Let us take that to its natural conclusion. So say we are five years down track, we have got these wonderfully sexy male flies that all the female flies just want a bit of, and you have got a commercial operator who is about to sell them. Here is a commercial opportunity. What do we have to do and who has to do it to make sure that the Riverland speaks with one voice? It should not be too hard; we have got a really good group in place. We go to Sunraysia, the Perth hills, Griffith—wherever. What do we have to do and who has to do it so that those areas are ready? We know that right now there is only one place in Australia that is ready to use sterile technology for an outbreak and that is here, because everywhere else has a long way to go. So what is the process for them so that they are ready?
Mr Zacharin : There are two edges to that, too. We need a value proposition for the commercial partner as well.
Senator RUSTON: Exactly.
Mr Zacharin : We have a program director. It is managed out of Horticulture Australia at the moment. His role is to go around the growing regions of Australia and provide them with information, education and awareness in relation to what sterile insect technology is, how it is used and how it needs to be applied. We have been to see Citrus Australia, Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, the cherry group, the strawberry group and the summer fruit people three or four times and we have held workshops with them to give them as much information as we can about what it would mean. They are excited, as we are, about this proposal, and they are investing, or have indicated to Horticulture Australia that they want to invest, a certain percentage of their levy over the next five years into the sterile insect technology program because a lot of people are seeing it as the future. As others have said here today, it is very unlikely that we are going to get any new chemicals registered. It is more likely that we are going to lose more chemicals. There are people out there already who have moved to this integrated pest management approach, where they are purchasing beneficial insects from companies around Australia. We have someone here in Loxton and he provides beneficial insects that attack other pests in orchards. And you cannot just go in there and spray or you will lose all your beneficial insects, your bees and all your other pollinators. So it really is trying to use beneficial insects, sterile insect technology and other strategies to make sure that it is going to be successful. But we have to sell the value proposition to the orchardists as well as the value proposition to any commercial person who is going to put their money on the line, because they need to understand where their market is going to be.
Senator RUSTON: I get that bit, but it is the bit that you just said—there is no point in me buying them and using them on my orchard if Toni does not use them on her orchard. So we have a process, I suppose, of trying to determine how you get the whole of the area-wide management in place and the like. So who starts and where do we start to do that? We have heard a number of people today say, 'Yes, we want a national approach to this particular issue.' I do not think anybody is in any doubt about that. But I still have yet to get anybody to tell me: where is a sensible place to put it? We had the previous witness saying that it should go to the Horticulture Coalition group that has just been loosely formed. We have Plant Health Australia that has a restriction on budget and from the fact that currently its legislation sits with exotics. We have got the CRC for plant health. We have Horticulture Australia that spends a lot of money in this space. We have institutions around the world, and we have SARDI here in South Australia and the CSIRO—I could go on forever—that are doing things. Each state government is doing different things. We seem to have a huge amount of money and a huge amount of action going on but nowhere that it seems to park happily that has got the jurisdiction, the resources, the capacity or the willingness to actually pull this all together so that the fantastic commercial opportunity that you are talking about can actually be easily and best realised in five years time. So I would be interested if you have an opinion about where it would best reside for delivery.
Mr Zacharin : I reckon national leadership and national collaboration can only be driven by the national government. Call me stupid, but—
Senator RUSTON: I wouldn't do that in the hearing.
Mr Zacharin : We have put our hand up to build this facility and we are doing what we can but we cannot do it without the national government being on board. Whether they then choose to put in resources or assist with leadership and collaboration, that is what is required, because we need to crack a few heads over this. South Australia cannot do that, WA cannot do that, Queensland cannot do that. It needs to be nationally led. I understand that Horticulture Australia have provided funding, as the states have, to form a new national fruit fly management body. That is all good—let's get that going—but without heavy Commonwealth involvement in this, and trying to make it work, it is just going to fall over again.
We rely so heavily on the Commonwealth to do all our consultations with export partners in relation to market access that they have to be involved on the ground floor so they know what is happening, because we are going to have to change our protocols when we go and negotiate markets in five or 10 years under these new pest management regimes. Everyone here needs to be in the tent. That is all governments and all the industry groups. As others have said, Horticulture Australia and the Plant Biosecurity CRC are the R&D deliverers. I think once we get the policy framework right and we get the national framework right we can pull in Horticulture Australia and pull in the PBCRC and say, 'This is the R&D we want you to fund.' But because there is too many people in this space they are going off all over the place.
Senator RUSTON: Yes.
Mr Zacharin : A lot of the research has been short termism—quick fix stuff. That might be good for one or two years, but we have not taken up the long-term vision in terms of where we are going to go with these horticultural industries. There is no doubt that fruit fly is the greatest pest to this country in horticulture. We are not just talking about Q-fly or Mediterranean fruit fly. We have got the Torres Strait fly on our doorstep; we have got papaya fly that was eradicated from Queensland back in 2005, I think, or 2004. That eradication alone cost $21 million. We are getting peppered from new flies from the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea. We really have to have an integrated, national collaboration on managing fruit flies of all species or we are going to get picked off one by one.
Senator GALLACHER: Who would be the lead agency for that?
Mr Zacharin : The federal Department of Agriculture.
Senator GALLACHER: Is there a division or a section of that department that looks at that forward-thinking?
Mr Zacharin : They have got a Biosecurity Division.
Senator RUSTON: The plant scientist.
Mr Zacharin : The Office of the Chief Plant Protection Officer is really more about looking at our national arrangements and our export arrangements.
Senator GALLACHER: They do come before us. I just wanted to know who to direct questions to.
Mr Zacharin : The head of Biosecurity.
CHAIR: Work that out.
Senator RUSTON: Do we have an act we are trying to amend?
Senator GALLACHER: One thing I am curious about is that you have said that the places that have this Queensland fruit fly have no problem getting access to markets. Is this lack of urgency really driven off the commercial reality that they just deal with fruit fly, get on with it and sell their produce—it is a cost to business that they are happy to wear?
Mr Zacharin : Yes, they are using a systems approach and they are used to a systems approach, so they start really early. They start preharvest in the orchard perhaps putting some of their sprays out, putting their baits out. It is an integrated process right through the chain. Unfortunately you would have to say in Victoria they have relied on the silver bullet for so long that they do not understand what it means to implement an integrated pest management approach across the supply chain. They have been relying on a dip and now that they have had to move away from that they are struggling, because I do not think they have really had the assistance required to put them through an integrated pest management approach. We are witnessing that now. That is why we are sending cartons back to Victoria. Our system here in Woolworths, Coles and the others have been dealing with our fruit fly freedom for so long, the first thing they do when it comes in then—and, by the way, they are accredited; they audit their own produce that comes in—they are on the phone to us straight away, we can go and have a look and confirm it, and they send the whole lot back to the point where they are getting a bit frustrated, I understand. If people are not careful they will end up off their preferred supplier list.
Senator GALLACHER: Thank you.
CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Zacharin, to you and your colleagues. We are glad we put you on last. We wish you well. Thank you to all the witnesses who came today and those who sent submissions. Thank you kindly to the hardworking girls of the secretariat—I am allowed to say 'girls' aren't I?
Senator RUSTON: Well, they are girls.
CHAIR: To Toni and Trish, thank you very much. To the boys, well done, guys, again. On behalf of the committee that concludes today is hearing.
Committee adjourned at 13:40