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STANDING COMMITTEE ON RURAL AND REGIONAL AFFAIRS AND TRANSPORT - 26/05/2008 - AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FORESTRY PORTFOLIO - Biosecurity Australia

CHAIR —I welcome representatives from Biosecurity Australia.

Senator BOSWELL —Thank you, Mr Chair, for helping me with this; I really appreciate it. I thank the officers, too. I am talking about the Philippine banana import risk analysis. Do we have the officers here for that? Could you please provide an update of the progress of the Philippine banana import risk analysis?

Mr Cahill —The import risk analysis team is still continuing with its consideration of the stakeholder submissions. We received 21 of those on the revised draft report. I expect to refer a provisional final report to the eminent scientists group for a review some time probably in the next six weeks.

Senator BOSWELL —Does that mean that the next IRA report you release will be the final report?

Mr Cahill —Once the eminent scientists group has considered the report, the provisional final report, we will take account of any advice that they provide to the director of quarantine and to me, as the Chief Executive of Biosecurity Australia. So if there is any further work that then needs to be done to the report, we will do that, and then we will release a provisional final report to stakeholders which will be open to appeal.

Senator BOSWELL —So it will not be the final report; it will be a provisional final report.

Mr Cahill —It will be a provisional final report that will be open for appeal, yes.

Senator BOSWELL —Did you and other Biosecurity Australia officials meet with representatives of the Australian Banana Growers Council on 24 April?

Mr Cahill —Yes, we did.

Senator BOSWELL —What was discussed at that meeting?

Mr Cahill —The discussion was about the Banana Growers Council submissions on the revised draft report. So we spent most of a day talking with their representatives about their submission, clarifying any issues that they wished to raise and talking about the next steps associated with the IRA report.

Senator BOSWELL —What about modelling error—did you talk to them about that?

Mr Cahill —We discussed with the Banana Growers Council representatives a difference of view between experts on modelling issues associated with the spore count relating to black sigatoka.

Senator BOSWELL —Did you advise representatives of the Australian Banana Growers Council at that meeting that the final banana IRA report will contain performance targets for pest and disease risk management which the Philippines will be required to meet if they are to export bananas to Australia?

Mr Cahill —We had a discussion with them about the fact that we expected that the recommended measures would be benchmarks that the Philippines would have to meet, in the same way as we did with the apple IRA report.

Senator BOSWELL —Does that mean that the Philippines will need to develop the risk management measures that meet these performance targets if they are to export bananas to Australia?

Mr Cahill —No, it does not. What it means is that the revised draft report that stakeholders have had available to them to comment on contains a range of proposed measures to manage the risk associated with the potential importation of bananas. And we are, in addition to that, including in the provisional final report a set of benchmarks that the Philippines will also be required to meet. So part of the discussion at the meeting we had with the council was a question about whether the report was shifting from specifying measures to simply specified benchmarks. We indicated to the ABGC that that was not the case, that in fact the measures would continue to be specified in the final report.

Senator BOSWELL —So it does not mean that the Philippines are going to have to develop measures themselves. We will be developing the measures and they will be adhering to them.

Mr Cahill —They will be required to meet them—that is correct, yes.

Senator BOSWELL —If the IRA process is being used to conduct the banana IRA, the role of the IRA team is to recommend risk management measures. So you are saying that you are going to recommend the risk management measures?

Mr Cahill —That is correct. They are contained in the revised draft report, and we expect that to carry through to the final report.

Senator BOSWELL —So the Philippines will not be putting up any measures that they would have to meet?

Mr Cahill —All countries are entitled to put forward measures that they might regard as being equivalent to the measures that we propose in the IRA report. But the real point is that, if they do propose equivalent measures, they will have to meet the benchmarks that we have set, so we would have to be satisfied that they do not change the nature of the risk assessment that we have conducted or the measures that we are proposing.

Senator BOSWELL —But isn’t this unusual? It has been normal that your IRA team has always developed the risk management measures, and now you are saying that some of that responsibility is being given to the Philippines.

Mr Cahill —No, I am not saying that. I am saying that the final report will contain quarantine measures that the Philippines will be required to comply with. Those measures are specified now in the report which is public. We will, in addition, be specifying benchmarks that we expect that the Philippines will be required to meet. Should the Philippines propose measures—or in the case of other commodities, as it has happened with other commodities, should they propose measures—which they regard as equivalent to the measures that we have specified, they are entitled to put those forward and we would need to consider those.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Why would it be, then, that the industry is a bit confused about this? They think that they are about to have some sort of cataclysmic change to the protocol proposed. Why would they be misled like that?

Mr Cahill —I am not too sure of the answer to that. I am still trying to work it through with them. We have been in correspondence with them about those matters. We have shared a draft summary record of the meeting to try to make sure that there is a good understanding on both sides about what we have been saying.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Has there been a sort of a change in attitude from a previous government to this government? Is there any difference?

Mr Cahill —No.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Obviously, if you were to attempt to bring in bananas from the Philippines, given some of the history of what goes on in the Philippines—the inherent corruption in the system up there and the way people can stand over those who are on someone’s payroll—surely, like the Japanese, we would want to have our supervisors in their banana fields rather than rely on what could be some sort of bullshit protocol that they have put in place. You would not have changed your mind on any of that, would you?

Mr Cahill —No, I have not.

Senator BOSWELL —The information I have is that in the 2003 IRA handbook that is being used for the banana IRA it is quite clear that the IRA team must recommend risk management measures where they are required. Could you explain why it is that in all previous drafts of IRA reports the risk management measures were recommended by the IRA team but now you are working on a final draft IRA and this will not be the case? You were saying that it still is the case.

Mr Cahill —That is correct.

Senator BOSWELL —There seems to be a lot of confusion here.

Mr Cahill —Yes, there does seem to be a bit of confusion, and as I indicated I am trying to resolve that with the Banana Growers Council.

Senator BOSWELL —It is proposed that the final IRA report will specify all risk management measures that are required to be met by the Philippines. I want that to be very clear.

Mr Cahill —The revised draft report that is in the public domain specifies extensive risk management measures that would be required by the Philippines in order to export bananas to Australia. I do not expect that to change in the final report.

Senator BOSWELL —So you are saying that you are not changing the rules in any way?

Mr Cahill —No.

Senator BOSWELL —This means that the evaluation and risk management measures proposed by the Philippines will fall outside the IRA process and as such will not be subject to review and comment by stakeholders.

Senator HEFFERNAN —That would actually be true if it were the case, wouldn’t it?

Mr Cahill —If it were the case, it would be—and it is not, so it is not the case. If it were the case, it is a ground of appeal—explicitly specified.

Senator BOSWELL —Why then are you not going to issue an IRA to enable stakeholders’ comments?

Mr Cahill —At the present time we are responding to the stakeholder comments that have been put forward on the revised draft report. That was the third draft report that was issued. We are working towards a final report based on the revised draft that had been issued and the stakeholder comments submitted on that. So we are working towards a provisional final report which, as I said, will then be reviewed by the independent eminent scientists group and will be open to subsequent appeal.

Senator BOSWELL —Some of those reports had to be revised because your department had made a series of mistakes. I also understand that the current chair of the banana IRA team, Dr Stynes, stated at the 24 April meeting that significant changes had been made to the draft IRA report, particularly in relation to the pest risk assessment for moko and black sigatoka. Is that the case?

Mr Cahill —I am not sure that I can say much more than I already have on this issue.

Senator BOSWELL —Did he or did he not?

Mr Cahill —He said that we were responding to the stakeholder submissions that had been received.

Senator BOSWELL —Is Dr Stynes part of your department?

Mr Cahill —He works for Biosecurity Australia.

Senator BOSWELL —Is he in Canberra?

Mr Cahill —No, he is not. I was present at the meeting.

Senator BOSWELL —Did Dr Stynes make the statements that significant changes had been made to the IRA report, particularly in relation to moko and black sigatoka.

Mr Cahill —Dr Stynes indicated that changes were being made to the revised draft report, based on the submissions received from stakeholders.

Senator BOSWELL —Based on submissions—

Mr Cahill —Based on submissions received from stakeholders. All of those submissions were referred to the IRA team and the IRA team has been working through those submissions and making changes where they judge that to be appropriate.

Senator BOSWELL —When you are talking stakeholders, you are talking the banana growers and the Philippines importers. Who has made these alterations to the report? Is it the Philippines or is it the banana growers? Who is it?

Mr Cahill —It is the IRA team that is tasked with drafting the IRA report.

Senator BOSWELL —I understand that. But, if there are significant changes being made to the draft in assessment of moko and black sigatoka, why are you making those changes? On what evidence? Is it evidence given from the banana growers, or from the Philippines or from where? You just do not suddenly make a change; it has to be based on something.

Mr Cahill —It is information supplied by all of the stakeholders that have made submissions, including the Banana Growers Council, importers, the Philippines government and others.

Senator BOSWELL —You told me just before that you were going to set the barriers and you were going to set the standards and that the Philippines were going to have nothing to do with it. Now you are telling me that you have made the changes because of information you have received from the Philippines. I point out that there is an inconsistency in what you are saying.

Mr Cahill —I do not think there is. What I have said is that we are responding to the submissions that stakeholders have made on the revised draft report. Those submissions are public so everyone can see—

Senator BOSWELL —I am not suggesting that there is any hiding of the submissions. I am suggesting to you that you told me five minutes ago that the IRA team set the barriers, set the boundaries and set the high jump. Now you are telling me that you have changed the rules because you have some information from the Philippines. You are trying to disguise it by saying ‘stakeholders’ but stakeholders mean the Philippines and—

Senator Sherry —Perhaps, Senator, just let the officer finish his answer. You have interrupted him a number of times. Let him give his answer and then, if you disagree and you want to pose a further question, you may. But just let him give the answer.

Mr Cahill —The IRA handbook as you know provides a process for conducting import risk analyses. What we are doing is entirely in accordance with the IRA handbook. The IRA handbook provides for reports to be published, for stakeholders to comment on those reports and for adjustments to be made to the reports if, in fact, there is more scientific information that comes forward to justify those changes. That is the process that is underway. I am not suggesting that we have made changes to the draft report simply on the back of comments that the Philippines or the Philippines government might have made to us. We look at all the issues raised by stakeholders and, if there is technical or scientific merit in those that bear on the draft report we make adjustments to the final report which will then be subject to review and appeal.

Senator BOSWELL —We are going around in circles. I asked you—and I will repeat this and then we will move on: ‘Who sets the standards?’ You said, ‘The IRA sets the standards.’ I said, ‘Does the Philippines have anything to do with it?’ You said, ‘No.’ That was five minutes ago. Now you are telling me that you have looked at the evidence from the Philippines and then changed the best risk assessment for moko and black sigatoka. We can go round and round in circles but those are the facts of life. You did say that you did it and now you are saying that you did it because the Philippines put some suggestions forward.

Mr Cahill —Australia is responsible for setting the quarantine measures that are required in relation to any import, so that task legislatively belongs to Australia’s Director of Quarantine.

Senator BOSWELL —He is obviously listening to some of the suggestions put up by the Philippines.

Mr Cahill —The task of scientific analysis is a task that Biosecurity Australia undertakes on his behalf and that, as I have indicated, is a public transparent process that is open for everyone to provide comments on. Ultimately the judgements that have to be made are judgements that Biosecurity Australia will make and recommend to Australia’s Director of Quarantine based on the scientific analysis and the scientific evidence.

Senator BOSWELL —Thank you. Do the IRA team meeting summaries posted on the Biosecurity Australia website confirm that a considerable amount of additional information relevant to some key pests is being considered by the IRA team?

Mr Cahill —Yes, I believe it does.

Senator BOSWELL —What is this additional information?

Mr Cahill —The information goes to all of the pests that were identified in the revised draft report.

Senator BOSWELL —Why don’t you put that new information up on the website, because it is supposed to contain everything?

Mr Cahill —We will put it up on the website when the provisional final report is published.

Senator BOSWELL —Isn’t that putting it up after the horse has bolted?

Mr Cahill —The information that has been submitted is also in the public domain because we make the submissions public, so all that information is there.

Senator BOSWELL —It is not on the website.

Mr Cahill —The submissions are on the website.

Senator BOSWELL —The additional information?

Mr Cahill —The additional information provided by the Philippines or by anybody else is on the website.

Senator BOSWELL —The additional information on the pests that have been considered by the IRA team on the pests is on the website?

Mr Cahill —I just want to make sure we are not talking at cross-purposes here, Senator. The technical issues that have been raised are contained in the submissions that stakeholders have put forward on the revised draft report. The submissions are public so the technical information contained in those is on the website.

Senator BOSWELL —I am asking about the IRA team meetings summaries.

Mr Cahill —The team meeting summaries are also on the website.

Senator BOSWELL —So you are saying that fundamentally you have not altered the approach and risk management measures since the last draft IRA report? They are the same?

Mr Cahill —Senator, we have not finalised the report yet so you are asking me to prejudge what the outcome is. As a matter of process we are complying with the handbook and I do not expect that the quarantine measures identified in the revised draft report will be changed in the final report.

Senator BOSWELL —This is fairly important so I will read the question verbatim. Given that Biosecurity Australia has fundamentally altered the approach to risk management measures since the last draft IRA report and the fact that a considerable amount of additional information has been considered by the IRA team, is it not incumbent to issue another IRA draft report? You are going to issue a draft report?

Mr Cahill —We are going to issue a provisional final report, once it has been—

Senator BOSWELL —How does a provisional final report differ from a draft report?

Mr Cahill —It is not finalised yet Senator, so I cannot really say. It reflects the submissions that people have made on the draft report. At some point you have to stop publishing draft reports; you actually have to move forward to get to a final.

Senator BOSWELL —Absolutely, but only if the information in the new report is being made available to the stakeholders.

Mr Cahill —As it will be.

Senator BOSWELL —Before you issue the report? It is no good issuing the information after the report comes down.

Mr Cahill —The report is open to appeal. That is the safety net. It is reviewed by the independent Eminent Scientists Group and they, amongst other things, are specifically tasked with making sure that stakeholder comments have been taken properly into account. That is their job and that is independent of Biosecurity Australia. That is one aspect of the safety net. The other one is that there is an appeal process that can be used if people think there has been a significant deviation of process, or if there is scientific information that they believe has not been taken properly into account.

Senator BOSWELL —I might come back to that one. Could you advise who the current members of the banana IRA team are?

Mr Cahill —The IRA team is chaired by Dr Brian Stynes, who, as we indicated, is an officer of Biosecurity Australia. We have Mr Bob Paton, who is an external member, an etymologist. We have David Peasley, who is also an external member with industry knowledge; he is a horticulturalist. We have Mr Mike Robbins from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. It is supported by the staff and expertise of Biosecurity Australia as well as other expertise that is drawn in on particular matters.

Senator BOSWELL —How many are on the team?

Mr Cahill —Until relatively recently the team comprised six people. I put out a notice on 19 May to stakeholders informing stakeholders that there had been a change in the membership of the IRA team. One of the members is suffering from serious ill health and is unable to continue in a full-time role on the IRA team. Another member of the IRA team has taken some extended leave and travelled overseas, but he remains in contact with us.

Senator BOSWELL —Who are those two members?

Mr Cahill —Dr Rob Allen and Mr Bob Paton. Both of those have indicated that they will continue to fulfil their roles in relation to their expertise on the IRA team.

Senator BOSWELL —So we have gone from six members to four members.

Mr Cahill —There was a further member, Dr Sharan Singh, who was a member of the IRA team by virtue of being an officer of Biosecurity Australia. He now works in another area of the department so he is no longer a member of the team either.

Senator BOSWELL —When did Mr Paton travel overseas?

Mr Cahill —I think he went about six or eight weeks ago.

Senator BOSWELL —How many IRA team meetings has Mr Paton attended either in person or via teleconference since his departure overseas?

Mr Cahill —I will take that on notice.

Senator BOSWELL —Is there anyone who can get that for us? I have very bad experience with questions on notice; they never seem to get answered. I am not suggesting you would not answer them, but they never seem to get answered. Can anyone find that out?

Mr Cahill —We will do our best to find that out.

Senator BOSWELL —While we are still going?

CHAIR —In all fairness, Senator Boswell, the officers have made a mad dash. They were not expecting to be here until later this afternoon. Mr Cahill has said that he will take it on notice.

Senator BOSWELL —Will the IRA team sign off on the final report? Does that include Mr Paton, even though he has not attended a number of meetings at the critical end of the IRA process?

Mr Cahill —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —He will sign off even though he has missed a number of meetings?

Mr Cahill —He continues to participate in the processes of the IRA team.

Senator BOSWELL —By teleconference?

Mr Cahill —By teleconference if he needs to. As I indicated at the outset, we expect to refer the report to the eminent scientists group very shortly. We are very close to finalising the report. But he will sign off on the report as he needs to.

Senator BOSWELL —When did Dr Singh cease to be a member of the IRA team?

Mr Cahill —I will need to take that on notice. I will get that information for you.

Senator BOSWELL —I will ask one of my colleagues to ask that question later when you are answering other questions. Would you be able to find that out by then?

Mr Cahill —I expect so, yes.

Senator BOSWELL —Were the stakeholders notified that Dr Singh was no longer a member of the IRA team?

Mr Cahill —Yes.

Senator BOSWELL —What date was that?

Mr Cahill —It was 19 May, formally.

Senator BOSWELL —Has Dr Allen signed off the elements of the IRA report that he has had significant involvement in?

Mr Cahill —Not yet because the report is not yet finalised, but I expect him to do so.

Senator BOSWELL —Dr Allen’s information will be in the final report?

Mr Cahill —That is right, yes.

Senator BOSWELL —Banana growers say there is an error in the risk assessment for black sigatoka. Do you agree that there was an error?

Mr Cahill —No, I do not.

Senator BOSWELL —Has Biosecurity Australia received advice from the Bureau of Resource Sciences about whether there was an error in the risk assessment for black sigatoka as asserted by the banana growers?

Mr Cahill —There is a difference of expert view about the number of spores associated with black sigatoka, and the risk assessment around that. We have taken note of the ABGC’s comments on that, and we will reflect that in the final report.

Senator BOSWELL —Did the Bureau of Resource Sciences conclude there was an error?

Mr Cahill —No, they did not.

Senator BOSWELL —What were their conclusions?

Mr Cahill —I did not ask them for an opinion on whether there was an error or not. I referred the matter raised by the ABGC to the IRA team for consideration. They had a discussion amongst the experts about the appropriate spore count to be used and it is a question, as I understand it, about whether you use one, one-and-a-half or two as the correct number of spores. The advice to me was that that was a legitimate difference of view between experts about what it should be. But we have taken account of the ABGC’s comments and their submissions.

Senator BOSWELL —Did the IRA team consider there was an error in the risk assessment for black sigatoka? You say no?

Mr Cahill —That is correct.

Senator BOSWELL —If there is no error, why is it that the IRA team agreed to change the input value, which the banana growers assessed was correct?

Mr Cahill —As I indicated earlier, the task of the IRA team at this point is to respond to the comments and submissions from stakeholders, so that is what they are doing.

Senator BOSWELL —If you assessed a risk at X and then you have changed it, does that not suggest that the value used in the draft IRA report was wrong?

Mr Cahill —We are talking about a count on the number of spores—whether it is one, one-and-a-half or two.

Senator BOSWELL —I know what we are talking about. But if you had to change it—there is right and wrong and black and white.

Mr Cahill —The advice I have is that it is a difference of view between experts. We have responded to the information that the ABGC has given to us. The fact that we put out a draft report for the very purpose of obtaining that kind of comment, I think, is a testimony to the process.

Senator BOSWELL —Are you aware if any of the members of the IRA team accepted there was an error in the assessment for black sigatoka, as suggested by the banana growers?

Mr Cahill —No.

Senator BOSWELL —So everyone in that team said the banana growers were wrong and you were right?

Mr Cahill —I am not aware of any member of the IRA team coming to that conclusion.

Senator BOSWELL —No. This is very important, because you had a team of six that went to four and all of those four people—or all the six people or however many you had—agreed that the banana growers were wrong and the IRA team was right. So everyone agreed; everyone said ‘Yes, the IRA is right and the banana growers are wrong.’

Mr Cahill —I was not present for all of those discussions so I do not know precisely who said what to whom.

Senator BOSWELL —But surely there would be a report—someone says that the banana growers are right or they are wrong. Was there a unanimous opinion that there was no error?

Mr Cahill —These things are not voted on. It is a discussion that goes on amongst experts—often it is very robust—and a view is put. The view that they put to me was that this was a legitimate difference of opinion between experts and that is the view that I conveyed in writing to the ABGC.

Senator BOSWELL —That is pretty unusual because usually if someone says ‘I disagree,’ it is recorded in the minutes. You have got five people; how do you ever reach a conclusion if you do not have a vote and someone does not register the result in the minutes.

Mr Cahill —This is a group of scientific experts debating scientific issues. There are often issues that are not black and white and the purpose of the IRA team is to try to resolve those issues.

Senator BOSWELL —So someone says ‘I think you are wrong,’ and everyone agrees—so it is not considered.

Mr Cahill —I think I have answered the question to the best of my ability.

Senator BOSWELL —It is a very important question.

Mr Cahill —I regarded it as being sufficiently important to commit myself to writing and conveying my view, and that of Biosecurity Australia, to the ABGC.

Senator BOSWELL —Let’s make it very clear: can you please confirm whether Biosecurity Australia has received any advice either from the Bureau of Resource Sciences or from any member of the IRA team that there was no error in the assessment for black sigatoka?

Mr Cahill —I am not aware of any view expressed by the Bureau of Resource Sciences that there was an error in the modelling related to the assessment for black sigatoka—or, indeed, by any individual member of the IRA team.

Senator BOSWELL —Can you check that and come back to us.

Mr Cahill —I am happy to take that on notice.

Senator BOSWELL —This is also important because we are getting conflicting advice here. I have had this experience with Biosecurity before. I am not suggesting that you would do it, but someone did do it and paid a pretty heavy price for it. I do not want it to happen again. I will just repeat the question to be very clear: can you please confirm whether Biosecurity Australia has received any advice, either from the Bureau of Resource Sciences or from any member of the IRA team, that there was an error in the assessment of black sigatoka? I want a definite yes or no answer, not ‘I’m not aware’, or, ‘I didn’t hear’. I want the exact—

CHAIR —Senator Boswell, I will say before Mr Cahill does answer it that, if he does not know and agrees to take it on notice, I think that is fair.

Senator BOSWELL —Okay. Thank you very much, Mr Chair, and thanks very much for the opportunity.

CHAIR —Thank you, Senator Boswell and Mr Cahill. In what we discussed earlier—and I assume that there would probably be a host more questions for Biosecurity Australia—we did agree to move the format around to give Senator Boswell the opportunity to ask his questions. We thank the officers from Biosecurity Australia. No doubt, as I said, we will be talking to you this afternoon. We welcome back to the table the officers from product integrity.

Senator SIEWERT —I have a question for APVMA. It is a funny acronym. I am not sure if you are doing research in this area or not, which is why I am keen to ask about it. Do you do any work around the use of pesticides on genetically engineered crops?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —If a pesticide is to be used on a genetically engineered crop we certainly have to assess that use before we can allow it.

Senator SIEWERT —You have now opened up two pathways of further questions for me. The first question is: have there been applications for specific pesticides to use on genetically engineered crops?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Certainly. We have approved the use of herbicides on the glyphosate-tolerant canola, and the same for other herbicide-tolerant crops. So yes; we have registered products for those uses.

Senator SIEWERT —Do you monitor the use of those or monitor the claims that the industry makes that you have to use less herbicide? There is evidence that I have seen from the United States, where in fact more chemicals have to be used. Do you do any of that form of assessment?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —No, we do not monitor the quantity of chemical use.

Senator SIEWERT —Who would I go to to verify the claims that are made and to look at how much chemicals are used on genetically engineered crops?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —I am not quite sure who in Australia would be collecting it or whether it is collected on a local basis. But there certainly are projects, I know, within PIAPH that look at developing a system for monitoring pesticide use data. I might defer to my colleague.

Senator NASH —Can I just ask something on that. If your process is a percentage levy of the pesticides used then surely by that levy process you would know how much pesticide is being used across the country.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —It is a dollar value, so we do not know. Certainly you can say that these particular pesticides, on a dollar value, are the highest value pesticide, but it is not on quantity in terms of kilograms per hectare. We cannot make an assessment. It gives you an idea, but you cannot make a direct assessment of quantity because of the cost.

Senator SIEWERT —Is it possible for you to provide that information so that we can have an idea about that?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —On the costings that we publish regularly—the general breakdown on the levies for particular different product types?

Senator SIEWERT —Can you flag the specific ones that have been applied for for GE crops?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We can give some indication of that, yes.

Senator SIEWERT —You mentioned some work that is being done to develop some monitoring.

Mr Aldred —If you like, I can chase up. If you just give me a couple of questions, I will try to chase that up during the break.

Senator SIEWERT —What I am keen to know is whether you could tell us if there are specific chemicals being used for GE crops. There could well be some chemicals that are not specifically flagged for GE crops that are being used in GE crops. What I am keen to know is what level of use there actually is for GE crops. Obviously I am keen to know whether it is going up or down. There are claims made by the industry that it significantly reduces chemical use whereas there is other evidence to show that in fact it does not and that it increases it. So I am keen to know that information and if in fact that is being monitored by anybody.

Mr Aldred —Okay. I will chase that during the day and come back to you.

ACTING CHAIR (Senator Siewert) —That would be very much appreciated. In fact, when I said I had two streams, that has just answered my question on that, thank you. I think I am in the chair at the moment.

Senator MILNE —I just wanted to ask some questions in relation to atrizine and simazine. Can you tell me whether there is any ongoing review or has there been a conclusion of the work that you have been doing on either or both?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Certainly. With regard to atrizine, we completed the review that was ongoing in April this year. What is happening at the moment is that any new evidence we are forwarding to our advisory agencies and asking them to review the new information and new research that is ongoing with regard to atrizine and simazine. Specifically, we have asked the Department of Health and Ageing to look at the whole triazine herbicides, which includes atrizine and simazine, and particularly the new information with regard to their mode of action. So that is some work that they will be doing and reporting to us about.

Senator MILNE —Have you asked anyone from Land and Water or DPI or anyone else to report to you on the impacts of the drought and the likely increased toxicity? After a long period of dry when you get rain, you will get bigger run-off into your storages. Are you aware that the Tasmanian Director of Public Health has advised that Gunns cannot use simazine or atrizine in the Macquarie River catchment in Tasmania, for example? Are you getting any advice about impacts of what might have been regarded as traditional use and how that is impacting now that there is a different rainfall regime?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Yes. I am aware of the activities in Tasmania and of the director-general of health and his recent actions with Gunns. We certainly are aware and we have acknowledged that atrizine and simazine are susceptible to run-off. So the regulatory approach we take is that in any situation—and it does not matter what type of climate—what you need to do is minimise the run-off. So all our regulatory actions have been in relation to making sure that the agricultural practices that must be followed are to minimise run-off. They should be irrespective of what the weather conditions are.

Senator MILNE —So how does that play out with regard to the plantation industry sector in Australia? What are you advising them about run-off?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Well, they must observe the label instructions. We have very extensive label instructions that relate to minimising the run-off. They must observe them. We have asked through the review period to conduct some monitoring. They have also implemented some best management practices that have been part of the package that they are implementing in order to be able to continue to use these chemicals.

Senator MILNE —So have all plantation companies in Australia been asked to self-monitor and report?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We do not have the authority to ask the plantation companies to do the monitoring. That was part of the review, where we requested through our registrants. We regulate the chemical suppliers and not the users, so it is through the registrants that we actually required some monitoring to be done as part of the review process. In that process, the registrants and the user industries often will get together and collect such data together rather than in isolation.

Senator MILNE —So just explain to me how it would work in Tasmania. The registrant is who?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —The chemical company. And the chemical company markets the product, which has extensive label directions that relate to minimising the run-off.

Senator MILNE —That is right. Go on. And so what do they then have to do with the plantation or anyone buying it?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —They do not have any conditions. Our authority stops at the point of retail sale. We regulate up to the point of retail sale. It then becomes the responsibility of the state to control the use of that chemical.

Senator MILNE —Okay. So in terms of this information that is being fed back because of monitoring, that is the state government’s responsibility to require the companies to monitor. Have you got any information on how many samples or how extensive the monitoring has been in a state like Tasmania?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Because we work with our colleagues in the state departments, we certainly are aware of the monitoring and are in constant contact with them when they have conducted another round of monitoring. So it is simply an information feedback between the two agencies.

Senator MILNE —So can you provide details of the monitoring in Tasmanian catchments for the last 12 months?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We certainly have access to that information. It is largely the department that publishes that on its website. But it also gives us the results to feed into our processes.

Senator MILNE —I would like it if you could make that available, because I would be very surprised if the Tasmanian government published all that information on any website. But I would be keen to see what monitoring has gone on in Tasmania. Whilst the Director of Public Health can only act if it is above the drinking water standards, obviously our concern is about the health of the ecosystem and the fauna as well as health in communities. When are we expecting to get some resolution of this triazine review that is currently going on?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We have not had feedback from the department of health as to how long they expect this review will take. They have certainly started on that work. We are aware of that. More publications are coming out almost every day, so I guess it depends on when you are going to draw the line in the sand when we are going to finish that review.

Senator MILNE —The latest US study showed that atrizine could cause damage to human cells at levels half the Australian drinking water guideline limits. You would expect the department of health to access that information?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Indeed. That is one of many studies that we have asked them to reassess.

Senator MILNE —So have you done any preliminary analysis, or have you just collected the data and it is up to the health department to do the analysis?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —It is up to Health. We really rely on the experts within the Office of Chemical Safety to provide us advice on human health matters.

Senator MILNE —But my concern here is, given the time delay, you have obviously collected the data. It is with the health department. There is increasing material coming out from several studies showing that public health is at risk with the current drinking water standards in Australia. Is there anything that you can do to alert the registrants about the need to enforce? Who does the enforcement? Only the state authorities?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —The state authorities are responsible for water.

Mr Aldred —We spoke about this last time under the ag and vet chemical Australian system. The demarcation for control of use is with the states and territories.

Senator MILNE —Yes. But your outcome 1 is to protect the health and safety of people, animals and the environment in respect of these chemicals. My concern here is that there is no follow-up. You can finish at the point of sale, but if the states are not doing the enforcement, people’s health is not being protected and the environment is not being protected.

Mr Aldred —It is the nature of the federation that we have split responsibilities. While that is our outcome, we have issues in terms of responsibility and authority and regulatory power that simply mean we have a demarcation.

Senator McGAURAN —But there are forums where you can raise the issue, certainly, are there not, with the states?

Mr Aldred —As Dr Bennet-Jenkins has advised, there are continuing discussions that go on. I think the point I am making is that responsibility for on-ground control of use rests with the state and territory governments.

Senator McGAURAN —But you can enforce through many different ways the concerns that Senator Milne is raising with the states, can’t you, or are they limp discussions, given the seriousness of the matter?

Mr Aldred —I think we have run through the structure. We can certainly talk, but we do not have the regulatory power to affect the on-ground application of chemicals. Where we do have control is over the registration and the labelling. Dr Bennet-Jenkins is continuing with a series of questions that started last estimates which outlines an ongoing review or a series of reviews. So these sorts of chemicals are always under review in terms of application rates, labelling and those sorts of things. But once we get to on-ground, it is the states and territories.

Senator MILNE —How many years has this review been going?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We commenced the review in 1997 and finished the major component of it in 1995. We finished the review in 1997 and we have been reviewing it ongoing—as new information comes in, we pick it up and we assess it and make a determination as to whether we need to take any further regulatory action.

Senator MILNE —So can I ask: who makes a determination at federal level as to the adequacy of the enforcement? Given the data that you are getting coming through of the contamination in catchments and so on, who ultimately determines whether your regulatory arrangements are satisfactory if there is no enforcement?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We can only make decisions based on the issue of compromise of safety. We can only take the chemical away. The data that we receive through this ongoing monitoring does not indicate that there is an ongoing concern for human safety. The levels that are detected are very low and they are rare occurrences, when you look at the number of monitoring samples that have actually been measured. So, from our perspective, the only reason we could take the chemical away is if the human health standards were being compromised, and to date we have not had any evidence that those human health standards are being compromised.

Senator MILNE —But you have just told me it is the responsibility of the states to do the sampling and the adequacy of the monitoring. Whilst the samples you get back might say that, we have no sense of which catchments they are monitoring, where they are monitoring it or who is doing the monitoring. It is a self-regulation set-up here, I assume, by the forest industry companies and the seller of the chemicals. Is that correct?

Mr Aldred —Again, I guess I would have to say it is an issue for the state and territory governments to determine that sort of activity.

Senator McGAURAN —But we have just had some value judgements with regard to the levels.

Mr Aldred —I do not think they are value judgements, Senator.

Senator McGAURAN —Well, judgements. How have you come to those conclusions? Have you received the information from the states?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Yes, indeed. We do look at the information from the states and we look at the levels. There are drinking water standards. It is only when those standards are compromised and we can actually link it to a safety issue that we can remove a chemical.

Senator MILNE —But it is the health department’s responsibility to determine whether the standards are adequate to protect human health and that is presumably what they are looking at now.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —They are.

Senator MILNE —Can you give me any indication of when there is likely to be an outcome from this current review of the use of triazines?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —As I have said, we have not had feedback from the Office of Chemical Safety when precisely they will have finished this re-review. I know they are working on the project right now, and we would hope to get a report from them this year.

Senator MILNE —This year?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —As part of that assessment, we are awaiting the publication of a WHO-FAO report that is a very extensive monograph on atrizine and a toxicological assessment of atrizine. It will be very useful to have the preliminary report. The summary report was published in February. The full monograph will be published later this year. It would be very useful to have that to feed into the whole process. The summary document very much agrees with our current assessment for that chemical in that there are no human health issues. So it would be good, when we get our report from the Office of Chemical Safety, that they include the consideration of the more detailed assessments from that international expert group.

Senator MILNE —Just in answer to my question about the consultation you have had with anyone in the department of agriculture, in Land and Water Australia or anyone else, whilst it may be arguable that the chemical is applied in the manner in which it is required to be applied, if there is a changed rainfall and run-off scenario that will alter how it can be used. That is my concern here. Is there any consultation going on about that?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —That is part of the original assessment and that is where the label instructions are quite extensive—to actually advise the user and in what situations they might have to observe some additional restrictions or not use the chemical if the climate suggests that there may be increased potential for run-off.

Senator MILNE —And in terms of the volumes of triazines that are used, is that the same as in answer to Senator Siewert’s question—that it is simply a dollar value, we do not have any volumes of the amount of this chemical that is applied to Tasmanian catchments?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —No, we do not. But I do understand—

Senator HEFFERNAN —I do. I will give you the answer in a minute.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —I do understand that Tasmania has conducted a pilot study on how the state might more usefully collect such information.

Senator MILNE —And where is that pilot study?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —That is being conducted by the Department of Primary Industries and Water in Tasmania.

Senator MILNE —And will that be made public, do you know?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —I cannot answer for that department.

Senator MILNE —Have you received that pilot study?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We are aware of it and we receive regular updates.

Senator MILNE —Could I ask for a copy of it through you, please. As soon as it is concluded, I would very much like to see a copy of that pilot project being conducted in Tasmania.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Yes.

Senator MILNE —Thank you.

Senator SIEWERT —Why do you not have an idea of the volumes of these chemicals that are used? If you are talking about safety and one of your remits is safety, why are you not looking at the volumes of these chemical used? I would have thought that would be essential information.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —In many respects, from an environment perspective, it is important when registrants apply for a chemical they do give us an indication of the volume of chemicals they expect. It is part of the calculations, if you like, for the environmental load for the chemical—the volume of chemical they expect to sell over the years. If there is a change in that pattern, they should inform us. But that is only a general guess of how much they expect to sell of a particular chemical in terms of actual quantity.

Senator SIEWERT —They should inform you, but do they? Do you have a specific form that they fill out? Do you chase them up and say, ‘Tell us how much of this you have sold?’

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —No. We do not collect use information.

Senator SIEWERT —So who does? How do we get an idea of what amount of chemicals are being used?

Mr Aldred —Senator, I think I have already said I will take that on notice and try to come back to you.

Senator SIEWERT —That is on GE related pesticides. But the broad question is—

Mr Aldred —I will expand the question to cover data on the use of chemicals.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Can I ask you—

Senator McGAURAN —Is it whether you do or what the quantity of use is? They are trying to find out the quantity?

Senator SIEWERT —All I want answers to are the questions.

Senator McGAURAN —The first part is you do not know whether you collect that data, so you have to take that part on notice.

Mr Aldred —I am not aware that anyone in DAFF collects that data. What I have said that I will do is chase up and find out if there is a system that, for example, through the state and territory governments we can access.

Senator McGAURAN —This is your department. This is your job. I may understand if you have not got the quantities on hand, but you would know whether you have that data or not or whether you collect it.

Mr Aldred —I do not know, and I have taken it on notice.

Senator McGAURAN —This is a full-time job.

CHAIR —Senator McGauran, in all fairness, Mr Aldred has said he will take it on notice. Senator Siewert, are you finished?

Senator SIEWERT —On that particular issue I have, yes.

CHAIR —Senator Heffernan, is your question on this issue?

Senator HEFFERNAN —It is indeed, mate. Can I just put it on the record that I actually have a chemical users ticket, so I am qualified to talk about chemicals in this place. Are you aware of how they package simazine and triazine?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Not specifically, no. Do you mean the drums?

Senator HEFFERNAN —No. It is not in drums. That is the trouble. If you knock about in the paddock, this is easy to do, what we are talking about here. It is in dry form. It comes in paper packages, so it is very easy to calculate who uses what. If you want to find out what is really happening in Tassie, go and talk to the blokes that fly it on. I have. And they put it on in some areas at four times the label because it is a wonderful chemical. It will kill grass for a bloody long time. And if you stick enough on you will certainly kill the grass and everything else that pops its head up, bar the trees. And as you probably are aware, the particle of the triazine-simazine family moves before a lot of those areas are pulverised, by the time they get them planted out. The chemical will move before the dirt will move because it is a larger particle. That is why the people down at St Helens and wherever are at risk and are concerned. I just think it is a very simple operation. I am aware that Forestry Tasmania said they do not use it, but they do not do the first rotation either. The first rotation people use it. That is just smarmy words. If you apply the triazine family of chemicals at the right rate, it is a reasonable chemical to use. But, as you are probably aware, in the United States, with the corn, they have permanently contaminated some of the aquifers over there with that family of chemicals, which is considered to be carcinogenic. So if we were serious, we would, as we are about to do with lamb and hogget branding, harmonise the states so that there is some overview of what goes on in each state. There are likeable rogues in all these industries, including mine—farming. The pilots are the blokes, and the bloke who mixes the stuff when they put it into the plane, who can tell you precisely. If you want to find out what is going on, go into the field and go to someone who is flying it on and say, ‘Mate, what rate are you putting it on at?’ And, as you know, when they apply it they fly over the waterways and everything else. It would be impossible to do it by satellite tracking.

It is something that needs tighter supervision. It needs national harmonisation and it needs a penalty regime where, like branding hogget as lamb in Western Australia a couple of years ago, you can put people in jail, because that is a nice wake-up call. It is not fair to say, and I have not revisited this issue for two or three years since I went down there on my own and discovered all the hanky-panky that was going on in the forestry industry down there, but it is something you can sort out. It is reasonable that those doctors in Tassie are concerned about it. It is reasonable up here in some of the catchments in New South Wales. And it is the responsibility of the person who is doing the job. There ought to be a penalty that equalises the concern that people have where there is abuse of the chemical. So it is not a big deal to find out what is going on. In fact, if you drive down there quietly—do not take a camera with you and just drive around—people will tell you what is going on. You can do it officially as the department or you can do it as Citizen Joe. I will not accept that you cannot find out or that you do not know. It is bloody simple.

CHAIR —Are there any other questions?

Senator MILNE —I would like to come back to the questions in relation to strawberries. You will recall that at the last estimates I asked some questions about the Choice review of strawberries showing that there were chemical residues in some of the strawberry samples and so on. The department provided some answers. I was a bit concerned to see that one of those reviews has taken six years and nothing was going on. Can you tell me where you are up to with all the chemicals identified, including endosulfan?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —With respect to the chemicals that were under review, the endosulfan review was finished several years ago. The chlorpyrifos review is ongoing and will be finalised this year. That is actually a second part of the review. The original review was already completed. There is often confusion about when we start a review. Because the chemical always is, if you like, under suspicion, you continue to look at it closely. Chlorpyrifos is one of them. So we are progressing them, as I mentioned at the last Senate estimates.

Senator MILNE —What does ‘we are progressing them’ mean? They should not have turned up in those strawberry samples. One of them was a prohibited chemical. Is that correct?

Mr Magee —I might just add some points to this topic. We did discuss this quite a bit last time. Following that last hearing, the Australian government did quite a bit of follow-up on the matter. There was some further discussion with Choice magazine over their findings and what they put in that previous edition. In the June edition of Choice, they have actually clarified that in fact there was only one violation, not three. They have also clarified that that was for chlorpyrifos, I believe, which is permitted for use on strawberries. So the ones that were prohibited were in fact not violations.

Senator MILNE —And the ongoing review of that chemical, you said, will be finished this year. Is that correct?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Chlorpyrifos review, yes.

Senator MILNE —It will be finished this year?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —That will be finished this year.

Senator MILNE —I also asked in the health estimates whether strawberries could be included in the range of products that the government will look at this year. They do a grocery basket sort of thing and choose 80 products or thereabouts to just do a random test on. Can you tell me whether strawberries have been included in that since the last estimates?

Mr Magee —I think that would be a question for Food Standards Australia New Zealand, Senator.

Senator MILNE —So you do not know?

Mr Magee —No.

CHAIR —If there are no other questions—

Senator O’BRIEN —I have a couple of questions. Are you able to give us a quantity for the use of the various triazine chemicals in Australia according to at least value?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We could in terms of value, yes.

Senator O’BRIEN —Are you able to extrapolate from value approximate quantities?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We would not be able to do that because we do not have any figures in terms of the pricing of the triazines. We also collect some information in relation to the amount of active that is imported into Australia. That can also give an indication of how much chemical is being used. But of course we do not know how much is being used where.

Senator O’BRIEN —I think a Victorian study into genetically modified canola suggests that there is 600 tonnes of triazine going into Australian farming systems annually. How would they get that figure?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —I am not sure, I am sorry, Senator.

Senator O’BRIEN —I would be interested to see whether we can track the figure down. Obviously other articles indicate a very wide usage of triazine chemicals in the agriculture sector. I am keen to understand the breadth of its use. Clearly, 70 per cent of the conventional canola we grow is reliant on triazine chemicals in its cultivation. So I am interested to get an understanding of the use of this chemical in a farming context given the reliance of conventional canola, or at least a substantial amount of it, on triazine application.

Dr O’Connell —Senator, what we might do for you is to pull together work between both parts of the portfolio and anywhere else and see if we can provide you with a useful briefing.

Senator O’BRIEN —Thank you.

Senator NASH —I want to quickly return to the levy issue for the APVMA. So I can be absolutely clear, the levy figure is a dollar amount. Is it a dollar amount per litre?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Per cost. They give us a dollar amount of their sales—their total sales for the year—and a percentage of those sales is what the levy will collect.

Senator NASH —So they just add everything up and then it is a flat dollar amount as per those sales. Thank you. Can I just ask you what your role is in terms of the fertiliser industry? What is the relationship and what role do you play?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —We have no role with fertilisers. We do not regulate fertilisers.

Senator NASH —I am just looking at a submission from the department to a recent fertiliser inquiry and they specifically say that you have a role.

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Not in fertiliser. We regulate agricultural materials.

Senator NASH —So they are just purely referring to chemicals?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —Yes.

Senator NASH —Yes, that is clear. Thanks very much.

Senator HEFFERNAN —While we have APVMA here, have you commented on flystrike prevention in terms of the clips?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —That is not our role. We only register chemicals and not devices. The clips would be considered—

Senator HEFFERNAN —So you have no authority if, for instance, you buy—and the blokes are coming up soon—a packet of clips and it says, ‘These clips are to prevent flystrike?’ You cannot comment on that?

Dr Bennet-Jenkins —No. We do not regulate those devices.

Senator HEFFERNAN —Thanks.

CHAIR —Are there any other questions of the officers? If not, I thank you very much. What we will do is go now to Australian Wool Innovation. I remind officers from Product Integrity to please stay around because there are still a number of questions to be asked.

[12.33 pm]