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Monday, 26 May 1997
Page: 3968


Mr TRUSS —My question is directed to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Has the minister's attention been drawn to statements about the government's decision for the funding of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service? Is the government working to ensure a responsible, effective quarantine and inspection regime under which Australian industries can maximise their contribution to the national economy and the wellbeing of rural and regional areas?


Mr ANDERSON —I thank the honourable member for that question. No foundation stone is more important to Australian agriculture than an effective quarantine service. It has the role, of course, of keeping diseases and pests at bay and also of ensuring that our export performance, which is very largely based on our reputation for being able to certify the quality of our exports, can truly be secured. And fire blight, of course, is in deed—as many members in this place would know—highlighting just how important our reputation for being able to guarantee quality really is when it comes to the export of our agricultural product. Indeed, ABARE has estimated that if either one of, for example, karnal bunt affecting cereal crops or foot and mouth disease affecting our livestock industries come in, it could blow a $3 billion to $4 billion dollar hole in Australia's annual export performance.

Against real concerns about the effectiveness of our quarantine arrangements in this country, and after a lot of cutting from people like the then minister for clean, green, value adding and cutting AQIS—the member for Hotham—the previous government, after a lot of pressure from us, instigated in its dying days a full, independent, scientific inquiry into AQIS and our quarantine services. We picked that up in government. One of my first decisions was, in fact, to expand the evaluative capacity of the Nairn review team, and the government got its very comprehensive review late last year.

Here is the important bit. In response to that review, we announced in the budget a very substantial boost in funding for quarantine of the order of $76 million—$16 million this year and $20 million in each of the years in the forward estimates. Of course, that is quite separate from the additional $45 million or so that is to be designated to reforming the red meat inspection service.

I want to make the very important point that this money will be spent across the continuum of quarantine: pre-border, border, post-border surveillance and—


Mr Crean —Half of it is redundancies.


Mr ANDERSON —No, it is not. Thank you for that point. That is the $45 million that goes to red meat inspections. The $76 million is all new money for quarantine. Thank you. You now understand.


Mr Crean —No, it is being spent on redundancies. That is your employment strategy.


Mr ANDERSON —No, it is separate. They do no understand. That is in anybody's language—I think you would agree, Prime Minister—a large and substantial boost in resources to AQIS. This has been recognised by all intelligent observers, by all of our farm leaders, with, it seems, one exception. There is an exception. You can imagine my surprise—I did not see it in the newspapers and I did not see it on television or hear it on radio, and I am not surprised, because of its quality—to find a media release from my opposite number, the federal member for Burke, saying: `Fire blight shows up stupidity of quarantine cuts.' We have put an extra $76 million into quarantine, but my opposite number over here says that that is a major cut in quarantine. The question that has to be asked is how a $76 million boost to quarantine can possibly be described as a cut in quarantine.

Mr O'Keefe does make a couple of relevant points. He says that: `Australia will need more, not less people working in the quarantine field in the future.' There will be. That is the point.


Mr O'Keefe —What about the 700 jobs in meat inspection that are being cut?


Mr ANDERSON —That is quite separate from quarantine. They do not understand the difference between meat inspection and quarantine. It is extraordinary. There is a major difference. But he did get one thing right: he pointed out that `Australia is facing new challenges every day on the quarantine and food inspection fronts' and that other countries are looking at the quality of our science. The media release goes on to say:

Mr O'Keefe says the international scrutiny is serious and our science has to stack up.

He is right, and we will make sure it does. In conclusion, I point out that I recently arranged for the new shadow minister for primary industries to have a briefing from my department to try to bring him up to date. I think that, in all seriousness, given his recent contributions and in the interests of a more informed debate in this place, I had better organise another one for him.