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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2708


Mr BURKE (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (9:13 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010 is another step in the government’s plans to cut red tape and increase efficiencies in the regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. When it comes to the use of chemicals, the overriding priorities are to protect human health and the environment.

But we believe we can make the system work more efficiently without jeopardising these priorities.

This bill makes a number of changes to simplify the administration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. It gives effect to reforms agreed by the Council of Australian Governments, or COAG, and delivers on an early harvest reform identified in conjunction with the Productivity Commission research report in 2008.

The bill amends the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994 and will cut red tape in two areas. First, the bill will clarify what constitutes confidential commercial information when applying for certain types of permits for chemical use.

It would allow the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, or APVMA, to use information in a permit application that is not commercially sensitive when assessing that application.

Currently, all matters about a permit application are deemed confidential commercial information, including the fact that an application has even been made. It is true that some permit applications to use agricultural and veterinary chemicals will include some commercially valuable information. However, clearly not all information needs to be protected in the same inflexible way.

The current legislation forces the APVMA and industry to enter a complex and inefficient process. The APVMA must first seek the applicant’s approval before seeking information from the product registrant, or others, to inform its expert assessment of minor use or emergency use permit applications. This places an unreasonable burden on industry. It also limits the APVMA’s ability to engage openly with others who may be seeking similar permits at the same time. The paperwork, consultation or other aspects of these similar permits could be streamlined under these changes.

This bill would allow the Authority to seek certain information where a minor use or emergency use permit has been sought. Allowing the APVMA to seek additional information is important because most minor use or emergency use permits authorise additional—or ‘off-label’—uses of products which are already registered.

For example, a product originally registered to control a pest in apples may also be effective against the same pest if it affects pears. But, under the current system, such a use would be illegal without approval. To assess a permit application, the authority may need access to additional information—for example, information held by the original registrant of the chemical.

This bill would enable the authority to seek relevant information and make more efficient decisions on minor use and emergency use permits, without compromising the integrity of the commercial parties involved.

In general, applications for minor use or emergency use permits do not contain confidential commercial information. However, if they do, the bill foreshadows regulations to specify the types of information that the authority can release as it assesses an application. Other information—for example, product formulation details—will remain confidential commercial information.

The regulations would draw on the disclosure requirements for product-registration applications, which are currently set out in regulations 8C, 8D and 8E of the Agricultural and Veterinary Code Regulations 1995.

The amendments would only apply to minor use or emergency use permits. Details of research permits—which are commonly used by agricultural and veterinary chemical manufacturers during product development—would be protected. This includes the fact that a permit has been applied for.

The bill also seeks to include trade issues as a consideration when determining whether product labels remain adequate. This will include instructions for proper use. It will be achieved by extending the definition of an ‘adequate’ label to include one that does not unduly prejudice trade by posing risks to our exports that exceed the benefits of the chemical use in Australia.

Trade risks can arise where residues are below the Australian maximum residue limit but exceed the standards set by an importing country. These maximum residue limits are imposed to ensure chemicals have been used in accordance with good agricultural or veterinary practice. Production practices vary from country-to-country due to differences in climate, farming techniques and pests and diseases. Therefore, maximum residue limits can also vary. Of course, protecting human health and the environment will remain the overriding considerations.

Under the current system, the APVMA must consider trade, among other issues, when products are first approved. The label instructions ensure that proper use of the product will not adversely affect Australia’s exports, by including the latest advice on importing country requirements.

Those importing country requirements often change over time. The label may need to be updated to reflect new instructions for use. However, the authority lacks the power to take direct action to update the product label to address a trade issue. Currently it must first reconsider the entire product registration.

This is an unwieldy approach and unnecessary regulation. It is time consuming for the authority and confusing for industry. The bill seeks to enable the authority to review a product label directly when significant trade concerns arise which may unduly prejudice exports by posing risks to Australia’s exports that exceed the benefits of the chemical use.

The amendments will allow prompt action where necessary and reduce the risk of our exporters unwittingly breaching importing country requirements. These breaches—even if accidental—result in commercial consequences for the exporter and could jeopardise the clean, green image of Australian food exports.

The key priorities for the government remain protecting human health and the environment. Nothing else is more important. But we will continue to look for ways to improve the efficiency of chemicals and pesticides regulation in Australia, without jeopardising these priorities.

This bill gives effect to reform agreed on by COAG. It is a down payment on a broader set of reforms to the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and the national regulation of agriculture and veterinary chemicals.

We are working with industry and state and territory governments to develop a single national regulatory framework for agricultural and veterinary chemicals. This forms part of COAG’s initiative to achieve a seamless national economy and is an important reform agenda.

As part of the Better Regulation Ministerial Partnerships initiative, the government is also looking at measures to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the APVMA. We are aware that the authority has a very difficult and important role, particularly in protecting human health and the environment. However, it is clear from industry and other stakeholder feedback that reform is needed.

This bill marks an important milestone in the broader reform process. It will allow the government to begin to remove red tape affecting the work of the APVMA. The bill will benefit not only those who use agricultural and veterinary chemicals, but also the wider community, our food security and our export markets.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.