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Monday, 21 March 2011
Page: 2620

Mr GEORGANAS (7:09 PM) —It is a great pleasure for me to be here to move this motion tonight that this House acknowledges that we have a strong biosecurity and quarantine system which is critical to Australia’s rural and regional industries, important to our jobs, to our consumers and of course our natural heritage. It is of concern to a lot of Australians. We have good laws in place to protect Australia from pests and diseases that are carried by overseas animals, plants and their products, and of course it is important that the application of Australian law continues to apply rigorously in Australia to defend against the external challenge. These are important issues. They are very important for our strong biosecurity systems and they are widely and deeply supported throughout the Australian community. In fact our need for strong biosecurity is one of the most fundamental and critical issues that people face day by day and it goes to the means by which people sustain their very lives. Last year the clear, unmistakable and very deep fear that people in the community felt in response to hearing—and all of us heard about it in our electorates—about the importation of beef that might have been infected with mad cow disease demonstrated widespread community concerns about such issues.

These issues were debated extensively especially in my electorate. One outlet for such public concern is often through media such as talkback radio. This issue was very prominent. It received great attention on the South Australian radio program of Leon Byner on FIVEaa. Not satisfied with simply airing these concerns about being forced to import these particular products or other similar issues of grave concern to members of the public, Leon Byner helpfully created an interactive website named Don’t sell Australia short and on this site members of the public can express their deeply-held concerns, or advocate for change or conservation depending on the issue. I would advise anyone that is concerned or has an interest in this area to visit Leon Byner’s Facebook page, which is called Don’t sell Australia short, which has had over 4,000 hits. While the issues do vary markedly from foreign acquisition to protectionism to industry deregulation, the concern is consistent in contributors’ calls for Australia as a whole, and government, to take action.

Australian governments have for a century provided the laws used to keep Australia safe from imported diseases and we have been very successful in this matter. But a good quarantine system does not remove all responsibility for quality control from the public. Ultimately, it is every individual who chooses what he or she will consume, be it imported beef product or local beef product, be it imported fruit and vegetables or fruit and vegetables available from local producers. Consumers have the power to choose what they purchase and consumers continue to face risks in consuming available food.

While we have a good system that we are improving all the time, mistakes do happen. For example, the Interim Inspector-General of Biosecurity released a report in November last year into the inadvertent release of two consignments of raw, peeled prawns by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The consignments had returned positive results on tests for the white spot syndrome virus, a disease affecting prawns but which poses no threat to human health. Test results should have led to the prawns being destroyed or re-exported—and when I say re-exported, I mean sent back to their place of origin. However, human error caused the prawns to be released into the retail supply chain. This is one incident where our good system did not perform as it should have.

Improvements to the system to avoid the potential for human error are being undertaken. The Australian government’s work in this area continues. The government commissioned deep analysis of our biosecurity systems soon after coming to office in 2007. The Commonwealth agreed in principle with all of the review’s 84 recommended reforms and this government has been assisting our biosecurity agencies and helping to improve their systems, bringing them up to date, making them stronger and more thorough in the public interest. This work is ongoing, relentless and ever increasing, as it should be. I would like to acknowledge the huge task in which our biosecurity and quarantine personnel are engaged and on behalf of the Australian public give them every encouragement in the performance of their critical task. (Time expired)