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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8638

Dr STONE (Murray) (10:15): Yesterday was a tragic day for people in the Goulburn Valley, where we grow 80 per cent of Australia's pears and a very big proportion of Australia's best apples. We have a lot of food factories that use pears, in particular, as a fundamental building block for their products. Yesterday was the announcement of the end of a decades-long battle to stop fresh apples coming from a fire blight infected zone, New Zealand, into this country. Yesterday we heard that we were not to have a strong protocol. The problem is that fire blight is an incurable disease. Once it gets loose in the orchards of Australia, it will take out the pear industry altogether. New Zealand is not going to export pears to Australia—they do not have them for that purpose—but they are saying to Australia, 'Don't worry.' Their scientists assure them that the fire blight bacteria cannot piggyback on a fresh apple into this country and, via bees, wind or water, get into Australian orchards. Well, our Australian scientists say that, yes, live bacteria can be transferred from an orchard with a problem to anywhere else that apple finally ends up.

The protocols that are to be imposed in New Zealand, which have now been ticked off, say that you can be actively out there in your orchard with chainsaws and streptomycin sprays trying to control your fire blight while your pickers are on the next tree taking the fruit off to put in a box to go to Australia. We are saying that that is absurd. Given that this bacteria gets spread, as I said, by insect, wind and wind-borne rain, how can we just stand back and not even expect or require that an orchard has been fire blight free for a period of time before the apples are able to be brought across to Australia? As I say, we do not have fire blight in Australia at this time. Miraculously, Australia has remained fire blight free.

There are two other pest species involved in this protocol—European canker and twirling leaf mite—neither of which are in Australia now. This protocol says that, if people make sure they are actively using the appropriate sprays in New Zealand, they can just pop their fruit in the boxes out of those orchards and send it across to Australia. This is a serious problem for us.

I have with me a petition. It has hundreds of names on it. There are thousands more sitting in my office ready for me to bring into this parliament. I wish to table this petition. It comes from the heart of the people of the Goulburn Valley and northern Victoria, who are saying, 'Please, there is one last hope for us.' A motion is going to be brought into the House to make this protocol a disallowable instrument. If we can receive the support of the Greens on this matter, maybe there is one last hope for the Australian apple and pear industry. (Time expired)

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition from certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House: The failure of the Gillard Government;

to acknowledge the very serious threat to Australia's biosecurity through the importation of fresh apples from New Zealand which has fire blight;

to implement strict quarantine regulations to guard against fire blight.

We therefore ask the House to instruct the Government to;

immediately put a halt to the importation of fresh apples from New Zealand;

direct Biosecurity Australia to establish strict protocols to protect Australian apples and pears from the fire blight disease.

from 413 citizens

Petition received.