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Thursday, 20 September 2012
Page: 11521


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:13): Of particular concern to Australia's agriculture, particularly for potato growers, is a zebra chip disease caused by the bacteria Candidatus Liberibacter. The disease first appeared in Central America in the early 1990s before spreading to Texas in 1999. It has been reported in all states west of the Mississippi River except Utah. According to Biosecurity Australia, it was first detected in New Zealand in 2006. The problem in New Zealand is so severe for the production of French fries in the North Island that the industry is described as being on a knife's edge.

The coalition are highly concerned about the catastrophic damage—and I am not exaggerating—to the Australian potato industry that the proposed import of fresh New Zealand potatoes poses. We have heard this before in the case of apples and now it is the case with potatoes. It is particularly concerning, as Biosecurity Australia is understood to have conceded that infected potatoes will inevitably be imported into Australia if New Zealand is given import rights, but it does believe there are adequate means through quarantine facilities to control the risk and any potatoes found to have the disease would be destroyed, as they should be, either by incineration or deep burial under strict quarantine controls. Fresh, whole potatoes from New Zealand will not be available for retail sale and will be provided only for further processing into hot chips. However, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry believe there will still be about 30 per cent waste from the imported potatoes. We believe the importation of potatoes from countries that have the disease is premature and before importation is considered we need proper science to give us a much better understanding of the issue and the biosecurity systems which can manage and eradicate outbreaks.

In my electorate of Riverina, the Hillston district is a large potato growing area with the golden delight potato originating in this district. There is a mechanical harvest biannually, one from June to September and the other from October to January. There is a significant concern among growers about the impact zebra chip will have on their crops should it spread to this area. The thing about Hillston potatoes is that they are absolutely fresh and they are amazingly good. I can remember going to the Northern Riverina Football League preliminary final at Hillston last year and the young lad at the gate said to me, 'Sir, would you like to buy a bag of potatoes?' Being a local member, I said: 'Yeah, sure, why not. Pass it through the window.' He said, 'Hardly' and then this burly fellow came out with this huge sack of potatoes. It was more than you could possibly eat in six months. My wife Catherine thought they were the best that she has ever eaten. We go back to Hillston whenever we can and always make sure we buy a sack of potatoes. That is why they should be protected.

Mr Lyons: Not as good as Tasmanian, mate.

Mr McCORMACK: Better than Tasmania, those in the Riverina, but they should be protected. There is concern shared by growers across Australia. AUSVEG, the national peak industry body that represents the best interests of potato growers, believes the assessment of risk on the import of fresh potatoes for processing is seriously flawed and should be rejected.

Also of vital importance to Riverina's agriculture is a sensible Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The plan will come before parliament soon. This morning, the water minister introduced amendments in the House to the Water Act. Of the $5.8 billion set aside under the Water Act for works and measures—water savings infrastructure, which if spent properly will retain more than enough water for the environment—$3.3 billion was allocated to the states. Part of New South Wales's share is yet to be apportioned. A former member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, Rick Bull, is coordinating the delivery of the Water for Rivers program, an excellent initiative. He was in parliament today. I spoke to him as did the shadow water minister, Senator Barnaby Joyce. Water for Rivers is working in partnership with State Water and the New South Wales Department of Water and Energy to establish the Murrumbidgee River as the world's most efficiently managed and operated working river system. The group says it will save, retrieve, keep, maintain—call it what you like—as much as 500 megalitres which will go into the sustainable diversion limit box. That has to be a good measure. It would form part of the money set aside. It would not be taking productive water out of the system. The Murrumbidgee River is the lifeblood for those wonderful farmers of the Riverina district. I commend the Water for Rivers program to the minister for water and I commend it to the House. I hope that Tony Burke takes this in good faith and implements what Rick Bull is trying to do.