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Thursday, 18 October 1984
Page: 2024


Senator WATSON(9.53) —The Senate is continuing a debate commenced approximately one month ago on the very important subject of biological control. Biological control as part of the interlocking ecological system will be ensured and encouraged under the Biological Control Bill now before the Parliament. Without this legislation we could find, and have found, that individual concerns may override the net public benefit, resulting in the demise of valuable programs of biological control. The significance of this debate is given further emphasis because the biological control programs are vital for Australia. They are vital because new pests will enter the country; pests are spreading around the world, in some cases at an alarming rate, and it is possible to get better agents for existing pests. Australia is such a large geographic entity that, once established, weeds and pests can proliferate very quickly. The capital intensive nature and the economic importance of our agriculture renders weeds and pest control programs imperative to its success.

I commend the important work done by the Division of Entomology within the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation. The use of biological control has considerable and distinct advantages because not only is it cost efficient, it is also target specific; not only is it non-polluting, it is also energy conserving; and, above all, it is self-perpetuating. Alternatively, chemical, mechanical, genetic and cultural methods of controlling weeds and pests are often very costly, often very ineffective, and sometimes, particularly with chemicals, very dangerous. What is more, biological control is often the only feasible method of dealing with widespread weeds and pests. The cost of herbicides to eliminate Paterson's curse, for example, would be phenomenal, not to mention the other problems which are associated with these methods of control.

Biological control can be defined briefly as a technique by which a pest species, usually an insect or a weed, is controlled by the use of its natural enemies, or agents. These agents may be quite varied. They can be parasites, predators or diseases. The important thing is that the testing is usually done initially outside Australia where the agent is in its home environment. But once these tests are completed the agent is still brought into Australia under quarantine for further testing and final checking. When it is definite that no organism other than the target organism will be affected the agent is introduced . I hope that the State and Northern Territory parliaments will move swiftly with complementary legislation to establish throughout Australia a uniform and equitable control program in the public interest without litigation.

Biological control legislation is also compatible with the notion of scientific and technological progress. Yet without legislative legitimisation, biological control programs are vulnerable and subject to the whims of self-interested individuals. Giving biological control programs some legal status will give agencies such as the CSIRO security to develop the many and varied potential biological control programs currently in the making. The list of candidates for the future biological control programs will occupy us for decades; it will be an ongoing process.

While predominantly restricted to insects and weeds-snails are another example- vertebrate pests can also be targets for biological control programs. Honourable senators will remember the use of the myxomatosis to regulate rabbit proliferation. The facilitation of biological control programs must be accorded priority status in relation to the needs of agriculture. If we can get this legislation on the books, it will have a great deal of universal applicability. It will be relevant and of benefit to the Australian people, to industry and to the environment. I commend the legislation to the Senate.