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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2459

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (3.31 p.m.) —That will make some very amusing reading afterwards in the Hansard. Senator Chapman has confirmed that his press statement is wrong, as I said it was; but he said that in fact it would not have been wrong if he had drafted the recommendation for the committee's report himself.

Senator Chapman —Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: the minister is grossly misrepresenting what I said. In no way did I refer to what my press release would have said if I had drafted the recommendations.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —That is not a point of order. Standing order 191 allows you to correct that later.

Senator COLLINS —I simply confirm again, as Senator Chapman has already confirmed, that the recommendation in the report itself, as drafted by the committee and not by Senator Chapman, recommends a review of the guidelines for the disaster plan—not that it be broadened to include mice. I am sure that that will be reviewed. In fact, I said in question time today that I will give consideration to that recommendation.

  Look at the qualified recommendation to establish the mouse plague commission: the recommendation actually says that, if the commission is not established:

The Committee recommends that state governments maintain a stockpile of strychnine with a plan for its distribution.

When one reads the report itself, one understands why the committee said that because the report correctly identified the absence of strychnine in the 1993 mouse plague in South Australia as being a problem, and I acknowledge that it is, and I have already got this from the chairman of the committee.

  Even though I wrote to Senator Chapman and told him—because Senator Chapman did have the carriage of this debate in the committee on mice plagues that he has an interest in as I do—I will bet the committee was not told of the meeting that took place in February this year convened by me of all of the leading edge experts on this problem in Australia. I bet the committee was not told that I had written to Senator Chapman unsolicited and advised him of the outcome of that meeting. I bet the committee was not told at the meeting that I had agreed that the existing arrangements administered by the GRDC and its rodent task force were appropriate in advancing this issue. I bet the committee was not told that an agreement was reached at that meeting at which I advised Senator Chapman that we would investigate other areas outside of grain in terms of affected people, which is also mentioned in this report—for example, pig and poultry farmers, and that is being done. I bet the committee was not told that the GRDC has already spent over $1 million in research.

  The committee clearly was told, obviously, that there are legitimate concerns about the use of strychnine, and that is in the report—Senator Chapman cannot simply overlook it. Health authorities and public welfare authorities are concerned about the widespread distribution, broadacre distribution, of strychnine baits, and so they should be.

  The facts are that I have addressed this question very seriously indeed, as Senator Chapman knows. I took the trouble—and I do not know why I bothered—to advise Senator Chapman in writing. It is a fact that the recommendation of the committee is not that the guidelines be broadened but that they be reviewed to consider whether such broadening is necessary. Senator Chapman's public statement is wrong. I will, in fact, give consideration to this recommendation of the committee that the guidelines be reviewed.

  The big problem is, as Senator Chapman knows full well, that even though the CSIRO scientists have developed effective and accurate methods of predicting mouse plagues, regrettably, to this point in time, no effective measure is in existence to combat them. The most promising method that looks as though it will succeed is biological control. That is being worked on at the moment. There are experiments in Victoria already under way on biological control but, unfortunately and regrettably, it is some years off. In terms of the problems correctly and accurately identified by the committee in this report on disaster management, and it is a good report on disaster management—

Senator Chapman —Take note of it.

Senator COLLINS —There is an entire chapter on the federal coalition on page 130 that Senator Chapman might want to refer to. (Time expired)

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The time for the debate has expired.