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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 25878

Senator HARRIS (2:33 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Is the minister aware that imports of salmon and trout products coming into the main ports of Melbourne and Sydney from New Zealand have increased by 600 per cent since October last year—that is, in October 2000, 3.6 tonnes was imported and, in May this year, imports had risen to 62 tonnes? Can the minister guarantee that this product is strictly 100 per cent New Zealand product, not stocks consisting of a mixture of New Zealand and other countries' product—that is, transhipped product, using New Zealand as an intermediatory?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I am aware that New Zealand is the only substantial exporter of salmon to Australia, but these exports are quite modest in comparison to the size of the Australian market and salmon production in Australia. We did produce some 11,000 tonnes of salmon last year. In the six months to June, New Zealand exported only about 156 tonnes. The quarantine authorities have assured the government that all product marked as New Zealand product is produced in New Zealand. Each consignment is accompanied by an official New Zealand government certificate confirming this origin. So we have no reason to doubt the accuracy and validity of those certificates. Certainly, as far as salmon diseases are concerned, New Zealand has the same disease free status as Australia, and New Zealand salmon is not infected by the significant diseases found in the Northern Hemisphere. So we are aware of the concerns expressed by some salmon fishermen and, quite clearly, those concerns and those of anglers in general are ones that the government takes very seriously.

At this stage, we will obviously be expecting AQIS to conduct regular reviews and to be involved in ongoing discussions with their New Zealand counterparts, but the provision of those certificates does provide the necessary degree of assurance and comfort that ought to be required. Certainly the level of imports has risen from a low base but, in the scheme of things, it is still not a hugely substantial item. We are committed to having world's best practice in quarantine procedures. That will certainly apply to salmon from wherever it comes. As Senator Harris would know, that is a major reason why we have not seen any significant imports from Canada. Certainly, in relation to salmon imports from anywhere, but from New Zealand for your purposes, we are committed to continuing to insist on very high levels of assessment and certification.

Senator HARRIS —Madam President, I have a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and for the assurance to the fishing fraternity that these imports meet the same disease free status as stocks in Australia. Would the minister investigate why New Zealand producers can export their stocks of salmon to Australia, but Australian producers, at this point in time, are unable to export to New Zealand under the same criteria? If it is necessary, would the minister take that question on notice and report back to the Senate?

Senator ALSTON (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —I will check to see whether that is in fact accurate. I have some expert advice that we can export salmon but not trout to New Zealand. That may be a trade issue, but it is not a quarantine or safety issue. As far as the safety elements are concerned, we will apply very rigorous standards indeed. I will check on whether there is a denial of market access and, to the extent that there is, we can look at what might be done about that, but it certainly will not have any impact on the very high standards that we will continue to insist upon.