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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1601

Senator XENOPHON (3:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Ludwig. In 2008, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources handed down a report into Australia’s honey industry. The More than honey report made some 25 recommendations, the first of which was to establish Pollination Australia, an industry alliance aimed at addressing the problems facing the industry and creating opportunities for the future. What government funded activities or studies are Pollination Australia currently undertaking and do they include the threat to pollination from the Asian honey bee? And why is it that Pollination Australia does not even seem to have a website?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —I thank Senator Xenophon for his question. Pollination Australia was established to address the risks facing, and to promote opportunities for, the pollination industry. It was a recommendation, as Senator Xenophon has correctly identified, from the More than honey report released in May 2008. In recognition of the importance of a strong working relationship between the honey bee industry and the industries that rely on honey bee pollination, the government supported the development of Pollination Australia. In 2007 and 2008, the government contributed over $300,000 to establish Pollination Australia. This funding amounted to $313,000 in 2007 and 2008 and was supplemented by a further $53,000 provided by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation.

Pollination Australia is funded and managed by its member organisations in the honey bee industry and the horticultural and plant based industries that are most dependent on honey bee pollination. Can I be clear: it is an industry driven initiative. The activities conducted by Pollination Australia are determined by industry priorities and investment within that industry. Pollination Australia is of course not the only source of research and development funded by government in relation to the bee industry. A draft honey bee industry and pollination continuity strategy has been developed to support preparations that industry and government are now making to deal with any potential Varroa mite incursion and its effects on crop pollination. The strategy focuses on strengthening the capacity of the honey bee and honey-bee-pollination-responsive crop industries, strengthening postborder biosecurity preparedness and coordinating investment and research in this area. The strategy is currently being finalised after the two rounds of public consultation.

I also add that the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation has in addition—dealing with Senator Xenophon’s broader question—finalised a five-year honey bee R&D program which will run until—(Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The report states that honey bees contribute directly to between $4 billion and $6 billion worth of agricultural production annually because of pollination and it makes recommendations in relation to biosecurity to ensure the industry is not decimated by outside pests. Which of the 25 recommendations in the report has the government implemented to protect this vital contribution?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —In 2009 the government tabled its response to all the recommendations in the More than honey report. The honey bee industry is a small but vital part of the Australian economy and a contributor to the success of Australian agriculture. This issue of the protection of the honey bee industry is tied to the wider issue of biosecurity reform. The Gillard government remains committed to reforming the biosecurity system. This requires the introduction of a risk based approach to biosecurity measures. The biosecurity issue raised in the More than honey report was dealt with in the framework of the Beale review. The government released the report of the Beale review and its preliminary response on 18 December 2008. The government also raised several recommendations of the primary industries standing committee and the government continues to actively monitor Australia’s border for pests and incursions related to the bee industry, including—(Time expired)

Senator XENOPHON —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that the funding for the Asian honey bee eradication program will end on March 31, just eight days away, does the minister concede that the end of this funding will increase the risk of irreparable harm to Australia’s honey bee industry and up to $6 billion worth of annual agricultural production?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting the Attorney-General on Queensland Floods Recovery) —The Gillard government takes any threat to Australian biosecurity seriously, but let us not forget that, when the Asian honey bee was first discovered in Queensland in May 2007, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry at that time was Mr Peter McGauran. The Liberal Party had the opportunity to act immediately at that time and did not. It did not do anything. The Asian Honeybee National Management Group, which includes industry representatives, has formed the view that eradication is no longer feasible. But this does not mean that control activities will cease. The government is working with all parties, including states and territories and industry, to determine the best way forward to suppress the bee. The Asian Honeybee National Management Group called for the establishment of a cross-government and industry group to consider what future actions, if any, could be undertaken. This group has already met for the first time. It had its first meeting on 15 March. The group noted that Queensland, as the state managing the current incursion—(Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.