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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2192


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (18:57): I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

BIOLOGICAL CONTROL AMENDMENT BILL 2016

Established pest animals and weeds are a significant economic, environmental and social burden for Australia.

The cost of agricultural production losses attributable to pest animals was estimated to be more than $620 million in 2009, and a 2004 study estimated the agricultural cost of weeds to be nearly $4 billion per annum. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those figures are now likely to be significantly greater.

Pest animals and weeds are also a major threat to Australia's biodiversity, and to the condition of our natural resource base - by accelerating the erosion of fragile soil, stirring up waterways and reducing water quality and outcompeting native species. The social impacts of pests and weeds are difficult to measure, but are no less significant than the economic impacts.

The ongoing management of pests and weeds requires significant effort and investment by landholders and governments. Biological control - which is the management of a pest through the use of its 'natural enemies' (such as insects, fungi and viruses) - is an important tool in the arsenal, and one with a proven track record.

Perhaps the most well-known biological control success story in this country is the release of the myxoma virus - which causes myxomatosis - in 1950. This was the world's first vertebrate pest biocontrol, introduced in an attempt to control wild rabbits. In the 1920s, just 70 years after being introduced into Victoria, rabbit populations had exploded to more than 10 billion across Australia, and the impacts were devastating. Some farms were abandoned because of rabbits. The release of myxoma virus in 1950 killed 99.8 per cent of infected rabbits and brought huge relief to our farmers, and reprieve for the natural environment.

Resistance to myxomatosis began to build over time, and to combat this calicivirus was released in 1996. The combination of myxoma virus and calicivirus currently limits wild rabbit populations to about 15 per cent of their potential numbers. Without these biological control agents, the annual cost to agriculture alone would be in excess of $2 billion. Even with the biological control agents, rabbits cause more than $200 million in production losses every year.

The Commonwealth Biological Control Act 1984 - and mirror legislation in the states and the Northern Territory - provides a legislative framework for assessing proposed biological control activities to ensure that they are in the public interest. The Act also includes structured consultation requirements, which provide an opportunity for the community to have their say about proposed biological control activities.

The Act then provides for the declaration of 'target organisms' (for example, the weed Patterson's curse) and 'agent organisms' (for example, the crown weevil), and contains provisions to ensure that biological control activities are subject to liability protection and can proceed without interruption by litigation.

Today the government brings forward the Biological Control Amendment Bill, to provide clarification, and greater certainty for future biological control programs where the scientific consensus recommends the use of viruses to control damaging pests or weeds.

The Bill provides that the definition of an organism under the Biological Control Act specifically includes viruses and sub-viral agents. Sub-viral agent is a taxonomic category that includes viroids, satellite viruses and prions - agents that are smaller than viruses and have some of their properties. This category is included because it is plausible that sub-viral agents may also be useful as agents for biological control in the future.

The need for this Bill has arisen out of ongoing contemporary scientific debate as to whether a virus can be classified as an organism. A living thing must meet certain taxonomic criteria relating to structure and function in order to be considered to be an organism. Because viruses are incapable of reproducing without a host, the majority scientific view at this point in time is that they are not organisms.

It should be noted here that some scientists would however, consider a virus to be an organism, and biological science by its very nature is constantly evolving in light of new knowledge and evidence. Given that there is also debate about whether a virus can be considered to be a living entity (as it is neither alive nor dead), the Bill also omits the term 'live' from references to agent organisms.

These minor amendments are proposed in order to avoid doubt and to remove ambiguity, making it clear into the future that despite the scientific debate, the Act is intended to support the declaration of viruses as agents and targets for biological control activities. This will provide greater certainty for stakeholders who research, deliver and benefit from biological control programs, including scientists, farmers, land managers and the community.

The proposed amendments are consistent with the original intent of the Act, which was established to provide an equitable means of determining whether a proposed biological control program is in the public interest and, where appropriate, authorising the release of biological control agents.

The Act is part of a suite of approval processes which are in place to ensure that there are no unintended consequences or ongoing adverse impacts associated with biological control programs. Candidate biological control agents undergo extensive testing to assess risk to domestic agricultural and native species, and release of a biological control agent requires approvals under the Quarantine Act 1908 - which will be replaced by the Biosecurity Act 2015 in June of this year -, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994.

The Bill will support future biological control programs, including the proposed national release of a new naturally-occurring strain of rabbit calicivirus, known as K5. Pending approvals, the release of K5 will boost existing biological control agents, and help to overcome resistance that is building in wild rabbit populations. Importantly, there is an effective vaccine available to protect domestic and farmed rabbits against the K5 strain. The benefit cost ratio of the calicivirus boost program is estimated at 563 to 1, taking into account the benefits for agriculture and for carbon sequestration. We simply can't afford to compromise such an opportunity.

The Bill also supports the potential future release of a biological control agent for common carp. Carp are the worst freshwater aquatic pest in south eastern Australia, currently making up 80-90 per cent of total fish biomass in the Murray Darling Basin. Following seven years of testing, Australian scientists have determined that the naturally-occurring Cyprinid herpesvirus offers a genuine option for the biological control of carp.

Considerable work is required before a release of the virus could occur, including further research, legislative approvals and community consultation. However, should it be recommended that Cyprinid herpesvirus be listed as an agent organism under the Biological Control Act, the Bill will ensure that there will be no ambiguity as to the legal status of the declaration.

The state and Northern Territory governments, as owners of the mirror laws to the Commonwealth Biological Control Act, have been consulted during the drafting of the Bill. The successful operation of the mirror law scheme is dependent on national consistency, and complimentary amendments are expected to be pursued by the state and Northern Territory parliaments. This is in keeping with the original purpose and spirit of the scheme, to ensure that the administration and legal status of biological control has a uniform basis throughout Australia.

The Bill supports this government's strategic approach to farming smarter, as outlined in the 2015 White Paper on Agricultural Competitiveness, which supports giving farmers better tools and control methods for pest animals and weeds. Biological control is a cost-effective, highly specific and self-sustaining control method, but one that should be used as part of an integrated approach to pest management - experience has shown that a combination of control methods used together ensures a longer term effect on the target, be it a pest animal or a weed.

The Bill will not affect the existing basic scientific, technical or safety procedures and standards applying to biological control. Biological control agents will continue to be subject to considerable testing prior to release in Australia. Further, the Bill does not compromise the original purpose of the Act, which is to provide a publically acceptable and equitable means of determining whether a proposed biological control program is in the public interest.

LAW AND JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (NORTHERN TERRITORY LOCAL COURT) BILL 2016

The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory Local Court) Bill 2016 will make consequential amendments to Commonwealth legislation arising from the enactment of the Local Court Act 2015 of the Northern Territory.

The Local Court Actamalgamates the Northern Territory Local Court and the Court of Summary Jurisdiction into one court, called the Northern Territory Local Court. The Local Court Act also makes changes to the title of judicial officers of that court. It is expected to commence by proclamation on 1 May 2016.

A number of Commonwealth Acts confer jurisdiction on State and Territory courts. Without amendments to Commonwealth legislation, some of the provisions of the Local Court Act will have unintended consequences for the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory courts. A change in title for judicial officer holders of the Northern Territory Local Court may change the effect of Commonwealth legislation that confers power and jurisdiction on Northern Territory courts. In some instances, this will mean that Northern Territory Local Court Judges will have expanded jurisdiction. In other instances, Commonwealth legislation will no longer apply to Local Court Judges, including provisions that confer jurisdiction on magistrates. Finally, despite the Northern Territory Local Court being a court of summary jurisdiction, some Commonwealth Acts may no longer extend this jurisdiction to the Local Court.

The Law and Justice Legislation Amendment (Northern Territory Local Court) Bill 2016 will make amendments to address each of these unintended consequences. It achieves this by making minor technical amendments to the Acts Interpretation Act 1901 and other Commonwealth legislation to ensure the continued effectiveness of provisions that confer jurisdiction or powers on judicial officers.

This Bill is important in a variety of contexts, including in relation to criminal law matters where functions performed by Northern Territory Local Court Magistrates are depended upon for the purposes of Commonwealth criminal matters, for example the issuing of warrants.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.