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Thursday, 16 May 2002
Page: 2414

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (11:43 AM) —Congratulations on your appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker Corcoran. I have not had a chance to congratulate you on that. It gives me great pleasure to speak on the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services (Amendment) Bill 2002. In my capacity as the parliamentary secretary to the shadow minister for primary industries and resources, Senator Kerry O'Brien, it gives me pleasure to represent him here. There is also the fact that I share with him residency in Tasmania. As the member for Braddon, I come from an area which has a long tradition in horticultural services and products. Indeed, I live in the Forth Valley, a beautiful, fertile valley at the heart of the horticultural business in Tasmania. We are renowned for our vegetable production, and the primary processing of those vegetables as well. The soil is so fertile, it is said, that sometimes if you throw a toenail in the ground it will grow a foot. That is how fertile our area is. But enough of that; I will return to that later.

The Australian horticultural industry is a key rural industry and a major regional employer. Horticulture is Australia's second largest industry after wheat. The industry had a gross value of production of around $5.5 billion on 1998-99 figures. The farm gate value of production was, on those figures, around $4.74 billion, comprising vegetables, $1.53 billion; fruit and nuts, $2.5 billion; and nursery production, $0.65 billion. Total horticultural exports for the 1999-2000 period was $720 million, comprising fruits, $394 million; vegetables, $193 million; nuts, $100 million; and nursery, $33 million.

The top three fruit export products were citrus, $153 million; grapes, $74 million; and apples, $37 million. The top three vegetable export products were asparagus, $45 million; carrots, $36 million—very much part and parcel of where I come from, which is a great carrot growing area—and cauliflower, $23 million. Nuts and macadamias totalled $76 million, which represents 76 per cent of total nut exports, and cut flowers, $31 million, which represents 91 per cent of nursery exports. Total horticultural imports for 1999-2000 was $93 million comprising fruit, $73 million; and vegetables, $20 million, which saw an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year. Australian horticulture has been one of the success stories of the past decade—growing by 142 per cent and representing 18 per cent of agricultural production. On any figures, that is astonishing growth and represents fantastic potential for the future.

In my own state, Tasmania's highly diversified food and agriculture sector has a reputation for products that are internationally competitive and among the finest and cleanest in the world. Sustainable agricultural practices are the hallmark of our horticultural industry, further enhancing Tasmania's clean and green image. Tasmania's vegetable and associated industries generate hundreds of millions of dollars to the Tasmanian economy. By far the majority of Tasmania's vegetable crops are produced from highly fertile soils throughout my electorate on the north-west coast, which also includes the beautiful King Island.

Probably the best known of these is the humble spud. Indeed, there was a story going around that the word `spud' actually comes from my region and that `s' is for Smithton, `p' is for Penguin, `u' is for Ulverstone and `d' is for Devonport. Now I cannot absolutely vouch for the validity of that, but we are certainly a great spud growing area. The potato represents close to half the gross value of Tasmania's vegetable production. The latest projections estimate that by 2005 the farm gate value of potato production in Tasmania will be close to $120 million per year. The potato, like most vegetables grown in Tassie, is produced for processing, and I have a number of processing plants in my electorate. Of course, the Simplot processing plant at Ulverstone is renowned for its spuds, which make their way into a large food outlet chain which has outlets throughout the world.

Other major crops include poppies—a very important crop in my area—onions, in the Forth Valley in particular—we almost pioneered the perfection of onions—green peas and beans, together with wine grapes and apples. Pyrethrum is also an emerging industry with huge potential, along with nuts and a small but growing olive industry. Another small but increasingly important part of the industry in Tasmania is the fresh vegetable market and opportunities to export to niche markets are continually sought. As I mentioned earlier, the horticultural industry is a major regional force employing 80,000 people with a further 11,200 employed in processing. There are approximately 21,000 farms engaged in the industry. It is an industry that has undergone significant change in recent times; hence this legislation.

The most significant change was the merger between the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation in 2000. The purpose of the merger was to create a company that has closer links to industry to more effectively and efficiently promote the interests of Australian horticulture. The merger followed nearly two years of consultation between the company, the wider horticultural industry and government. The merger was also the subject of close scrutiny by the parliament. For the historical record, that scrutiny was at the initiation of the opposition.

It is our view that such changes must be properly scrutinised to ensure that they are for the better from the point of view of government and also industry. The new structure contained in this amendment and in the earlier legislation quite rightly has a strong commercial focus. This bill will remedy what is, in effect, a simple technical problem. But the correction of this problem is fundamental to the operations of Horticulture Australia in its role as an export control body. The bill will amend the Horticultural Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2000 to deem Horticulture Australia Ltd, HAL, as the export control body under the HMRDS Act to be a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of section 16 of the Customs Administration Act 1985.

Currently, Horticulture Australia Ltd is given the function of administering export controls on behalf of horticultural industries as the company has been declared the export control body under section 9(2) of the HMRDS Act. HAL commenced business on 1 February 2001, taking over the functions previously undertaken by the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Australian Dried Fruits Board. HAL is an industry owned company that the Commonwealth has entered into arrangements with for the delivery of marketing and research and development services to the horticultural industry.

The AHC previously administered export controls on behalf of horticultural industries. During the period of its operation, the AHC could access information from the Australian Customs Service EXIT database to enable it to exercise appropriate management over the use of export control powers. As HAL does not meet the criteria of a Commonwealth agency under section 16 of the Customs Administration Act, the Australian Customs Service has advised HAL that it is no longer able to provide data from its EXIT database to the company, hence carrying out one of the most important functions that it was intended to carry out under this legislation.

This bill, quite rightly, will correct that problem. It will, therefore, ensure that HAL can exercise appropriate management over current export control powers and any future export control powers by being able to access the EXIT database to show evidence of any breaches that may have occurred in contravention of export controls. Hence, Labor supports this bill.