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Thursday, 26 June 2003
Page: 17835

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (11:51 AM) —I rise to speak in the second reading debate on the Export Control Amendment Bill 2003.We are debating here the amendments to the Export Control Act 1982. The member for Hunter referred in his remarks to section 14 of the Criminal Code. I would like to point out to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the only sections of the Criminal Code relevant to this bill are sections 137.1 and 137.2. This bill has zero to do with section 14 of the Criminal Code. The member for Hunter specialises in pulling the legs of various speakers, and he has done it again in relation to this matter. Unlike the member for Hunter, I want to deal with this very important bill effectively. I will not try to use it as an excuse to get something in Hansard, which is what the member for Hunter was doing.

We are talking here about the export inspection of prescribed goods: meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy products and grains. These are products that are very important to Australia. They are very important to my electorate of Blair, where we are very reliant on our production of these types of goods. So it is important that we have adequate quarantine and export control arrangements in relation to these products. Under the Export Control Act 1982, responsibility for maintaining this effective export control rests with AQIS. In relation to their wider quarantine duties, I notice that AQIS have very effective `crocodile hunter' ads on TV. As a result, I think that awareness of quarantine issues is very high. That is something which—along with the heightened awareness and concern people have at the moment about security and about protecting our national assets—is very important. Those ads go a long way to helping promote it.

When it comes to the question of export controls, AQIS is responsible for determining whether goods are fit for consumption, whether their quality is acceptable and whether they are accurately described. The statistics show that the food industry represents 22 per cent of sales of Australian products overseas and that, in the 2001-02 year, food exports were worth something like $26 billion. That is what is at stake. So it is important that there are effective controls and that we are very specific in our descriptions of products, including descriptions of quality and source.

The reason for this amendment to the Export Control Act 1982 is basically the development of export related operations in Australian territories, particularly in the case of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island territories. Some efforts have been made there to farm giant clams and black-lip pearl oysters. Also, the local co-op on Cocos Island is looking at tuna breeding. Those kinds of pursuits can lead to their developing effective export opportunities. I would urge them to continue down that track, because export markets are very lucrative, and the islands have some unique opportunities to exploit their local environment and produce unique products that they can sell on export markets.

They clearly want to benefit from those unique circumstances, but when they go into the marketplace they also would like to benefit by being able to say, `We've got an effective quality control regime. We've got an effective description of our products. The quality is acceptable, and these goods are fit for consumption.' They are seeking the endorsement of AQIS for those types of products and to have their products described within the Australian system. It is not appropriate for products coming out of those territories to be linked wholly and solely with products of Australia, which is what they would have to be described as under the existing regime. The purpose of this bill is to be specific and to give the territories the opportunity to say where their goods originate from and for AQIS to be able to verify that as part of the process. In proceeding in this way, the government wants to align wherever possible the legislation and programs that apply in territories such as Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Christmas Island with those in mainland Australia. The amendment in this bill to section 23 seeks to follow that pursuit and to put it into place.

The people on the islands are looking to receive the best of both worlds: they can have their own identity and can stamp their products as being products of Cocos (Keeling) Islands or of Christmas Island, but they also get the overarching credibility of AQIS and our system to endorse the products. So I think the bill we are talking about is an entirely positive bill. It will be very good for the territories.

However, you do have to note the issue regarding pest and disease status. If we set about changing the pest and disease status of the territories, that would have environmental implications and would also impact upon the lifestyle of the islanders. One ingredient I should mention in this pursuit is the fact that those islands do not have the same disease status as the rest of Australia. In many respects, they are exposed to pests that are different from those in the rest of Australia. When producers in the rest of the country are exporting their product, they do so under certain set parameters in the export and quarantine agreements that we have with other countries. To include these separate islands as being part of that would be a misrepresentation, because it would misrepresent the potential threat and the potential types of diseases that are found there, so it is not possible realistically to lump them together. A suitable description of proceeding down that path would be to say that the tail was wagging the dog. It is appropriate, however, that these islands be recognised within the legislation and that they be able to mark their product as being `Product of the Australian territory of Christmas Island' or `Product of the Australian territory of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands'. It is a great outcome for them, for AQIS and for producers and farmers in the rest of Australia.

This brings one question to mind, however, to which I will be seeking some sort of response in the summing up on the bill: what happens in relation to the potential for exports from other Australian territories? I would like to highlight Norfolk Island as an example. Norfolk Island also has a fairly different kind of environment from that of the rest of Australia, and it will have opportunities to develop products of its own. While Norfolk has a greater degree of independence than those other islands, that independence tends to focus more on state-level functions, and we are talking about a Commonwealth function and the issue of export control measures and quarantine.

Perhaps we should include in this bill not just Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands but also the potential to recognise Norfolk as a source of exports of a unique type. It may be appropriate for Norfolk to have this separate status, although I must admit I am not aware of its quarantine status. It may be that Norfolk is treated equally with the rest of Australia when it comes to quarantine issues; therefore it may not be necessary to highlight it as a separate case. That is an issue for the authorities to ponder, and I hope they will come back to me on it.

I would also like to address the part of the bill which deals with the Criminal Code (Theft, Fraud, Bribery and Related Offences) Act 2000. This naturally attracted the member for Hunter but, unfortunately, he spoke about the wrong section altogether. The amendment in 2000 omitted to remove reference to section 16 from section 11Q(5) of the Export Control Act 1982. We now have changes which replace references to the relevant offences with words directed to section 137.1 and 137.2 of the Criminal Code.

My question in relation to Norfolk Island is one of the main reasons for my contribution to the debate on the bill today. The legislation is recognition of the government's willingness to focus on the individual needs of these remote territories. This bill focuses specifically on those concerns and articulates the aspirations of people from Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands. These people have an opportunity to develop export markets. One of the good things about this bill is that it facilitates that export development in a way that is entirely sensitive to the needs of these people and also to the needs of Australian primary producers and the people in our existing export markets. I commend the bill to the House.