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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23393

Mr KATTER (8:51 PM) —In the few minutes I have tonight I wish to concentrate on the latter part of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002, which deals with compliance under the AQIS rules and laws. It refers to the national competition policy review. I spent most of the week before last making press releases saying that AQIS was in fact not a defender of the biosecurity of this country but in fact worked as a sort of enforcement arm for the free market zealots in this place. I was quite amazed to find that a briefing paper from the library says just that—that this is a result of the national competition policy review. I would have thought that they would have at least had the decency to try and hide it.

I do not know whether people in this place fully realise what we are talking about here. I cannot remember the figures now, but footandmouth disease is a very hardy pathogen. If my memory serves me correctly, it can lay dormant and stay alive for up to nearly a year. I think the beef industry is currently worth about $5,000 million to the economy of Australia. Certainly the exports are worth around $3,000 million. If this pathogen arrives in Australia not only will we lose the $3,000 million in exports but we will also see a tremendous diminution in the value of the properties and the beef herd of Australia and we will see the beef herd of Australia rapidly decimated, just as we have seen happen to the wool industry. What they are talking about here is compliance. Earlier in this debate this evening my honourable colleague from Tasmania, the member for Braddon, was talking about the privatisation of AQIS, and it most certainly goes a long way in that direction. But it is my personal belief, reading all this, that it goes much further than that.

Let me move from the extreme dangers of footandmouth disease in the beef industry to the grape industry. One of the most amazing things that I have witnessed in recent years in politics is the decision by AQIS to allow grapes to come in from California in the same threemonth period that the Bulletin, a national magazine, did a twopage spread saying that California had lost one-tenth of its entire grape production because of a very exotically named vector—that is something that carries a disease—called a glassy-winged sharpshooter. Whilst we may reflect upon the fact that only the Americans could have thought of a name like the glassy-winged sharpshooter, this little critter—to continue with the American language—carries a disease called Pierce's disease. This disease is so virulent that it wiped out one-tenth of the entire grape production of California—the biggest grape producing state on earth.

It does not matter what argument you put up. This is like allowing some beef product to come in from a footandmouth disease country. No matter what argument you put up, you know that somehow or other this terrible disease will arrive on our shores. Other countries say that Australia does not allow things to come into this country, that we use our phytosanitary arrangements to prevent it. It is a sort of nondeclared tariff. It is a damn awful one if it is. I am told that the second chief person in AQIS, while addressing a meeting in Innisfail, was asked how many applications have been rejected in the last three years. The person waffled and the question was asked again. To cut a long story short, the question was asked four times. Eventually, the person asking the question said, `It is quite obvious that you have not rejected a single application in the last three years.' These countries say they believe that we are stopping them from coming in. I only wish to heaven that were true. But instead of having the mindset that they are here to protect and defend this country—that they are the centurion standing at the palace gates—AQIS believe they are some sort of officer of the free trade implementation bureau of Australia, which may well be referred to as the Australian government, given the way the Australian government has acted for the last 15 years now.

Mr KATTER —Unfortunately it is true. It predates the current government. However, it has been continued by the current government and most certainly under the regime of the current minister for agricultural affairs. Going back to the grapes, it was argued by AQIS that we would have them treated with methyl bromide in the United States and that this would ensure that the disease would be killed before that product left the United States. I have my doubts as to how effective that treatment would be and that the disease would be killed. However, having agreed to that, we are now informed that they will be allowed to do the methyl bromiding in Australia. I hope someone tells the glassy-winged sharpshooter that he must not leave the grape case before it has been bombed by the methyl bromide. He might just happen to fly out of the box before he is methyl bromided. If ever there were a classic case of closing the door after the horse has bolted it would have to be this.

More worrying still, it seems that what is being done here is an enabling of AQIS, Biosecurity Australia or whoever it is—one of these bodies—to certify officers so long as a person moves into a compliance agreement. So I envisage that exporters from overseas sending product to Australia will enter into a compliance agreement. We will trust that Thailand, when they send their durians to Australia, will voluntarily cut open every hundredth or thousandth durian and waste this extremely valuable product to meet the compliance regulations of Australia. They will do this even though we are not watching and even though we have no way of being able to verify this compliance, but we will trust them. I do not in any way wish to single out Thailand, but look at the world history of trade. If countries in days past had said that they would just trust those people coming into their country or exporting product to their country, then I think there would be some more very poor and poverty stricken countries around now.