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Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Page: 6445

Mr PERRETT (11:28 AM) —I rise to speak in support of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Amendment Bill 2010 and the related amendments before the House. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority was set up in 1993 as the central body to register agricultural and veterinary chemicals. It replaced separate state and territory based registration systems. There are more than 8,000 chemicals and pesticides on the register which primary producers rely on to protect their crops and animals from diseases and pests. The APVMA ensures the chemical products are effective and safe for people, animals and the environment before accepting them onto the register. The APVMA also reviews chemicals that have been registered a long time or when safety or quality concerns about a particular chemical are raised by the community. This is an important safeguard and checking point.

The APVMA’s role is to look at these chemicals and how they are being used because a dangerous chemical can be used safely and a not-so-dangerous chemical can be used unsafely, so it is all about how they are being used. I would suggest the APVMA needs to take a closer look at some of the world’s best practice and make sure that Australia is complying with world’s best practice, it needs to look at some of the research taking place around the world, especially if it is peer reviewed and with good safeguards so that we can make sure that any chemical used is brought to the market as quickly as possible, obviously with the APVMA still having the fundamental role of making sure that the Australian public will not be harmed by the misuse of any chemicals.

As part of the Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources I recently talked to some parliamentarians from the European Union, some of them are farmers as well as parliamentarians. I talked to them about some of their chemicals because I noted that the European Union had recently overhauled their registration system, banning about 100 of the most dangerous and toxic chemicals. The European Union also placed heavy restrictions on aerial pesticides, particularly around drinking water supplies. Perhaps restricting all of those chemicals was a bit of an overreaction and that was what the European Union parliamentarians said. The APVMA takes a slightly different approach. We have seen with chemicals that were once considered safe, like arsenic and asbestos, just how dangerous these chemicals can be if not treated properly and respected. The consequences of not using them properly—not looking after them and disposing of them properly—can be fatal. We do not want that to happen.

With 8,000 chemicals registered in Australia, it is easy to see why we need a robust and efficient system in place to ensure human health and protect the environment. Seeing the young faces of Macgregor State High School students from my electorate, it is obvious why we need to look after the health of the future generations when we look after these chemicals. The bill before us will improve the way chemicals are registered with the APVMA and maintain the high standards for health and environmental safety. The bill will simplify the application process for a limited range of chemicals for defined low-risk minor variations. Instead of going through the full technical assessment process, applicants will simply notify APVMA of any change. The kinds of minor variations will include those where there is no material change to the product’s chemistry, no risk to quality, stability or safety and no risk to the environment or trade. It will include things like the site of manufacture, the pack size or the substitution of certain non-active ingredients such as dyes.

By streamlining the variation approval process, APVMA will be able to direct more resources to expert scientific assessment of new chemicals. We need this to happen as much as possible. The APVMA needs to be focusing its attention where the rubber meets the road, where the more dangerous possibilities are, rather than going through some processes that any reasonable person would consider to be almost administrative. This bill also removes the requirement to notify the authorisation of an approved person. Under the code, registration or approval applications are required to be signed by an approved person who must be an Australian resident. Therefore overseas applicants must authorise an Australian approved person to be liable for their products. The APVMA also requires chemical producers to authorise a person to receive notices concerning their products. This ensures that any administrative dealings can be done locally. However, the requirement for a registrant to notify the APVMA in writing of who has been authorised to act for the applicant is unnecessary red tape and will be removed.

The amendments also make some changes to chemical labelling. APVMA will be required to oversee adequate instructions for the safe handling and effective use of a product. I think this is where we differentiate ourselves from the European Union. In Australia we respect the capabilities of our farmers and people that use the chemicals that APVMA regulates, whereas in the European Union the approach seems to be to look at the lowest common denominator which led to the banning of the 100 chemicals that are often still being used in Australia. We use a much more risk based analysis rather than focusing on prevention that removes the opportunities for beneficial chemicals to be used in our agricultural systems.

Once again these changes are about ensuring that the APVMA can focus its resources on the key issues of safety and quality. Under the current law they are required to assess and approve all aspects of labelling. Obviously, product labels include all kinds of information and it is totally unnecessary for the APVMA to review it all. Their main concerns, as is appropriate, are the safe and effective use of the chemicals.

This bill and related amendments will slash red tape, which is obviously a good thing, and will streamline the regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemicals registration. As I said, I will still put that call out there for us to perhaps make better use of the American and European approved scientific processes rather than the APVMA having to reinvent the wheel every single time. That is a process that might take a little bit longer, but it would certainly be to the benefit of Australian farmers.

The bill implements a COAG agreement and Productivity Commission recommendation of 2008 and it will lead to immediate benefits for industry and the community. As I mentioned earlier it is important that we get the balance right so that students such as Yulia Batsman, Rhianna Neilsen, Riley Kernaghan, Rebecca Lay, Casey Huang from MacGregor State High School and their teachers Gail Bligh and David Burgess—the people that look after the future generations—are eating foodstuffs brought from Brisbane markets or the like that are not unduly affected by chemicals and so that we have a Barrier Reef that is protected and not unnecessarily impacted on by run-off from sugarcane farms and the like.

It is important that we get the balance right for our future generations, and the measures before the chamber strike the right balance. They ensure that protecting health and safety remains the priority while removing unnecessary steps in the process which will then free up the APVMA to focus its attention on the danger zones. I commend the bill to the House.