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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 13658

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (BraddonParliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (10:11): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As part of building a seamless national economy, the Australian government is committed to reform of the regulation of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines (or agvet chemicals). A single national regulator, supported by state and Northern Territory laws, has been in place since 1993. However, it is evident that its effectiveness is hampered by the legislative framework it must implement.

Access to a full range of safe agvet chemicals is essential for the wellbeing of the economy. Agvet chemicals are needed to control disease and to protect people, companion animals, infrastructure and, importantly, the environment. They are necessary tools for our export focused agriculture sector and for future food security. They allow safe and efficient food and fibre production.

It was the foresight of the Hawke and Keating governments, working in partnership with their state and territory counterparts, that put in place Australia's first national regulator for agvet chemicals. It is now almost 20 years since this system began, and it has served the community well over this period. But, as with all legislated systems, they can fall behind best practice.

Human understanding of the natural and chemical world changes every single day. For this reason, we must have a dynamic regulator, with a systematic, risk based approach to protecting human health and the environment. At the same time, the regulator must take into account the views of the community.

It is clear that the community expects a rigorous scientific approach to agvet chemical assessments. But it also expects that these assessments will occur on a regular basis so they remain up-to-date. This is something the current system has failed to do.

We must recognise that many agvet chemicals are designed to kill pests and that they may be dangerous. This is the reason we have a product approval system in place to protect the community and the environment, those who use the chemicals, and those industries that rely on the use of these chemicals.

It is vital for these industries that the community retains its confidence in the methods used to produce food in Australia and to protect the environment. And for this reason it is vital that Australia has a strong, predictable regulatory system.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 confirms that protecting human health and the environment is Australia's first priority in regulating agvet chemicals. The bill amends the suite of agvet chemical legislation to further modernise, and improve the effectiveness of, the current system. It will provide better protection for human health and the environment, thus maintaining community confidence in our food and fibre production.

The Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority, known as the APVMA, is the regulator of agvet chemicals in Australia. The bill amends the legislation administered by the APVMA to improve its effectiveness and responsiveness in regulating these chemicals. These amendments allow the APVMA to maintain its status within the community as a trusted regulator.

The bill will modernise the APVMA's administration. Perhaps more importantly, the bill will require the APVMA to provide greater clarity around its requirements. The APVMA will develop and publish its principles and processes for regulating agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines to complement these legislative amendments. This work has already begun within the APVMA and will continue into the future. The work to develop a risk framework, together with powers to reject poor quality applications, will encourage industry to make good quality applications. This in turn will allow the APVMA to do its job more efficiently and with greater predictability.

The amendments in the bill enhance the consistency and transparency of assessments of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines. Legislative amendments enable the APVMA to align regulatory effort with chemical risk. The reforms implemented by the bill will result in a more straightforward assessment process that is easier to understand and more cost-effective to administer and provide greater certainty to the community that agvet chemicals used in Australia are safe.

The bill includes measures that implement an election commitment to ensure the ongoing safety of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines and improve the current chemical review arrangements. Introduction of a mandatory re-approval and re-registration scheme brings Australia into line with other countries which have similar schemes such as the United States and Europe. The scheme has been designed to complement the specific characteristics of the Australian agvet market so it delivers the desired outcomes without unnecessarily resulting in withdrawal of safe and useful chemicals. This measure responds to community concerns by ensuring that approved or registered chemicals continue to meet appropriate health and safety standards.

Other measures in the bill provide for greater transparency and predictability about reconsiderations. The measures in the bill achieve this by, for the first time, providing for time frames for reconsiderations and prescribing time frames for when information is provided to the APVMA for reconsideration.

The amendments in the bill remove any remaining trace of an impediment to the APVMA's use of overseas assessments and data. This is on the proviso that the assessments are conducted by agencies that are comparable to the APVMA and that overseas data are relevant to Australian conditions, agricultural practices and animal husbandry.

Other measures in the bill improve the ability of the APVMA to enforce compliance with its regulatory decisions by providing the APVMA with a graduated range of compliance and enforcement powers. This will improve the ability of the APVMA to efficiently administer its regulatory decisions to protect public health and safety and the environment. Not only will this allow industry to take greater responsibility for ensuring compliance, but it will not reduce the APVMA's ability to take strong regulatory action where this is necessary to protect the community, animals and the environment. Often, the only option currently available to the APVMA is to take a person to court, a process that is not appropriate for many behaviours. The APVMA needs to be able to ensure that registrants and companies comply with all elements of the law. Therefore, the sanctions cannot be such that they can merely be factored in as a cost of doing business. The additional measures are similar to those available to other regulators under Commonwealth laws and ensure that contemporary safeguards are in place for regulated entities.

The existing legislation compensates intellectual property owners for the impact of the product approval system by protecting submitted data in a number of situations. The current data protection provisions are improved by the bill. The bill also removes disincentives for business to invest in chemical product development and extends data protection eligibility to a wider range of data and increases the time that the data is protected. These measures ensure that innovators can obtain a fair return on their research investment.

The APVMA currently obtains the majority of its income from a levy it collects. While this arrangement is not unusual, it may lead to a perception of a conflict of interest. Therefore, the bill provides for an agency other than the APVMA to collect the levy. However, in making any decision to change the way this levy is collected, the government will consider issues of cost-effectiveness and efficiency.

The bill modernises and updates the suite of Commonwealth legislation for agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines. Recognising the scope of the changes, the bill includes a requirement for a review to be conducted of measures in the bill in five years and all Commonwealth legislation for agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines every 10 years. This will ensure that legislative measures operate as intended and remain appropriate.

Current agvet legislation is criticised as being an impenetrable maze of complexity. This complexity not only makes it difficult to administer; it makes it hard for companies that need to engage with the regulator. In response, and consistent with its wider role of improving the clarity and accessibility of Commonwealth legislation, the government has done extensive revisions to the agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines legislation to bring it up to contemporary standards for legislative drafting. The improvements in comprehension and utility delivered by these revisions are significant, with benefits particularly for improved efficiency in complying with and administering the legislation.

At any one time, the APVMA has several thousand applications in process. It also has a register of nearly 10,000 chemical products. The bill includes appropriate transitional measures to allow processing to continue for those in the system.

Overall, the bill will increase community confidence in the regulation of agvet chemicals, while reducing the unnecessary impost on business. The reforms to agvet chemicals legislation in the bill will ensure that agricultural productivity can continue to improve and keep Australia at the forefront of innovative food and fibre production.

Debate adjourned.