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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2320


Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (13:07): I rise to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. The electorate of Moreton does not have a lot of agriculture, but I do have the Brisbane markets in my electorate, so a lot of produce, especially from Queensland, comes through my electorate. Having grown up in a rural area and having been a member of the committee you chaired in the 42nd Parliament, Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, I have a particular interest in this area. Our approach to chemicals is certainly a topic that people in my electorate have spoken to me about, raising concerns around the possible effects on the health of their children.

The proposed regulations include amendments to refine the scope of agricultural chemical products and veterinary chemical products regulated by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, or the APVMA, and to implement Council of Australian Governments reforms; to amend the manufacturers license conditions to align with conditions that are currently and routinely applied to licenses; and to address other minor issues that have been identified with the regulations, including removing redundant or unnecessary provisions and addressing a few errors. The Gillard Labor government is committed to reform of agriculture and veterinary chemical products so that the efficiency and effectiveness of current measures can be improved and, in turn, better protection can be provided to human health and the environment.

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 ag-vet chemicals. It is now almost 20 years since this system began and it has served the Australian community well over this period. But all legislated systems can fall behind best practice. 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 to farmers—very, very important. The reforms implemented by this 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 agricultural and veterinary chemicals used in Australia are safe—and, more importantly, that the dangers associated with such chemicals are understood.

Unfortunately, those on the opposite side of the House—and I note the contribution by the member for Calare, the opposition spokesperson in this area—are making false claims about Australian farmers, claiming that they are all against this legislation. This is patently a false claim. Cotton Australia's submission to the committee inquiry into this bill is worth noting. I come from St George and my sister was a cotton farmer. Debbie and Phillip Boland had a cotton farm there for years. My first big job in the school holidays was working on that cotton farm. For years and years, in grades 9, 10, 11 and 12 and beyond, I spent all my summer holidays out on the cotton farm. I do not know how many times I was sprayed in that job or when working with sheep, which was another holiday job I had. But I return to Cotton Australia's submission:

Cotton Australia supports the Bill to amend the current Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992; the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994; and the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical Products (Collection of Levy) Act 1994.

I repeat: Cotton Australia supports the bill. The submission continues:

Cotton Australia continues to work with the Department of Forestry and Fisheries and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to address the challenges associated with implementing the reforms and welcomes further opportunities for ongoing consultation and involvement.

The Gillard Labor government is determined to ensure that effective chemicals which are safe for health and the environment are available for Australian farmers while minimising the cost of regulation. The safety of these pesticides is a significant factor when negotiating the terms of the bill. Parkinson's Australia released information about the concern over the relationship between the occupation of farming and the risk of Parkinson's disease due to exposure to pesticides. Repeated low-level chemical exposure over a long period of time in susceptible people is difficult to argue on as Parkinson's is hard to measure in people. Animal models give a clearer picture of the relationship between paraquat and specific neurological damage as occurs in Parkinson's disease. Recent papers have shown that dosages similar to the current no-adverse-effect level are actually resulting in specific damage. At four days after the administration, the concentration of radioactivity was still high in pigmented nerve cells.

This is scary information. How can the member for Calare and his colleagues on the opposite side oppose a bill that aims to resolve the damaging effects of pesticides? It is sad when the National Party is forgetting about the farmers. Chemicals are a necessary requirement for modern intensive farming. We accept that and we know that Australia will play an important role in providing food for the rest of Asia, but there is enough evidence in the literature to implicate specific chemicals in the development of Parkinson's disease and probably many other conditions. More research is needed.

My home state of Queensland has the largest area of agricultural land of any Australian state and the highest proportion of land area of the Australian states dedicated to agriculture. About 30,500 businesses carry out agricultural activity in Queensland. Agricultural industries are important. They contribute more than $10 billion to the state's economy each year and, as I said in my introductory comments, much of their produce goes through the Brisbane markets in Moreton. The practices and regulation affecting these 30,500 businesses are important to me. I am sick and tired of seeing the state Liberal Premier, Campbell Newman, make cuts to the services that are actually helping these Queensland farmers.

To mention just a few cuts he has made: he cancelled the plan to build a biosecurity facility worth $17 million in Townsville and instead moved it to that heart of agriculture, Brisbane. So there will be no access for North Queenslanders to a local biosecurity facility, despite all the risks associated with sugarcane smut and some of the banana diseases and the like. They have cut funding to the fire-ant task force, a Brisbane enterprise, and the crazy-ant task force from Cairns. Premier Newman has cancelled funding for the farm financial counsellors, the very counsellors who assist farmers with business and help them on the road back to profitability after disasters such as floods and cyclones, which we have more than enough of in Queensland.

Overall, the bill before the chamber will increase community confidence in the regulation of chemicals used in Australian agricultural practices, while reducing the unnecessary impost on business, and it will boost confidence at the checkout.

I was playing a bit of word bingo with the member for Calare's presentation, waiting for him to talk about green tape, and it did not take very long. Whilst he recognised that the current arrangements are not efficient, he then went on to talk about green tape. In Queensland we are very familiar with green tape. The day after the state election last year, the Deputy Premier stood up and said that there was too much green tape and that effectively we should make the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park smaller. That was the first announcement from the new Deputy Premier. Obviously we are yet to see the rollout of the agenda in terms of shooting in national parks—as can occur in New South Wales—and other dangerous activities associated with national parks. The Liberal and National parties have demonstrated a completely lackadaisical approach to national parks.

This legislation before the chamber is sensible reform. It will improve the health and safety of farm workers and farmers, people who already have particular dangers associated with their livelihood. The reforms to the chemicals legislation in this bill will ensure that agricultural productivity can continue to improve and keep Australia at the forefront of innovative food and fibre production. I commend the bill to the House.