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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2326

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (13:31): One of the problems that rural Australia have is that when somebody says that there has to be some reform which might cost farmers something, ag corporations wind up someone on the other side and all of a sudden you have a great body of argument that says: 'Don't make any change. Keep putting things at risk. Don't modernise. Keep falling behind.' The main thrust of the previous speaker was, basically: don't do anything that would cost anybody anything; don't modernise; don't bring things into today's world.

As I noted in my tabling speech for the report of the inquiry into this bill, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 was referred to the Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry by the Selection Committee of the House of Representatives because it was thought that stakeholder concerns had been ignored in the formulation of the amendments, as it was believed that it added costs and another layer of red tape. This was despite the listing of chemical reform by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation in the 2012 update on the Australian government deregulation agenda as a way of reducing compliance costs and improving competitiveness for businesses as well as providing industry with timely access to the best and safest crop and animal protectants and speeding up the review of chemicals identified as having potential environmental and safety hazards. I thought these were pretty good aims and were what we should be doing. They are what the bill does. I would not think there was anything wrong with going down that track.

The bill seeks to make reforms to the approval, registration and reconsideration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, while improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the national registration scheme for agvet chemicals and products overseen by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. From the inquiry, I believe that most stakeholders support the need to modernise the regulation of the sector and provide regulatory efficiency and effectiveness. The proposed preliminary assessment process has been designed to increase the quality of applications provided to the APVMA. There will probably be a cost to companies that have to do that, because the old system is well out of date.

Australia must maintain an internationally competitive agricultural export sector, and this must be balanced against Australia's obligations to its international trading partners and their respective regulatory systems as well as ensuring our agribusinesses and communities are safeguarded. For example, a country receiving a shipment of Australian agricultural products may reject it on the basis that a chemical banned by regulators in that country has been used during production.

During the inquiry, it was found that some agvet chemicals and products had been in use in the Australia for well over 40 years; many of these chemicals and products had not been tested against contemporary standards for human, animal and plant health and safety. By the same token, within these known chemicals there would be some that are banned in Australia but used overseas because they have now been found to be benign and may well be useful for a different purpose than was originally designed. Australia needs to have a robust, systematic and effective system, but it also needs to be affordable and able to get the new scientific findings into the marketplace as soon as practicable. I believe this bill seeks to do this.

Some of my colleagues have raised some concerns during the inquiry into this bill that it will add expense and time to the re-registration of some chemicals. But making the regulation clearer and simpler, and ensuring all the information about a product is carefully described, should eliminate the time factor. While it might at times prove to add some costs, surely this would be worth it if we were to remain competitive in a world market sense? Overall the process would allow the APVMA to concentrate its resources on providing more timely assessment of applications and reducing delays in evaluating deficient applications.

There can be several thousand applications being processed at any one time and there is a register of nearly 10,000 chemical products, so it is important that there are transitional measures to allow processing to continue for those in the system. However, by streamlining this system and making it more transparent, the speed at which these products can become available to farmers should improve considerably.

Obviously the APVMA must have a transition time to undertake the changes required to assess the backlog under the previous arrangements, but I hope it will be no more than 12 months. Australian agriculture needs to tackle the harder issues and not buckle to agribusiness because it might increase costs slightly to farmers. Not acting could have a major impact on Australian trade if we do not have world's best practice in place.

It is important to find a balance, and the process of reform is one of continuous improvement. Science is continually updating its knowledge and processes and we should be aware of the changes. The community expects rigorous assessment, but it also expects that these assessments will be reviewed on a regular basis so that they can be updated. The bill includes a requirement for a review to be conducted of its measures in five years and for all Commonwealth legislation for agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines every 10 years. I believe that these amendments will improve efficiency and modernise the processes.

When this package of bills was developed in the early nineties—so it has been around a while and people have failed to take it up and get on with it—it was for the whole of the nation to be covered by a single code and a single standard for agricultural and veterinary chemicals. It showed a deep understanding of the need of the Commonwealth government to legislate in this way. This is legislation of integrity which has enormous potential for the future. It brought together piecemeal sets of legislation across the states and united them under one regulatory body so all chemical use could be monitored.

The world sees Australia as a provider of agricultural products that are different from those of the rest of the world because of their clean nature. The preservation and enhancement of that observation by other countries is extremely important. If we can produce agricultural products that are known throughout Asia and the rest of the world as cleaner and better, and if we can show them to be that way through testing procedures, national agreements and national standards such as these, other countries will not only demand our products but also pay a premium for them.

But, like all legislation, it needs to be reviewed and refined. This legislation was originally proposed to speed up the release of products which would have benefited many of our important primary industries. But over time there have been some shortfalls and pressures not foreseen by our predecessors. Thus this bill will increase the community's confidence while reducing the imposts on the chemical users and will ensure that agricultural productivity will improve at a time when Australia is at the forefront of innovative food and fibre production.

Tasmania, including my own electorate of Lyons, is working on becoming a new food bowl of Australia, and by harnessing our natural asset of water—Tasmania has 10 per cent of the water that falls on Australia but only 1.5 per cent of the land mass—with a renewed regime of registering chemicals I believe there will be huge advantages for our farmers. I commend this bill and the findings of the majority report to the House.