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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2358

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (15:47): I rise to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. I do so following on from my colleague and good friend the member for Murray, and I note with interest that the member for Groom, the shadow minister for energy and resources, is at the table. They and yourself, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, are people who are passionate about the interests of regional Australia, passionate about the interests of farmers in this country. This particular bill does nothing to help the farmers of our land or the producers of our food, and certainly nothing to help regional Australia.

This bill seeks to implement changes to the approval, registration and reconsideration of the agricultural and veterinary, or agvet, chemicals to improve—supposedly—the efficiency and effectiveness of the current regulatory arrangements and provide greater certainty to the community—so Labor would think—that chemicals approved for use in Australia are safe. The reforms in the bill are aimed at enhancing the consistency, efficiency and transparency of agvet chemical approvals, registrations and reconsiderations through the development, publication and implementation of a risk framework, which the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority—the APVMA—must have regard to and legislative amendments to align regulatory effort with chemical risk.

The bill is also intended to improve the ability of the APVMA to enforce compliance with its regulatory decisions by providing the APVMA with a graduated range of compliance enforcement powers and introducing a power to apply statutory conditions to registrations and approvals. It also seeks to ensure the ongoing safety of agvet chemicals and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of current agvet chemical reconsideration arrangements by putting in place a mandatory re-approval and reregistration regime designed to identify any potentially problematic chemicals whilst minimising any negative impacts on affected businesses. The reforms are aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of assessment processes for agvet chemical applications for approval, registration and variation and improving the timeliness of agvet chemical approvals, registrations and reconsiderations. Additionally, the government hopes to improve consistency in data protection provisions and remove disincentives for industry to provide data in support of ongoing registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals.

This is all long-winded stuff. Is it necessary? We think not. In both the Senate and the House inquiries into this bill the coalition presented dissenting reports due to the additional layers of red tape—and I could almost add 'onerous green tape'—that will be imposed on the industry, which will bring with it additional costs and further complicate the workings of business and industry. And if there is one thing we do not need in this nation it is further complication of the workings of business and industry. The dissenting report from coalition members on the House committee recommended that the reregistration process be removed from the bill and that there be a troika task force of industry, the department and the APVMA to urgently evaluate and improve the internal systems within the APVMA to increase the regulator's efficiency and effectiveness as well as the speed of review of at-risk chemistries.

The Nationals and Liberals support reforms that reduce cumbersome assessment and registration processes, reforms that are more cost-efficient for farmers and reforms that provide industry with timely access to the best and safest crop and animal protectants. Surely that would be enough. The bill makes a number of incremental changes to arrangements to manage agvet chemical registration and improvements to compliance and enforcement arrangements, most of which try to improve the efficiency and are supported by the industry. Those on this side of the House support a streamlining of the existing process for focusing on suspect chemistries rather than the addition of new—and high—hoops for the industry to jump through.

The most significant change, however, is the reregistration process, a process which contradicts the objectives set out in the bill and which will instead entrench yet another layer of red tape—an automatic seven- to 15-year review process for all chemicals—with the extra costs ultimately being passed on to the chemical users. Who are these users? They are of course the farmers, the crop growers, the food producers of this land. We have the world's best farmers—I am sure the member for Groom would agree with me—and they are being subjected all the time to red tape and green tape. They are being subjected to onerous, burdensome bureaucracy levelled at them by this government.

Whilst the government claims the reregistration process will increase the scrutiny of suspect chemistries, the reality is that the increase in administrative workload for APVMA staff will reduce the resources available to deal with critical registrations and permits. Farmer groups have noted that the current proposal appears to betray the fact that APVMA does not have appropriate internal systems in place to maintain an orderly, risk-based system for chemical reviews. We heard the member for Murray comment on the fact that the National Farmers' Federation is quite satisfied with the system in place at present—quite happy with the status quo. Why is the government meddling with this? Why is Labor sticking its nose in where it is not wanted?

Rather than addressing systemic problems affecting existing review arrangements and listening to farmers, the government has again ignored their calls and is seeking to impose the burden of APVMA's deficiencies on registrants by having every chemical submitted to an automatic reregistration process. If things are going wrong—I note the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has just joined us—why not consult industry? Why not consult farmers? Why not consult the people on the ground and talk to them about the problems they see? They might have a better idea about how to do it. Rather than that, all the Labor Party want to do is put in more layers of red tape and green tape and more bureaucracy—imposing more costs on the people who are growing the food to feed our nation and others.

The seven- to 15-year timeframe for reregistration of the 1,900 active constituents, out of the 9,900 currently registered agvet chemicals, is unrealistic. This process will tie up staff and resources in APVMA and put an economic burden on registrants of active constituents and their parent companies. These costs will be passed on to the end users, who include land managers and producers.

The government has failed to do any cost-benefit analysis of mandatory reregistration processors for low-risk agvet chemicals with multiple uses, such as glyphosate, iodine and sodium chlorite. It is obvious that, as a result of this expensive and time-consuming reregistration process, registrants will, in a small market such as Australia, deem it uneconomic to reregister chemicals which are safe and effective. This will lead to a net loss of chemical products, having a direct impact on farm productivity. We do not want that.

The real problems which need addressing are the inefficiencies in the current system. So go to farmers and go to industry. Take on board what the NFF says. But do not come out with these sorts of policies, policies which just meddle unnecessarily in a system which is working fairly efficiently. If there are things which need to be fixed up, by all means go to the farmers, the people on the ground, and talk to them about what needs fixing. Do not just bring in legislation which will do nothing but impose more compliance costs on farmers.

The introduction to Australia of innovative products, such as a sheep drench specifically developed by Australians for Australian conditions, is already being delayed. This drench has been on the market and in use in New Zealand for two years but is yet to get the green light in Australia. It was developed here and is suitable for Australian conditions, yet Australian farmers cannot use it—because of inefficiencies in place which this new legislation will do nothing to improve. The Deloitte Access Economics report commissioned by CropLife Australia highlighted this concern. It stated that there will be an increase in costs of $8 million a year to product registrants—costs which will have to be passed on to users. We heard the member for Murray say that farmers are not price makers; they are price takers. They have to take what they get. That is what world markets dictate and that is what domestic markets dictate. They have to take the price available. With the Australian dollar high at the moment and with everything going against the poor old farmers, they are being forced to cut costs every which way. This is another hit they do not need.

Farmer groups have re-emphasised their support for the existing chemical review program as the most appropriate risk based mechanism for prioritising the assessment of the safety, efficiency and impact upon trade of agvet products. Any reforms to the industry need to address the shortcomings of the existing chemical review process. Industry supports the streamlining of the existing process for identifying and reviewing suspect chemicals but opposes the reregistration process, which simply adds another layer of regulations. The coalition strongly believes the only way to achieve the stated aim of this bill—to achieve efficiency and speed up the review of high-risk chemistries—is to amend the bill to remove the reregistration process.

The start date of this bill is 1 July 2013. There are only 17 evaluators and there are some 9,000 products which may be up for the registration process. APVMA has a chief executive officer who has only just come on board and Labor has given us nothing about how the APVMA it will manage the changes and the increased workload. All of that again shows how wrong it is to ram legislation through this parliament—legislation which is, in any event, unnecessary. APVMA needs time to establish its process and time to consult with industry on how it will manage the new legislative requirements. Given that it currently takes up to 15 years to review some chemicals, it is important we give APVMA time to adjust—or the whole organisation will just go into meltdown.

The coalition would like to see the commencement date delayed by a year in order to allow time to develop a risk-management framework clearly detailing the application requirements that are essential to support other efficiency measures such as 'shut the gate' and elapsed timeframe reforms. This extra time would allow registrants to work with the APVMA to road test the risk framework to ensure it is operated as intended. This has not occurred to date and the current manual of requirements and guidelines is insufficient, with significant gaps, which need to be addressed.

Furthermore, without a comprehensive risk framework to deliver high quality applications to the APVMA, it may struggle with the applications that do not have all the required information, resulting in more applications being denied, longer timeframes for decisions and a higher refusal rate—just as in the example of the Australian sheep drench, for instance. The consequence of a poorly handled transition will amplify the problems identified by farmers and by industry that will see fewer safe products remaining on the market, diminishing the competitiveness of the Australian industry. If there is anything that we do not need in Australia today it is a reduction in the competitiveness of Australian industry and farmers, who are having a tough enough time as it is. This in turn will increase costs for farmers as the price of pesticides increase.

I talk about farmers and like to use the words 'farmer', 'farm' and 'farming' in this parliament. They are great words; they are essential words. But it seems that they are lost on the Prime Minister. I had the Parliamentary Library look this up. Our Prime Minister has mentioned the word 'farmer' six times. She has mentioned it in condolence motions, one for the Hon. Douglas Scott and one for the Hon. Ralph Hunt. She has mentioned farmers in two ministerial statements about Afghanistan, talking about how the farmers there are being helped by Australians to improve the things that they are doing so they can produce more food and help that country transition. The Prime Minister also talked about farmers in a speech on the Queensland flood tax of 2011. The only other time that she has talked about farmers was in a speech on, believe it or not, Patrick Farmer, the marathon runner and former Liberal member.

Mr Brendan O'Connor: There's nothing wrong with Pat Farmer.

Mr McCORMACK: Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, Minister. But what is wrong is that our Prime Minister does not seem to recognise our farmers, Australian farmers. You can laugh about it; you can joke about it. But Parliamentary Secretary Sidebottom, who is beside you, knows exactly how important our farmers are. And I am sure that you do, too, Minister. But they are not being recognised in this place and they are certainly not being recognised or acknowledged by the Prime Minister. That is a disgrace, because our farmers deserve recognition. They do not ask for a hand out; they just ask for a hand up. They ask for a fair go. They are not getting one from a Prime Minister who thinks that going to regional Australia is going to the Western Suburbs of Sydney.

Mr Brendan O'Connor: Come on!

Mr McCORMACK: No, that is absolutely fair dinkum. People out in regional Australia are hurting. They do not need legislation such as this coming in preventing farmers from doing the job that they do so diligently and so dutifully on behalf of the Australian people. They do not need a Prime Minister who refuses to acknowledge the great work that they do. It is high time that the Prime Minister just occasionally gave them a bit of credit where credit is due.