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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2365


Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (16:18): I acknowledge the member for Grey's contribution just then and associate myself with those comments. I would like to put on the record my thanks for him spearheading the dissenting report from the House committee on this issue. That report will certainly form the basis for policy changes, we hope, under a new government.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 is supposed to improve the regulation of ag and vet chemicals. Presumably, the Labor Party's definition of improving regulations means making more of them and making them more restrictive—more red tape and more barriers to production. I note in the bill's summary that this legislation will update offences, create new offences and insert civil penalty provisions. That seems to sum up this government's policy platform: create more red tape and make the current red tape harder to cut through. To serve as a permanent reminder to this government's suffocating principles, this bill will insert a new requirement, a gift that keeps on giving. Under this legislation, existing approvals and registrations will operate for a finite period, which means new applications must be lodged for re-approval or reregistration.

The Liberal-National coalition, as has been said today, is moving amendments to remove this reregistration process and delay commencement for 12 months to allow proper consultation on this matter. These amendments are in line with the Liberal-National coalition's commitment to cutting red tape and making industry more efficient, and certainly making government regulators more efficient. I understand that the Labor Party had only one election commitment relating to agriculture, and this before us is it. But, when it was sold to agriculture before the last election, it was not about introducing more red tape and choking up industry; it was about the opposite: streamlining things. But now the deed is done and the red tape is here. Having next to zero experience in business, industry or indeed agriculture, those opposite have no understanding of what red tape actually means. They have no concept of the impact red tape has on industry and, in turn, the impact on employment and wealth generation.

Additional layers of red tape add cost. The onerous burdens of red tape contained in this bill will increase the cost to industry by about one third and that cost has to be paid by someone. Instead of adding to the nation's production, we have workers and industry tied up with compliance tasks that produce nothing and achieve nothing. Exacerbating the problem is the compliance cost borne by the regulator itself. This bill seeks to drown the regulator in paperwork, diminishing their ability to identify and review suspect chemicals. The red tape in this bill achieves nothing more than appeasing to the coalition partners of this government, the Greens.

This bill has been subject to both Senate and House inquiries. Repeated submissions to both of those inquiries, by industry groups, farmers and veterinarian groups, identified the additional costs, complexities and increasing red tape in the agricultural industry, in particular through the processes that are sought to be put in place in this bill.

The Liberal-Nationals coalition members on the House committee, spearheaded by the member for Grey, gave a dissenting report recommending the removal of that re-registration process and establishing a task force to urgently review the APVMA systems with a view to improving the efficiency, effectiveness and speed of the review of at-risk chemistries—and that is what we will pursue if elected to government. The manner in which reviews are undertaken and decisions are made at the APVMA leave a lot to be desired, and it has clearly been shown to be disastrous when it comes to a real world application.

Two examples of how this complicated, slow process is hurting agriculture can be seen in the regulation of diuron and dimethoate. Those two chemicals apply particularly to two industries which mean a lot to me. They mean a lot to the electorate of Dawson. They mean a lot to jobs in that electorate. They mean a lot to the state of Queensland. They mean a lot to the nation. The chemical diuron is an essential part of weed management in the sugar industry. My electorate is the largest sugar-growing electorate in the country, and diuron is an extremely effective form of weed control that has been responsible for increased efficiency and production in that industry. It has also been the subject of a sloppy scientific review and a lack of consultation through the APVMA processes. At no point did that regulator consider the impact on agriculture and what its decisions would mean in the real world.

The Greens, and the extreme green groups that are behind them, think that a chemical might be suspect. The next thing that happens is that this government simply bans it—or at least regulates it to the point of it effectively being banned. No-one consulted with the sugar industry in North Queensland when the APVMA made their recent effective ban on diuron. No-one thought about what would happen to the industry if that chemical was effectively banned. No-one bothered to consider if there were viable alternatives to that effectively banned chemical and no-one thought about what North Queensland sugar farmers would actually have to do if it was effectively banned. And no-one can definitively show that there will be any benefit from this effective ban whatsoever.

The sugar farmers in North Queensland are acutely aware of the quality of their environment, the land and their waterways. Their entire businesses, their livelihoods, are based on the quality of the environment, the quality of the land and the quality of the waterways in which they operate their cane farms. In recent generations we have seen an increase in focus on sustainable practice, and cane farmers in North Queensland have adopted a wide range of environmental practices that provide good outcomes for them, their industry and the environment. These are new environmental practices, such as green trash blanketing. That, in conjunction with the effective use of diuron, has proved to be effective.

If diuron is removed from the process, which is what has happened with the APVMA's recent ruling, then the environmental practices that are going on are no longer effective for the sugar growers. This may be the result that the Greens hope to see. Do they want to see a return to out-dated practices which may have harmed the environment more than what is going on now? Did the regulator, the Greens and the green groups that were pushing the regulator to go in this direction—or even those opposite—consider for one minute what alternative practices that there may be? Did anyone bother to ask anyone in the sugar industry what would happen if this chemical was no longer available to use? There is no economically viable alternative.

The regulator placed restrictions on diuron, on the use of diuron and on the concentrations of diuron that render it ineffective, and it basically banned its use during the precise time when it is used in the sugar industry. No consideration was given to the development of an economically viable alternative before banning the industry standard, and the question has to be asked: where was good science in all of this? Cane growers released some criticisms of this process of the APVMA. In it, they said that there was new information that was given on diuron metabolites that was not present in the 2005 review that the APVMA undertook.

The cane growers said there was no evaluation of a practice change undertaken by the sugarcane industry since that 2005 review, and they noted that the sugarcane industry already used the reduced rates of diuron in its farming systems. They said that there was no evaluation of the Queensland government's reef regulations, which targeted residual PSII herbicides, particularly diuron, where the rate of application was reduced to 1.8 kilograms of active constituent per hectare per year. Finally, they said there was no evaluation of the effectiveness of the $200 million reef rescue program that sits under the reef plan. They went on to say that both have targets to improve water quality and reduce herbicides by 25 per cent and 50 per cent respectively, and that herbicides of interest under the programs actually included diuron.

While all of this was going on, I went and spoke to a fellow by the name of Professor Ivan Kennedy. Professor Kennedy has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture. He has a PhD in Science and a doctorate of Science in Agriculture. He is a fellow member of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute and, to boot, he is a professor in agricultural and environmental chemistry at the University of Sydney. He is a guy who is pretty well qualified and a guy who knows what he is talking about when it comes to agrichemicals. I asked him about all of the kerfuffle we were seeing in the media at the time. He said that a safe level of diuron not affecting plant growth noticeably would be 0.1 to one parts per billion. That is one microgram per litre.

Professor Kennedy said that aquatic plants, such as lemna and seagrass, require sustained levels of 50 to 100 parts per billion in the water to kill them. They would recover from a brief two-day exposure. He said the scientific data is reassuring in that such safe levels—that is, one part per billion—are never exceeded in the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. In general, the concentrations are too low to measure, except using special samplers that concentrate the diuron about 1,000 times. He went on to say that there is no evidence that coral in the lagoon is being harmed by such low concentrations below the limits of chemical detection, certainly not 60 kilometres from the shore. Yet we have had the APVMA, driven by the extreme green groups, effectively ban diuron in one of their recent decisions. Where was science in all of this? Goodness knows.

I also represent the Bowen Gumlu region. It is the largest tomato-growing region in this country. There, in my electorate, they produce about 90 per cent of our winter tomato crop and about 60 per cent of the year-round tomato crop. There are 47,000 tonnes of capsicums and chillies that also come from there, which are worth about $100 million to this nation every year. That small region in Queensland also produces 95 per cent of our capsicums in September and October. As I said, $104 million worth of tomatoes a year, or 90 per cent, are grown in that winter period. They use dimethoate for controlling fruit fly—or at least they used to use it. The APVMA conducted a review on the use of dimethoate and found it could pose a dietary risk to consumers. So in 2011 they lowered the maximum residue rate for dimethoate from .02 milligrams a day to .001 milligrams a day.

Not content with strangling agricultural production for the domestic market, basically that decision restricted export market opportunities as well. New Zealand has its own rules and they accept dimethoate at rates which now in Australia we do not. The fact is that there is a large export market for those tomatoes and capsicums over in New Zealand. They accept the standards that were previously used. They would have accepted the product but now the APVMA has come in and made this ruling. It does not matter where the tomatoes are going. They could be going to the domestic market or they could be exported to New Zealand where the dimethoate rate is accepted. But they cannot export them anymore because this ruling has been an effective ban on exports of those tomatoes to New Zealand because there is no other method currently accepted by the APVMA that will be accepted in New Zealand to ensure they do not have fruit fly and other pests in them. That is an export opportunity lost. It has been lost for a year. It will probably be lost this year. Two years is a long time to be out of that market because the market share shrinks on a daily basis and the growers up there fear the window will close while they sit on the sidelines waiting for bureaucrats and regulators to sort out the system.

The entire system is flawed from the ground up. At a time when flexibility and speed determine market share, our agricultural sector is drowning in bureaucracy. There has been much political posturing in this country. They talk about Australia's great opportunity as a food bowl for the world but under the management of this government such notions are pure fantasy. While our farmers are out there growing food for our people and for the people of other countries, we have Labor and the Greens tying public servants up in knots of red and green tape preventing those farmers doing what they do best.

Consider the re-registration process in this bill. There are 9,900 agricultural and veterinary chemicals currently registered with 1,900 active constituents making up 9,900 chemicals. This bill, an act of agricultural sabotage, is requiring each one of them to be registered again. They are already registered. Imagine the staff and resources that are going to be tied up in the process. Instead of applying close and urgent scrutiny to high-risk agricultural or veterinary chemicals, this bill will have those people wasting time going through re-registering thousands of low-risk chemicals.

This bill is being driven by the Greens, by extreme green groups. It has the government jumping up and down all the time. If it is going to be passed in this place it will be another milestone for the Greens to celebrate from this government.