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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2374


Mr RANDALL (Canning) (16:57): I am very pleased to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, even though it is 2013. As all the speakers before me have informed the House, this bill aims to enforce the mandatory re-registration of existing chemicals which are crucial to efficient, effective and successful farming in Australia. The coalition will seek to amend this bill by sensibly removing the mandatory re-registration component of the bill, an aspect which Labor committed to in their 2010 election campaign to placate the Greens. This is yet another attack on primary producers, who are already doing it very tough in an industry that is under siege from many interest groups, plus the green groups, as well as external factors such as the stubbornly high Australian dollar and increasingly cheap imports from abroad.

Currently, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, or APVMA, have a rigorous regime in place that ensures any products which are dangerous are weeded out and subject to scrutiny. In fact, many primary producers will argue that the current regime goes well beyond providing a safety net and instead has become an unacceptable impediment to efficient farming, given the outlandish claims that are being used to try and ban fenthion, an issue that I will go into in more detail later.

It is important to note that the current bill retains all of the existing mechanisms for triggering a review. I repeat: this bill retains all of the current mechanisms which would trigger a review. So what is the point of this? It is because the Greens, again, have leant on this government because they have this hysteria about issues to do with agriculture et cetera. They do not understand. Currently, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the man who has successfully closed down a cattle industry in the north of Australia, presides over this along with the Minister for Sustainability, Water, Population and Communities, who comes from a city based electorate, Watson. They really do not appreciate what farmers and orchardists are doing out there in wider Australia. This is what I, the growers and the farmers perceive as an overregulation of the industry. Given that such reviews are paid for by industry itself, through full cost recovery, mandatory registration is just an inefficient mechanism that will not only waste the levies paid in good faith by the industry but further erode the trust that farmers have had in these bureaucratic arms of government. This trust is now becoming very short in supply.

The bill was meant to improve efficiency and reduce regulatory burdens. Instead, in true Labor fashion they have managed to put forward a bill which will do the complete opposite. Even when Labor sets out to make life easier for business, they somehow manage to wrap industries up in either more red tape or more green tape. This is why the coalition will be cutting unnecessary red tape by something like $1 billion should we be fortunate enough to win the next federal election. Labor have increased compliance costs by so much in the past five years that the coalition needs to ease the burden on industry not only to ensure its growth but, in many cases, to ensure its very survival.

Following the very good speech by the shadow agriculture minister, the member for Calare, the member for Moreton, Graham Perrett, had the audacity to freely admit that he has a few farmers and growers in his electorate and his only appreciation for the subject comes from the fact that he has been the Brisbane markets in his electorate. I suppose he would have the same authority in relation to taxation matters because he has an accountant somewhere in one of the suburbs! The member for Moreton went on to say that he has been approached by mothers who have expressed grave concern for their children about the effect the chemicals may have on them. He then proceeded to tell us that his expert knowledge of this is to argue aspects of the bill which are not based on evidence or science but just a couple of mothers at the market saying they are worried about apples being sprayed. This goes to the heart of the debate surrounding the overregulation and red tape which is strangling primary producers in this country.

Those with no understanding of the issues that farmers are facing have a disproportionate voice. In other words, the noisy lobbies in these debates are why we have thousands of farmers walking off their land who are either fed up with the unnecessary burdens placed on them or just cannot continue. As the member for Calare stated, we are a nation that was built on the back of primary producers. But now the inner-city elites and the green ideologues are trying to stamp out farmers across this country. In fact, they have a great antipathy or hate for farmers. The irony is that, by endeavouring to overregulate and tax farmers out of existence, they are allowing overseas producers to become more attractive to the markets that we have in Australia and imported products. Now, wouldn't it be crazy if we stopped an effective home-grown industry and imported the bulk of our fresh fruit and vegetables from overseas, where they do not have the same regulatory regimes to make sure that sprays and chemicals do not infiltrate food during its processing and growing cycle. That would be a really perverse effect.

I note that the Greens Party website promotes food security, as does Labor's National Food Plan. However, both parties are seeking to join hands in a kumbaya fashion and increase the regulatory costs incurred by chemical users, which of course will be passed on down the line to the very consumers that they reckon they are representing—the ones the member for Moreton spoke about in his markets in Brisbane. They are the ones who will be paying more. Labor does not seem to understand the link between compliance costs and the inevitable increase in the cost of living, which has been brutal since the member for Griffith and the current Prime Minister took over this parliament.

I will not even go into Finance Minister Penny Wong's deregulation agenda, because it really has backfired on her. She is actually increasing costs by something like $8 million instead of reducing compliance costs. This is red tape and compliance at its worst. It is killing our domestic industries, as evidenced by the report that showed that 900 firms have been placed into administration every month. That is more than during the height of the GFC in this country. The impact of the carbon tax has been specifically cited as a primary factor for many of these closures. However, we have a Labor government in this country who refuse to listen to the coalition on matters of economic significance despite our warnings which, sadly, have proven to be accurate time and time again.

In relation to the impact of the bill, I refer you to arguments being put forward by coalition members and by industry expert Matthew Cossey, the CEO of CropLife Australia, who said:

In its current form, this bill will only serve to hinder agricultural productivity.

The supporters of this bill in its current form argue that there needs to be safeguards to protect Australians from suspect chemicals. Well, there already are. As I have already said to you, it is already in the current bill. The coalition support this. However, we do not support this unnecessary overregulation which brings extra costs with no gain to public safety.

Implementing a mandatory re-registration process for the existing chemicals provides no additional safeguards, as I have said. We only have a small market in Australia which will likely result in chemical manufacturers avoiding costs associated with processes, and primary producers will be left without effective products that are vital to component production. In other words, large producers—and we know that they are multinationals—will see Australia as a place to avoid.

That brings me to a current issue in my electorate that has been initiated by the APVMA and poses a huge risk to fruit growers in my electorate and across Australia. In fact, this has national ramifications which something like this current bill would exacerbate. The APVMA are attempting to ban the use of fenthion, which is the common name of Lebaycid. This is the last remaining effective control against the devastating Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly. It would devastate the industry across Australia if this last effective control was removed. It would open the industry up to attack by fruit fly from Queensland to Tasmania and right through to my state of Western Australia.

The evidence put forward to date has been torn to shreds by the Hills Orchard Improvement Group, led by a fierce advocate for fruit growers in the Perth Hills region, Brett DelSimone. Over the past 18 months, Brett and his team, representing this group of growers, have led the charge against an ill-conceived decision by the APVMA to ban fenthion from Australia, leaving orchardists unprotected against a pest that, if left unaddressed, would wipe out the fruit growing industry in Western Australia. I have been to the presentations and, yes, I do believe that the area-wide control mechanisms such as baiting, orchard clean-ups and the sterile fruit fly program are excellent, but they need the cover of the fenthion spray while they put this in place. South Australia was able to get rid of the Mediterranean fruit fly because of a combination of these tools—and, interestingly, these sterile flies are actually bred in Perth and sent to South Australia, even though we do not use them ourselves in our own state.

The APVMA have only found green interest groups to support them, the same small groups who are today being appeased by this flawed legislation. Given Labor's support for this defective legislation in this House today, the feigned break-up between Labor and the Greens is clearly not a done deal; it resembles more a phoney lovers' tiff.

I challenge any member opposite to travel to an orchard—or at the very least pick up the phone and speak to an orchardist—in my electorate; you will soon understand the exasperation that these growers are feeling because of the overregulation of this industry. Given that any industry lobby group could ban or delay the re-registration of a spray like fenthion, the orchardists could be put out of business. Their stone fruit crops, their apple crops, even the grapes of the Swan Valley, would not be able to be protected against the attack of the Mediterranean fruit fly if fenthion were banned. Yet, should any interest group decide to involve themselves in this legislation, the re-registration of fenthion as a spray could be stopped, which could then see growers' crops devastated for at least two, or more, years while they further investigated the veracity of any claims against this spray—which, by the way, for 60 years has not resulted in one recorded health issue, yet they still talk about wanting to ban it.

Bills such as the unamended version of this bill before the House will hinder rather than assist farmers across Australia. As elected members we have the responsibility to resist the onerous regulation and duplication of red tape; however, I know that only members on this side of the House have the motivation and resolve to ensure that primary producers are protected from such regressive legislation. I say to the crossbenchers who live in rural electorates and have fruit growers and orchardists in their areas: you will want to think seriously before you allow this overregulation of an industry whose members protect themselves by using cover sprays such as fenthion.

We cannot be beholden to such green ideology. We on this side of the House want to make life easier for small business—and an orchard is a small business—so that we can free up the private sector. The bill currently before the House does the complete opposite. It enlarges an already bloated bureaucracy and increases pressure, by further costs, on an industry that is already under significant pressure.

I implore the House to adopt the coalition's amendments—and you know what those amendments are; they have already been read in the House—to ensure that the bill's original intent is accomplished and to avoid an increased regulatory burden on Australia's primary producers. It is our responsibility to make sure that our industries remain competitive at home, rather than seeing overseas imports take over, when a home-grown industry like ours could survive if given the opportunity to survive, with less regulation, less government interference and a smaller bureaucracy interfering in their daily lives.

Debate adjourned.