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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3243


Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (12:53): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. Today we have another bill and another layer of red tape for the productive people of Australia. This time we are talking about more red tape for more primary producers. This bill is all about imposing increased costs which will make it more difficult for farmers to be competitive.

This bill implements changes to the approval, registration and reconsideration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals to allegedly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current regulatory arrangements and to provide greater certainty to the community that chemicals approved for use in Australia are safe.

The re-registration process was the only election commitment Labor delivered in agriculture in the 2010 election, and there is no doubt that it was announced to placate the Greens. The Labor Party did not explain this in their pre-election statement clearly to avoid highlighting the negative impact on the agricultural community. Reforms are supposed to reduce cumbersome assessment and registration processes, be more cost-efficient for farmers and to provide industry with timely access to the best and safest crop and animal protectors. We support these objectives. This is supported by the 2008 Productivity Commission report into chemicals and plastic regulation.

Recommendation 8.1 states:

The Australian Government, in consultation with the states and territories, should impose a statutory obligation on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to ensure that:

The costs of chemical assessments are commensurate with the risks posed by the chemicals concerned

Its assessment priorities are directed to the most efficiently management of the aggregate risk of all agvet chemicals.

In general the bill makes a number of incremental changes to the arrangement to manage agvet chemicals registration and improvements to compliance and enforcement arrangements, most of which try to improve efficiency and are supported by industry. The coalition supports a process that focuses resources on suspect chemistries through a streamlining of existing process. However, the most significant change in this bill is the re-registration process which contradicts these objectives and instead will entrench yet another layer of red tape through an automatic seven- to 15-year review process for all chemicals with extra costs ultimately passed on to chemical users. The current bill retains all existing mechanisms for triggering a review.

The Australian National Audit Office's inquiry into Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has confirmed that we have a reliable technical and scientific regulatory system for effective management of risk. This is what the report had to say:

The ANAO concluded that the APVMA has reasonable arrangements in place to identify chemicals that require review and to prioritise the reviews according to the risk they represent.

APVMA do look at what is happening around the world and if there are concerns raised about a particular chemical they do actually act and with the current review process they do that. There is a system to make sure that, if a concern is raised somewhere else in another jurisdiction or within this jurisdiction, we do look at it.

However, despite these findings, the government has decided to add another layer of red tape through mandatory re-registration. The re-registration system adds no triggers but just another expensive recheck of the triggers funded by industry. It is also to give the green lobby designated time frames to concentrate on campaigns to have chemicals removed. For example, the campaigners will run a campaign on a chemical because of a tenuous link with a disease that is unscientific, and force the APVMA to withdraw registration because of political pressure, not scientific fact.

The re-registration system does not introduce any new triggers; it just makes the APVMA run costly rechecking of existing triggers. This needlessly duplicates existing arrangements and places an added cost on the farm sector—a cost it can ill afford at this point in time. Now is not the time to again hit the farm sector, particular farmers in my electorate and across the North Coast of New South Wales who is doing it tough.

Primary producers in my electorate are doing it tough because of a range of factors. Over recent times famers have been hit by a number of flood events which have left them reeling. The first flood event back in January and the second flood event in February were quite devastating. In January, floods in the Clarence Valley effectively wiped out the sugarcane crop. For many this represented the third crop they had lost in the past four years. Four years of costs and three years of no returns from sugarcane is a very difficult situation.

The January event also had an impact on local fishermen, particularly in the Clarence Valley. The impact has been magnified by the follow-up February flood event, which has effectively prevented the fishermen from deriving income for months. The situation became so bad that a local community organised to have food hampers donated to families who could no longer afford to put food on the table. Many of these families were fishing families who have not had income for months. They are proud people but their current situation was diabolical.

Across the North Coast region primary producers have been affected in many areas. In the Nambucca River, the oyster industry was particularly badly hit and the overall impact on the industry was expected to run into millions. As one oyster farmer said to me in an email:

My partner and I run a small oyster farm on the Nambucca River. The recent floods have had a substantially negative impact upon our livelihoods.

Loss of stock and infrastructure, river closures and equipment damage have all affected our business in the past months. Our business has completely come to a halt.

We have no income and are struggling to make repayments. We are in dire need of assistance. Our river coordinator has put together an estimate of these cumulative damages, and we would truly appreciate your consideration with regards to any assistance you may be able to offer our local community of growers.

In other parts the floods have wreaked havoc on fences and there have been reports of stock losses, mainly in the lower Macleay Valley. I should mention that there were some retailers also impacted, with tenants of the Old Buttery Factory in Bellingen severely impacted.

What all this information demonstrates is how marginal many primary production can be at this point in time. Every year their costs seem to increase and the prices they receive seem to decline. Every year it gets harder for these farmers to survive. Under this government, all they seem to receive is more red tape and more levies. In the context of these floods, I have welcomed the additional assistance provided to primary producers.

With regard to this bill, the coalition proposes to introduce amendments to delay the commencement by 12 months in order to allow time for, firstly, the development of a risk management framework clearly detailing the application requirements, which is essential to support other efficiency measures such as the 'shut the gate' and 'elapsed time frame' reforms. Secondly, registrants agreed to work with the APVMA to 'road test' the risk framework to ensure that it operated as intended. This has not occurred to date. No consultation on the risk framework has occurred. The current Manual of Requirements and Guidelines, or MORAG, is insufficient, with significant gaps that need to be addressed. Without a comprehensive risk framework to deliver high-quality applications to the APVMA, it may struggle with applications that do not have all the information required, resulting in more applications being denied, longer time frames for decisions and a higher refusal rate.

The consequence of poorly handled transitions will be to amplify the problems identified by farmers and industry—that is, that fewer safe products will remain on the market, diminishing the competitiveness of Australian industry. This will increase costs for farmers as the price of pesticides increase. Some generic products will be lost from the market. Products are also less likely to be introduced as regulatory risk and regulatory cost increase.

In conclusion, this bill will lead to a net loss in efficiency of the regulator and, contrary to the stated aims, it will reduce its ability to identify and review suspect chemistries. The bill does have some benefits in efficiency, but the only way to ensure the current bill has a net benefit in efficiency and improves the process to identify and review high-risk chemistries is to move amendments that remove the reregistration process and delay the commencement date.

This is in line with our commitment to cut unnecessary red tape by $1 billion, if the coalition should be elected at the forthcoming election. In government, we believe there will be significant scope to further cut red tape and increase the efficiency of the system. That will deliver faster assessment processes for new chemistries and faster reviews of suspect chemistries and remove unsafe products from the market.

If Australian agriculture is to prosper, if our farmers are going to be self-sustainable, it is essential that governments cut the red tape and cut the green tape to allow farmers to get on with the business of producing. But we know this government has no understanding of the agricultural sector, and this bill is just another example of how out of touch the Labor Party is with the primary producers of Australia.