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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 104


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (16:50): Ensuring that Australia keeps its disease-pest-free, clean-and-green image I believe is one of the most important acts a government can do. Yes, agriculture is important. It is important because it does not just help feed us in this country; it is an important export market. There are a lot of jobs in agriculture and in food production that we currently have in this country that would be put at risk if there were to be significant disease or pests coming into this country and infecting our local product, our local industry, our local agriculture. In my own region of Bendigo we have multiple growers and operations that rely on having a strong and robust biosecurity regime in place. It is one of the reasons why when Labor was in office it introduced the Biosecurity Bill 2012 to update and modernise legislation underpinning Australians' biosecurity framework and to support the implementation of a risk based biosecurity intervention framework.

Some speakers have spoken about the importance of ensuring visitors, travellers and people returning to Australia do not bring their own human diseases into this country. That is important, and our staff working at our airports make sure that those environments continue to be clean and that people coming in do not carry those diseases. What I want to focus on, though, is what would happen in our agricultural and food production industries if we do not act to ensure that we continue to have a high level of biosecurity within this country. I mentioned Hy-Line Australia, which is a manufacturer in my electorate, which is the largest company in Australia providing day-old chicks, laying chickens and fertilised eggs. It is just outside of Bendigo, in Huntly, and it is the largest supplier of those products here in this country.

When you go there to visit it is not like turning up to a heavy metal manufacturing site where you just have to make sure that you have your steel cap boots on, your fluoro vest and a hard hat. When you go to this facility for a briefing or for a tour, firstly your car has to go through a wash. Then when you get to the site, you yourself have to completely strip down and wash yourself and then go through into the quarantine area and put on a new outfit—new clothes. Your glasses or anything that you may have with you needs to go through another space to make sure that you have not picked up any diseases on your glassware. Then you are ready to go into the actual facility. After that there is a quick briefing on how to maintain the biosecurity of the plant. You can see when you go into the barns, where they have thousands and thousands of birds and the eggs that they lay, why it is so necessary.

When I was there at the end of last year they took me into the shed where the hens laying eggs are actually producing our flu vaccination. It is what they use in our flu vaccinations. That is why it is so important for this facility, just outside of Bendigo, that we have the strongest possible biosecurity measures in place. And it does not just happen at the facility; no person who works in that facility is allowed to own bird life. They forgo having any pet birds of their own, just in case they pick up an unwanted disease and bring it into the facility. The council in the local area of the City of Greater Bendigo has just agreed to amendments to ensure the protection of a buffer zone of a thousand hectares. It is designed to minimise the potential conflict between intensive animal industries, like we have outside of Huntly at Hy-Line, with new residential developments. Huntly is on the other side of the highway, where we have the growth of Bendigo going on. So, our local government is onboard and ensuring at a local level that we are doing our best to ensure the biosecurity at this facility. At a state and federal government level it is also incredibly important. This act becomes so important with regard to the importing of birds, to ensure that whatever product comes in does not bring diseases that could affect the operations and production of this facility in Bendigo.

The poultry industry in the City of Greater Bendigo is worth over $55 million a year. I should also mention Hazeldene's, which is another major manufacturer of chicken and chicken products and also has its own broiler farms and hatcheries. Again, they go from the farm gate to Woolworths and Coles with RSPCA approved chickens; they control every level of operation. Hazeldene's say that one of their major risk concerns is what would happen if there was a biosecurity risk; what would happen if there was a break-out of disease? They always share the experience of when they had an infected bird in one of their hatcheries and they had to destroy the entire flock. It is not just about the cost associated with what happens when we have a biosecurity risk; it is the ongoing cost of rebuilding if you have to basically destroy your entire stock.

Biosecurity is integral to Australia's green, clean, safe food image that we are trying to promote overseas. It has been the talk of why we needed to rush to sign these free trade agreements. On that: if we are going to go down the path of these free trade agreements, we need to make sure that here in this country we can continue to market the product of clean, green, safe food. Other industries in my electorate that have raised concerns about protecting and ensuring that we continue to have that clean, green image is our beef producing industry. Currently, Hardwick's in Kyneton export about 30 per cent of their product to the Middle East—chilled beef and lamb products. They also talk about the importance of biosecurity when it comes to the safe slaughter of product, but they also talk about it in terms of the product that they receive in their food processing works in Kyneton. Another industry to raise it with me are KR Castlemaine. They are the largest employer in Castlemaine, if not Central Victoria. They currently employ over 1,200 people at that facility. They use a range of pork to make our bacon and our smallgoods, and most of it is imported. Where we have rules around biosecurity for importing ham on the bone, that in fact is Australian pork. That exists because of regulations we have and ensures that with the product that they are using there continues to be a market through that Australian pork range. I asked them: if there was to be a change, would they move to a situation where they would just use imported product?—just to put it out there—and they said no, that they are happy with the quality of the product that they get from the Australian piggeries because it really helps with their image. They find that marketing Australian pork, as in Australian clean and green, is the best market label that they have.

B&B Basil is another one of our local manufacturers that spoke to me about the importance of maintaining a strong biosecurity regime. Their business focuses on those microherbs that you get as garnishes, and they have developed an operation and a system outside of Bendigo where they can grow them quickly and get them from the initial seeding phase to being on your plate in China, Japan or Hong Kong within days. They said that what has helped them build their markets overseas is the fact that Australia has a strong clean, green, safe food reputation.

I want to touch on what can go wrong when we lose control of our borders and the lessons from the Victorian wine industry over a century ago. Today Central Victoria, including Bendigo, is known for its wine. Over 100 years ago, it was also known for its wine, but there was an outbreak of a disease, which came over from California, that got into the grapes and into the vines. That came in and completely destroyed over half the crops, half the vines, we had in central Victoria. The governor at the time made an offer to the other winemakers and grape growers: 'We'll give you a subsidy to pull out all your vines just so we can get on top of this disease problem in our vineyards and vines in central Victoria.' Pretty much all of the growers did that, and we lost our wine industry. So it is important to learn the lessons—and learn from the mistakes—of 100 years ago about what can happen if we do not have strict biosecurity measures in place.

What disappoints me the most about this bill is that, when we all know this and we all agree that we want to have a strong agricultural sector, a strong food production sector and a strong wine sector—which rely on a really strong, robust biosecurity regime—and when the majority of the work had already been done by the former, Labor government, it took this government so long to bring it forward. That is my concern about where we are at. It has taken 18 months to bring this bill forward for debate, even though all the hard work had been done by the former government. It was Labor that recognised the importance of upgrading and modernising Australia's biosecurity laws and it was the former, Labor government that first introduced this legislation back in 2012. The current bill before the parliament is essentially identical to that original bill, which was introduced in the last parliament. That is why it is so unfortunate and so disappointing that it has taken so long for this bill to be introduced.

The Abbott government needs to start focusing on putting our agricultural industries first by ensuring that legislation like this is not delayed. It is important that this government starts to restore funding to the CSIRO, which is so important if we are serious about biosecurity. It is not enough to, finally, bring these Labor bills before the House; this government needs to reinvest in the CSIRO, the scientists and the research body, to partner with our industry to ensure we are meeting the biosecurity challenges that this country faces.

We also need this government to finally release its white paper on agricultural industries. It was promised within 12 months of their taking office, and we are still waiting for it. If the government are so keen to make sure that our agricultural industries mean future job creation for us in this country, if they are so keen to get those trade agreements signed, if they are so keen to say that agriculture will be the new growth industry, then why is it taking them so long to release their agriculture white paper? If the government were serious about biosecurity, then they would continue to invest in this area. They would invest in the science and research. They would bring industry together in a more cooperative way. They would ensure that there was a white paper on agriculture that picked up on this issue, and it would be released sooner rather than later.

In a meeting of the Bendigo Manufacturing Group that I attended on Friday, we spoke a lot about the importance of Bendigo food production and food manufacturing, and the number of jobs that is generated by food manufacturers in our region. There are over 6,000 people directly and indirectly employed because of our food manufacturing in Bendigo. If there were an outbreak of disease at Hazeldene's, Hy-Line or KR Castlemaine, or at any of the companies that feed into these manufacturers, thousands of jobs would be at risk. That is why it is so important that we get serious about biosecurity.