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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 122


Ms SCOTT (Lindsay) (18:09): I rise today in support of the Biosecurity Bill 2014 together with the package of supportive bills relating to biosecurity and quarantine. This bill replaces the original act introduced to this parliament in 1908, over 100 years ago. I think it is fair to say it is well and truly time for a dust off, rethink and rework. On the enormity of the task, I would like to congratulate the member for New England, the Minister for Agriculture, and the CSIRO for their focus on our nation's biosecurity.

Late last year, while releasing a green paper on agricultural competitiveness, the minister said that biosecurity presented 'the greatest risk to the future of Australian agriculture' and that 'investment in our biosecurity should never be compromised'. I could not agree more. Being a continent island we have a wonderful natural barrier of protection to this land but it is also one of our greatest threats. At the heart of this 605 page bill is a plan for risk management and preventing risks to human health, not to mention a plan to protect Australian industry, especially the ongoing viability of agriculture, and in turn securing our food production.

European settlement has seen nature send warning salvos across our bow loud and clear. In the initial years of colonisation it was the very coughs and colds our convicts brought to Australia from England. The then isolated Indigenous population had not been exposed to anything like this and on some communities the impact was devastating. Then there were the outbreaks and people were quarantined for fear of all kinds of harmful and deadly diseases, including leprosy. But biosecurity encompasses other outbreaks, often because of our own stupidity and lack of research. Perhaps most notably was the ill-fated attempt by the Bureau of Sugar Experimentation Station to control the Frenchi beetle, a pest in sugar cane crops, by introducing cane toads. That was in 1935. Eighty years later they have spread south to New South Wales and west across the top half of the continent, seriously threatening local flora, fauna and even humans with their poison.

Almost as foolhardy was the release of 24 rabbits by Thomas Austin in 1859 from Victoria. That release allowed the country to be overrun by rabbits in plague populations. The damage they caused is almost immeasurable—from soil erosion to the destruction of vegetation, not to mention the harm done to our native wildlife. It ran pretty much out of control until the 1950s when myxomatosis was introduced as a control and then, more recently, the calicivirus. Nonetheless, we still have a rabbit problem. Then there was the prickly pear. Imported in the 19th century, the cactus was originally thought to be a good biological agricultural fence. That was until the plant went feral. A South American moth, introduced in 1925, finally brought the prickly pear under control. Most recently there has been an issue of fire ants finding their way to Australia by container ship. Recent outbreaks around Botany threaten all regions of Sydney, including my electorate of Lindsay. The point is we must forever be vigilant to keep our country clean and free from pests and diseases.

My electorate of Lindsay is home to communities such as Agnes Banks, Llandilo, Castlereagh and Mulgoa—the north and south wings of my electorate. These areas are agricultural lands based around the Nepean River and are also home to some of our nation's most esteemed equine studs, which enjoy great success on both the international and national stages. Local heritage estates like Fernhill, once home to Sir Henry Parkes and the Cox family, is where the current owners work hard towards a dream of hosting international showjumping events in our region—not to mention their wonderfully successful picnic race days.

To the north of the Lindsay electorate is Castlereagh and Agnes Banks, home to spectacular thoroughbred properties, like Bart Cummings' Princes farm, Godolphin or Tyreel, and home to some of our nation's greatest thoroughbreds, like Melbourne Cup champion Saintly. A few years ago, in 2007, this community, alongside much of our equine community, faced an epidemic of equine flu that cut through the area like a rampant bushfire. You see, the first case of horse flu in Australia was confirmed in a stallion at Eastern Creek, also in Western Sydney. That stallion was in quarantine after arriving from Japan. Despite 60 horses at the Eastern Creek and Spotswood quarantine stations being kept in lockdown, the equine flu still escaped. The flu could be caught via airborne particles. Worse still, it could travel kilometres on the wind, affecting horse studs suburbs away. All in all 47,000 horses would test positive to the disease across nearly 6,000 properties through New South Wales and Queensland. Seeing what my own animal, my own horse, went through is not something I would wish upon my worst enemy. It was awful and it was distressing. My horse got through the ordeal. I am very lucky. Fonteyn was very young at the time, but she did have youth on her side. Older and more mature horses were not so lucky and did not survive this outbreak.

In an inquiry, former judge Ian Callinan, who investigated the issue, described our quarantine system as 'inefficient, underfunded and lacking due diligence'. Some important changes were made in the wake of Judge Callinan's findings, but the basic century-old legislation remained in place despite a mammoth operation: 50,000 horses had to be vaccinated, 132,000 lab tests had to be carried out and 16,000 movement permits had to be issued. So many equine based businesses like self-employed tradesmen—farriers, horse dentists, vet clinics—endured economic hardship and some would never recover. My good friends Lyn and Michael White, of Castlereagh Feeds, were faced with an economic threat to their business, hence having to diversify their business into other forms of stock feed.

I go further. Lindsay is home to a whole range of other business in the agriculture space, particularly poultry and egg farms. There are businesses in Lindsay like Pirovic Enterprises, custodian to around 750,000 birds, which is one of the largest independent operators of poultry and egg production in Australia. As recently as 2013, and even into last year, businesses like this were threatened by avian influenza outbreaks found around Young. There were estimates around at the time that the loss of chicken stocks were so severe they were pushing up the price of eggs by as much as 20 per cent. As it was, egg production was cut in New South Wales by 12 per cent. Had that flu spread to my electorate, the local industry could have been absolutely decimated. That is because Pirovic farms in my electorate produce more than 60,000 eggs per day. It is a vulnerable industry. It is a vulnerable business, I might add, that directly employs 130 people and indirectly provides so many more jobs to people in Western Sydney.

We must protect our food security. Egg production is one of the most efficient means of protein production. It is essential our biosecurity laws are up to date and the very best they can be so that every protection possible is given to essential food producing industries like egg production. When I speak to people like family business owner Franco Pirovic, he tells me this legislation is a good and solid start. He says this legislation will help tighten border controls and take into account the massive traffic numbers at these points. He says this legislation will streamline the processes should the worst happen, and that gives everybody more certainty. He also says the legislation provides a springboard for the government to start looking at new biosecurity battlegrounds, what he calls the 'post border controls', because people like Franco see serious vulnerabilities.

As consumer demand is pushing industries like his away from battery egg production to free range, animal vulnerability to diseases rise. It is a simple factor of having less control over the animal's cleanliness and is a more difficult operation to quickly quarantine—especially when diseases can quickly travel several kilometres once airborne. And that is not good when you are an industry trying to keep bird flu and other diseases like Newcastle disease out. On Franco's figures, there are around 17 million commercial laying hens across Australia, but at least they have voluntary industry codes. However, that push to be green and organic, and the resurgence in unregulated backyard chicken farms, means often these farms have less than 10 chickens and are not part of any voluntary code or system. In fact, as Franco points out, the numbers are as high as 4.2 million backyard chickens being housed across Australia and these have the potential to become a big and growing issue. And with hens being bought and sold without regulation, many birds are not even getting basic vaccinations, which is a potential risk to an entire industry that is already vulnerable. It may be down the track, but there is a growing case to register pets and backyard birds in the same way we register cats and dogs. Further, domestic birds may need to have basic flu vaccinations in order to be bought and sold.

This legislation forms a modern framework where these ideas can be looked at and further legislated down the track—legislation that defends country, wildlife and, most importantly, our food security. But Lindsay supports other agricultural enterprises too. We are home to vegetable farms in Londonderry and mushroom enterprises in our mountain foothills. In fact, mushrooms from the electorate of Lindsay account for more than 20 per cent of our nation's mushroom supply. Further, there are boutique wineries, saki manufacturers and important recreational fishing areas along the Nepean River. The point is biosecurity affects us all.

On the ground, parts of my electorate are earmarked for major freight interchange and holding facilities, potentially bringing issues, once faced by our ports, straight to the heart of Western Sydney. This bill is equipped to meet the challenges of modern trade and travel logistics. Today the Department of Agriculture is annually clearing 16 million arrival passengers, 186 million international mail items and 1.7 million sea cargo consignments as well as 26 million air cargo consignments. Those who wrote the old bill in 1908 could never have envisaged these numbers—not to mention the advancement of air travel that has made our world all the smaller and more accessible. Container vessels of today would have been almost inconceivable to the authors of the original bill.

The science and research communities in my area will have more certainty from this bill, as the sector grows with major transporting hubs being planned for the region. There is a role in all of this for Australia to lead the world, and proudly the people of Western Sydney can lead the charge. Macarthur, the electorate directly to the south of Lindsay, is named after John Macarthur—the father of the merino sheep industry. The merino is the sheep often credited with establishing Australia's export market, leading to the coining of the phrase 'an economy riding on the sheep's back.' Today we as a region look to the future of this innovative area. We look to how we can grow further. We are excited about investments by companies like Baiada, who have a 256 hectare property to the south of my electorate, where they are looking to develop a national food science and research laboratory. We also have organisations like the VIVID Centre in Penrith, which is part of Virbac. They are doing some of the most exciting research into animal health, and they are also manufacturing their products.

I support this bill. The bill is important for our nation's future, it is important for our food security and it is important for all Australians.