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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 136

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (19:11): My reason for speaking on the Biosecurity Bill 2014 is not that the change from being a quarantine act to a biosecurity act in itself is so immense. It is the fact that this is one of the more important pieces of legislation that exists in Australia, amongst all those bills that we have in our federal parliament. Agriculture, amongst other things, is extraordinarily important to our domestic situation but even more important to our export situation, as two thirds of everything that we grow, or thereabouts, is exported.

I think a lot of it is common sense as to why it has happened. It is an old act—it is 100 years old. It deals with a lot of different issues, and it is not surprising that after this time, as I believe, there have been over 50 amendments—I am surprised there are not more—it is to be rehashed and hopefully simplified; but it is a very rare thing if you achieve simplification.

We are an export nation by our very nature, and agriculture was the first product we had which brought income and everything else to Australia, mainly because we exported wool, we exported sheep, we exported various things. The Quarantine Act—now to be the Biosecurity Act—is old, for various reasons which I have already mentioned.

Recently the Minister for Trade and Investment has been successful—I believe very successful—in negotiating free trade deals with our three biggest trading partners. If we were to take our eye off the ball on the issues of quarantine and biosecurity—but now we are going to put it under the Biosecurity Act—we would be putting at risk regional Australia's future, and a lot of Australia's future.

I think we need to keep in mind that AQIS, who are charged with looking after most of the things in this bill, have two jobs. One is, from the domestic point of view, to check the goods which come into Australia to ensure they are free of diseases, pests and the like which we do not have

And they, by and large, do a very good job of that. The greatest example in recent times is probably apples that we had to allow in from New Zealand because we lost in the disputes committee of the ATO some few years ago and had to renegotiate our agreement with New Zealand. But, because of their diligence, AQIS found trash on the apples that did come in—some 17 loads from memory—and the trash is what keeps the mites and the various things alive coming through, not the apples.

AQIS, by and large, do a very good job. Their job is to make sure we do not get pests et cetera from overseas to infiltrate Australia and threaten our own food security and the health of what we might want to export. The reason for having the job of inspecting those things we would export to other countries, particularly those three major trading partners with whom we have our new free trade deals, is to ensure that we maintain the standard demanded by our trading partners and by ourselves. We basically go on the theory that what we demand of ourselves we demand of our exports. Nobody really has a higher standard than we do.

If we did not do that and we accidentally—one would hope, if it came to that and I pray it does not—exported disease to another country, that would be the end of our favoured nation status, which we obviously seem to have got in recent times with some of those free trade deals. It is a huge, very big thing for us. Trade is our lifeblood. The fact that we produce such good articles of a high standard that are disease-free is the greatest trading power that we have. We have desired articles. We are not a big grower of a lot of things but we tend to be a big exporter. Certainly in terms of beef and wheat, we are nowhere near the biggest producers of those articles but we are one of the big exporters of them. If we do not maintain our standard of exports then we are in very big deep trouble. We are too dear for a lot of the world so we depend upon the high-price markets to make ourselves viable. This bill, I would certainly hope, has ticked the boxes, has not taken its eye off the ball and will do those things.

The old bill did allow somewhere like Tasmania, which is an island so it has good, even better security than the rest of us we hope, to export or to have a situation somewhat different to the mainland. As I understand, that will be maintained by different wording. It used to be called 'regional differences' by which we did IRAs, import risk analyses. But because of international language, it is now going to be called a 'different part of Australian territory'. I guess we have to admit that Tasmania is a part of Australia. I think it is fair enough that Tasmania should continue to have that ability. States cannot prevent imports into Australia but they can prevent trade between states. In this case, it is about Tasmania's ability to trade somewhat differently to the mainland. I have no problem with that because it has extra advantages for the mainland.

The things that are a little new or expressed differently are the ability of AQIS and the authorities to get a warrant from a judge, as you do, to go on to anyone's property. The law has to allow AQIS to inspect where there is believed to be a problem. AQIS officers have to convince the judge or the magistrate that they have a reason to go there. I do not have a problem with that. I think our favoured nation status is worth a few inconveniences to be maintained.

I commend the bill to the House, not because there is anything particularly startling in it but because it is one of the most necessary bits of legislation that the parliament will have before it.