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Wednesday, 12 September 2012
Page: 10444

Mr RANDALL (Canning) (19:00): I rise this evening to discuss an issue in my electorate which is also faced right across Australia—the Mediterranean fruit fly, or medfly. If left unchecked this harmful pest has the potential to inflict significant damage on Australia's fruit industry, and this is an issue that now has a heightened sense of urgency. Yesterday the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority released their assessment for the chemical fenthion, the last remaining effective chemical that Australian fruit growers have at their disposal to control this fruit fly. The banning of fenthion was set in motion yesterday when the APVMA announced that it was moving to ban fenthion, in the same way that it banned the other effective fruit fly control chemical, dimethoate, in 2011.

One by one, effective control measures for fruit fly are being taken away from fruit growers in Australia. Any farming in Australia has become a tough business. The last thing that farmers want or need is further interference by our Commonwealth departments making it harder to control vermin on their properties. The APVMA yesterday handed down their decision to ban fenthion, and this will be a massive blow to growers in Western Australia—particularly those around the Perth Hills area, where fruit fly numbers are particularly high.

It has to be mentioned that fenthion is not a chemical that is causing significant grief throughout the community. In somewhat typical form, a government department has found that in large doses the chemical could be harmful. In fact, members of the Dimethoate and Fenthion Response Coordination Committee are being told that it is safe to eat any fruit and vegetables currently available in supermarkets. This demonstrates the fact that the concerns around fenthion are based on a worst-case scenario and not based on a danger currently posed by fruit that has been treated with fenthion. In other words, the fruit available on shelves today is deemed fine to consume, but, based on the concept that fenthion may be harmful to you in large doses, farmers can no longer use this most effective treatment.

To date there have been no reported incidents of Australians being harmed by ingesting fruit treated with fenthion. The better-safe-than-sorry approach may appease the hand wringers and nail biters among us. However, I wonder if consideration has been given to the long-term effects that such a decision will have on the Australian fruit-growing industry. Yesterday's move by the APVMA has left those growers in the Perth Hills in a terrible predicament. Growers already struggle to bring the fruit fly populations under control—and this is when fenthion remains available. Once this weapon is taken away, it is anyone's guess as to how growers will handle the looming threat of fruit fly epidemics. In WA, as the Dimethoate and Fenthion Response Coordination Committee acknowledges:

Medfly is a very serious production issue and many growers do not see a future without dimethoate and fenthion.

Currently there are talks underway between growers, state departments and lobby groups to come up with some kind of solution beyond fenthion to control medfly. This is a frustrating process for growers, given that they have not been presented with clear evidence as to why fenthion is so dangerous. In fact, the only justification seems to be that the chemical has been banned elsewhere in the world so Australia should follow suit. Nevertheless, it has become clear that reversing or opposing APVMA's decision is not something Minister Ludwig would be willing to consider. One wonders how Minister Ludwig can remain as Australia's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry given the disgust his name engenders amongst farmers and other primary producers. The infamous debacle surrounding the live export trade suspension demonstrated both his disregard for and lack of basic understanding of those whose livelihoods are derived from farming. Minister Ludwig's history as a minister leaves growers in my area with little confidence that he will oversee a suitable replacement for the control of fruit fly once fenthion is gone.

Options being suggested to local fruit growers include increasing baiting and orchard hygiene. This is essentially telling growers to go and pick up dead fruit from the ground, keep grass levels below the trees to a minimum and setting up more baited traps to catch fruit fly. This is good and fine; however, orchardists are already employing these measures. Furthermore, suggesting that growers pick up fruit from the ground is comparable to telling a wheat farmer to try to eradicate Paterson's curse by walking to paddocks and picking it up by hand rather than spraying effective chemicals.

One option that may be a saviour to growers in Perth is the sterile fruit fly program. Essentially this involves releasing sterile male medflies into areas susceptible to high fruit fly populations. This may be a viable weapon in controlling fruit fly; however, investment is required to increase the program. Furthermore, we have an anomalous situation in Western Australia whereby we actually breed the sterile fruit fly in our state yet export the sterile progeny to South Australia, which is then used in their fruit fly eradication program. (Time expired)