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Wednesday, 19 March 2014
Page: 2377


Mr JOYCE (New EnglandMinister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of The Nationals) (10:19): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia currently has around 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines (agvet chemicals) registered with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority, also known as the APVMA. Each of these products contains one or more of only 782 active constituents.

Agvet chemicals protect crops and animals from pests and diseases and so help improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australia's rural industries. Agvet chemicals help to ensure the quality and safety of food production while protecting human and animal health and the environment. They are essential tools for managing weeds, vital to keep our pets healthy, and a necessary part of our indoor and outdoor lifestyle and looking after stock.

Australia's gross value of farm production is worth an estimated $47.9 billion a year with an export value of farm commodities of around $38 billion. The agvet chemicals industry is vital to quality food and fibre production and makes essential tools for primary producers. The crop protection industry body CropLife Australia estimates in a recent report that:

$17.6 billion of Australian agriculture output is attributable to the use of [crop protection products], or 68 per cent of the total value of crop production.

This bill aims to reduce the unnecessary regulatory burden on this industry resulting in reduced costs to that industry that will eventually flow on to benefit primary producers. This may also lead to greater investment in newer, safer innovative products for the future.

An efficient regulator is important to ensure timely and cost-effective registration of new chemistries and review of emerging risks in registered chemicals and to provide the best possible environment for companies to register products in Australia.

The Australian government has committed to:

easing the burden imposed on the Australian economy and agricultural sector by reducing red and green tape on business by at least $1 billion per year.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 contributes to this commitment by implementing the government's election commitment to remove the requirement for agvet chemicals to be reregistered.

The bill builds on earlier progress that has already been made through the National Registration Scheme, a partnership between the Commonwealth and all the states and territories, and on elements of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013(Amendment Act). These changes will improve the effectiveness of the regulatory system and reduce inefficiency at the APVMA while continuing to protect human and animal health and safety and protect the environment.

This bill proposes amendments principally to the Agvet code—the schedule to theAgricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994. The bill also proposes amendments to the previous government's amendment act.

This bill is divided into two schedules, both commencing immediately after schedule 1 to the amendment act —effective on 1 July 2014.

Removing re-approval and re-registration

Schedule 1 implements the election commitment to remove re-registration.

That schedule prevents the expiry of active constituent approvals and prevents the application of dates after which a registration cannot be renewed. Active constituent approvals are to continue in force so long as they are not cancelled. In the same way a person obtains a car drivers licence that then is subject to periodic renewal, under the new legislation agvet chemical registrations continue in force subject to periodic renewal. Schedule 1 also removes provision for applications to be made to re-approve active constituents or re-register chemical products.

Schedule 1 further reduces red tape by allowing for less frequent renewal of registrations. The current process is for the renewal of registrations to occur annually. Again like your car licence, instead of an annual renewal, these amendments will allow longer time frames for renewal. The regulations will set the period, which could be up to seven years. Less frequent renewals will mean less red tape and less cost to business.

Addressing concerns with chemical product quality

To give the opportunity for the APVMA to confirm that chemical products supplied to the market are the same as the product evaluated and registered by the APVMA this bill includes amendments that improve the ability of the APVMA to require a person who supplies an agvet chemical product in Australia to provide information (for example, a chemical analysis) about the product they are supplying.

The bill would provide that the APVMA may, by written notice, require a person to provide information about substances supplied or intended for supply as a chemical product (or an active constituent for a chemical product) if they have, will have, or have had possession of the substance. The information that may be required includes details of the composition of the substance, manufacturing details, packaging, labelling and advertising information and about conformance of the substance with any relevant standard.

The APVMA is to be able to require a chemical analysis of the product and for the results of the analysis to be provided to the APVMA. The power is to apply only if the APVMA considers the information is necessary to protect human, animal and environmental health and safety or protect trade. Used appropriately, the power will improve community confidence that the APVMA is effectively managing risks to human, animal and environmental safety and to trade.

Reducing red-tape by allowing for simpler variations to approvals and registrations

The bill proposes to streamline simple variations to an approval, registration or label.

For the simplest variations, schedule 2 of the bill provides that the APVMA will have to make the variation at the time the holder of registration or approval notifies the APVMA of the change. For some less simple variations, the APVMA will have to make the variation after a fixed period if it is a prescribed variation.

Without these amendments to the code, the APVMA would have to complete a more onerous technical assessment of these variations with no benefit to improved chemical safety. This is another sensible reduction in red tape that makes the regulator more user-friendly without impacting health or safety.

Obliging access to information about chemicals that the APVMA holds

Currently, the APVMA is often asked to provide information to the company that is responsible for a chemical product about its registrations. This information is then provided under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act).

Payments for information sought under the FOI Act are not covering the costs of providing the information. As a result, companies that do keep good records are subsidising the records costs of those that do not.

The bill amendments will allow persons to apply to the APVMA for copies of documents it holds about a chemical for a fee. This provision will not allow release of confidential commercial information unless the recipient was entitled to the information. For example, because they were the person that provided the information.

Schedule 2 of the bill proposes to 'turn off' access under the FOI Act for these documents but will not prevent access to the information. The FOI Act anticipates this by allowing an exemption for access to documents (at paragraph 12(1) (b) of the FOI Act) that is open to public access in accordance with another enactment, where that access is subject to a fee or other charge.

Other amendments consequential to existing reforms

In preparing for implementation of the amendment act, the Department of Agriculture and the APVMA found further minor improvements that could be made.

Several small technical amendments are added to the agvet code to improve the readability of the legislation and reduce the possibility of difficulties in implementing it.

The bill also includes appropriate transitional measures to allow processing to continue for those products currently registered in the APVMA system.

Conclusion

The Australian government is implementing reforms to the regulation of agvet chemicals for the benefit of the community, manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and users of agvet chemicals. These reforms aim to reduce red tape for farmers and other businesses and encourage the development of new chemistry with a range of benefits for farmers and other users, the environment and the community.

Overall, the bill will increase the efficiency of the regulator and provide greater clarity to stakeholders on the intent of the legislation. The measures in the bill are a good start towards easing the burden imposed on the Australian economy and agricultural sector by reducing red and green tape on business.

The government will continue to work with industry to implement further improvements through legislation and administrative change.

It is with great pleasure that I introduce this bill to make this important reform a reality.

Debate adjourned.