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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1046

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:13): I note that many members of my community are very concerned about the health impacts of pesticides used in everyday life. We simply do not know enough about many of the pesticides that are being used every day and the impacts that they have on people and our communities. During the debate recently on the APMVA's review and in fact the changes to the legislation, the Greens did try to change the requirements for the authority to report and made the point that it is important that we look at the health aspects and impacts of pesticides. We wanted to see the authority also report to the health minister so that we can be responsive to the health impacts of pesticides. Unfortunately, as we know, that was not taken up, but we will continue to pursue this issue because we think it is a very important issue.

At present, there is no nationally coordinated biomonitoring program or public health surveillance of Australia's population. We believe that we need to be looking into this to look at the impacts pesticides are having and whether they are turning up in our human systems. The community does have an expectation that public health is adequately protected from pesticide exposure. However, as we saw in the ABC's recent Four Corners expose Chemical Time Bomb, the Australian government has not implemented any biomonitoring programs and, therefore, does not hold data to be able to determine the Australian public's exposure to pesticides or the impacts that they are in fact having on human health.

A lack of evidence is not evidence of the fact that there is no harm from pesticides to our community. There is strong information to suggest that incidences of noncompliance at a state level are underreported and few—if any—penalties are being applied to noncompliance incidents of pesticide use. We believe this results in an incomplete picture of what is actually happening at the risk management level in the environment and in public health.

In Western Australia, and other parts of Australia, we know that organic farmers have daily concerns and that legal challenges have occurred because of organic farms being exposed to drift from adjoining properties that are using pesticides. We are concerned that Australia is lagging behind international best practice in some of the uses of pesticides. Again, this is one of the issues that we raised during the debate earlier in the year on the changes to the APVMA Act. There is ongoing concern about some of the impacts of pesticides and particular components of pesticides and about the impact that carcinogens, endocrine disruptors and neurotoxins are having.

We are extremely concerned about children in particular. There is still a lack of understanding about what risk management actually means. I heard in the debate during estimates some confusion, even from senators, about why decisions are made and what risk management actually means. So we do need to be looking into that in more detail. We also believe that many parents are unaware of the impact that being exposed to certain pesticides can have on their children and their children's development. Sometimes, there is inadequate signage where pesticides are being used, and children may be inadvertently exposed.

Earlier this week, I tabled a petition on this issue that had 168 signatures from people in my home community of Western Australia. The petition warns that petitioners and the community are concerned that this issue is not being taken up seriously enough by governments, that there is a failure to act in the public interest and that there is a failure to exercise a duty of care in the prevention of what are foreseeable harms. I urge the government to think about this and to start looking more seriously into the issues of impacts on public health and how we can assess those impacts.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.