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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1858


Senator WATSON(6.02) —Plant variety rights give property rights to an owner through the registration of material created by the selective breeding of seeds, cuttings and root stocks to exclude others from selling that variety, or reproducing it except for their own use, or importing and exporting those plants covered by the registration. It is unfortunate that Australia, a major agricultural country, is still without a PVR scheme, thereby denying Australian farmers, horticulturists and gardeners greater access to improved varieties developed overseas.

Nearly all advanced countries have statutory rights for plant breeders. They include the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, the Soviet Union, Switzerland, even Argentina, and many others. The basic question must surely be: Why has Australia been so slow in putting the necessary legislation on the statute book? A submission from the General Jones organisation stated that the variety of peas and beans which are available in Australia and which are so essential for Tasmanian agriculture has remained unchanged for the last 10 to 15 years. Australian processors are increasingly finding it difficult to compete on both the domestic market and the export market because of cost and quality factors. Grapes, nectarines, peaches, cherries, plums, pomme fruits, fruit trees in general, rootstock for stone fruits, almond beans, rapeseed, currants, ornamental plants, blackcurrants, potatoes, peas, strawberries, sweet corn and numerous other hemisphere crops and pasture seeds are just some of the varieties which are denied to Australian producers.

The supply of seed for inclusion in a material collection and the uplifting of facilities for the preservation of generic reserves are two of the very good recommendations of the Standing Committee on National Resources which I hope the Government will implement as part of any PVR legislation. Further, the seed breeding firm of Yates regarded vegetable breeding as a neglected area of Australian agriculture. It believed that it would be upgraded substantially and stimulated by a PVR scheme. The grass seed industry in Australia-again, an industry which is pretty important to Tasmania-is in fairly serious trouble because of its inability to compete with improved varieties from overseas. The Managing Director of Valley Seeds Pty Ltd, in a report to the committee, said that the weakness of our plant breeding effort meant that only 53 per cent of the Australian market could be satisfied by local breeders. What a disgrace for a major agricultural country, with its great plains and its need for seeds! There is further potential in the export market for Australian native flora with the implementation of a PVR scheme.

A number of the submissions which oppose PVR did so on the premise of its repercussions to the Third World, claiming problems of generic erosion and increased costs of seeds to those countries. I believe that if there is a weakness in the report it is its lack of depth in analysing this problem and in providing counter-arguments to the matters raised and quoted in Mooney's book Seeds of the Earth, particularly as the Senate report comes out in favour of a recommended PVR scheme. Because of the interest in this debate and other matters , I will limit my comments in the hope that this Government will take speedy action to implement these recommendations and go further to make sure that field crops are included in any future PVR scheme.