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Wednesday, 9 May 1984
Page: 1864


Senator ARCHER(6.15) —I welcome the report on plant variety rights that has been put down by the Standing Committee on National Resources. I give enormous credit to Senator Robertson, in particular, and to former Senator Thomas, his predecessor, and the two committees that worked on this subject. I fully appreciate the genuine political and philosophical reservations that various people have in regard to plant variety rights. I have looked at every one of the reservations I possibly could. I have studied them closely. I have endeavoured to ascertain the rights and wrongs of them. I give credit to the committees as I believe that they have done the same. Naturally, I am impressed, as I recognise that the Standing Committee on National Resources, with all the reservations that it had, concluded that the consideration of plant variety rights legislation should be recommended.

We must remember that plant variety rights are a fact of life. We cannot say that we do not want them or that they do not exist, because they do. They exist throughout the world and we cannot stop them. Other countries will retain them. Without them we would be the only losers. We must learn how to control them, to benefit from them and to see how people in the rest of the world can also benefit from what we do. I am sick and tired of all the cotton wool and rubbish talked about these issues. I have heard about tasteless apples, potatoes that will not mash and all that sort of thing over and over again. One factor determines whether a product will sell: It must have a market. If people do not want to buy a product they will not buy it. If they do not want to eat it they will not buy it. If people do not want to buy it they will not grow it. That is the test in regard to any product in the world. It is rubbish for people to say that they will be eating colourless apples and flavourless potatoes. Products will only sell if they have value.

The benefits of plant variety rights can be considerable. I think that the furphies are very hard to substantiate. Of course, the best place to look for the alternatives and for the truth of these matters is, of course, in the dissenting report. I had a good, quick look at the dissenting report and, sure enough, just as I expected, there was nothing in that report which told me anything to the contrary. In the real world there is already considerable excitement at the prospect of getting new material. People who feed the nation and who depend on that for a livelihood, people who produce the commodities for our export trade to keep those who do not produce in business and in jobs are very excited about plant variety rights. I am also. I have had numerous calls already from people who are excited to see when something is going to happen.

Much has been said about the increase in prices, that all that plant variety rights will do will be to increase the price of every commodity. There is no evidence to support that. I have heard about the poor Filipinos and people in Third World countries who will be paying twice as much for wheat and who will be in the grips of someone or other. Where is the evidence for that? Again, if the Filipinos or anybody else do not see the virtue in buying something that they do not have now, they will not buy it. There is no reason for someone to say: 'When I was a child the apples were so much better'. Where are those apples? If they were so much better, they would be grown in every yard. If they are not now produced it is because they did not survive. They either did not have the capacity to survive or people did not want them. I know of varieties of potatoes which might have been very good but which did not survive. They could not stand the rigours of the present system and they went out. They did not go out because of plant variety rights. They went out because they were inferior.

Of course, when one gets on to the subject of inferior products, one talks about merit. Merit has caused much discussion. How can one talk about merit when one is talking about a commodity that might be grown in a range of soils and climates or in the conditions of other countries? Merit is something that everyone sees in his own eye, like beauty.

The Minister for Science and Technology, Mr Barry Jones, says a lot about new industries, new avenues, new employment and so on. This doubtless offers him exactly that sort of area. This is new technology, the 1990s stuff about which he talks so much. It offers great opportunity for a range of people around Australia. While Senator Robertson is present, I should like again to say that I appreciate the very careful and thoughtful wording that went into many of the recommendations. I know that the job was hard. I know what both sides of the argument were. The Committee and the staff that helped did a very fine job in wording the recommendations in the excellent way they did.

I recommend caution. I commend the monitoring suggested and the reviews suggested. I have had an interest in this subject for many years. Unless we make the most of it now, the whole thing will by-pass us. As we read reports of what is happening around the world, we come to know that Australia's standard of living relative to that of other countries is declining. We used to enjoy a very high slot. The reason we have slipped is that our technology has not gone ahead. Here we have an obvious case where technology is available and we have the expertise; but no, we would rather go further down the list. I certainly do not want to be there too.

We must make plant variety rights work. We must encourage its use and make it work for us. There are benefits and we have to utilise them fully. I commend the Committee for the thought and balance of the report. The Government should accept the report and decide to proceed and produce legislation in accordance with the recommendations, and give Australian industry the opportunity to catch up with other countries which similarly have found the need for the use of such a system and which now have the benefits to show for it.