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Thursday, 11 October 1984
Page: 1613

Senator HILL(10.07) —by leave-I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows-

The purpose of this Bill is to provide for the granting of proprietary rights to breeders of new horticultural plant varieties. For the purposes of this legislation a horticultural plant variety includes all new varieties of fruit, vegetable, ornamentals and cut and fresh flowers. The Bill does not provide for the granting of proprietary rights for new varieties of fodder, pasture or field crops.

The Bill has been introduced to meet the need horticultural industries in Australia have for a system of plant variety rights. With the passage of this Bill Australia will join the great majority of developed nations who have had some form of statutory rights for plant breeders for well over a decade. Given the number of countries which have had plant breeders rights for so many years it remains a paradox as to why Australia-a leading agricultural nation has been so tardy in adopting its own plant variety rights system.

Under the horticulture plant variety rights scheme a breeder of a new horticultural plant variety will be entitled to apply to a registration authority for the grant of a right to confer sole ownership of that variety on the breeder. The scheme is voluntary and the conferral of sole ownership rights will allow plant breeders to collect royalties if they so wish. All genera of horticultural plants are included in the Bill.

Although the issue of Plant Variety Rights has been the subject of public debate for over a decade its legislative history is more recent. Honourable Senators would be aware that the former Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Nixon, introduced legislation for the granting of Plant Variety Rights in May 1981. The Bill was allowed to lie on the table for 12 months to provide the opportunity for public comment. Following a number of amendments moved by the Government, the Bill was debated in Parliament and was passed by the House of Representatives on 24 April 1982. The 1982 Bill was subsequently debated in the Senate and was referred to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources for inquiry and report on 15 September 1982. The Committee's deliberations were interrupted when the Thirty-Second Parliament was dissolved on 4 February 1983. On 19 May 1983 the re-constituted Standing Committee on National Resources resumed its investigation under a wider reference on the need for and the implications of the introduction of a system of Plant Variety Rights in Australia.

The Committee's report was subsequently tabled in the Senate on 10 May 1984. The Report stated inter alia:

After considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of PVR and a number of alternatives, the Committee has concluded that PVR is the most appropriate means of improving access to overseas varieties and stimulating plant breeding in Australia. (p. IX)

The Standing Committee made some 24 recommendations, the most important of which was that the Commonwealth consider the introduction of a PVR scheme in Australia. The recommendations made by the Standing Committee addressed a number of concerns expressed about the introduction of PVR in Australia. Other recommendations sought to improve certain aspects of the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1982.

The Bill now before the Senate retains the general structure of the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1982, although it limits the granting of Plant Variety Rights solely to horticultural varieties. The Bill also includes a number of changes to the 1982 Bill as recommended by the Standing Committee on National Resources in Chapter 6 of its report.

In granting proprietary rights to new horticultural varieties the Bill has two objectives.

First it seeks to encourage the development of horticultural plant research and breeding in Australia through the financial incentive provided by the grant of proprietary rights.

Secondly, the Bill seeks to provide Australian horticulturalists access to improved overseas varieties of fruit, vegetable and ornamental seeds and plants which have been denied them due to the absence of PVR in Australia.

Appendix 3 in the Standing Committee Report provides an extensive list prepared by the Department of Primary Industry of overseas varieties of grape, nectarine, peach, cherry, pome fruits, tree fruits, rapesweed, potato and peas which have been denied access to Australia due to the absence of a PVR system in Australia. In a submission to the Committee Mr K. O. Campbell, Emeritus Professor of Agricultural Economics at Sydney University pointed to the significance of such a list of varieties denied access to Australia:

As the list provided by the Department of Primary Industry shows, the real difficulties with the vacuum as regards Australian Plant Variety Rights currently lie in the horticultural industries and that is where relief is urgently needed (s. 108)

Horticulturalists have long argued that without access to improved overseas varieties they cannot hope to compete with overseas producers in export markets.

Furthermore the absence of PVR and the consequent denial of access of superior overseas varieties has disadvantaged Australian producers in the domestic market . High domestic costs of production, the inability to obtain improved overseas varieties, and the appearance of some new and improved overseas varieties on Australian markets have created enormous pressures on the Australian horticultural industry.

Concern is expressed for example that the Australian stone fruit industry has suffered undue hardship due to improved varieties of nectarine and peaches entering from New Zealand where Plant Variety Rights has been in operation since 1973. Australian fruit growers and market gardeners attribute the significant increase in imports from New Zealand of peas, onions, shallots, stone fruit and other fruit to the availability of better quality varieties which New Zealand growers have been able to obtain through their PVR system. Australian producers can only compete on domestic and international markets if they have access to similar varieties.

Furthermore a number of European countries and the United States are marketing Australian flora without any financial benefits accruing to Australia. Under a PVR system Australian breeders of cut flowers, garden and landscape trees, shrubs, forest timber trees, desert reclamation plants and other indigenous and unique flora varieties would find export of such varieties to be financially attractive.

The opportunities for increased export activity under PVR is illustrated by the Australian nursery industry which currently employs some 15,000 people. In submissions made to the Standing Committee the Nurserymen's Association estimated that with a PVR system in place and some modification to the tax status of the nursery industry the present export market of $12m per annum would increase to $30 to $40m per annum within three years and possibly to $150m over the longer term.

The Bill therefore seeks to facilitate the expansion of the Australian horticulture sector into a viable export oriented industry. Through a horticultural PVR system the industry would be able to gain access to new or improved varieties. Improved access would in turn improve productivity through the use of higher yield and greater disease and pest resistant varieties, and enhance our ability to compete for export markets with better quality produce. It would also provide a greater competitive presence for Australian produced horticultural products on the domestic market. A more competitive market under a PVR system would also encourage an expansion in private research activity in horticulture which to date has not received a high priority in public breeding research efforts.

It was also argued to the Senate Standing Committee that the absence of an Australian PVR system for horticulture increases the danger of varieties which are currently denied access to Australia being imported illegally. Quarantine avoidance brings with it the real danger of disease which could easily wipe out large sections of our fruit and vegetable crops. A PVR system would lessen the incentive to obtain new and improved varieties illegally.

As stated earlier, the Bill includes a number of changes to the 1982 PVR Bill. These are outlined in greater detail below.

In Clause 3 (1) the definition of breeder has been expanded to include organisations employing plant breeders. In submissions made to the Standing Committee, the Industry Committee for Plant Breeders Rights argued that the definition of 'breeder' in the 1982 legislation was too restrictive given that most applications for plant variety rights would be made by organisations employing plant breeders.

The definition of 'new plant variety' in Clause 3 (1) seeks to satisfy the recommendation of the Standing Committee that '. . . in any PVR legislation the criteria for determining 'newness' or 'novelty' be clarified'. (p. 30) A determination of whether a new variety is 'new' or 'novel' will be based on whether the variety was clearly distinguishable from other varieties which were public knowledge on the date of application.

Clause 6 provides for the granting of PVR to chance findings and natural mutations provided the applicant for PVR has undertaken the necessary test growing of the variety to show the variety is distinct, uniform and stable. Recommendations No. 23 of the Standing Committee stated: 'That further consideration be given to the inclusion of varieties derived from mutants and chance seedlings in any PVR legislation'. (p. 76)

Clause 8 of the Bill fulfils the recommendations of the Standing Committee namely: 'That an advisory committee be established under any PVR scheme to assist in its administration'. (p. 74) The Advisory Committee established by Clause 8 would assist in the formulation of regulations under the Act as well as provide advice to the Registrar on matters arising from the administration of the legislation.

Clause 10 provides for copies of the Register of Horticultural Plant Variety Rights to be maintained in each State and Territory. This follows from Recommendation No. 18 of the Standing Committee namely: 'That details of applications for PVR be available in all capital cities'. (p. 73)

Clause 14 (k) follows from Standing Committee Recommendation No. 17 namely: ' That consideration be given to including in any PVR legislation a requirement that where a variety has been tested under Australian conditions details be included in the PVR application'. (p. 72)

Clause 18 fulfils Recommendation No. 19 of the Standing Committee namely: 'As part of any PVR scheme an Australian Plant Varieties Journal be published quarterly to provide information regarding the operation of the scheme'. (p. 73)

Finally, by excluding fodder, pasture and field crops the Bill avoids an objection raised in the debate of the 1982 Bill and put to the Standing Committee. That objection concerned the fact that heavy reliance had been placed in the past on public agricultural research institutions to produce seed for fodder, pasture and field crops. Objectors feared that Government support for these institutions might decline as a result of an expected expansion of private research activity following the introduction of an all embracing PVR.

Nevertheless, in view of the principal recommendation of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources and the compelling arguments presented over the years it would be highly desirable that Australia ultimately adopt a PVR system which provides for all species to be included.

In the meantime a system of plant rights for horticultural varieties will help overcome many of the difficulties the Australian horticultural sector has experienced in being able to effectively compete in domestic and international markets. A horticultural plant variety rights system in Australia will give horticulturalists the access to new and improved overseas varieties which are essential for the continued well being of the industry. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

Debate (on motion by Senator Gietzelt) adjourned.