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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 392


Senator GIETZELT (Minister for Veterans' Affairs)(3.42) —I present the Government's response to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources' report on plant variety rights. I do so on behalf of the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), who represents the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) in the Senate. The Senate Standing Committee on National Resources has produced a lengthy and detailed report on this controversial issue. The sensitivity of the subject is reflected in the fact that two members made a minority report. The Committee concluded that plant variety rights-PVR-is the most appropriate means of improving access to overseas varieties and stimulating plant breeding in Australia, and recommended that the Commonwealth consider the introduction of a PVR scheme in Australia. However, it also conceded that the funding and direction of public plant breeding activity under PVR were issues that were not adequately addressed in evidence to the Committee. The Government, as is well known, is committed not to introduce a PVR scheme without an inquiry into Australia's plant breeding needs and all other alternatives to PVR. Accordingly, the Government has decided to establish an inquiry to examine plant breeding needs in Australia and the options for upgrading the public plant breeding program. The specific terms of reference of the inquiry are:

Having regard to the debate on the possible introduction of a Plant Variety Rights (PVR) scheme into Australia, and the need to ensure that plant breeding remains responsive to industry needs and receptive to changes in technology, investigate and report by 30 September 1985 on Australia's plant breeding needs and all other alternatives to PVR.

In carrying out its work, the Inquiry examination include the following specific areas:

(a) the adequacy of the current plant breeding effort, both public and private

(b) any deficiencies and imbalances in the current programs

(c) where needs are identified under (a) and (b), the expected impact on those needs of the possible introduction of PVR

(d) options available to overcome any problems identified under (a) or (b)

(e) what adjustments, if any, should be made to public plant breeding programs if PVR were introduced

(f) the desirability of public plant breeders being encouraged to compete with private sector breeders in variety development and, if desirable, the options available to effect this, and

(g) the alternatives to PVR for stimulating private plant breeding activity.

The Senate report recommended that the Commonwealth suggest to the States that the Australian Agricultural Council-AAC-review the adequacy of government support for public plant breeding and also determine priorities for public plant breeding. This option has not been acted upon because we believe that the tasks of reviewing plant breeding, including that undertaken within the public sector, will require a full time effort over the coming months. Our view is that since the review is scientific in nature, it should be done by an eminently qualified person and that the resultant report should be considered by AAC and its Standing Committee on Agriculture. Following this review process, the Government will be better able to consider the desirability and nature of a PVR scheme for Australia. In this event, the specific recommendations of the Senate report will provide valuable assistance in designing a scheme which will be of the greatest benefit to all Australians. The Government's responses to each of the 24 specific recommendations of the Senate report are attached, and I seek leave to have this attachment incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The attachment read as follows-

RESPONSES TO SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS

Recommendation 1:

The Commonwealth consider the introduction of a PVR scheme in Australia (p. 66).

Response: Consideration will be in the context of the findings of the Inquiry into Australia's plant breeding needs.

Recommendation 2:

All plant species have the potential to be included in an Australian PVR scheme. However, the Committee also recommends that initially any PVR scheme have the potential to include horticulture, ornamental and fodder and pasture varieties only and that before a decision is made to include field crops, the Commonwealth suggest to the States that the AAC examine the possible impact of PVR on field crop breeding in Australia (p. 49).

Response: The nature of any PVR scheme will be influenced by the findings of the Inquiry. This will include assessment of the possible impact of PVR on field crop breeding.

Recommendation 3:

In the drafting of any PVR legislation, consideration be given to the automatic inclusion of all genera of ornamental plants (p. 71).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 4:

If a PVR scheme is introduced, it effectiveness and impact be assessed following a minimum of five years operation (p. 58).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 5:

The Commonwealth suggest to the States that the AAC review the adequacy of government support for public plant breeding and also determine priorities for public plant breeding. Any such examination should take account of funds generated from the sale of publicly bred varieties registered under any PVR scheme (p. 18).

Response: The Government intends to appoint a highly qualified person to conduct a review of plant breeding. The report should be completed by late 1985. Subsequently, it will be discussed by AAC and its Standing Committee on Agriculture.

Recommendation 6:

Any effects of proprietary control over varieties, including a possible diminution in consumer effectiveness, be taken into account in determining the level of government expenditure on public breeding (p. 33).

Response: Agreed. This question will be examined by the Inquiry.

Recommendation 7:

Publicly bred varieties be eligible for registration under any PVR scheme (p. 17).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 8:

The Commonwealth suggest to the States that the AAC consider how a merit testing system might operate in Australia, the costs involved and the distribution of costs between Commonwealth and State Governments and breeders. It also recommends that any merit testing system be reviewed five years after its introduction (p. 29).

Response: This issue will be referred to AAC following the review of plant breeding by the Inquiry.

Recommendation 9:

Any PVR legislation require the grantee of PVR in respect of a variety to provide seed of that variety for inclusion in an appropriate national collection (p. 41).

Response: Agreed

Recommendation 10:

The level of Commonwealth support for the preservation of genetic resources within Australia be reviewed with a view to upgrading facilities (p. 42).

Response: Agreed. As a first step, the Commonwealth agreed to contribute $357,000 in 1984-85 to upgrade germ plasm storage facilities in Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales. The States and CSIRO are major contributors and are meeting the on-going costs of collection and storage. The proposal has been discussed in AAC for some time and is seen as essential in maintaining the capacity and flexibility of future private and public plant breeding programs.

Recommendation 11:

Should a PVR scheme be introduced, consideration be given to Australia becoming a signatory to the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (UPOV) (p. 58).

Response: Whether or not UPOV membership is desirable will, to a large extent, be dependent on the nature of any PVR which might be introduced.

Recommendation 12:

Before any PVR legislation is drafted, the Department of Primary Industry closely examine all evidence presented to the Committee which was critical of the provisions of the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1982 and hold discussions with the relevant parties where necessary (P. 67).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 13:

In any PVR legislation, the interpretation section include definitions of the word 'plant', 'cultivar' and 'tree' (p. 68).

Response: Agreed, subject to the advice of the Parliamentary Counsel.

Recommendation 14:

Any PVR legislation not give preferential treatment to foreign breeders in respect of varieties previously sold (p. 69).

Response: Agreed, consistent with the need to access overseas varieties.

Recommendation 15:

In any PVR legislation the criteria for determining 'newness' or 'novelty' be clarified (p. 70).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 16:

In determining the level of fees to be paid by breeders in any PVR scheme, fees not be set at a level which would discourage non-corporate plant breeders (p. 72).

Response: Agreed, whilst noting that, should the Government decide to introduce PVR, it would need to be self supporting financially.

Recommendation 17:

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).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 18:

Details of applications for PVR be available in all capital cities (p. 73)

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 19:

As part of any PVR scheme an Australian Plant Variety Journal be published quarterly to provide information regarding the operation of the scheme (p. 73).

Response: Desirability will be considered by Advisory Committee. See response to Recommendation 20.

Recommendation 20:

An Advisory Committee be established under any PVR scheme to assist in its administration (p. 74).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 21:

In view of the potential overlap between the Patents Act 1952 and any PVR legislation, consideration be given to prohibiting dual protection (p. 74).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 22:

Consideration be given to making the Australian Patents Office responsible for the administration of any PVR legislation (p. 75).

Response: Any policy aspects of a PVR scheme will be administered by the Department of Primary Industry. Any further administrative issues will be considered after the review of plant breeding of the Inquiry.

Recommendation 23:

Further consideration be given to the inclusion of varieties derived from mutants and chance seedlings in any PVR legislation (p. 76).

Response: Agreed.

Recommendation 24:

Under any PVR scheme, a simple and relatively inexpensive method be advised to enable a breeder to seek redress against infringements (p. 76).

Response: Agree to consider.


Senator GIETZELT —I thank the Senate.