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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 418


Senator TATE(6.04) —I support the Quarantine Amendment Bill 1985, which has as its main function the dividing of the national Government's responsibilities for quarantine matters which hitherto have been located solely within the Department of Health. There is to be a Director of Human Quarantine and a Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine, the one within the Department of Health and the other within the Department of Primary Industry. I am delighted that this has come about. It represents a memorial-a tribute, if you like-to former Senator Andrew Thomas, of happy memory, who, as a member of this chamber, chaired the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources at a time when it produced a report on the adequacy of quarantine. I had the honour or serving on that Committee, as did former Senator Geoff McLaren; former Senator Ron Maunsell, whom I have seen in the corridors today; Senator Ted Robertson, the well-known Government Whip; and Senator Baden Teague, who is also in the chamber this afternoon.

Having sent those cheerios, I now come to the substance of the matter, which is that the location of the whole administration of quarantine within the Department of Health reflects a post-First World War phenomenon; a response to the fact that in those days Australia was concerned principally with human epidemic diseases such as smallpox and influenza. We derived considerable protection from our remoteness-the relatively low volume of trade in passenger transport. Virtually an automatic quarantine effect was brought about by the fact that one had to spend six weeks at sea to come from Europe to Australia. Of course, as far as animal quarantine was concerned, because most of our trading links were with the United Kingdom we were protected by the very high standard of veterinary and animal quarantine administration in that country. But things have changed dramatically. Australia is no longer isolated. The movement of grade and people has expanded very dramatically and we, as a trading nation, deal with a very wide variety of countries. It may also be noted that there are real disadvantages in the current location of animal and plant quarantine in the one department, the Department of Health. For example, plant quarantine is very important for large segments of our agricultural pursuits, for our ornamental flowers and shrubs and for those types of endeavours which are not normally thought of as part of our agricultural pursuits because they are not concerned with the production of food but which nevertheless, are very important parts of our internal economy and can be great revenue earners in the export trade. Because plants are not often associated with human disease, as sometimes animal disease can be, plant quarantine services have tended to be somewhat diminished in importance within the Department of Health. That is as said because there is no significant transfer of plant disease to humans, or vice versa of course.


Senator Peter Baume —It is very awkward when you are Minister for Health and you get questions about goldfish.


Senator TATE —That is another illustration of my point. But I was looking particularly at the subtle effect on plant quarantine. I know that when we were on the Committee that adverse effect was spoken about. I also make the point that almost every one of our major overseas trading partners has its quarantine service located within the department of primary industry in each country. For sheer ease of arrangements in international trade it is not a bad idea to have a similar sort of arrangement obtaining in our country. I do not say that that is an overwhelming argument but I think it is an important bolster to the division which is now to be carried out.

The fact is that there is now a decline in the importance of diseases such as smallpox, cholera and plague throughout the world. With most people travelling to Australia by air, as opposed to the six-weeks voyage that I spoke of earlier, there is less chance of human disease manifesting itself either in transit or at the port of entry. When an exotic disease emerges after entry into the country we have particular procedures to deal with it. The fact is that the entry of persons carrying human diseases cannot be as readily controlled at the port of entry now as was perhaps the case 30, 40 or certainly 60 years ago. The importance now is with the entry of humans as carriers of plant or animal diseases either in themselves or in materials that they bring into the country, and with the general issue of quarantine arrangements to protect against animal and plant diseases.

I raise only one query. I recall that the members of the Senate Committee thought it important that, if the plant and animal quarantine service were transferred to the DPI, there be adequate arrangements to ensure that there was no subtle effect, that the need to foster trade in agricultural products should not overcome the scruples that a quarantine officer may have about particular practices. We thought it important that the chief quarantine officer in charge of animal health and disease prevention should have direct access to the Minister and not be part of the bureaucracy in a way which would muffle his voice or have him compromised when he wanted to make a point direct to the Minister, to preserve his integrity and that of his officers. I hope that the relevant Minister can give me an assurance that in the administrative arrangements the new Director of Animal and Plant Quarantine will have direct access to the Minister. That is important to preserve the integrity of that part of the Department. With those few remarks, and noting that although the razor gang of notorious memory talked about this as a desirable-


Senator Peter Baume —The new or the old razor gang?


Senator Button —You mean the discredited former razor gang.


Senator TATE —That is right. Our razor gang has come to the conclusion that this can be carried through. I am pleased that it has. It is really the carrying through of a Senate committee report recommendation. In that respect it is a tribute to those who laboured long and hard in many parts of Australia to produce a report which has had such a salutary outcome.