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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 421

Senator BOSWELL(6.20) —I support the Quarantine Amendment Bill 1985. It is a technical Bill dealing with changed administrative arrangements for quarantine responsibility. I can assure the Senate that the Bill is welcomed by all primary industry in that it shifts the responsibility for quarantine control of plants and animals from the Department of Health to the Department of Primary Industry. This has been the wish of primary industry, certainly in Queensland and probably throughout Australia, for some time. Responsibility for human quarantine remains with the Department of Health.

Australia is an island and it is very fortunate in having natural barriers against the importation of some of the exotic diseases, particularly plant and animal diseases, which abound in our northern neighbours such as New Guinea and Indonesia. Certainly, we are fortunate to have disease-free status in a number of the diseases that would render far less effective our primary industries and rural production. We must always be very conscious that these diseases are in the neighbourhood and we must do everything in our power to protect both the plant and animal sectors of Australian primary industries from the importation of the diseases. It is a tribute to our quarantine services that Australia is free from most exotic plant and animal diseases. Of course, we must play a part in keeping out the diseases. We must be vigilant. We must use all the available research. Vigilance comes from a properly thought out policy and an effectively administered, adequately staffed quarantine service.

As Senator Collard has said, our rural exports represent between 40 and 45 per cent of our total export earnings. Australia's standard of living depends on these levels being maintained and increased. The quarantine issue is so important that it should be the last area to fall victim to this Government's penny-pinching attitude. One example of where the Government has put revenue saving before concern about the threat of the introduction of exotic plant and animal diseases is its changes to the coastal surveillance service in northern Australia. On 1 April last year, a very effective service by a Nomad Searchmaster aeroplane was terminated. It had a great record in Queensland in arresting Taiwanese vessels that had entered Australian waters for the purpose of clam poaching. Nine arrests were made. Not only was the Searchmaster capable of searching, finding and ultimately sending patrol boats out to arrest the clam poachers, but also it was very effective in rescue work.

We in Queensland miss the Nomad Searchmaster. Its discontinuation has left the whole of the Queensland coast without the capacity for air rescue. In lieu of the Nomad Searchmaster we have been given 15-year-old Skymasters that can search on only one side. Of course, they are capable of searching only two miles out to sea and half a mile inland. The Nomad Searchmaster was capable of searching 200 miles out to sea and it had the capacity to stay beyond the view of the people for whom it was searching. It could locate the boats while staying out of sight and then call up the patrol boats. It was very effective. We have asked many questions about this matter in the Senate and during Estimates committee hearings. We are still unsure why this facility was taken away from the quarantine and search areas of Queensland in particular.

There are many ways by which these exotic diseases could come into Australia. One of the ways about which I am concerned, and it should concern everyone, is the islands in the Torres Strait. There are a number of islands in the Torres Strait and there is inter-island trade between Papua New Guinea and these islands. I believe that it is not uncommon for trading to take place between the islands and for the natives of Papua New Guinea to put a pig or a dog in a dugout canoe and take it across to the Torres Strait islands for trade. The Queensland Government has asked schoolteachers, public servants and a number of the island administrators to keep an eye on the situation and to report any such sightings. However, it is still of a very great concern. Diseases could be introduced from Papua New Guinea in this way. Certainly, the Queensland Government is very much aware of the situation and so, I am sure, is the quarantine service in Australia. If screw-fly were to come over from Papua New Guinea-Senator Collard has also alluded to the screw-fly problem-and Newcastle disease from Indonesia, the beef and poultry industries of Queensland and, eventually, the nation would suffer massive losses.

Anything which comes into Australia and does not undergo inspection is a threat to Australia's plant and animal life. Drug smuggling, poaching along the reef, pollution thrown from ships in Australian waters which floats to the reef to be eventually foraged by wild pigs and birds, are all possible means for the introduction of exotic diseases into Australia. Coastal surveillance is the means to limit these risks. The Labor Government has reduced its northern surveillance. It has reduced both the area surveyed and the frequency of surveillance. Before the Labor Government was elected to power in 1983, its policy statement on coastal surveillance stated:

We will ask the Royal Australian Navy to retain its fixed wing capability and to station immediately three Tracker aircraft at either Cairns or Townsville for coastal patrols, in addition to those aircraft already patrolling on Government contracts.

Senator Peter Baume —Did it do that?

Senator BOSWELL —No, it did not do it. It is just one more broken promise to add to the many broken promises since the last election. The policy statement continued:

We will maintain the commitment to the building of five more patrol boats for northern surveillance.

Time and again I have asked Senator Button whether his Government would honour its commitment to produce those five patrol boats. Unfortunately for the people of north Queensland and Cairns, those patrol boats are not forthcoming. That is another broken promise. The five patrol boats have not been ordered to be built, which leaves a major defence contractor, North Queensland Engineers and Agents Pty Ltd of Cairns, without urgently needed follow-up contracts, with the consequent loss of Queensland jobs. I believe that 500 jobs were lost in the north Queensland slipways and engineers in Cairns. The three Tracker aircraft promised for surveillance work were not stationed at Townsville or Cairns. The Government sold those aeroplanes to France and France is using them for aerial spraying of fires. Of course, there is a great need for Australia to have those sorts of services every year. We go through the tremendous horrors of bushfires, yet we sell to France planes that are capable of doing something about bushfires.

Senator Jack Evans —Crazy.

Senator BOSWELL —It is a crazy situation and one that Senator Button, I hope, will respond to if he is to speak to this Bill.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.

(Quorum formed)

Senator BOSWELL —Before the suspension of the sitting for dinner I was talking about the ALP's promise to increase coastal surveillance. There has been a complete reversal of what it promised. The contract for the Nomad Searchmaster aircraft has been cancelled and we are now reduced to Shrike Commander aircraft. Some of them are over 15 years old and can do only a very limited job. The radar in the Shrike Commander covers an area of only 30 degrees on either side of the aircraft, leaving a cone of 35 degrees below the aircraft which is not patrolled. It has been calculated that a number of fishing boats could escape detection if we use the Shrike Commander. There are also fewer planes patrolling and fewer crews available. The patrols are now only every couple of days and not daily. Because these planes have no night time capacity, it is now impossible to patrol our coastline during the hours of darkness. Coastal surveillance in north Queensland and northern Australia has been reduced to a joke. At any point of time, under the cover of darkness, a ship could enter Australian waters, stand off the shore and send in a dinghy or small boat to take away native fauna. That would concern Senator Georges in view of his concern for the animals in this country. Such a situation would not have been possible before the Federal Government's decision on 1 April last year. The situation concerns me from a quarantine point of view.

At present there is an impending danger of a screw worm fly outbreak in Australia as a result of its detection in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia. The Senate Standing Committee on National Resources in 1979 issued a report on the adequacy of quarantine. This report stated that in the field of animal quarantine the most immediate known threat was the introduction of the screw worm fly into Australia. The report pointed out that the direct cost to the cattle industry would be immense. In America in the 1960s it cost the American beef industry $120m annually. Its presence in Australia would affect the husbandry methods of the industry in northern Australia. The people in northern Australia are already having problems with brucellosis and tuberculosis. In the event of a screw worm fly outbreak there would have to be a shoot-out. There would be no way in which graziers could control or muster cattle in one of the roughest areas in Australia, probably one of the roughest cattle grazing areas in the world. The only way an outbreak in the north of Australia could be controlled would be by a shoot-out. The Senate Committee report foresees the most likely means of entry as being through the Torres Strait Islands through the illegal entry of infected animals. This illustrates the importance of coastal surveillance, which the Government has reduced, as part and parcel of effective quarantine.

Senator Peter Baume —Mr Acting Deputy President, I take a point of order. I hate to interrupt the extemporaneous flow of my colleague, but this debate is being conducted in a very good spirit and people making speeches in the second reading debate are making points to which they hope a Minister will respond. I draw to your attention the fact that no Minister is in the House. No Minister has been in attendance since 8 p.m. I ask whether a Minister could come in at least to answer the points raised in debate as a matter of courtesy to the speakers.

Senator Georges —I do not know whether it is a point of procedure. The debate is not finished. If anything has to be answered, which I doubt, it will be answered.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Senator Georges, there is no point of order.

Senator BOSWELL —The Government's action in reducing aerial surveillance and flying hours was based on the advice of the Department of Health that littoral surveillance was excessive. The Government said that it would reduce littoral surveillance but that it would depend on patrol boats and other craft to survey quarantine measures, but this has not been done. All the Government has done is reduce aerial surveillance. It has not concentrated on the patrol boats or done anything else. It has reduced surveillance of north Queensland to the level of a joke; anyone could come into Australia at any time. I know that this should cause Senator Georges some concern.

I support the Bill and note that the separation of plant and animal quarantine responsibilities from human quarantine responsibilities came from the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. I hope that the same Senate Committee's recommendation for increased coastal surveillance for quarantine purposes will be acted upon by the Federal Government.