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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 239


Senator COLLARD (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(11.26) —I rather thought that the debate on the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1986 would be a little flat after the passions that have been aroused, particularly in the Committee stage, by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation (Safeguards) Bill 1986 but, looking at the list of speakers on this Bill, I rather suspect that some passions might be aroused before we get to the end of it. This Bill has been around for some considerable time, but those on our side of the House and those now fortuitously on the Government side of the House are in agreement that there is much necessity for a plant variety rights Bill or, as most speakers will refer to it throughout the debate, a PVR Bill. First of all, the main reason is to stimulate breeding efforts in Australia and to encourage the development of new varieties of plants for our domestic industries and for our exports. There is an added quid pro quo to that, and that is the added benefit for Australian farmers and horticulturalists in that, with the legislation, they will have access to many of the varieties which are being developed overseas but to which they would not normally have access without this legislation.

The PVR scheme would be similar in many respects to the existing rights which are granted under copyright and industrial patents legislation. In this instance, however, built into the legislation are particular provisions for the protection of food supply to the consumers. Plant breeding is an expensive business, as is any business which has a research and development scheme set up. It is felt, and it has been felt by some of us for some considerable time, that to encourage people to partake of this expensive research and development in plant breeding they should be able to recoup some of the high development costs-in other words, reap the benefits of their initiative and their work, the same as anybody in industry is able to do. We believe that the lack of PVR has held back the development of better plants and horticulture in Australia in the last few years. We also think it is very necessary if we are to maintain our high level of productivity and competitiveness. When other countries have it but we do not we are up against a major problem in the international market, and that has been debated many times in both Houses of this Parliament. To compete and maintain our competitive advantages, such as we have left to us, we have to continue to develop new strains.

It must be recognised, and it will undoubtedly be borne out in this debate, that some sectors of the community are quite philosophically opposed to the concept of private ownership of plant material. Be that as it may, I still hold to the fact that it is very necessary. If this step is not taken, better strains will not be developed. We will be left behind, as indeed, we are being left behind in the world scene. This Bill will allow people, whether foreign or Australian, to register as property distinct varieties of plants that they have developed. The Bill sets up an office within the Federal Department of Primary Industry for registering varieties. An advisory panel will oversee the whole PVR network.

It is interesting, as I have just indicated, that this proposal has not come up in the last few weeks. I think as far back as 1960 it was first mooted that we needed PVR in Australia. In 1976 an Industries Assistance Commission report on rural research advocated PVR. In 1979 my colleague Peter Nixon, the then Minister for Primary Industry, drafted the first PVR Bill. In 1981 he introduced the draft Bill into the House of Representatives. That legislation was passed. Many of the then Australian Labor Party Opposition members spoke against it. But when it came to the Senate, the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Democrats sent it to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. That Committee reported in 1984. It recommended that we should proceed but it proposed what it said were about 22 improvements on the original Bill. Interestingly, in 1985 the IAC report on the apple and pear industries advocated PVR. In 1986 the IAC report on the vegetable industry also advocated PVR. Also in 1986, as a result of the Senate Standing Committee report, the current Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, gave Professor Lazenby a brief to look at PVR in all its aspects. His report recommended unrestricted PVR legislation. That is a brief chronology of the events and that is where we are at this point.

New Zealand has had PVR legislation for 12 years. In that time there has been an increase of 500 per cent in available plant varieties. New Zealand has also developed a $40m a year export industry in pasture and crop seeds. As I indicated, this PVR legislation could have been in this House four years ago and passed if it had not been for the obstruction of the then Labor Party Opposition and the Australian Democrats in this place. At least 23 countries, including Sweden, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, now have PVR legislation. As I indicated, PVR will give some relief to our primary producers who are at present under the twin assault of corrupt world prices and rising costs at home. I have indicated in many debates-indeed, I did so yesterday-the effect that interest rates are having on business and, of course, farming is a major business. This is not to mention the indexation of the fuel excise, the fringe benefits tax and all of those other costs that have been added to the rural sector by this Government. So about the only light on the horizon is this PVR legislation which will at least let primary producers develop new strains of high yield seeds.

Of course, the main opponents of PVR have indicated, quite rightly, that the European Parliament passed a resolution expressing concern that PVR may give control over genetic resources to multinational corporations. Significantly, the European Parliament did not at any time substantiate those claims, nor have the opponents of the Australian Bill.

I was rather bemused when we thought that this legislation would come into the Senate last year to read a circulation called the Primary Industry Newsletter. An article in the 24 November 1986 edition of this document numbered 1031 was headed `Opposition backs Government'. The document stated:

In a last-minute change of heart, the federal Opposition last week decided to support the Government legislation to introduce plant variety rights in Australia. Until the last minute, it had seemed certain that the coalition parties would stick to their stand against the legislation.

How anybody could deduce that at any time since this change was first mooted over 20 years ago has got me beat. But there it was. Some person by the name of Kenneth Randall, who puts out the Primary Industry Newsletter, has got the bull by the horns which, I might add, is not unusual for the Press, as we have seen in the last few days. If ever anything was the direct opposite of what was actually the case, it is that article in this rural industry newsletter. I just draw to the attention of anybody who is interested in this Bill that never at any stage have the Liberal and National parties opposed this legislation. Indeed, because the legislation was so long in coming and has had to run the gauntlet of a Senate committee, my colleague Senator Hill introduced a private member's Bill in 1985 supporting PVR. I point out that that Primary Industry Newsletter is completely wrong. We have consistently supported PVR from the outset. Indeed, as I said, it was my colleague the Hon. Peter Nixon who introduced the first legislation into the House of Representatives.

Senator Powell was kind enough to give my office a whole heap of amendments that the Australian Democrats will be moving to this legislation. Included in this list was a pious amendment to the second reading motion and others that will be dealt with at the Committee stage. It is the opinion of my colleague the Hon. Ralph Hunt and me that this legislation has been put off for far too long. Indeed, I point out that as there is no dissension between the Government and the Opposition this legislation could have been quite adequately dealt with and passed last year had not the Democrats indicated that they were going to filibuster and bring in a whole host of amendments. If one looks at the speakers list, one will see that there is certainly going to be a filibuster on issues in respect of which both the Opposition and the Government are in agreement.

We will not be supporting any of the amendments moved by the Australian Democrats for the pure and simple reason that we believe this Bill has been around long enough. Members of the public have had the opportunity to make an input into many forums. Professor Lazenby and the Senate Standing Committee have reported to the Parliament. We believe that the best thing we can do for the horticulturalists and plant breeders in Australia is to get this legislation through without any delay-without one or two amendments being carried, having to go back to the House of Representatives and then coming back to the Senate again. We support the Bill. We will not be supporting any of the amendments.