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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 317

Senator BROWNHILL(9.02) —Having heard the Australian Democrats in this debate, I wonder whether they have ever sown a seed, or propagated a plant, new or old variety. I am sure that they are attempting to filibuster the Plant Variety Rights Bill. I wonder whether the cottonwool tasting varieties that Senator Mason has just talked about have been propagated in his head rather than in his taste buds. The garbage he has spoken would most probably be better used to help grow a plant than to be issuing from his mouth.

The PVR debate has had a long history in this country. As early as 1971 the horticultural industries initiated an official campaign to have PVR introduced into Australia. As early as 1977 the Australian Agricultural Council discussed PVR and accepted it in principle. I was talking to Senator Sheil just recently and he said: `What are you doing after dinner tonight?' I said: `I'm going into the chamber to talk about the PVR Bill'. He said that it was interesting to realise that the subject was being debated in Parliament some 10 years ago, most probably at this very time. Now, probably 10 years, 15 hours and 36 minutes or so later, we are still discussing the matter. There have been several changes of government in the meantime, several changes in attitudes, several reports, several committees and several re-examinations. I do not think I need to detain the Senate in listing all the committees which have investigated, reported on and recommended PVR. Needless to say, it has been a long struggle. In fact, it is 10 years since the Agricultural Council first recommended acceptance of this Bill. Therefore, for the Democrats to call for yet another study is ridiculous.

It is even more ridiculous for the Australian Government to be waiting on what the European Parliament decides, as the Democrats' amendment suggests. I am aware that some Democrats would like the European Parliament to control a whole range of things in Australia-kangaroos and the live sheep trade especially. But I cannot accept that we need further studies. Senator Sanders, who is not present at the moment, would like the European Parliament to decide for us what we should do about the maintenance of kangaroos in Australia. It is even more ludicrous to compare the Australian situation with Europe, given that the Australian PVR is markedly different from that in Europe. A criticism of PVR overseas is that there has been a reduction in legally marketable varieties due to PVR. This belief stems from the fact that national listing has eliminated the marketing of varieties under several names, so in fact there has not been a reduction of legally marketable varieties. In any case, national listing is not a part of PVR in Australia. The Democrats are therefore once again making amendments just to waste the time of this chamber.

The issue of plant variety rights has attracted a great deal of emotive rhetoric, not just from the Democrats, and so I think I should point out several important aspects of the Bill. For a start, participation in PVR is voluntary, so that any grower or plant breeder can apply for proprietary rights over any new variety they may develop. What it basically does is provide a patent or a protection to the breeder, similar to protection provided to anyone who invents a new product. The second important fact to realise is that many countries have PVR. It applies in the United Kingdom, the United States, West Germany, Japan and New Zealand-in fact, all our major trading partners and competitors. Australian farmers and horticulturalists have therefore been the losers by not having a PVR scheme. Many superior varieties of fruit, vegetables and flowers that are available overseas are not available here, simply because there is no protection for the breeder if they come to this country. Therefore, we have shackled our farmers and our horticulturalists over the years in a period when increased competitiveness, increased efficiency and superior crops are vital. Recently the closer economic relations inquiry has shown that because of PVR New Zealand has a distinct advantage over Australia.

Recently I received, as I am sure did many other senators, an article from K. S. Lindsay, Treasurer of the Mackay branch of the Rare Fruits Council. It is an interesting letter, if only to demonstrate the sort of emotional nonsense and paranoia that has surrounded the PVR debate over the years. He claims that this legislation could be `the most devastating legislation likely to come before Parliament'. I can only suggest that if he thinks on those lines he does not spend much time listening to Parliament. His argument basically is that, if PVR is introduced, one of the dreaded multinationals will develop a hybrid potato that is so appealing that none of the 50 or so other varieties available will be grown by anyone-and especially anyone in a Third World country. These stories always seem to involve a multinational and a poor Third World country-a little like the standard pantomime with the goodies and the baddies: These Third World farmers will grow only this new hybrid as supplied by the multinationals, and then one day a virus comes along and wipes out the whole variety.

Senator Walters —Remember Ireland and the potato crop?

Senator BROWNHILL —That is right-if there are no potatoes, whole poor Third World countries starve. All that can happen, he says, because of PVR legislation being debated in the Senate today. With that sort of nonsense coming from what should be a more informed body, it is little wonder that other people get swayed by spurious arguments. Other arguments are put forward in opposition to this legislation. It has been argued that Third World countries will suffer because the difference between developed agricultural countries and undeveloped countries will increase. Progress can never be made by keeping back those in front to wait for those who come behind. If PVR provides improved varieties, increased production and superior quality food, all the world will benefit. There is no benefit to anyone in going back to agricultural methods and techniques that were in force a hundred years ago.

Those who oppose PVR also claim that private breeders will breed for chemical dependence or fertiliser dependence because all the new breeders will be the chemical and fertiliser companies. This argument is in the same paranoid category as the previous story from the Rare Fruits Council. In fact a whole range of misconceptions has developed about PVR over the years. To allay the fears of the Democrats, who obviously have fears about everything and want to send everything away to inquiries every time anything is being debated in this place, and of others in the community who feel that PVR is to be feared, I should point out that PVR will not restrict the number of varieties available to primary producers, nor will it be illegal to grow any variety. The legislation will not prevent any grower from saving seed from a protected variety. Growers will still be able to grow such a variety without paying royalties providing they do not sell it. The granting of PVR protection will not be in the hands of the breeders, but under the control of the Australian Agricultural Council. PVR will not affect seed prices. There will be no national list, and PVR will not be granted to any existing variety currently available in Australia. PVR is voluntary and in no way will it restrict or affect the work being done by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation or others in plant breeding. Monopolies will not be created by owners of protected varieties because under PVR a variety must be available to anyone who wants it. Neither will PVR lead to a proliferation of genetically inferior or dependent varieties. The fact that the industry is highly competitive ensures that this cannot occur.

The number of farmers and horticultural bodies in favour of PVR is endless, as one would expect, and these people far outweigh the number of authoritative groups who oppose it, including the Australian Democrats. The legislation has an inbuilt safeguard. It is wanted by those most affected by it-the farmers and the horticulturalists-and it will assist Australia in its fight to regain its position on the world commodity market. I support the legislation and reject the Democrats' amendments, which have obviously been moved in order to filibuster this legislation, which has been the subject of so many inquiries already.