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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 323


Senator WALTERS(9.38) —In early 1981, the then Minister for Agriculture, Mr Nixon, brought into the Parliament plant variety rights legislation. It was then laid on the table, where it stayed for nearly 12 months, for full public debate. Indeed, that debate took place. Following that discussion, it was brought back to the Parliament and was passed by the House of Representatives. It was then brought to the Senate where the Australian Labor Party, then in Opposition, and the Australian Democrats in league refused to pass the legislation and sent it off to a Senate committee. That committee was the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. The stupidity of Senator Walsh, who was then the shadow Minister in charge of the Bill in this place, and the Labor Opposition, along with the Democrats, had to be seen to be believed. Australia has been penalised for five long years while we have been waiting for the Labor Party to come to its senses and introduce this Bill-five long years when we could have had the plant variety rights that we are now debating in this Senate.

I remember the previous debate very well. On 24 August 1982 Senator Walsh said:

Finally, on the question of whether plant breeding ought to be concentrated and ought to remain in the public sector, as it is and always has been in Australia, or whether it should be partially or wholly transferred to the private sector, I guess to some extent that it is a matter of ideological preference. It is no secret that the preference in the party that I represent, other things being equal, would be that it remain in the public sector.

That is what Senator Walsh said in 1982. He went on to say:

. . . the Labor Party has a great number of doubts about this Bill.

He said that of course the Labor Party's ideology would mean that plant breeding would stay in the public sector. Of course, that has not come to pass because this Bill allows for anyone in the private sector to take up this arrangement. The Government has taken five years to overcome the grave doubts that were expressed in 1982. Mr Kerin, in dealing with the Bill in the House of Representatives, said:

We are opposed because it will cause a diminution in, if not complete disruption of, present Australian public plant breeding. We are opposed because it poses dangers to Australia's agricultural producing and marketing systems and institutions. We are opposed because it will subject Australian primary producers to inadequately tested so called `new' varieties bred either locally or introduced from overseas.

What absolute rubbish! It has taken five years for the Government to come to its senses.

Of course, the Australian Democrats are quite irrelevant in this debate. They are completely irrelevant and they have no place in it at all. However, the hypocrisy of the Labor Party has meant that many of our agricultural industries have been penalised over that period. Oodles of committees have inquired into this subject. The Industries Assistance Commission carried out an inquiry in 1976. Inquiries have also been conducted in respect of the apple and pear industries and the vegetable and vegetable product industries. We have had a committee of inquiry into the grape and wine industries. Professor Lazenby, whom Senator Jessop quoted at great length tonight, also inquired into this matter. The matter has also been considered by the Australian Agricultural Council. The whole gamut of people have looked into this matter and have recommended very strongly that--


Senator Archer —How many were against it?


Senator WALTERS —Not one was against it. All of these committees have looked into an arrangement that we could have had five years ago. It is a disgrace that we have had to wait for so long.

Let us have a look at some of the advantages that we have missed out on. Plant breeders in this country have been denied any return for the years of work that they have put into their breeding and the costs that that has entailed. New Zealand has had plant variety rights for just on 12 years during which time there has been an increase of 62 per cent in the number of plant breeders in that country. What incentives have been given to Australian breeders? There have been absolutely none. Horticultural groups say: `We did not even bother trying to bring forward new varieties. It was not worth it to us'.

Imagine what plant variety rights would have done for Australia if such a system had been introduced when we developed rust-free wheat. Imagine what a great boon that would have been. It was a boon to the world food production but Australia did not get a cent out of it. Australia was once in the forefront of agricultural plant breeding. Now, we are so far behind that we cannot compete. The financial benefit to Australia of this legislation will be unlimited once research has established new varieties. I would like to give the Senate just one example-the essential oils in Tasmania. Research carried out by the University of Tasmania into new plant varieties-spearmint oil, peppermint, parsley herb, boronia, caraway seed and the blackcurrant bud extract-now has reached the stage where we are expecting up to a $6m industry with 200 new jobs being directly created. Already 70 growers are planting hundreds of hectares of essential oil crops.

When this legislation is passed, Tasmania will at least have the ability to earn export dollars for all of the years of work and the expense by the university. The research has generated varieties which are world leaders. They are so superior to the varieties grown elsewhere that their products are bringing prices 20 per cent above the world ruling rates. Last year, 70 per cent of our essential oils were sold to Europe. This is just one example of one of the benefits of PVR to my State.


Senator Powell —But that was done without plant variety rights.


Senator WALTERS —We cannot sell our new varieties overseas. We cannot get any benefit at all from the research that has been carried out in the University of Tasmania. We cannot import varieties that could be put with our varieties to improve them even further. The honourable senator is living in the dark ages. She is suggesting, as she did earlier, that we should go back to the bush and gather our wildflowers. She said that we do not need plant variety rights for that. She was talking absolute rubbish.

We have just heard that an export market in the United States of America has been created for a new variety of raspberries that we have established. As a result of this legislation we will be able to develop those varieties and sell them overseas. Not only will we be able to sell the fruit but also we will be able to get the export dollars that will result from this legislation. I do not want to highlight just that side of it. Australian growers are being denied access to new varieties that other countries will not allow into Australia. Senator Zakharov said that these varieties were freely available. She said that we could get them and that there was no need for any concern.

Let me put the position from Tasmania's point of view. West Germany refused to supply newly bred cool climate grapes to the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture. A cherry grower of Flowerpot in Tasmania had been refused supply of the dwarf cherry rootstock Colt. The Tasmanian Department of Agriculture was refused apple varieties from Washington. Again, the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture has obtained the Malling Kent and Malling Suntan apple varieties which were not available for commercial trials due to an agreement with the National Seed Development Organisation at Cambridge limiting them to scientific tests only. The Northrup King Co. was also refused permission to supply eight varieties of green bean to Tasmania. Commercial blackcurrant growers from Glen Huon, Tasmania, made personal visits to the National Seed Development Organisation in Cambridge to obtain blackcurrant varieties. They were refused all three-Ben Lomond, Ben Nevis and Ben More. Those varieties were released, of course, to the Tasmanian Department of Agriculture on condition that they were not grown commercially. The University of California refused a request by a commercial nursery at Flowerpot, Tasmania, to import a range of new day-neutral strawberry varieties.

This is evidence that these varieties are not allowed into Australia. Indeed, why should they be? Why should overseas countries that have done all the work allow these varieties into Australia when they will not get a brass razoo in return? Of course they will not! We are behind; we cannot export, and have not been able to export for ages, the variety of strawberries that are demanded by Japanese customers. New Zealand has been exporting strawberries to Japan. Australia has not been able to compete because we have not been allowed to import strawberry varieties into Australia. The varieties we have been getting are all the old varieties that are no longer under patent; they are the 20-year-old varieties-and those are the only ones that we can legally import into this country for subsequent export. Evidently, Senator Powell also said that new plant varieties were freely available. Of course, this is just not true.

Let us look at those countries that have plant variety schemes going. They are: Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Hungary, Italy, Israel, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Social Republics. Australia and Canada are the last to introduce plant variety rights. Canada is also in the process of putting legislation before its Parliament. To be left behind, as the Australian Democrats want us to be, would be a tragedy for this country. Fortunately, the Australian Labor Party has now belatedly decided to allow us to have plant variety rights. Many emotional statements have been made by all the Democrats and by Senator Vallentine. Senator Vallentine, Senator Powell and others have been talking about the Third World countries being disadvantaged.


Senator Archer —We are one of them.


Senator WALTERS —We are, now that we are a banana republic under this Government; I admit that. Let us take India, for instance, Senator Vallentine said in a most emotional way that, at the turn of the century, there were 30,000 varieties of rice grown in India and that now there are only 30. She said that this was a tragedy. What absolute rubbish! Those 30,000 varieties of rice produced only one crop. The new varieties produce three crops a year. India, a Third World country, is now self-sufficient in food for the first time in its history. What absolute rubbish the Democrats have been talking. What absolute rubbish Senator Vallentine has been talking. We were told by Senator Zakharov that she does not agree with the Government's position. Although a member of the Government, she came out very strongly to say that it was doing the wrong thing, but she told us that she belonged to a democratic party. She could tell us here that she objected to the Government's policy. But when the vote is taken, her democratic party will expel her if she votes the way she thinks. That is the democracy of the USSR, and we find that in the Labor Party. That is the sort of democracy that honourable senators opposite talk about. The fellows opposite can stand up here and say what they think, but they cannot vote that way. They cannot cross the floor; they will be thrown out if they do. Where on earth is their gumption?


Senator Powell —What about--


Senator WALTERS —Before the honourable senator came to this place I crossed the floor on issues about which I felt strongly. The honour- able senator should be careful about what she is saying. She does not have the experience of this place to know what goes on in our Party, so she should be very careful. The democracy of the Party opposite is the true democracy of the USSR. Honourable senators opposite can stand up and say what they like, but if they vote against Government policy they will be expelled. What wonderful democracy! Of course, that is the position in which Senator Zakharov put herself today.

We all have been sent these little pamphlets, no doubt by Democrats supporters, stating: `If you read this you will find that it will become illegal to take cuttings from a plant when patented plants eventually replace others in the market-place'. Surely no one in this place would support that rubbish. It is complete rubbish and completely untrue. The pamphlets also state that plants will be designed to be attacked by pests and diseases so that one will be forced to buy a spray. What absolute rubbish! Any of the protected varieties will have to compete with the present varieties. They will be used only if they are better, if they are disease free and if they do not have to be sprayed; otherwise the farmers and the growers will use the old varieties. What we have heard tonight from the Democrats and from Senator Vallentine is nothing but rubbish. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Government's very belated Bill which, as I started off saying, we should have had five years ago. But at least it is better passed now than not at all.

(Quorum formed)