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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 326

Senator HILL(10.00) —I do not wish to take too much of the time of the Senate because we have been waiting a long time for tonight. It is a particularly pleasing day for those of us who have finally prodded, provoked, pressed and coerced this Government out of its inertia to produce a Bill on plant variety rights. I guess we have all contributed to that in different ways. I did it through introducing into the Senate a private member's Bill on PVR which was mainly in the terms of the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1986. I then organised a deluge of representations from dozens of industry groups and supporters from all around the country who were in favour of the legislation. I believe that that galvanising of industry support played a considerable role although it was certainly of some annoyance to those of my colleagues who had to answer letters. Through that and other methods, this slow learning Government was finally made aware of the necessity of legislation of this type to keep our plant breeders competitive and also to learn of the new commercial opportunities that could arise from the implementation of this type of legislation.

Since the introduction of the Fraser Government's PVR Bill there has been, regrettably, an unholy alliance between the Left of the Australian Labor Party and its bedmates, the Australian Democrats, to stop the enactment of PVR, in other words to keep our industry at a disadvantage vis-a-vis its overseas competitors. This alliance first exercised power through referring the Fraser Bill to a Senate committee. Despite the majority of that committee supporting plant variety rights, the incoming Hawke Government did not have the courage to proceed with legislation. It said that it would refer the matter to further inquiry through the auspices of the Australian Agricultural Council, and then delayed for months by refusing to appoint a person to carry out that inquiry.

It was obvious to the industry that the Government was doing everything possible to delay having to face up to this issue because of the internal pressure within its Party. It was then that I introduced my Bill in the Senate, which was a refinement of the Fraser Government Bill and which took into account the Senate committee's recommendations. I was pleased that the Opposition saw fit to support me and I was particularly pleased at the support the legislation received from the horticultural industry.

Spurred by the avalanche of letters and telegrams and the phone calls to which I referred earlier, and the lobbying that that amounted to, the Government finally appointed Professor Lazenby to conduct its inquiry. Of course, the age old method of delay that one sees so often is to refer a matter to an inquiry, a committee or some other body for consideration. However, we kept up the pressure by pressing my Bill in the Senate and it eventually received a second reading over the opposition of the Government. It got that second reading only because the Australian Democrats wanted to get the Bill into the Committee stage in order that it might be reduced to cover ornamental flowers only. They certainly did not vote for the Bill in an effort to help horticulturalists. Professor Lazenby then reported in favour of the introduction of PVR, consistent with so many reports and inquiries we have had on this subject. Finally, after all these years, the Government has responded to the inevitable pressure and despite vehement and continuing opposition from within its ranks, such as we heard today from Senator Zakharov, it has introduced this Bill into the Australian Parliament. I am pleased that it has done so; it is better late than never.

The Bill provides for plant breeders to apply for and receive proprietary rights for new varieties of plants which they develop. In that respect there will be a parallel with existing intellectual property rights under copyright and patent legislation. By breeders being able to acquire proprietary rights, plant breeding will be stimulated. The resultant new varieties will enhance the competitiveness of the domestic industry and provide a potentially lucrative export opportunity. The existence of PVR legislation will also enhance access to new varieties from overseas.

Plant variety rights legislation offers a means of boosting not only the private sector but, contrary to the understanding of some within the Government, public sector breeding by providing a return on the works to which it has committed public resources. Public breeding that in the past has been successful has been somewhat unrewarded. It seems a perfectly reasonable proposition that a plant breeder, whether he be private or public, should be able to recoup his efforts by selling his works. Such development costs can be so recouped under this legislation. So it is legislation that can benefit both public and private breeding.

I do not wish to go through the many arguments that the Australian Democrats have put to the Senate today against this legislation. They are arguments that we have heard many times. I think it suffices simply to remind the Senate of the New Zealand experience to counter the arguments that the effect of PVR will, in some way, give great advantage to the multi-national corporations at the expense of small breeders. The experience in New Zealand-a country which has had PVR since 1974-indicates that there has been a 62 per cent increase in the number of individuals involved in plant breeding. So it can be argued that PVR will benefit small breeders who presently have little protection or opportunity to recoup their investments.

Australia, by legislating for PVR, will become the twenty-fourth nation in the world to have done so. We will be joining such countries-I will not list them all but the following are within their ranks-as Austria, Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, which I have mentioned, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and others. By joining the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Australia will be joining 17 other nations to simplify the registration of plants in several countries and to avoid duplication of effort.

The last point I wish to make is that I am pleased that the Government has picked up the Senate recommendation of a review. This Bill contains provisions for a review of the scheme. A review will take place after five years of operation. I personally have no doubt that the review will confirm the merits of PVR in Australia and any flaws in the design of the scheme-many of us could have suggested small changes today--

Senator Powell —Some of us have, Senator.

Senator HILL —I know. We have the Australian Democrats' amendments to come. Any small flaws that are found through experience can be sensibly dealt with and overcome. Belatedly, I commend the Government for introducing this Bill. I only wish that it had been possible for it to have supported in the first instance the Fraser Government's Bill in, I think, 1982 and, after its refusal to do so, to support my Bill in the interim. Nevertheless, as I have said, this legislation is better late than never and therefore I am pleased to support it.