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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 342


Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(9.06) —I made the point last night, in the few moments available to me, that perhaps the most significant contribution I could make to the Plant Variety Rights Bill-the contribution has not been made by the Government-was to ensure that the legislation is put in place as quickly as possible. As I said last night, it is sad that the Government has not had the courage, the capacity or the fortitude to have had such important legislation in place some time ago. It is not as if there is a lack of knowledge of the effects and implications of plant variety rights.

Plant variety rights, in one form or another, has been a reality for many years. The rights and protection of growers have prevailed in the United States of America for almost 50 years. In Australia, the debate has gone on for 20 years. The previous Government introduced legislation under Mr Peter Nixon, the then Minister for Primary Industry. The Senate Standing Committee on National Resources brought down a report supporting plant variety rights. The Government, to give itself breathing space, provided a report which was prepared by Professor Alec Lazenby.

It is not as if we are embarking on unexplored ground. Almost all western European countries, the United States, Japan, New Zealand and a number of South American countries have plant variety rights. The reasons for that are obvious and manifest. The amount of research that takes place in those countries and the level of their productivity in the rural sector have increased dramatically. Also, plant variety rights has allowed those countries to import the most modern, efficient and productive types of plants and seeds for their own industry.

We have had more than one piece of legislation on plant variety rights. Senator Hill introduced a private member's Bill some little time ago which the Government chose to shelve, notwithstanding the fact that the legislation before us is an almost precise reflection on his Bill. Because of his Bill, he was able to maintain pressure on the Government and keep alive the hopes of the rural sector which in turn ensured that the Government continued to be reminded of the necessity for such legislation.

There are a number of objections to the legislation by those on our left and the Australian Democrats. Most of the propositions are fallacious. It seems to me that the overall objection is that plant breeding ought to take place in the public sector. The socialists are horrified at the thought of the private sector playing any role; they would rather leave it to government. It has been shown in other countries where private breeding takes place that the level of research has gone up dramatically. It is a great pity that in Australia we have the myopic bigotry of the Far Left, with its illogical blinkers fixed firmly against the face of logic denying Australia, until now, the opportunity of plant variety rights, notwithstanding the fact that the rural sector is required to be more competitive than ever before. States such as Tasmania are now feeling the effects of not having plant variety rights, particularly in as much as they are now required to compete on an equal footing with New Zealand, which has plant variety rights and therefore is able to attract the best quality plants. It is also perhaps a reflection of this Government's insensitivity to the interests, concerns and, perhaps, needs of the rural sector that it has denied us plant variety rights for so long. As I said at the outset, I support the legislation. I hope that it is set in place as quickly as possible.