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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 351


Senator SANDERS(9.53) —I will not take very much time; the issue has been canvassed very thoroughly. I think it is time, however, that the record is made straight. The Australian Democrats, of course, are trying to ensure that we all have a place in the coming years and centuries; we are trying to ensure that we do not oversimplify our environment to the point where it has no diversity and in fact collapses. The whole system that maintains our earth is one of diversity, and any time we limit diversity we cause more difficulties. Plant variety rights, of course, limit diversity; there is no argument to that. It limits the number of seeds and the number of species and this causes problems. It causes problems because of disease. Disease can wipe out a limited number of species. If we have more species we have less chance of having the entire food supply wiped out at one time. We have heard in this debate how there used to be thousands of varieties of rice in India; now there are only 30.


Senator Walsh —There are 50,000 varieties in collections all around the world.


Senator SANDERS —Yes, they do exist now. They should be encouraged to exist rather than be eliminated by the strict control of seeds by the transnationals. It benefits the transnationals to control these resources. They are into vertical integration-and who benefits most? It is the oil companies and the chemical companies-in the same way they have benefited from their strict control over the marketing of petroleum products. They have vertical integration: They take the oil out of the ground; they refine it; they sell it to themselves; and also they make sure that no other sources of energy can come on to the market, such as solar energy or even ethanol. We will find the same thing with plant variety rights. The oil companies will reap a windfall from this measure, because they can be in on the development of seeds which require for their growth specialised fertilisers and specialised insecticides which only they can sell. It will be necessary for even very poor farmers to buy them. They will be encouraged to do this. Their yield will be very great in the short term. They will lose their traditional seed crops which, after all, were merely seeds left over from the harvest and which cost them nothing. They will lose those crops and go in for the new crops and will thus not be able to continue without being hooked on the insecticides and fertilisers. It is a way of hooking Third World farmers on modern technology.

I am sorry to see that this discussion has degenerated into a commie bashing exercise. Opposition senators have continually called groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations, the Australian Consumers Association, the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, the Australian Council of Churches and its affiliates and the Australian Democrats, fellow travellers. That sort of thing demeans the debate. Of course, Senator Jessop and Senator Archer are looking for cans to kick. They realise that their arguments for plant variety rights are deficient so they have to stoop to denigrating groups that are actually acting for the people.


Senator Archer —Which group? Tell me the group that I mentioned.


Senator SANDERS —The honourable senator referred to us as being socialist inspired, communist led and all that. Last night Senator Jessop specifically named the Australian Conservation Foundation and the groups that I have mentioned. He implied that the Australian Conservation Foundation was getting $1m a year from various government organisations. If it were, it would be very happy indeed; but, of course, it is not. These groups are very sincere in what they oppose in plant variety rights. I have a letter from the Uniting Church in Australia, the Synod of Victoria. It states:

We believe that the judgement that economic benefits will accrue to the corporate seed section is insufficient-indeed, dangerous-justification of PVR. This economic argument ignores the social and ecological impact of monopoly ownership, which will discourage the free exchange of information, seeds and genetic material. PVR also provides for the loss of genetic diversity which is probable upon its introduction because the legislation requires `distinctness, uniformity and stability' (DUS).

Opposition to plant variety rights says nothing about a person's political leanings. It says a great deal about his common sense and desire to see the world survive and maintain its viability and productivity for our children and our children's children. I oppose the legislation.