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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 353

Senator WALSH (Minister for Finance)(10.07) —At the outset may I say that I have always regarded the issue of plant variety rights as not particularly important. However, in spite of that, some years ago when I was shadow Minister for agriculture I probably received more letters about this matter than about everything else put together. I think that there have been about 17 speakers in this debate. The attention and the amount of time that the Senate pays to some matters can be roughly and inversely measured by their importance.

Those who have opposed the Plant Variety Rights Bill 1986 have made two assertions which I believe are wrong but which are nevertheless possibilities. They claim that if plant variety rights legislation is introduced and more private money goes into plant breeding and research, two things will happen: First, that public funding will be withdrawn and, secondly, that the gene banks-the 50,000 rice varieties, for example, which are replicated in a number of countries around the world-will be abandoned. I believe those are wrong assertions, false assertions. Nevertheless, should either of those things happen it is probably correct, and it is certainly correct in the case of the gene banks, that the long term consequences-and possibly even the short term consequences-would be adverse.

Leaving those two points aside, the common denominator of the opponents of this legislation is a profound ignorance of agriculture, wrapped up in a transnational conspiracy theory. Senator Siddons put this argument quite explicitly and Senator Vigor, I understand, put it in a fairly incomprehensible way. The argument is that if PVR legislation is introduced, the wicked transnationals, principally the oil companies, will produce hybrid varieties which will not germinate unless they are treated with a poisonous chemical, will not ripen unless they are treated with another poisonous chemical and will need two or three doses of poisonous chemicals during their growing period in order to survive. This is where the profound ignorance of agriculture comes in. The argument goes on that hybrid seeds are sometimes sterile or-in a slightly more sophisticated form-the hybrid vigour does not carry over into the next generation. The real point, however, is that the people who produce hybrids-leaving aside this nonsense about transnational conspiracy theories, poisonous chemicals and all that rubbish-are in control of the parent stock already and therefore plant variety rights has absolutely no relevance--

Senator Georges —That is right.

Senator WALSH —I am pleased that the honourable senator acknowledged that because some of the other fools on his side do not seem to understand that, and no matter how many times they are told they still refuse to acknowledge it; hence my reference to feeble and closed minds. A number of false assertions are made about this but probably the second most common is that if PVR is introduced farmers will finish up growing only one variety of any particular cultivar. Again, those assertions display a profound ignorance of agriculture. Leaving aside the fact that precise measurement is not always possible, what farmers will grow, at least in the long term, is the variety that yields the highest income. They do not always know what that variety is because of the limitations of the accuracy of testing. But that is the crop that farmers will grow whether or not there is PVR. Farmers in the long term will grow those varieties of any cultivar which yield the highest income, with or without PVR.

Senator Georges —Let us move away from cereals.

Senator WALSH —Be they cereals or anything else, farmers will grow the varieties that yield the highest income. But it is important to know for the record that it is not always possible to determine that with any precision. The presence or absence of PVR will not affect that decision. The kindergarten Marxists and marshmellow leftists who, along with a few other cranks, specialise in opposing this legislation and putting the contrary argument also seem to be under the impression that once plant variety rights is introduced it will be illegal to grow any varieties other than those patented under PVR. The fact is that no existing variety will be subject to the legislation so any farmer who wants to keep growing what grandfather grew or what any previous generation of farmers has grown will be able to go on doing that regardless of the existence of PVR.

Senator Vigor —Nobody will buy it.

Senator WALSH —Whether anybody buys it is a choice which the consumer has. I thought that some of the woolly-minded people on that side claim to represent the consumer. What is the honourable senator saying?

Senator Vigor —It is the intermediaries that are the problem, like the Wheat Board which set up--

Senator WALSH —I was about to come to that because it is an important point-not in any sort of objective sense but because it is another fallacy that is repeated by woolly-minded people like Senator Vigor or by those with an inability to distinguish between the existence of plant variety rights and a restricted list. I know all this jargon. I read it 10 years ago. The opponents of this legislation seem not to be able to separate the restricted list from the question of plant variety rights. The rambling argument goes that if we have PVR we will get laws that forbid farmers from growing other than a number of specified varieties. We do not have a law, but in this country we have a system of dockages and deterrents, which does not compel but which certainly penalises those farmers who do not grow the wheat varieties which are recommended for particular geographic areas. We have that now. Again, it is a totally separate issue from the existence or non-existence of plant variety rights legislation.

Senator Macklin —Why?

Senator WALSH —Why? Because it exists now, and we do not have plant variety rights legislation. I would have thought that even an Australian Democrat's mind would reject the theory of retrospective causation. There has been a great deal more religious dogma or moral theology than there has been science in this debate. The most important demonstration, I suppose, of the moral theology or religious dogma is that it is evil for anybody to charge a fee for usage of a plant variety because plant varieties are the common property of the human race. I wonder why that theory is not extended to, say, a motor vehicle engine which is patented and made from metal. Because the metals are lying around in the ground, one could argue with equal validity that they are the common property of the entire human race and that it is evil to charge a patent or a licence fee for anything which is made from these metals which are the common property of the human race. That is obviously absurd when it is put in that way, but that is exactly the same argument that these feeble-minded people put because they say it is evil for any plant breeder who combines in a different way from the way in which anyone has combined before the genetic material which is available and in a way which produces a variety which has a higher yield or produces a higher income for some other reason and it is evil for any fee to be charged for that service having being performed.

Senator Georges —You are supposed to be a socialist, Senator. Basically that was the position that you took.

Senator WALSH —The position I took on what?

Senator Georges —Are you not a socialist?

Senator WALSH —It depends what you mean, George. Hitler called himself a national socialist; I am not one of those. There are some national socialists, as Senator Grimes once remarked, I think. There are certainly some national socialists in the Liberal Party in Sydney, and some people would even argue that some of them from time to time have been in this Parliament representing the Liberal Party. That is a fairly meaningless word.

Senator Georges —But you have escaped answering the question.

Senator WALSH —I believe, George, in a more equal distribution of income.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Jessop) —Order! Senator Walsh, I would like you to direct your remarks through the Chair.

Senator WALSH —Certainly, Mr Acting Deputy President. I do not think I should go on for very much longer. I think the points have been made. The pig ignorant fools are most vociferous in opposing this legislation-I exclude Senator Zakharov from that and, even in view of his interjections, Senator Georges. The valid points which can be put against it have been put in that dissenting report. All this nonsense about hybridisation, the transnational conspiracy theory, restricted lists and the implication that it will be illegal for any farmer to go on growing the varieties he has always grown is patently absurd. The Senate has already wasted much more than enough time on this legislation, and I do not propose to add to it.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Macklin's amendment) be left out.