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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 356


Senator POWELL(10.34) —I move:

Page 2, sub-clause 3 (1), after the definition of ``Court'', insert the following new definition:

`` `description', in relation to a plant variety, means-

(a) a comprehensive catalogue of the botanical attributes of that variety; and

(b) a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the commercial, environmental and nutritional characteristics of that variety;''.

This amendment is proposed on the basis that at the time the original plant variety rights legislation was introduced by the then Minister for Agriculture, Mr Nixon, on behalf of the coalition Government, a series of amendments was put forward by the current Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) on behalf of the then Opposition. While we reiterate our total opposition to this legislation, we feel that a good many of the amendments proposed by Mr Kerin at that time have some merit. If Australia is to be burdened with plant patent legislation, we believe that these amendments should be included in such legislation. This amendment addresses one of those key issues. It introduces a definition of `description' and, most significantly, it speaks of botanical attributes within that definition. Paragraph (b) of the amendment states:

a quantitative and qualitative assessment of the commercial, environmental and nutritional characteristics of that variety;

This is very significant and very important. One of the key issues in the debate on this legislation has been the effect, in terms of consumers, at two levels-primary producers, farmers, horticulturists, and nursery people and consumers of the end products, in particular, the food products. The Australian Democrats are extremely concerned that, if we are to have legislation, it should be legislation that takes account of the environmental qualities of products that will be sold in the community at the behest of companies whose track record thus far in the commercial world has restricted access to a range of products, not just in the food area but in a whole range of areas, with little regard-as we have said in our amendment-for the environmental and nutritional qualities. We do not believe that the market forces have any merit standing on their own. We do not believe that this sort of legislation should be in place.

I must say that I am utterly astonished that, when the Australian Labor Party finally caved in to the multinational pressure which has caused this legislation to come before us, it dropped a great many of the aspects which it tried to get into the legislation previously proposed by the coalition Government. We have moved this amendment because we believe that it would reintroduce into the legislation some of the positive elements which Mr Kerin attempted to introduce when in opposition. I would expect the Government to support that same Mr Kerin, who is now the Minister for Primary Industry.

There is no question that, if we are to have this kind of legislation, this sort of safeguard is necessary. Senator Zakharov exhorted us to look at the safeguards in the Plant Variety Rights Bill. I thought that she had a bit of a struggle demonstrating that there were safeguards. I certainly would expect Senator Zakharov to support this and other allied amendments which will be coming up which are definitely safeguard amendments and which the Australian Labor Party obviously thought were useful a few years ago but, for some odd reason, has not incorporated in this Bill. We now provide the Labor Party with the opportunity again to support the inclusion of this safeguard in the Bill-a safeguard which will mean that commercial, environmental and nutritional characteristics are part of the definition in plant patent legislation.