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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 357

Senator POWELL(10.43) —I just want to comment on one or two of the points made by the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh). The Minister has suggested that the Australian Democrats believe that farmers are fools. We certainly do not. One of the things we have recognised in this debate is that not all farmers support this legislation. We have been told about letters from the National Farmers Federation which state that this Bill is marvellous and that we must pass it in a hurry. We do not have any of those letters. However, we have letters from the Livestock and Grain Producers Association and from the United Farmers and Stock Owners Inc. I spoke with representatives of the National Farmers Federation back in the pre-Joh days, when reason was prevailing in that organisation as opposed to what I heard this morning. They told me of several specific aspects of the Bill which they were very concerned about. In fact, this amendment and a couple of others are based on those early discussions which I had with the National Farmers Federation. Farmers certainly are not fools and if there is one thing that they need from this legislation it is merit testing.

I will comment on one of the Minister's later points. It is obvious that one of the reasons why the Government-in government as opposed to when it was in Opposition-has moved away from this clause, which I remind honourable senators was the clause proposed by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, when in opposition, is that it is afraid that this measure will cost a lot of money. That is probably perfectly correct and it is one of the major concerns which we have with this legislation. In the second reading debate the issue of costs was somewhat muddled by some speakers particularly from the Opposition. It is not only the potential cost to the end user of the new varieties which has been a question at issue in our minds. If we are to have a whole new industry, which is based on the ability of private profit to be made out of a public resource, we have to recognise that if we are to have any control at all over what is produced within that industry it will be a cost and it is a question for government.

This Government, through the Minister for Finance, is telling us that we cannot have a Bill in which merit testing is a major feature and I think that is extremely dangerous. He also told us that the reason we cannot have merit testing is that it will cost too much. That is what we have been saying all along. It is not that we believe, as the Minister has suggested, that governments should give people what is good for them and not what people want. However, we believe that governments should ensure that there is choice for people, that when people are making a choice they can choose between things which might not be good for them and things which might be good for them, between things which might be good for the environment and things which might not be good for the environment and between things which might and might not have different qualities. What we have said all along in our arguments is that one of the results of this legislation is that that degree of choice becomes limited because of the oligopoly situation which occurs.

In 1982 the Australian Labor Party, then in opposition, in proposing this sort of clause in legislation before the House at that time, was prepared to put up a cosmetic exercise to its constituents. I just want to place on the record that it has moved right away from that position since it has been in government, that it is not prepared to have the safeguards of merit testing in this legislation and that it has not been prepared to accept the fact that that kind of cost has to be paid by someone. In our view it would have to be paid by the people who would be making the profits and those, of course, would be the people who were taking out the patents.