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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 358

Senator MASON(10.48) —I rise to support the amendment moved by Senator Powell. There is clear evidence of a lack of concern by commercial interests in the matters of importance to the community that the amendment addresses. This fact was recognised by the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, when the amendment was drafted, when the Government was in opposition. It is another clear case of a sellout by the Government to interests for reasons which cannot be specified. To turn down this amendment would give people a green light. It would say: `The Hawke Government approves of anything you can get away with regarding the environment and nutritional characteristics provided it is to your commercial advantage'. That is to be the only criterion.

I am not surprised that the Minister for Finance has said that he will not comment any further on any amendments. I will come back to that point in a moment. In this context I can understand that. It must be a bad morning for him because what he has said so far has damned him out of hand and I will quote his exact words to him. He said that farmers are not fools; I would agree with him.

Senator Walsh —Some of them are.

Senator MASON —Fair enough, some of them are. He said that they will grow varieties which they think will yield the highest income.

Senator Walsh —That's right.

Senator MASON —That is right; that is what the Minister said. In other words I think the Minister is agreeing with some of the things I said in my speech in the second reading debate. Indeed the criterion will not be the quality of a product; it will not be flavour; it will not be of value to the community; it will not be nutritional; it will not be environmentally good. The only criterion as stated by the Minister is that it yield the highest income.

Senator Collard —People aren't going to buy anything that is not nutritious or tasty. Use your sense.

Senator MASON —People buy things that are not nutritious. Senator Collard knows that as well as I do.

Senator Collard —You said last night that people were queuing up to buy old tomatoes. There are market forces operating. You cut your own argument to ribbons.

Senator MASON —Apparently Senator Collard is asserting that people will not buy anything that is not nutritious. That is crazy. The honourable senator knows perfectly well that one has to go only to a fast food shop or to look around the community to find people who will buy food that is not nutritious.

Senator Collard —Not if there is something better.

Senator MASON —The honourable senator has raised a very important point. It is not something of which all members of the community are necessarily aware because they are busy with other things. There is food one can eat in our society and things that one can have that are not particularly good for one. I would have thought that this Parliament would have a certain duty in that regard. In fact that fact is already recognised, as the honourable senator would know. Why does he think we have the National Health and Medical Research Council and its standards? We have them for those kinds of reasons. It is recognised that people do not take just the simplistic view that the honourable senator put, that they will buy what is necessarily good.

The Minister has confirmed our worst fears. He has stated that the main bottom line of the Plant Variety Rights Bill is that it will encourage people to grow things which will yield them the highest income and that will be the only criterion of any value or importance. That goes back to the tomato issue. Senator Georges mentioned it in a recent division and I mentioned it in my speech in the second reading debate. It is very good for a grower to have a tomato which has a good tough skin. The tougher it is the better because the tomato can be carried easier, it can go through processing easily. However, it is not what a person wants in a raw tomato when he has to cut it up and eat it. Again it has been conceded that flavour is not in any way a requirement in this Bill. In other words this Bill gives an open brief to people to turn out the nastiest and worst tasting food they can possibly grow provided, as the Minister said, it yields the highest income. If ever one could see naked motivation of what the Government is doing it is in this legislation.

I would like to comment briefly on the Minister's statement because I think it has to be raised. Time and time again we get the situation in which the proceedings of this chamber are called into contempt by Ministers. The Minister has stated that he will not comment on future amendments. That is an insult to this Committee and I think it is something that has to be considered in that light. It implies that the proceedings in Committee of the Senate have no value. Indeed the Government can treat them as it wishes, with contempt. It can either take them or leave them alone, one might say. I would not have thought that that was what this Parliament was about. The amendments which have been moved are reasonable amendments. In fact quite a few of the amendments were put forward by the Government when it was in opposition so the Minister cannot treat them lightly. He cannot say that there are things he does not want to discuss. That is one point. Mr Chairman, you might say: `What is new?'. You are sitting here patiently and might easily ask that question. I am saying that at this stage this matter ought to be raised, that the Government and Ministers in particular have no right to treat the Committee with that kind of contempt. I personally resent it and I think all honourable senators should resent that view taken by a Minister in this place. As I have said, the Minister's contribution to Senator Powell's first amendment so damned him out of hand and so nakedly exposed the lack of concern that he and the Government have for the effects of this legislation that I am not surprised he does not want to expose himself further.