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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 364

Senator MASON(11.32) —I support the amendments and wish to push home the points that have been raised by Senator Macklin. It seems to me that tampering with the public's foodstuffs is just as important or more important than any other consideration that the Government might like to have. The Commonwealth of Australia Gazette does not have wide readership, as we know. That is putting it mildly. It is a way of advertising things if one does not want anyone to know about them. On that basis I suggest to the Minister that he should take this matter a little more seriously. After all, this amendment is an attempt to save the Government from its own worst follies. In our charity we try to do that from time to time.

This whole area of plant patenting is highly controversial-I am sure that the Government understands that-and this set of amendments would at least give the appearance that the Government wants the public to be informed as fully as possible. But no, here again, not only are the growers to be encouraged to consider their financial gain as the only important criterion in growing food, but also the public is not to know about it. Every step that can possibly be reasonably taken will be taken to ensure that it does not know about it.

Here again we have that unfortunate flair for secrecy which has been one of the characteristics of the Hawke Government. I do not know whether it comes from the Government itself, or its leader, or whether it is just being heavied by public servants in the Yes Minister mould thinking that it is much better that the public should not know things. I could be quoting Sir Humphrey in saying that. I am sure that we have public servants in Australia who sincerely believe that it is better that the public does not know things because there are guardians, in the platonic sense, in the senior echelons of the Public Service who will look after us all. I am sure that they feel that there is no need whatsoever for the public to be given expensive advertisements in the daily newspapers telling them what is going on in what could be quite unconscionable tampering with its foodstuffs. In view of the nature of this Bill, there will almost certainly be unconscionable tampering with its foodstuffs. I should have thought that this was an area that needed free ventilation.

I see that Senator Collard has withdrawn from the battlefield. Perhaps Senator Archer or even Senator Walters might enlighten us as to why the Liberal and National parties feel that it would be wrong in this case to inform the public. I am sure that the Liberals and Nationals have opinions on this. Whether they will ever enlighten us on those opinions remains to be seen but again it begs the question. Do they not want to comment on this matter? We have made some reasonable points. It is necessary to have proper publicity of this sort of thing. Presumably one of two cases obtains. Either they agree that there should not be such publicity or they have not thought about it carefully enough; I suggest that in that case they should.

Question put:

That the amendments (Senator Powell's) be agreed to.