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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 365

Senator POWELL(11.43) —I move:

(7) Page 9, after paragraph 16 (h), insert the following new paragraph:

``(ha) particulars of any tests carried out demonstrating the commercial, environmental or nutritional characteristics of the variety;''.

This amendment raises again the issue which was raised in my first amendment; that is, the demonstration of the commercial, environmental and nutritional aspects of a variety. But in this case the amendment is not proposed in the context of an application being made for the issue of a patent for a new variety. We are asking that a clause be added which will require the applicant for a patent to include, amongst the information which is provided to the Secretary, information on the particulars of any tests carried out which demonstrate the commercial, environmental and nutritional characteristics of the variety.

The Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh) addressed this issue when he spoke to my first amendment and he made the point that this type of merit testing is very expensive. As I did then, I point out that the amendments are based on an amendment which Mr Kerin, the current Minister for Primary Industry, proposed to the original legislation. As I said before, it is obvious that at that time it was important to the Australian Labor Party-or at least the ALP wanted its constituency to think that it believed it was important-that varieties should be tested for such characteristics and that that should be placed on the record. In this case I want to make the point that the reason we are pressing for this testing to be done and, in this case, for particulars of such testing to be on the record at the time of application is that one of the dangers with this kind of legislation is that of cosmetic breeding.

A lot has been said in the debate about the way that choice which is offered to the consumer can be and, in overseas experience, has been restricted very often and how genetic diversity has diminished and dwindled. I remind the Senate that this is not something which comes out of our imagination; it comes from the European Parliament, after up to 30 years experience with this kind of legislation across the range of European countries. The Opposition was at great pains during the second reading debate to draw to our attention the number of countries. I noticed, however, that one member of the Opposition-I think it was Senator Hill-who at first said that he would not read us the whole list then did, but he baulked at saying the USSR at the end of his list; he stopped at the USA. It is a fact that when we talk about the European Parliament here we are not talking about a bunch of people who, firstly, have not had any experience or, secondly, do not represent the broadest range of the countries in Europe. It is they who have expressed concerns about the narrowing of the genetic base. Cosmetic breeding is one of the ways through which this happens. Cosmetic breeding makes very, very good commercial sense. For a person or a company involved in this industry it is exactly the right thing to do.

Senator Archer —Just answer an intelligent question. How many countries have pulled out?

Senator POWELL —I suggest that when the report comes down from the European Parliament we might very well see some countries getting very cold feet. With some of the requests of the European Parliament, in particular to remove exclusivity from the legislation which is currently in place, we might very well see some forms of legislation coming through in the range of European countries. This is one of the great benefits of the European Parliament as it currently stands, although in such an enormous parliament it must be absolutely horrific. Senator Macklin has been there and might share some of his observations with us. One of the benefits, even in such a large gathering, must be the fact that these countries can get together-they obviously have on this issue-and share their concerns, and it is now a matter of public record that this is to be investigated.

To return to my point about cosmetic breeding; it makes perfectly good commercial sense. We have said that we do not believe farmers are stupid, and they are growing varieties because they are selling them. In many cases, however, particularly in the case of not so much our broadacre crop but those more specialist products which are grown both for local markets and for overseas markets in the horticultural area, one of the dangers is cosmetic breeding. It is that area which we are told needs so desperately plant variety rights because it is just about on its last legs, yet in the last eight years the vegetable industry has increased by 800 per cent or 900 per cent-I do not know the exact figure-and is bringing in a very respectable and strongly growing export revenue without plant variety rights. It seems to me quite astonishing that we have had the farmers' parties in this Parliament saying what a rotten job these growers are doing; they are actually doing an extremely good job. No doubt they can and will do a better job. We are certainly not here to see that that does not happen.

One of the aspects of selling, particularly horticultural products, is that one then has to deal with the middleman. We know from our experience-this is reflected overseas as well-that there is an oligopoly at that level as well. It is for that reason that we have this hard-skinned tomato that has been getting such a difficult time in the Parliament today. I am absolutely delighted that it has because, as a consumer and as the provider of family meals, as many of us are, it has been a bone of contention for a long time. The reason that the vast majority of tomatoes which are consumed in this community are that particular kind of tomato, which we are all grizzling about, is not that that is the one we choose but that that is the one that is on the shelves of the supermarkets. As we know, there is an oligopoly; the companies dictate to the producers what will be grown. Such a tomato transports well and looks good on the shelves, and they can get away with the fact that it tastes bad because they have the distribution sector tied up. It is a simple matter for companies at the various levels, even if they are not under the same umbrella, at least to co-operate with each other because there are so few of them. We have only to look at what is going on in other areas of takeovers in Australia at the moment to see how carving up the market between a few big players is very effectively done.

In that context, if growers are growing varieties which are selling and they are re-using their seed or their stock which, under this legislation they are able to do, the companies which are selling the breeding stock or the seed have to come up with something new. If the farmers and the horticulturists are using and re-using their seed, the market is not growing. So, to make the market grow, the seed producer has to come up with another variety. He has to come up with one that is different in looks, taste, feel or transport ability. He can do that. It might be a lettuce, and the lettuces might be selling very well, but he might come up with one which has a purple edge. It may be no different nutritionally or as far as yield is concerned, but it may just look different. Because the company has great resources it can mount a very strong sales campaign. We know how such a campaign works with new products. Our society is susceptible to that kind of a campaign. So next week when everybody goes to the supermarket to buy their salad vegetables what will they all be looking for-the new, super, whizz-bang, polyunsaturated, supercalifragilistic-dare I even say-incentivated lettuce with the purple edging? If the growers do not have that one they will have to buy that seed. It is this kind of thing that this kind of provision in a Bill such as this is designed to prevent.

I suppose Mr Kerin had these same concerns in 1982, but obviously those concerns have not endured until 1986. That is a pity. I think this kind of provision which requires an application for a patent is absolutely fundamental to the interests of the people who will buy the seeds or the plant material. Those are the farmers, horticulturalists and the nursery people in Australia. I am very disappointed that the Government has said that it will not accept this, even though again this is one of the amendments which Mr Kerin attempted to make to improve the original Bill of the coalition Government in 1982.

Amendment negatived.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 17 to 19-by leave-taken together, and agreed to.

Clause 20 (Objections to grant of plant variety rights).