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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 370

Senator MASON(12.14) —I just want to add a few words to what my colleague Senator Powell has said on the question of testing. The first of the amendments which we are now considering is the one that interests me. It seems to me that this relates to one of the worst possible gaps in the Bill, which is bad enough, heaven alone knows. This gap, as Senator Powell has identified, is a very serious one. One can infer a couple of points from what Senator Powell has said. The first is that claims will be made for material brought into Australia and marketed here. Those claims will be made on the basis of overseas experience. Presumably they will be made in good faith because that is what the Bill states: It states that we do not have to do anything more than that. If a product is grown in California, Iceland, Cornwall or New Zealand that is perfectly okay here and therefore there is no need for any further testing. But if someone wants to be silly enough to test it and to place himself at an economic disadvantage by doing so then, of course, he can.

That raises the second point. The great failing in legislation is that all discretionary or voluntary requirements of people particularly of business, cost money. When testing or a procedure of any kind is provided which is not obligatory, which is not mandatory, one is really saying-draftsmen and, I am sure, departmental draftsmen must know this very well-to people: `Do not test. It is not necessary for you to test. Do not be silly. We are putting in this requirement because it looks good; it is cosmetic only'.

If a person produces something in, say, Iceland and he wants to grow it here and he is silly enough to test it, he places himself at an economic disadvantage. It costs money to do these things. The grower will say: `That is all very well but your particular product is costing more than X's product. I know X says that his stuff is good. Look at all these claims which are made about it. This brochure has been printed in San Francisco and it is great stuff'. Tremendous. The person who has been honest enough to test his product will not do it again because it places him at an economic disadvantage. I stress that point because I think it is very important that this matter be taken into account not only in this Bill but also in other legislation.

The only fair way of ensuring equal treatment is to make such testing mandatory and that, of course, is what Senator Powell's amendment proposes. I would very much like the Minister for Education (Senator Ryan) to answer this point because it seems to be quite basic and fundamental. Again it begs a number of questions. If it is not answered, there may well be a good answer to it. I cannot imagine what it would be. The Government and certainly the Opposition-some members of which, I think, even now still pretend to represent the rural constituency-ought to take up these matters. It is said that silence gives consent. It could be inferred from this debate-and I want to make this point on the record where the Government and the Opposition have declined to comment on these amendments-quite properly and logically that they have taken the opposite position. In other words, they are in absolute agreement with what is in the Bill and in absolute disagreement with the amendment. Worse still, however, the Government is not prepared to say why it disagrees with the amendment even if a reasonable case were put forward, as is the case with this amendment which requires an answer.

This is a problem for the Opposition because a confidence trick is being played on the Australian farmer. He is being sold out very badly by the failure to provide a safeguard, which is important. If I were a farmer I would not go to the trouble, as most farmers would not, of reading through all of the amendments, all of the material and certainly not the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette. I would be getting on with the job and would probably think that the product would be tested.

Senator Archer —Please do not go into farming. The farmers have enough trouble without you.

Senator MASON —In the past the attitude of Australian agriculture and Australian governments towards agriculture has been such that safeguards are provided, as Senator Archer would know full well. Even in Tasmania I think these things are done. Things are not just allowed into the country. One would not allow sperm or anything like that into this country without reasonable tests having been done. Those tests are carried out and I think that fact is in the farmer's mind when he buys the product. However, this legislation will not ensure that those tests will be done. Again this is a cause of concern for the Australian Democrats. It has worried us as we have gone right through this Bill and it has made it necessary for us--

Senator Archer —It does not waive quarantine.

Senator MASON —If the honourable senator wants to talk about that matter he can do so later. He can speak; it is his job to speak not to interrupt what I am saying. He has interrupted my train of thought and that is a serious matter. However, I will attempt to regain my train of thought. Farmers in this case will buy things which they think will work but which will not work. This can be a very serious matter because often it is not just a small thing that was bought. This has been the case in India, the Philippines and other countries with some of the rice varieties. A variety may seem to be very good especially if it is grown in overseas conditions. It may be so good that an enormous amount of it is planted. Virtually the whole industry may turn over to it. Then disaster can strike as has happened in the Philippines and India where varieties in that area were found to be subject to disease or pests which were not suspected earlier. That situation could quite easily happen here. We could have one of those wonderful things which the people who are pressing this Bill, as I have said, tell us is in the Garden of the Hesperides, in Europe or somewhere, where marvellous things, beautiful things, are being grown but we cannot get them. How terrible for us. We are naturally seized with a sense of deprivation as a result of this. If that line is to be pushed it would be with some eagerness that local growers would embrace that measure. They would say: `This is great stuff. We want it'. They will assume, as I have said, the products have been tested but, of course, they will not have been.

I would like the Minister to take up those points if she would not mind, particularly the point about the economic disadvantage which would inevitably be faced by an importer who wanted, for reasons of conscience and integrity, to go through the expensive task of testing which would place his organisation at a competitive disadvantage to those less scrupulous ones which would not bother to do so.