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Friday, 20 February 1987
Page: 373

Senator POWELL(12.35) —by leave-I move:

(12) Page 14, sub-clause 24 (1), lines 23 and 24, leave out ``a test growing, or a further test growing, ``, insert ``a further test growing''.

(13) Page 14, paragraph 24 (1) (a), line 26, leave out ``or'' (second occurring), insert ``and''.

(14) Page 14, paragraph 24 (1) (b), line 28, after ``particular'', insert ``commercial, environmental or nutritional''.

These amendments are designed to address several issues which arise out of the early sections of clause 24. This clause relates to test growing, as do other clauses, of plant varieties and to applications for grant of patent on plants. The amendments would have several effects. The first is that of, in a sense, anticipating that test growing will have taken place before the application is made. What we are therefore calling for is a further test growing which the Secretary might consider necessary. The second amendment changes the word `or' to `and', because we believe that the fullest range of aspects should be looked at in a further test growing.

I point out that the provisions of the Plant Variety Rights Bill, under clause 24 (1) (a), deal with determining whether a plant variety is homogeneous or stable. I point out that that is actually not consistent with the requirements for grant of plant patent under the International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants system which union we are destined to join. UPOV requires proof of distinctiveness, uniformity and stability. That is of concern to us because one of the issues in this debate is the narrowing of the genetic base. This UPOV requirement has that effect, especially in monoculture which, of course, is still the predominant form of agriculture in Australia. We would have, then, varieties which are extremely narrowly genetically based. Obviously, in modern agriculture, most varieties which are grown, particularly those that are grown in quantity in a monoculture situation, as I said, do not have a great deal of genetic diversity within them. But there can be some. What this sort of requirement tends to do, and has done, is to ensure that a variety when it is bred has the narrowest of genetic bases, because very often-too often-it needs to have that to be able to satisfy the requirements of distinctiveness, uniformity and stability. So I just point out that the legislation before the Parliament is couched in terms different from what the requirements-I imagine the overriding requirements-will be under the international convention of the union which this Government supports our joining. That is of concern because I do not know whether the Government has used this terminology so that we will not realise that we will actually be doing just a bit more than that. The third amendment, amendment 14, seeks to introduce, as we have done several other times in the course of moving these amendments, the specific characteristics of the commercial, environmental and nutritional features of a variety for which a variety right is being sought. We are doing so for the same reasons that we have already outlined. I point out that again this was an aspect which the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Kerin, when in Opposition, believed was important and which he attempted to introduce to the equivalent clause of the original Bill. This whole clause goes to many of the issues that we debated in relation to the previous amendment-issues of how much and what kind of testing should be required before a variety is granted a plant variety right or patent and before a variety is promoted for sale out in the community as something new and as something which, by virtue of its being promoted for sale, would be supposed by the community to have some inherent merit.

I must at this stage address a point made several times during the debate when it was suggested that we do not believe there should be a private plant breeding sector. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is one now, there should always be one, and I suggest there always will be one under any circumstances. It is simply that under this type of legislation, as the international experience shows, that private sector seed industry will end up in the hands of a very small number of groups of companies whose other connections cause us concerns as to what their motivation will be in their plant breeding. We are not trying to kill off any private plant breeding sector but rather to ensure that it is motivated by the desire to develop an industry which will serve the interests of the community and, indeed, maximise the profits of farmers and others and provide a range of quality products for the community, while at the same time allowing to operate, as there does now, alongside and complementary to that private seed industry, a public sector.

Consideration interrupted.

Sitting suspended from 12.46 to 2 p.m.