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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 576


Senator POWELL(10.54) —I move:

(16) Page 18, clause 32, line 29, leave out `20', insert `15'.

This clause relates to the duration of the right which is issued under this legislation. The Bill provides for a period of 20 years for a patent on plant material. I make the point that this amendment was suggested to me by a person involved in the seed industry, Mr Jack Sewell, who had a Churchill fellowship, who travelled overseas investigating plant patent systems and who has been a very strong supporter of plant patenting for Australia over the past 10 to 15 years. He is also a member of the industry committee for plant breeders' rights, a group which since the mid-70s has been promoting this very strongly in Australia. It is of enormous interest to me that I, as a very strong opponent of this legislation, should find myself on my feet in the Committee proposing an amendment which a person who has deeply studied and strongly supported this legislation has asked me to move. Therefore I ask myself: Why is this legislation providing for a period of 20 years when that is not the period that the people in the industry require but a longer one? Mr Sewell informs me that a period of around 15 years is much more the norm overseas. We know from our industrial patents legislation that 16 years is the more normal period.

Why are we facing legislation that will lock up the ownership of living material for a period of 20 years? If it is not Australia's seed industry that has asked for this, who has? Perhaps it is the prospective new owners of the Australian seed industry. We have brought evidence before this chamber that has demonstrated that in a very short space of time, in the experience in the United States of America, in the United Kingdom and in Europe, the small business people who made up the local seed industry and who supported similar legislation in the mistaken belief that it would be of benefit to them, were taken over by the 20 or so international companies, largely multinational petro-chemical companies, which now control the industry. The Shell Petroleum Co. Ltd is the largest seed company in the world. Union Carbide Ltd, Ciba-Geigy Ltd, Sandoz Ltd and companies such as those are the leading seed companies in the world-not the companies run by people like Jack Sewell. Maybe those companies are going to invest in the next round of takeovers here-maybe this will be the next industry to face that-and, in order to cover that investment, they want rights that will last a full 20 years. I proposed this amendment because I understand this to be the case from a leading seed grower in the industry who, as I have said, is a Churchill Fellowship holder.

This clause in the Bill raises perhaps one of the clearest concerns about who and what is behind this legislation. Although, as Senator Mason has pointed out, the Australian Democrats are totally opposed to this legislation, if this amendment were to be passed at the very least we would be limiting the right and the damage to 15 years for each individual application that has total and unequivocal support in the community. I commend the amendment to the Committee.