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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 577


Senator POWELL(10.59) —I move:

(17) Page 18, after clause 32, insert the following new clause:

``Liability of grantees

``32a. Where plant variety rights are granted in respect of a plant variety, the grantee is liable for any loss or injury caused by plants of that variety, including, without limiting the generality of the foregoing, loss or injury caused by reason that a plant of that variety-

(a) is a weed;

(b) carries or transmits a disease or a virus; or

(c) is toxic.''.

This amendment is of particular significance. Unlike some of the others which we have proposed and which came from original Australian Labor Party thinking-and even one or two that came from the original Nixon Bill under the previous coalition Government-this amendment by the Australian Democrats is proposed out of our genuine concern that, in the case of the grant of right, which is of course very much a privilege-we say that it is an extraordinary and outrageous privilege that something that is really growing should be locked up in private ownership-we also believe that liability should rest with the grantee of that right. There is always the possibility and the danger-particularly under legislation that has absolutely limited the amount of testing that has to go on-that there will be some kind of negative impact in an absolute sense. As the amendment suggests, a variety that is patented might eventually be found in certain circumstances to be a weed, might transmit a disease or a virus or might be toxic in some way. If that should occur, we believe this should be covered in the legislation through the clause that we propose to be added, which very clearly places the responsibility and the liability on the owner of the right to that variety.

Of course, this is even more critical now that the earlier amendment that we proposed for testing in the Australian environment varieties coming from overseas has been lost. Honourable senators from both sides have refused an amendment of ours that would have imposed the absolute necessity for any variety being brought in from overseas to be tested in Australian conditions. Who knows what the circumstances might be with a variety that has been grown overseas, perhaps successfully, once it comes into Australia with a totally different environment? This country is a country like no other. If anybody knows that, it is our farmers. We do not know what the effect will be of the different aspects of our soil or of our climatic conditions. We do not know what will happen when rain falls or when it does not fall or when there is humidity-or even what the effect of surrounding plant growth, surrounding insect colonies and so forth will be on a variety that has been brought in from overseas. This is a large island continent and even a variety that is grown in one part of the country may not grow when transferred to another part of the country. Who knows? The Australian Democrats do not claim to have any crystal ball. What we are trying to do is to put in this bill some kind of assurance that, should something go dreadfully wrong, or even slightly wrong, the liability will be on the head of the person who has the privilege of making money from having received a grant to that variety.