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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 578


Senator MACKLIN(11.03) —This is a particularly important amendment. Those people who are aware of the history of the introduction of plants into Australia from overseas are very much aware of the problems that have been caused not only to the rural sector but also to a whole range of people in this country by the introduction of plants or animals that have somehow gone beyond their original purpose. Senator Boswell, who is in the chamber and who is from Queensland, is well aware of a number of such instances. If one travels out west, one finds a series of weeds growing, rather ominously, particularly around airports, surrounding them almost like triffids. Many of these weeds are causing enormous problems to local government and the cost of eradication of particular varieties has increased. We have a history in this country of the introduction of various plants-plants as innocuous as lantana, which was originally introduced as a border for homes in urban areas but which has devastated vast areas of our continent and still costs an enormous amount in clearing and grubbing every year. So it is not a frivolous matter that we are addressing here. It is a very important matter. Until now, where plant breeding and the introduction of plants in Australia has been in the possession of public authorities, they have carried the cost for testing in Australia.

I have no need to remind honourable senators that particular varieties of plants in Australia may be benign, as Senator Powell has already said, in one area but in fact may take off in another. The reasons for this are obvious. They are to do with climatic differences around the country and also with differences in the grubs or other biological matter which may exist in various parts of the country. It was not so long ago that we had a debate in this chamber on a biological control Bill. Quite a number of examples were given then of the problem. Paterson's Curse, as it is called by some people, or Salvation Jane, as it is called by others, is probably one of the best known examples in Australia of a plant which is considered to be mightily useful by some and a weed by others.

Up to now the problems that may result from an introduced plant have been carried by the public purse. This amendment suggests that if a company is to make a private profit it should also pay for the public loss. I think that is a fair exchange. Why should a company under this legislation be permitted to make profits but the public have to carry the loss? That seems to me completely unconscionable. I do not know of any other area in the private sector where this is the case. If one looks through the whole range of professions in Australia where people make profits--


Senator Mason —The nuclear industry.


Senator MACKLIN —I am corrected by Senator Mason-the nuclear industry is one; that is correct. In the professions where there is private profit, there is also considerable private loss. The reason for that is that enormous insurance has to be carried by professionals who have to insure themselves against problems that may occur as a result of their activities. Likewise, the manufacturing sector has to carry enormous insurance for the same reason. We already know that in this country we have suffered enormous losses, particularly in those areas outside urban centres where the local government sector is carrying enormous costs. They are costs to ratepayers and to individuals in this country who are still paying for mistakes that were made 30 or 40 years ago. If we are now moving this over into the private sector and if the private sector is now going to reap the profits which up till now have come via various mechanisms to the general country, it also ought to take the downside of its commercial activity; that is, it ought to foot the bill for the problems it is likely to cause as a result of its helter skelter move to try to make profits out of seeds.