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Wednesday, 25 February 1987
Page: 581

Senator MASON(11.35) —Clause 34 is very important because it is one of the few clauses in the Plant Variety Rights Bill which attempt at least to convey the appearance of safeguards of some kind or other against the power in the hands of the Minister. On that basis, I support Senator Powell's amendment because I believe that it is absolutely essential that, whatever consideration the Minister has, there should be some public input. In other words, the Hawke Government rather touchingly takes the view that it will be there forever and creates legislation on the basis that there will not ever be anybody who would not do the right thing. However, the Minister for Finance (Senator Walsh), a senior Minister, has said that the only criterion for patents is the amount of money they can produce for farmers. That is rather worrying if this is to be a matter for the Minister's consideration.

Perhaps some day Senator Walsh will be the Minister responsible for this area, and his consideration under clause 34 could well be that it would be just great to restrict a variety, perhaps a very good variety of, say, wheat, because farmers were producing another variety which was more suited to local conditions such as land contouring and soil acidity. A Minister who said what Senator Walsh has said here would say that that could be a good reason for weighing in and restricting some perhaps excellent new species.

Apart from supporting Senator Powell's amendment, which addresses this question very materially-it means that at least other people would be involved in that decision and there would be some public discussion of why the Minister was taking the action he proposed-I ask the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce (Senator Button), who is at the table, how the Government believes that this clause will operate. What sort of safeguards does it have? How does the Government feel that the mere statement of the Minister's consideration of the public interest can satisfactorily cover such a wide ambit of concern? I would be interested in the Minister's views on those points.