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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 6

Senator CHILDS —The Minister for Primary Industries and Energy would be aware of the continuing occupational safety and environmental concerns surrounding the use of hazardous organochlorine insecticides to combat termite infestation in homes and buildings in Australia. Can the minister advise what steps have been taken to finally end their use in and around homes and buildings?

Senator COLLINS —I am pleased to advise the Senate that these very toxic chemicals will not be used in Australia in significant amounts for very much longer. The use of organochlorines, principally heptachlor and chlordane, for termite control in and around houses and buildings will be phased out in all states and territories, with the exception of the Northern Territory, by June next year. This decision was taken in Hobart last week at the meeting of the Agricultural and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand. This council comprises federal and state ministers responsible for agriculture in Australia and New Zealand. This decision will produce a 95 per cent reduction in organochlorine use in Australia within the next 12 months. Import levels, which I license, will be reduced immediately so that stocks are exhausted within that time.

  Council did agree to the continuation of the phase-out in the Northern Territory until June 1997. This, of course, was to acknowledge the significance of the termite problems in the Northern Territory. However, this concession was subject to the Northern Territory government introducing a range of very important compliance measures. These include a strengthening of the audit of organochlorine sales and use, and increased environmental monitoring of the use of organochlorines. A number of additional controls are to be placed on the availability and use of heptachlor and chlordane during the phase-out period.

  The use of chlordane is the last remaining widespread application of these major organochlorines for termite control in Australia, although there is still a continued use for a short time of heptachlor for the control of funnel ant in sugarcane plantations in Far North Queensland. That is now the only remaining agricultural use for these chemicals allowed in Australia, and that will also be phased out in December of this year.

  As honourable senators will be aware, this is an important issue because organochlorines were at the centre of the beef residue crisis in Australia in 1987—and, I might add, that is not very long ago. That particular crisis cost the industry $46 million to clean up and caused significant damage to our reputation.

  Mindful of this and of recent residue issues, the council expressed its support for work being conducted on a strategic plan for control of residues in the beef cattle industry. The plan has been formulated by an industry-led residue management group which is chaired Mr Keith Lawson of Australian Meat Holdings. Council expressed its total support for the plan to ensure that Australia's reputation as an exporter of clean food is not jeopardised. The decision last week to phase out organochlorines was an important step in this direction.