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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2514


Senator SHERRY (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy) (7.43 p.m.) —I will address my comments to the four proposed amendments. I made comment about this in principle in responding to the second reading debate, but I will respond in a little more detail. Bacteria, bacteroids, viruses, viroids and bacteriophages are already named and specifically excluded from the definition of `plant' in the bill. Fungi and algae have been included to provide for reciprocal protection between the UPOV convention member countries.

  I think Senator Coulter said that it was accepted—I do not want to misquote him—that fungi and algae are not plants or animals. It is the intention of this legislation to make it clear that fungi and algae will be treated as plants under this legislation. New Zealand and Japan have fungi included in their PBR schemes. Japan has also included algae. Other countries are likely, we are informed, to protect fungi and algae and include them within the definition of a plant.

  The convention itself is silent on the definition of `plant', and it has been left to national laws to include micro-organisms under `plant'. Are they a plant or are they an animal? Australia has, as a matter of policy, adopted the traditional position that there are two kingdoms: plants and animals. Since fungi and algae are not animals, they must be plants, and we are making that clear by this legislation. They have been specifically named in the bill to avoid interpretational problems.

  With regard to the Democrats' second amendment, the definition they propose is too limited and contains an unacceptable latitude for discretion and legal interpretation, which will inevitably lead to excessive litigation and court action, to which the government is opposed in principle. We want to define as clearly as we can in this legislation what is meant by `plant'. The definition in the bill is taken from and includes all of the elements of article 14 of the UPOV convention. This definition was the subject of three years of debate at the UPOV meetings in consultation with breeders internationally. The definition is comprehensive and seems to meet the needs of the concept of essential derivation in which the genotype plays a determinant role. The definition in the bill has been agreed to in consultation with plant breeders in Australia.

  The government opposes the third amendment. It is procedural and is already more fully and more appropriately catered for in clause 34. With regard to the Democrats' fourth amendment, the aim of the PBR scheme is to encourage investment in new technology and new varieties by protecting new varieties that are the products of plant breeding. Genetic manipulation is now a standard breeding process. If genetic manipulation as a breeding process is to be regulated it should be, and will be in the future, subject to the regulatory GMO law. Should a product of genetic manipulation, including transgenic plants, pass the test of GMO laws and regulation, it should not be denied PBR protection. To do so would deny Australia access to transgenic plants, which would reduce its competitiveness globally. For example, I understand that a cotton plant has been developed. There is transgenic—I am not sure of the correct name—implanting within what is accepted as the cotton gene, but it is fundamentally a cotton gene. For that reason, we oppose the Democrats' fourth amendment. Under the UPOV convention, rights cannot be denied to a new plant variety because of the way in which it is bred.