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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2523


Senator COULTER (8.44 p.m.) —by leave—I move:

8.Clause 17, page 8, omit subclause (2).

9.Clause 63, page 37, omit subparagraph (2)(a)(i).

The first of these amendments is an amendment to clause 17. This is one which we find particularly objectionable and one on which we have had a great number of representations. The amendment to clause 63 is dependent on this amendment. I will speak particularly to clause 17(2), which we believe should be omitted.

  Clause 17(2) relates to farm saved seed. This is a time-honoured tradition among farmers. The saving of seed from one season to the next and the exchange of seed between farmers is practised perhaps more frequently in Australia than in other countries. We learned from the CSIRO this morning that the incidence of farm saved seed in Great Britain, for instance, is not as common as it is in Australia, and that is possibly because of the greater moisture in the seed and the problems of fungi and mould growing in the seed. Certainly in Australia it is a common practice to save seed from one season to the next.

  The notion that this right, which should be very, very carefully and deliberately protected, can be subject to possible removal by any mechanism whatsoever is one that makes many, many farmers extremely nervous. Quite frankly, in view of the sorts of representations that we have had about the matter, I am rather surprised that the members of the opposition are not also opposed to this particular provision.

  I have in front of me a letter from the Queensland Graingrowers branch at Meandarra which expresses a great deal of concern about this provision within the plant breeder's rights legislation. It mentions that oats being sold farmer to farmer can be bought for 35 to 40 cents a kilo, whereas the plant varieties are being sold for up to 70 cents a kilo this year. In time, when all new varieties are produced by seed companies, this will mean that there will be no market pressures for farmers to keep prices down. That is another aspect to this matter.

  If the government is not minded to remove this clause, we will certainly divide on it because we believe it is obnoxious. We believe it is moving into an area where it is infringing the fundamental right of the farmer to save seed from one year to the next. This would put the farmer very much at the mercy of the companies which can gradually tighten control on these varieties and progressively strangle the farmer's ability to carry out that saving from one year to the next.