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Thursday, 20 June 2002
Page: 2297

Senator O'BRIEN (1:18 PM) —If there had been a committee stage in the last debate, I would have been tempted to ask questions of the minister about the use of sporting facilities by coalition senators, but perhaps we will deal with that another time.

In rising to speak on the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services (Amendment) Bill 2002, I want to say that the Australian horticultural industry is a key rural industry and a major regional employer. In 1998-99, the industry had a gross value of production of around $5.5 billion. The farm gate value of production was $4.74 billion, which comprised $1.53 billion for vegetables, $2.56 billion for fruit and nuts, and $650 million for nursery production. The total value of horticultural exports for 1999-2000 was $720 million, made up of $394 million for fruit, $193 million for vegetables, $100 million for nuts and $33 million for nursery products. The top three fruit export products were citrus to the value of $153 million, grapes to the value of $74 million and apples to the value of $37 million. The value of the three top vegetable export products were asparagus at $45 million, carrots at $36 million and cauliflowers at $23 million. Macadamias made up $76 million of the $100 million for nut exports, and cut flowers made up 91 per cent, or $31 million, of nursery exports. Total horticultural imports for 1999-2000 came to $93 million, $73 million of which was fruit, with the balance being vegetables. This was an increase of 20 per cent on the previous year.

Australia's horticultural sector has been one of the success stories of the past decade, growing by 142 per cent and representing 18 per cent of agricultural production. As I have said, it is a major regional force, employing 80,000 people, with a further 11,200 people being employed in processing. Approximately 21,000 farms are engaged in the industry, and the industry has undergone a great deal of change in recent times. The most significant change has been the merger of Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation. The purpose of the merger was to create a company that has closer links to the industry and to promote more effectively and efficiently the interests of Australian horticulture. The merger followed nearly two years of consultation between the company, the wider horticultural industry and the government. That merger was the subject of close scrutiny by the parliament at the initiation of the opposition. It is our view that such changes must be properly scrutinised to ensure that they are for the better, from the point of view of both government and industry.

Rightly, the new structure has a strong commercial focus. This bill will remedy what is a simple technical problem, but that correction is fundamental to the operation of Horticulture Australia as an export control body. This bill will amend the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services Act 2000 to deem Horticulture Australia Ltd as the export control body under that act, and as a Commonwealth agency for the purposes of section 16 of the Customs Administration Act 1985. Currently, Horticulture Australia Ltd is given the function of administering export controls on behalf of horticultural industries, as the company has been declared the export control body under subsection 9(2) of the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services Act.

Horticulture Australia Ltd commenced business on 1 February 2001 taking over the functions previously undertaken by the Horticultural Research and Development Corporation, the Australian Horticultural Corporation and the Australian Dried Fruits Board. Horticulture Australia Ltd is an industry owned company that the Commonwealth has entered into arrangement with for the delivery of marketing and research and development services to the horticultural industry. The Australian Horticultural Corporation previously administered export controls on behalf of horticultural industries.

During the period of its operation the Australian Horticultural Corporation could have access to information from the Australian Customs Service exit database to enable it to exercise appropriate management over the use of export control powers. As Horticulture Australia Ltd does not meet the criteria of a Commonwealth agency under section 16 of the Customs Act, the Australian Customs Service has advised Horticulture Australia Ltd that it is no longer able to provide data to it from its exit database. This bill will correct that problem and will therefore ensure that Horticulture Australia Ltd can exercise appropriate management over current export control powers and any future export control powers by being able to access the exit database to show evidence of any breaches that may have occurred in contravention of export controls. Having said all of that, I simply say that Labor will support this bill.