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Friday, 15 November 2002
Page: 6540

Senator O'BRIEN (3:03 PM) —These amendments, when taken together, seek to introduce additional requirements in relation to plant breeders rights applications. They are that a plant breeders rights application for genetically modified plant varieties would be required to include a cost-benefit analysis, and that all applicants would be required to provide the results of any tests conducted on the plant variety, information on whether the plant has established itself in the wild, information on whether the plant variety is likely to become an invasive species if released in Australia, and four other types of detail relating to indigenous origin and issue.

It is the opposition's view that these amendments reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of the Plant Breeder's Rights Act. The refusal of a plant breeders rights application does not prevent the propagation of a plant variety; it merely denies the applicant breeder certain exclusionary rights. The Plant Breeder's Rights Act establishes proprietary rights for breeders of new plants; it does not regulate or control their creation or distribution. As an intellectual property scheme, plant breeders rights coexist with other legally enforceable rights. Accordingly, despite recognition under the Plant Breeder's Rights Act, a breeder may in fact have no right to propagate or distribute their new plant variety as a consequence of the operation of other legislation.

It appears from Senator Cherry's media release of 22 September that the key focus of this amendment is the matter of genetically modified organisms. Indeed, that was a key focus of his supporting address in the chamber. Many stakeholders, including consumers, have concerns about the impact of genetically modified organisms in agriculture. However, it is important that this issue be addressed in the most appropriate legislative form and not dealt with in an ad hoc and opportunistic way. Additionally, it is important to know if the legislative change that is sought is actually necessary. Question 20 in part 1 of the existing plant breeders rights application form asks:

Is this variety a Genetically Modified Organism?

If the answer is yes, the application requires the submission of the relevant Gene Technology Regulator licence number. The accompanying plant breeders rights guidelines state quite clearly:

... only holders of licences issued by the Regulator may conduct dealings involving the intentional release of a GMO into the environment.

This is quite simply the wrong piece of legislation through which to seek to address the sorts of concerns the Democrats are seeking to address in this amendment. It should be clear to the Democrats that control over the commercial release of genetically modified organisms is not a function of the Plant Breeders Rights Office. Additionally, there is evidence over recent weeks that the Gene Technology Regulator is willing and able to act with respect to the potential environmental consequences of genetically modified plant varieties. I understand that the regulator has limited the release of a genetically modified cotton variety, owing to her concerns over its potential environmental impact in Northern Australia. In our view, the Democrats betray a misplaced understanding of the role of this piece of intellectual property legislation, and the opposition is unable to support these amendments in terms of their appropriateness.