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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6631

Senator O'BRIEN (5:50 PM) —I will deal with the amendments in the order in which they were moved—that is, I will deal with amendment (18), amendment (16) and then amendment (17). In relation to amendment (18), which concerns the composition of the Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee, the opposition do support the inclusion of members representing conservation and Indigenous interests on the committee but we do not support their inclusion in terms of this Democrat amendment. The Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee performs an important role in the provision of advice to the minister and the registrar of the PBR Scheme. We contend that the representation of conservation and Indigenous interests will provide a substantial boost to the advisory capacity of the committee. It is clear that the expanded committee will encompass a greater breadth of experience and knowledge and, in our view, the addition of a member representing Indigenous interests is particularly important. More than 10 per cent of plant breeders rights applications concern indigenous plants. An Indigenous representative on the committee will play a key role in respect of advice on indigenous plant intellectual property matters, in addition to advice on general matters that come before the committee.

The Democrat amendment to this section of the act, however, creates an unwieldy appointment process for three members only— a process, I might say, that completely ignores the method of appointment for the other members. The amendment also denies the minister the existing opportunity to appoint two members solely based on their capacity to contribute to the work of the advisory committee. I am concerned that the form of the Democrat amendment betrays a serious disregard for the operability of the Plant Breeders Rights Scheme. Additionally, and despite my office advising the office of the Leader of the Democrats of this fact, the Democrats have failed to seek amendment to the act to provide remuneration for the Indigenous representative on the advisory committee. The opposition will not support the Democrat amendment. The opposition's amendment has been circulated and will be moved in due course.

In relation to Democrat amendment (16), which seeks to change the role of the Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee by providing the committee can provide advice on whether a proposed or existing plant breeder's rights grant should be refused, revoked or made, the current section 49(1) provides that the minister may seek advice from the committee on whether conditions should apply to proposed or existing grants. The amendment is sought in a section of the act that provides authority to the minister to impose conditions on a plant breeders rights grant with or without referral to the Plant Breeders Rights Advisory Committee. Without evidence that the committee currently lacks the opportunity to perform a meaningful role, the opposition cannot support the amendment.

In relation to Democrat amendment (17), which provides that the minister must refer certain applications to the PBR Advisory Committee for advice on whether to review, revoke or impose conditions, these applications are those relating to plant varieties likely to become invasive species or genetically modified plant varieties that have the potential to establish in the wild. The further attempt to deal with invasive species and GM plants is inappropriate in the context of this legislation, as I have stated earlier in the debate in the committee stage of this bill. 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 I have said earlier, merely to insert these sorts of provisions into this act would not necessarily have the effect which is desired by the Democrats. This is the wrong legislation for the pursuit of these objectives. The opposition will not support these amendments.