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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 25979


Senator NETTLE (1:14 PM) —I want to read out to the minister and the committee some concerns that have been expressed by the two academics from Sydney University and the University of New South Wales, whom I mentioned before, about the way in which quarantine decisions in Australia are already being influenced—and this is before we get any committees with trade representatives sitting on them making decisions. In doing this I will deal with the issue of pork. It is worth noting that the US Trade Representative said in a press release:

Food inspection procedures that have posed barriers in the past will be addressed, benefitting sectors such as pork, citrus, apples and stone fruit.

I now read from the submission of the academics to the Senate select committee:

The inclusion of pork in this statement is particularly concerning in light of Biosecurity Australia's recent decision to allow pork imports from—

the United States—

even though the CSIRO recommended otherwise.

The CSIRO ... concluded that changes to quarantine protocols proposed by Biosecurity Australia would see a 94 to 99 per cent likelihood of an outbreak of the deadly post-weaning multi-systemic wasting syndrome in the next 10 years. Since its appearance in Europe only a few years ago, this disease has killed eight million pigs, at a cost of $1.5 billion. It has no vaccination or cure; only Australia, Finland and Belgium are free from it.

... on May 13, 2004, a Senate Committee recommended that Biosecurity Australia's decision to allow importation of pork products be overturned, and that quarantine restrictions remain in place ... the Senate Committee also criticised Biosecurity Australia for prioritising `least trade restrictive' criteria in its Import Risk Analyses, even though Australia is not required to do so under its WTO obligations ... this is illustrative of the extent to which trade considerations are already influencing what should be predominately science-based decisions.

So here we have statements about decisions that are already being made in Australia by Biosecurity Australia which are against the recommendations of the CSIRO and on which a Senate committee, with the support of the Australian Labor Party, has come out and said we should not be making decisions on the basis of least trade restrictive criteria. The first Senate committee that looked into the US-Australia free trade agreement, which I was a member of, made a recommendation—a recommendation supported by the opposition, the Greens and the Democrats—which said that the government should exempt Australia's quarantine laws from negotiations on the proposed US-Australia free trade agreement. At first we had the Labor Party, the Greens and the Democrats saying, `Don't let our quarantine laws be a part of this trade agreement.' After that the Labor Party came out and said, `We on this Senate committee believe we shouldn't be making decisions that are based on least trade restrictive criteria.' Pork is one such example, and I have many others here as well.

These are quarantine decisions that have already been made and they have been influenced by trade criteria which the CSIRO has warned us against. This is before we have got a trade agreement in place. This is before we have another committee with trade representatives on it and a mandate of making decisions on a trade basis. It is understandable that farmers, who are already seeing decisions being influenced by trade criteria, are even more concerned about what the government has agreed to in this trade agreement: more committees, more trade represen-tation and more decisions based on least trade restrictive criteria rather than on science. It is understandable that people are concerned. The Greens say that it is not good enough. We will continue to stick with the recommendation of the first Senate committee that looked at the US-Australia free trade agreement which was to exempt our quarantine decisions from the impact of the US-Australia free trade agreement.

I turn now to some other comments that the minister made when we were going a bit further into this as to a decision that may be made by the disputes mechanism of the US-Australia free trade agreement that one of our laws is perceived to be a barrier to trade. I was asking the minister about what power that body has. I have had a look at chapter 21 and at annex 21-A on the formula for monetary assessments. I am wondering if the minister can explain what those monetary assessments are and whether they relate to decisions that the trade panel makes for any compensation that needs to be paid or to any trade sanctions that may be imposed by that committee.