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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1541

Senator McKENZIE (Victoria) (10:59): I also rise to speak on the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. I would like to congratulate the government and the department on a bill that aspires to do such fantastic things, some of these things we really support not only throughout the agriculture, fisheries and forestry legislation but right throughout the government's work. It reduces red tape, creates clearer Commonwealth laws and improves the effectiveness and efficiency of regulation. I would encourage the government, having taken this very small step, to take some giant strides using this same underpinning principle right across its portfolios. It shows that the department has been listening to industry with the future in mind. The coalition obviously will be supporting measures by the government to reduce regulation and make things simpler for those who live outside capital cities and work in agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries.

The bill before us will make minor amendments to eight portfolio acts to improve the operation of the existing legislation and make some technical amendments. As I have mentioned, the bill will reduce red tape. This is fantastic considering that the current regulatory ratio for this government is 200 to one: 200 new regulations in, one out—quite a poor performance. So we are absolutely going to be supporting some streamlining efforts here today. It is going to reduce complexity and unnecessary regulation, and I welcome that. I particularly mention a group within the agricultural sector: the chemical suppliers. Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 is another bill we have been debating lately. The inquiry that we have been having in the Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport committeehas shown that the government's changes under that particular group of new regulations is going to be quite significant to industry.

The regulatory impact statement of that legislation called for 'better regulation of agriculture and veterinary chemicals'—better for whom? The Deloitte Access Economics report showed there had been increasing costs of $8 million per year to product registrations. How does that actually help farmers compete globally and become the food bowl for Asia? There is no clear cost-benefit analysis done, but then again this government has form. Maybe it almost has an aversion to cost benefit analysis. When we think of the NBN, if only it had done one it might tell a different story today. Chemical registration has increased by nearly a third, increasing not just the cost but also the time. This is the time that it takes people working in the sector to do the audit. As it is reviewed every five years, they are going to have to redo this.

One of the acts that will be amended is the wine legislation amendments. Schedules 1 and 2 of the bill make two amendments to the Wine Australia Corporation Act 1980. The first amendment relates to the label integrity program. We know how important having integrity and truth in labelling laws is, particularly to the agricultural sector. Research shows that Australians want to buy Australian products. They need to know that it is an Australian product. There needs to be no deception about what proportion or percentage of the product before them on their supermarket shelves is home-grown, homemade and owned by Australians. We need to be supporting labelling laws that give truth in labelling.

It is useful to know that these changes to the wine legislation amendments are supported and agreed to by the retailer, wholesaler and wine industry representative bodies. As Senator Joyce mentioned, it would be great to get all of those players around the supply chain on the same page when it comes to dealing with issues, particularly around supermarkets. There are significant issues in our community right throughout the supply chain in how suppliers and processors are dealt with all in the name of chasing a cheap product for the end consumer. I am sure that, if consumers were made aware of what was occurring further back in the supply chain, they would be more than happy to adjust their spending habits.

The second area that is going to be amended under this bill is the fisheries legislation amendment. Schedule 3 of the bill before us will amend theFisheries Management Act 1991to explain requirements for directions to close a fishery or a particular part of a fishery to fishing. The government has form in that area too. Whilst tightening regulation and reducing red and green tape is commendable in this bill, there are issues around fisheries legislation with this government that need putting on the record. We have argued this time and time again in this place over recent times.

We have the best managed fisheries in the world. We use science to manage those fisheries. It has been quite interesting how this government has chosen to be a subscriber of scientific method and scientific outcomes when it suits them. The Abel Tasman decision was a triumph of politics over science and one that increased our sovereign risk as a nation. If you go out into the community and talk to our fishers right around the country about this government's track record in supporting them, you will find a very different story.

The third area that will be addressed in the bill before us is the levies legislation amendment. Schedule 5 of the bill will amend the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act 1991 to allow the departmental secretary to consider all requests made by levy payers for the remission of penalties. It actually is providing recourse for those who are paying levies and for the variety of levies as we have moved to a user pays system across various aspects of our agriculture, forestry and fishery industries. At the moment, the provision applies only if the levy is over $5,000. This change will actually allow anyone who is paying a levy to make a request to the departmental secretary for the remission of that penalty. That is a good decision, because whilst $5,000 might not seem a lot of money to some people, for small businesses that are working within these industries and paying these levies that amount can be quite significant in terms of their operating costs.

Schedule 6 of the bill makes technical amendments to the Fisheries Management Act 1991, the Primary Industries and Energy Research and Development Act 1989, the Export Control Act 1982 and the Quarantine Act 1908. We support this bill and we welcome the changes the government has made, but when we talk about research into agriculture, yes, we can fiddle around and make technical amendments, as we are doing in this bill, but this government has not supported agricultural research. We have seen cuts to CSIRO funding and cuts to agricultural R&D over time and all the time. If we are going to develop and drive further innovation in our already highly efficient and effective agricultural sector then R&D funding is essential. Senator Edwards, in his contribution, made reference to the lack of undergraduate students in our agricultural education degrees, and that is a huge concern for those of us who have a passion for agriculture and sustainability of our local communities in regional Australia. We need to get more young people interested in and studying agriculture. If they are not going through at the undergrad level, we are not producing any great researchers at the postgrad level. I notice Senator Siewert nodding, as a proud holder of an agricultural science degree. We need to be producing a high proportion of undergrad ag scientists so that we can have the skills and expertise that are specific to our nation, to our farming methods and to our land and that will allow the research and development required to drive innovation for our agricultural industries. This government has poor form in that area—a lot of talk but no action.

The bill also contains amendments to modernise the language in two acts. Talking about modernising language reminds me of something I have been thinking about which does have a regional perspective. In looking at legislation around education—which I have been doing this week—I note that the government wants all schools to teach one of four Asian languages to all students in our nation. It can be Hindi, Mandarin, Japanese or Indonesian. My issue is that we are not graduating enough teachers from university who are specialised in these languages as it is now—let alone enough to be putting them right across the country. I am thinking of places like Wycheproof and Echuca, and right throughout regional areas. If we cannot fill our LOTE requirement in our capital cities, I am really struggling to understand how we are going to do it out in the regions.

The bill will also be amending the Export Control Act. That brings me to another Labor failure in the agriculture portfolio, and that would be the live cattle exports. I am sure that others have made worthy mention of this government's poor track record in dealing with that issue, such as the damaged relationships with our Indonesian neighbours and the crisis that is occurring on farm, even today, as farmers deal with the fallout of decisions made for political reasons, as a reaction to public pressure rather than in a leadership-focused manner.

The Quarantine Act 1908 will also be amended by the bill. When I think about the Quarantine Act and agriculture, I think about the New Zealand apples issue from last year. In my own home state the Goulburn Valley produces 80 per cent of the national pear crop and a significant amount of our national apple crop, and the biosecurity issues around the importation of New Zealand apples had a severe impact on that community in terms of confidence and in terms of what this government understands about how they live, how they work and what they require in terms of leadership from a government out there in the regions. This was all going on at the same time that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan consultations were happening right across that area of northern Victoria, and it led to huge uncertainty and a huge lack of confidence. If this government were serious about supporting agriculture, fisheries and forestry, it could do more around quarantine and biosecurity. It could do more to support our potato growers and our ginger growers. We have so many inquiries into biosecurity issues within the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee at the moment, it seems that this whole area needs to be looked at and the government needs to get serious about supporting our industries and protecting them—and I am not afraid to say 'protecting our local industries from international threats.' When I go back to Shepparton I think of the closed shops right around that area as a result of a combination of this government's response to environmental watering and their relationship with the Greens.

Schedules 7 and 8 make some other amendments. Schedule 7 will amend the Farm Household Support Act 1992 to remove specific references to departments and secretaries in the act so that when changes are made to the administrative arrangements orders the act will not require amendment. With respect to the Farm Household Support Act, I am still waiting to hear from the minister on an act of grace payment around farm exit grants. So, when we are talking about supporting farm households, they are doing it tough. As Senator Joyce outlined, they are not just dealing with a decrease in income; the increase in input costs for farms is ridiculous.

I was out at Tongala with the dairy farmers with Senator Joyce a few weeks ago, hearing their direct tales. This carbon tax was not actually going to affect agriculture, but the impact on our dairy farmers has been significant. There are people who cannot pump water because of the carbon tax. There are people who have to pay exorbitant electricity costs to keep their milk fresh and safe for human consumption, costs that have just risen exponentially under the carbon tax.

It was not just increased electricity costs and input costs; they were talking about increased labour costs and increased costs of fertiliser—right across the board, their inputs are increasing. You just cannot keep doing this. You cannot keep absorbing. Across the way says: 'It's only a one per cent increase. It's only a 0.5 per cent increase'. But, when your margin is less than four per cent, that very quickly adds up to an unsustainable business, and that is what we are dealing with. It is as a result of an increasing number of green and environmentalist agendas right throughout this government.

The coalition is interested in reducing not only red tape to our small businesses but also green tape. It is very disappointing that the federal government has walked away from negotiations with the states to streamline the assessment and approval processes under the EPBC Act. There was a commitment that all levels of government would work together to ensure that our environment is protected and our businesses can still make a dollar. It is not rocket science; we have just got to make it simpler, without sacrificing the environment. It is possible if we work together and worry less about the fallout in Brunswick and more about the actual outcomes.

I am reminded of the Prime Minister's visit to Western Sydney last week. I mirror the concerns of the National Party leader, Warren Truss, when he very sensibly asked the Prime Minister to spend a week in regional Australia, living and working with us, seeing firsthand the frustrations that we experience. No, we are not congested with traffic, but we have a lot of other challenges—don't we, Senator Ruston, out there—challenges that the Prime Minister would do well to actually see and feel firsthand—not just fly in for the photo op, for the flood or the fire, but to actually come and see how we live and work, and understand us. And then maybe this great bit of legislation before us, making minor amendments to a variety of bills around the agriculture, forestry and fisheries portfolio, would become a cause for the Prime Minister; maybe she could encourage the minister to seek other ways, more significant ways, to assist agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries. She is welcome down my way, if she wants to come down to Victoria. But I am sure there are multiple communities right throughout Australia that would love to host the Prime Minister for a week.

At the end of the day, regional Australia does produce the wealth. The agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries contribute 20 per cent, as Senator Joyce said, to our economic future. They are innovative; they are world's best practice. The way we are able to manage our environment and our agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries together and ensure best outcomes for both is world leading and we need to be celebrating that and supporting that. This government has—in the examples I have outlined for you—a poor track record over its time.

Despite the government, the department is very capable of taking action in this area. I would really like to commend them and encourage them to go further. It also shows this government is capable of reducing regulation, despite the modesty of the ones before us. I support this bill and commend it to the Senate.