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Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Page: 1545


Senator RUSTON (South Australia) (11:19): A number of the things raised by Senator McKenzie are fantastic examples of where the agricultural sector in this country is overburdened by the weight of compliance regulation and red tape.

I stand to speak on the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2012. This bill seeks to make a range of amendments on a range of different bills. I would like to briefly comment on the wine legislation amendments, but I would like to reserve the majority of my comments today for the States Grants (War Service Land Settlement) Act 1952, which is to be repealed as part of this bill.

I was involved in the development of the wine integrity program that the wine industry developed a number of years ago. It is a very good example of a labelling program. However, nobody in this place should be fooled that that was the most extraordinarily difficult program to put together. The Winemakers' Federation, the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation and their state affiliate associations went through an inordinate amount of trouble trying to get some sort of consensus position about just developing that one homogenous product, the labelling program. So I think we would be well advised to take on some of the examples and the experiences of the development of that program when we have a look at some of the wider labelling programs that we are looking at.

Certainly, labelling has been the perennial issue, particularly with regard to identification of Australian product and Australian produce and the differentiation between our clean home-grown product in Australia and imported products. The debate is obviously further confused when we get out into the wider marketplace: 'product of Australia', 'made in Australia', 'packaged in Australia'; and the issues of seasonality, consistency of supply and ingredients that are not available in Australia. I would suggest that we would do well to have a look at the experience of the wine industry's Label Integrity Program in the process of trying to develop a labelling program for the benefit of Australian producers. And, in remembering this, we certainly need to have a look at the Greens bill that has been put before this place. We will see that it is fraught with a lot of danger if we try to go forward and make a one-size-fits-all labelling program, notwithstanding the fact that there is an urgent need for such a program.

It is actually with a level of sadness that I am here today to witness, I assume, with the passage of this bill, the repealing of the State Grants (War Service Land Settlement) Act 1952. The region that I was born in, that I was brought up in and that I now, again, live in was built as a soldier settlement. Post the First World War a number of soldier settlers came and lived in towns such as Cobdogla, Waikerie, Berri, Cadell, Chaffey and the town in which I live, Renmark. Some horrendous mistakes were made by these soldier settlers because they certainly did not have the kind of information about irrigation technologies and the things that we now so take for granted. They had no idea how to get access to market, to move their products to where they were to be purchased. Obviously, the tyranny of distance, following the First World War, was quite significant in comparison to our ability to quickly move product and produce as we do today. And bear in mind that a lot of this product was perishable, so it was not a case of putting it on a truck or a dray being pulled by a horse and letting it wander off to Adelaide in due course, because the product just would not get there. So there were many mistakes in the first soldier settlement in the region in which I live.

But, following the Second World War, we had another influx of soldier settlement properties, particularly in the town of Loxton, which was developed post Second World War and which is probably the major town we are referring to today with the repealing of this act. A number of other areas in South Australia were also developed as soldier settlements following the Second World War—places such as Parndana on Kangaroo Island and Padthaway in the south-east of our state. These were thriving regional communities. They had extraordinarily strong cultures. They were built on a sense of 'can do' in the face of extraordinary adversity. They had wonderful organisations of people who got together—the foundation of organisations such as the CWA, Civil Defence and RSL, which were all hugely active participants in the community. They built these communities into very strong, self-sufficient communities. They had no reliance on the outside world for what they did.

As a child I can remember that, if there were a bushfire in the surrounding area, my father and everybody else's father would all jump in somebody's ute. There would be 10 guys with shovels in the back of the ute. They would go off and they would dig firebreaks. Nobody put up their hand and said: 'Where's the government funding? Where's the front-end loader or the grader that is going to turn up, that somebody else will provide?' They just went out there and did it themselves. This pioneering spirit that was developed in these communities following the soldier settlements, I think, is intrinsic in the culture that still largely exists in these communities.

Another great thing that was born of the soldier settlements was the cooperatives. The growers, by necessity, got together and formed cooperatives so that they could actually market and sell their products. Of course, in those days it was difficult to sell individually from the farm gate. We did not have the tourism drive-bys where you could pop in and buy a bottle of wine at the cellar door. Farmers had to have a way of getting their products into the marketplace. So they saw the wisdom of forming cooperatives and, in the process of forming those co-operatives, they also retained control of their product well past the farm gate—something, unfortunately, that is being eroded over time. We now see our farmers not having the control over their product that they used to. Most of our co-ops have folded, they have been corporatised or they have been bought out by big players. The big end of town now has a huge amount of control over our farming communities and it is probably one of the great reasons that our farmers out there are possibly struggling. But, as I said, the spirit of these communities is still alive and I think it can be rekindled. But the fabric of this is slowly being eroded and we would be very well advised to take a good look at it now and try to resurrect it before it is completely gone. The productivity of this country has been built on the back of these communities, which are self-sufficient and which did not rely on government handouts, which they are now being forced to do simply because of the overburden of things that are being forced on them.

There is no doubt and we have to acknowledge that things such as exchange rates and the globalisation of the world marketplace and commodity prices are all having a major impact on our farmers at the moment. There is probably not a great deal we can do about that. But in looking at that we also have to realise there are a number of things that are under our control. I commend this bill today because it actually seeks to improve:

… the effectiveness and efficiency of regulation, reducing red tape and creating clearer Commonwealth laws, the proposed amendments will reduce complexity and unnecessary regulation, provide consistency, amend outdated or unclear provisions and reduce the likelihood of reader confusion.

Those are very admirable aims that are being sought in this particular bill. We commend it for that. But the reality is that it really does not go very far when you consider the enormity of the things that this bill is seeking to achieve out of the five acts that it is looking to work on. It really does not go very far. Senator McKenzie outlined an absolute myriad of different burdens that are currently placed on our farmers and a myriad of different acts and regulations. I commend the bill, but I certainly suggest that we need to go a lot further.

Just this morning I was dealing with an issue where red tape and compliance costs and the unnecessary overburden of government regulation and involvement in a process, which I do not necessarily think the government needs to be involved in to the kind of degree that it is, have seen a small Riverland grower lose a lucrative export market. Why? Because of the cost of export certification. Mr Punturiero, who is a small Riverland grower—he and his wife have a small citrus orchard in Renmark—has been exporting a few pallets of very high-quality limes every year into New Zealand. He does it for a very small period and exports only a very small number of pallets. Last year the cost of certification for his shed, because New Zealand is a market that requires certification much the same way as we require certification for products coming into Australia, was $500. This year he will have to pay $1,800 because he will have the benefit of a rebate of almost $6,000. Next year he will have to pay $8,350 to export the same small quantity of limes into New Zealand that he paid $500 for the privilege of exporting last year. The reality of all this is that he is not going to export them. He cannot possibly afford to pay $1,000 a pallet to AQIS, or the department, just so that they can come in for a couple of hours and say that his shed meets the phytosanitary requirements that are demanded by this market. Last week, along with Senator Xenophon, I moved a motion in this place to ask AQIS if it would review this particular licensing system, because it is totally and utterly discriminatory and discouraging to small- and medium-sized growers like Mr Punturiero.

Cost-saving reforms were supposed to have accompanied the move to cost recovery that was agreed to by both sides of the House when it was brought in, but what we have seen here is that the cost recovery activities have been introduced but we have not seen those cost-saving reforms that were supposed to overlay those changes. So, instead of seeing a situation where there might have been a small increase in the amount of money that was necessary for Mr Punturiero to pay for his certification, we now see a situation where it is now so exorbitant that he plainly cannot afford to pay it, and in the process of doing that has now lost—at least for this year, until we can get this matter sorted out—a very lucrative, albeit small, market into New Zealand.

It is not just horticultural industries that are being faced with this burden. I have had calls from people in the meat industry and the vegetable industry—it is across the board that the little guys are just not able to afford this amount of money. The really stupid part of all this is that we, as a country, end up being the net loser. Small growers, seasonal exporters, niche market exporters and growers who see a market opportunity will all be excluded from being able to export their products. These exporters—along with the big guys, who I acknowledge are obviously very important in the marketplace, but even the little exporters—earn export dollars. They are the ones who give us the plus side on our balance of trade, and let us not make too fine a point of it: those people that export are the ones that we really need to be looking after. We also need to realise that often a dollar spent in encouraging an export market to be developed or to be pursued ends up with a huge multiplier effect in terms of the money that is returned to the Australian economy by virtue of that.

When we pass this legislation today—which I am assuming we will—we need to be very aware of the consequences out there on the ground of putting in place legislative change, compliance and the burden of bureaucracy. As has been mentioned previously, one of the great things that we need to be doing is to encourage our research and development, which is something we have been cutting back on again. We need to encourage research and development, because it is our only competitive advantage in Australia. We certainly are not going to be able to compete in international markets on price, so we need to make sure that we are the smartest, the cleverest and the most innovative, as we have been in the past. I refer to this in terms of taking it back to the soldier settlers of the community, in which I grew up in. Those guys were innovative. We used to sell our irrigation technology into Israel. We now see that Israel has a huge irrigation technology business, and they are now selling to the rest of the world. We need to get back to a position where Australia is at the forefront of leading in technology, innovation and making sure that we take advantage of selling to the rest of the world what we do so fabulously well.

There were bills referred to this morning such as the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 that was supposed to decrease the amount of burden on growers for compliance. It seems a little odd that we can have an extra $2 million that has to be picked up by cost recovery to growers and that is not considered a burden. The Biosecurity Bill 2012 is another example, where the burden is on industry to prove. If we put as much effort into making the people who import into this country comply as we put into making our exporters comply when they send product offshore, I am sure we would see a better balance. I am not going to go on about the carbon tax and the increasing costs and import costs, but it is fair to say they are very real and, when you own a business in rural and regional Australia and you are fighting all the other things you have to fight, the increasing costs that we have seen, particularly in relation to those people who require refrigeration, have been exorbitant.

While I am very happy today to support this bill as it does, in some small way, address the red tape, it highlights to me the huge job we have to unravel the bureaucratic burden that farmers have to deal with every day. So, with a great deal of sadness, I acknowledge the need to repeal the act in relation to the soldier settlements from the community that I grew up in, and I hope that, maybe, in the amending of this bill, we will see further amendments in further bills to get rid of the burden and the red tape that face our growers so that maybe the soldier settlements in the communities—the strong and vibrant communities which I and many other people from the country grew up in—can be restored for the future.