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Thursday, 11 November 1976
Page: 2596

Mr MARTIN (BANKS, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that negotiations have been going on for many years for the introduction of legislation to grant patent rights to the breeders of plants, which are commonly known as plant breeders' rights? Is it a fact that this type of patent legislation is in existence in most developed countries, including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, most European countries and New Zealand? Is it also a fact that this lack of patent protection is stultifying the commercial development of better breeds of plants, grain and horticultural products, to the disadvantage of Australian agricultural production? When can plant breeders expect some action from the Government in this respect?

Mr SINCLAIR (NEW ENGLAND, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Primary Industry) -I thank the honourable gentleman for the question. It relates to an area which has concerned me for a good many years. He may not be aware that, unfortunately, within the States there is some considerable opposition to the proposition for the introduction of legislaton to protect plant breeders' rights. Therefore it has been through consultation in the Australian Agricultural Council that the Commonwealth has attempted to develop legislation that might be acceptable. It is of course, as now interpreted, quite essential that there be complementary legislation if the plant breeders' rights are to be effectively implemented. Without State concurrence it is impossible to extend the protection to innovation in plant varieties that the whole concept envisages.

Over the years a great deal of original work has been done in various areas in Australia in developing new plant varieties. In a number of areas there are specific establishments which have evolved new plant species. These species have been propagated. Indeed, the extent of the Australian wheat crop, in spite of the lateness of this season, illustrates the effectiveness of the work of, for example, the Narrabri Wheat Research Institute in the electorate of my colleague the Minister for Health. There are a good many private institutions as well as government sponsored institutions- that one being under the sponsorship of the University of Sydneyoperating in the field.

My concern is to try to extend the opportunities for plant breeding in Australia. I am sure that the concept is worthwhile. The Agricultural Council has given some support to extending the scheme. I can only hope that those States which are so strongly opposed to the concept at the moment might see the advantage in the long term for Australia. Indeed, I am told that if we were able to establish plant breeders' rights we might well be able to introduce new varieties from overseas which might further develop the agricultural potential of this country. Given the uncertainties of returns to primary producers, I think this might be worth while. It is an area which I can assure the honourable member has my personal support and the support of the Federal Government. I can only hope that those States which are not inclined to support the proposal at the moment might see the advantages that would flow to their own producers if it were to be adopted.

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