Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 946

Mr McVEIGH(9.18) —The Government is causing extreme and increasing concern among Australia's livestock industry over its confused and apparently changing attitude towards the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. Initial concern was caused by the Government's failure in the Budget to allocate any funds needed for sufficient new positions required to maintain the Laboratory's commissioning and setting to work program. It failed to provide sufficient dollars for the continuing development of the Laboratory's vaccine system and it failed to provide funds for Australian scientists to go overseas to study foot and mouth disease, such recommendation having been made by the responsible Australian Science and Technology Council. This is all that is required to commission a facility, the total value of which has been estimated to be $157m.

This action of the Hawke Government has thrown the entire schedule to commission and make the Laboratory operational by the end of 1984 completely up in the air. No one, not even those currently working at the Laboratory, has the remotest idea of what is going on. On behalf of the Opposition I issued a statement on 31 August calling on the Government to clarify immediately its policy with regard to the future of the Laboratory. But we heard absolutely nothing from the Government until the Minister for Science and Technology (Mr Barry Jones) made that rather extraordinary statement to the House on 6 September, following a dorothy dixer addressed to him, that the Government 'is very concerned about the future of ANAHL'. That statement has clarified absolutely nothing. The Minister told us that while the ANAHL building has been under construction a revolution has been taking place in the diagnosis of animal disease. So what? Why does this so-called revolution-I am not questioning whether it has taken place-have to have any effect on government policy towards the Laboratory? The truth is that it does not. The Government is merely using a difference of scientific opinion as an excuse for not maintaining its commitment to this vital project.

Mr Dawkins —Who wrote this, Tom?

Mr McVEIGH —Keep quiet you political masturbator. It is no exaggeration to say that the Cattle Council of Australia is outraged at the Government's ineptitude over this issue. The Cattle Council has been totally unable to get any satisfactory answers out of the Minister. It, like everyone else, does not know what is going on in the Government's mind and it cannot understand why, all of a sudden, the future of ANAHL is at risk. The National Farmers Federation is similarly inclined. Perhaps the Government, in its traditional ignorance of rural issues, believes that just because farmer organisations were, in the main, opposed to the importation of live foot and mouth disease virus they do not want this Laboratory to proceed to full operation. If that is so this Government is more foolish and more ignorant than I thought.

On 6 September the Minister for Science and Technology told us that a ministerial committee will be set up to consider the future of ANAHL. The committee will consist of the Minister for Science and Technology, the Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen), the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes)-because the Laboratory is in his electorate-the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) and the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett). Mr Deputy Speaker, for your information this will be the seventh review to be undertaken on the ANAHL project. All previous reviews found that ANAHL was needed; its functions were valid. I understand that this great gathering of Ministers will hold its first meeting on Tuesday, that it will consider a list of set questions-they would not have enough sense to think up their own-and after that, who knows? The ministerial committee may never reconvene. Irrespective of whether or not it does one thing is abundantly clear. This ministerial committee is hardly going to give the project a thorough consideration. It all smacks of a one-day wonder affair, a simple endorsement by a group of non-caring Ministers of a policy decision that has already been taken. They will not fool anyone.

The Australian of 2 September reported that the review will look at the Laboratory's viability after the Government's decision earlier this year not to allow the import of live foot and mouth virus for research. Again I ask: 'Why does everything about this Laboratory seemingly have to hang on the foot and mouth question?' Is the Government trying to say that all this facility can do its work on foot and mouth disease? I thought we had enough of that from Government Ministers when they answered questions. What about other exotic diseases such as African swine fever and blue tongue disease? The Government has not heard about them; it is not interested in them. What about the need for training veterinarians in the recognition of these diseases and the need for continuing research, vaccine production and testing? It is not all foot and mouth disease and nothing more. There is a far wider scope and need for this Laboratory which demands that it proceed according to schedule.

The Australian report of 2 September went on to say that the ministerial review would examine a number of options, including mothballing the Laboratory, operating it at a reduced level and deferring its opening until 1985 or 1986. I repeat: The option to mothball the Laboratory, which from all I hear around the traps is the direction in which it is heading, must not be allowed to happen. It is general knowledge that the Minister for Science and Technology wants to mothball it and so do some of his colleagues. This morning on one of the radio programs I heard Mr Ralph Sarich indicate his view on the Minister for Science and Technology, the man who knows nothing about anything. Obviously the Government is so dim witted and ill informed that it cannot understand the need for ANAHL. The Minister for Primary Industry has in the past, as is his custom when he is faced with a hostile audience, expressed support not only for the Laboratory but also for the use of live viruses in it. On 5 May 1982, the present Minister for Primary Industry, the fellow who is not in Cabinet, said:

I am of the view that if we have a maximum security laboratory and the security is maximum there should be no inhibition about having a live virus in it.

That is what the present Minister for Primary Industry said in this place 12 months ago. His view is different from the view of the Minister for Science and Technology. So that is the Minister's view, but we all know that he gets rolled all the time-he never wins. So we cannot place too much confidence in his ability to sway the argument.

Once again the sincerity of Labor's election promises comes under very serious question. Labor's policy for agriculture document said that the facilities of ANAHL would be developed. I call on this Government and this Minister to state here and now whether that election commitment will be carried out or whether, like so many of their other election commitments it will be dishonoured. I hope that they will not be as deceitful in this case as they have been in all other cases.

The Government-whether through the Minister for Science and Technology or the Minister who never wins anything, the Minister for Primary Industry-owes an immediate explanation to our livestock industries. It also owes an explanation to those who have put very many hours of dedication into bringing the ANAHL project to the stage it has now reached. Furthermore it owes an explanation to the international scientific community. The comments by the Minister for Science and Technology so far have done absolutely nothing to clarify what has become a mass of confusion that he has created.