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Thursday, 25 March 2004
Page: 27324

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (9:43 AM) —This is not the first time that I have spoken in parliament about the consequences of a bacterial disease called apple and pear fire blight, which we do not have in this country. It is a devastating problem. Once a country has this disease, it cannot be eradicated. It makes the growing of apples extraordinarily high cost and environmentally damaging because you must use antibiotic sprays such as streptomycin. We are not even fully aware of what the extent of the environmental damage would be if we had to start using those sorts of sprays in our orchards, which still depend on insect and bee pollination, for example.

In the case of pears, you do not have the disease apple and pear fire blight and a viable pear industry. Pears are simply wiped out. Pears are the fundamental building block of our fruit manufacturing industry in Australia. Over 80 per cent of Australia's pears are grown in my electorate of Murray, and without those healthy pear orchards SPC Ardmona would not be able to do the sort of job that they are internationally renowned for in canning some of the best fruit cocktails and fruit juices, because pear is the fundamental ingredient.

As well, in regard to the current requests from New Zealand to have us import their fresh apples, there are other free riders—a number of pest species which not only infect apples and other pome fruit but can get loose on other commercial crops and into our own indigenous flora. Of course, the Rosaceae family includes indigenous Rosaceae species in Australia, and we are not fully aware of what apple and pear fire blight would do if it infected these indigenous Rosaceae family specimens. All up, this is extraordinarily bad news should our country get this disease. We have been mercifully protected so far.

Biosecurity Australia have to respond to requests from a country to review the quarantine status of its product, and just recently they have had to reinvestigate the issue of exports from New Zealand in the form of fresh apples. Biosecurity Australia have brought out a draft interim risk assessment. They have just, mercifully, extended the time for community and stakeholder feedback, based on science and technology, challenging the protocol they have proposed be put in place.

I commend the industry, which is working very hard in a very limited time to demonstrate that Biosecurity Australia has not put up a sufficiently strong protocol as a proposal at this point in time. There is a great deal of information and evidence still out there in the international and local scientific community which says that this is a disease you cannot avoid with simple measures like chlorine dipping of apples, visual inspections and cool storage for six weeks. Of course, we may only argue on the science; this is not a trade issue. I know my colleagues on the other side of the chamber share the concern about this disease, and we certainly do support the work of Biosecurity Australia. Their reputation is strong—they are a good agency—but in this case we want to make sure that the science is right. (Time expired)