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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31769

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (11:33 AM) —On Tuesday some 7,000 men, women and children marched in the streets of Shepparton. In the freezing weather they came together and moved slowly in a funeral procession following the hearses and the grim reapers to the local Shepparton oval. And there, after speeches, a match was put to a huge pile of fruit boxes and, as they burned, people renewed their commitment to fighting as hard as they can an unstoppable disease called fire blight.

Those 7,000 people were there to show their support for the growers, cannery workers, drivers, packers, farm suppliers and the individuals and families who depend on the fruit and apple or pome industry for a good life in this great country. They were there to insist that only the best science is used and prevails, so that apples from any fire blighted country are banned or there are such strict and tough conditions put in place that there can never be any chance of the disease breaking through our quarantine barriers. And let us not kid ourselves: this disease, apple and pear fire blight, would wipe out our pear industry and cripple apples as they are grown in this country.

Biosecurity Australia itself states that the loss of fruit, higher costs and lost income would see a 55 to 60 per cent permanent decline in apple and pear production in this country. Our dairy farmers know what it is like to lose 50 per cent of their income. We know that you cannot survive a 55 to 60 per cent drop in your production and associated income. Noone would be left standing. Their effort would be wiped out with such a loss. As well as the disease itself, apple and pear fire blight, there are another 21 quarantinable pests that can hitchhike a ride on fresh New Zealand apples—New Zealand is currently the country which is pushing forward to see their product exported to Australia.

Our apple and pear fruit growers are the smartest and best in the country, particularly those in the Goulburn and Murray valleys. The cannery, SPC Ardmona, is an Aussie icon. It depends on pears and the production surrounding it. Our pome fruit industry has worked smart and hard and invested hundreds of millions of dollars over generations to build a clean, green image for the domestic and export markets. Many of our growers arrived as migrants with little more than a single suitcase. Today, they and their families are the backbone of the industry, along with those who came in the 1800s. We are proud of the Goulburn Valley and the Murray Valley and the sweat and tears that have gone into making this area the food bowl of Australia. Most of Australia's pears grow in the Goulburn Valley. We have so much to lose if this disease gets into the country and gets loose in our orchards.

Pears do not survive fire blight. Sure, some apple trees do, but you need to drench them in antibacterial sprays and continuously cut back the black, dead and dying branches. In the USA, the original home of fire blight, the disease adds 30 per cent to the chemical costs alone, not to mention the damage done to their clean, green credentials, to the environment and to human health. This disease could take hold in your garden or in the host woody weeds along the roads on its way to establishing itself in orchards, and you never get rid of it. No country has ever eradicated fire blight. It is the mad cow disease of fruit, but it does not hurt humans; it just kills trees and the communities that grow those trees.

We have had a ban on imports of fresh apples from New Zealand for over 80 years. Sadly for them, they got the disease just after the First World War. The local New Zealanders who joined the march in Shepparton the other day—the New Zealanders who are now part of our fruit and dairy community in the region—joined with locals, stood shoulder to shoulder and said, `We know what it is like to live with fire blight; don't let it happen here.' The rules of international trade, of course, mean that Biosecurity has to process a New Zealand application for removing the apple import ban. New Zealand has asked that the ban be replaced with a set of apple treatments or a protocol that removes the risk of bacteria getting a free ride into our country. That is precisely what the people of Shepparton were asking and do ask of Biosecurity Australia; no more, no less. They ask that Biosecurity Australia correctly and accurately access and acknowledge the risk and then put the world's toughest set of measures in place to fight the fruit industry's toughest disease so we can end this debate forever. Our pome fruit industry must have security and protection from disease. It does not want trade protection; it does not ask for that. This is nothing to do with trade.

Finally, let me pay tribute to Annie Donaldson, who could not be at the march although she had been one of the key planners. She was in hospital battling a very serious disease. Annie Donaldson's fight reflects the spirit of the sorts of people who battle in the Goulburn Valley and I ask that, Annie, you battle on; our thoughts are with you.