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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6034

Mr ADAMS (7:26 PM) —It is very good to have a discussion about this issue. I spent some of my youth out in the electorate of the honourable member for Maranoa, in shearing sheds—

Mr Bruce Scott —That long ago!

Mr ADAMS —A long time ago. It was a great experience and I remember it well.

The issue of the report on biosecurity is an important one. It is a report of some good work and it needs the full attention of the parliament and the government. To put the words importer risk analysis and the national interest into some context for the member’s motion, you really cannot have the full national interest of what the cost is to the government and to the country from losing costs and benefits. I think the panel would be quite happy to look at that approach but, of course, it is not consistent with the broader implications. I think the panel that wrote the report noted that the approach would not be consistent with Australia’s obligation under the SPS Agreement with the World Trade Organisation. You start to get into those trade restriction requirements and issues of non-tariff barriers et cetera.

Australia has an important and strong interest in having a less restrictive agriculture trade environment in the world—and we lead some of those fights. The Cairns Group, others and trade ministers have fought those battles and we have a managing role to keep together our trade in the world for not only agriculture but lots of other things that we produce. We are an exporting country; our wealth comes from exports. So we have to really approach these things in a pretty sophisticated manner. I saw the words of the panel in the report on dealing with that full national interest issue and it is an important one.

With the problems with the quarantine system, we looked at border protection since 1901. Keeping things out, stopping everything and zero tolerance have really been our thinking up until now, but that has changed over the last 20 years. People still think that, and our legislation reflects that. There is a need to look at things in a much broader way. We do have to come to grips with risk analysis. We need to look at where things come from in the world and at the risks and then make some analysis. That is the important issue.

All of the problems with the quarantine system, which has been around a long time, have led the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to seek an independent review to provide Australia with a more rigorous system to minimise the risk of pests and diseases entering our country. With globalisation and climate change the threats are enormously increased. We need to take them seriously and deal with them. With the present swine flu we think even more so about the increased international movement of people and goods, particularly from the areas that present higher biosecurity risks, and about the complications in identifying the risks at borders.

In my own state of Tasmania we have had fights about salmon and other things. We are an island on the periphery of this big island. We have fewer bugs and other things than many other areas. Our communities have a very high awareness of the value of biosecurity in securing access to quality-conscious, high-value and niche markets, especially overseas. We have done very well as a state in that area and hope to do well in the future. Being free of certain pathogens and other things in the biosecurity area gives us that opportunity.

We need very tight security across the country to ensure that foreign pathogens do not enter unexpectedly. We must be prepared. I believe we can be. Last year the minister released the Beale report, an independent review on quarantine and biosecurity arrangements. The government’s preliminary response is to accept the recommendations of the review in principle. Minister Burke felt that the report was an important step in this government’s commitment to improve Australia’s biosecurity scheme. It provides a comprehensive blueprint for meeting the biosecurity challenges of the future. While we agreed in principle, further detailed considerations will be critical to implementing the new scheme.

The honourable member for Maranoa raised recommendation 59. There will always be concerns about the implications of importing the foot-and-mouth virus or any other pathogen. However, he may have misinterpreted what the minister for agriculture said. He has already stated that the government would only consider importing live foot-and-mouth virus samples if there was an actual outbreak in Australia and it was advised that importing samples would contribute to the eradication of the disease. He was pretty specific. The report went further to say that, should an import permit application for foot-and-mouth disease virus be proposed, there would be extensive consultation with industry and other stakeholders before lodgement of a formal request. So, although the government’s response may take a while, the in-principle agreement to recommendation 59 should not be interpreted as automatic entry for, or agreement to, the importation of any disease agent, including the foot-and-mouth disease virus.

Currently, there is no such application before government and the government does not intend to support any application at this stage. If we had to deal with an actual outbreak of foot-and-mouth then we might need to allow the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong to take undertake diagnostic research and be prepared for dealing with the crisis. We know that this has proved valuable in work that was done during the highly pathogenic avian influenza and, in 2008, in the case of the equine influenza outbreak. The Geelong laboratory was able to quickly confirm and identify the virus by using reference strains held in secure storage. The laboratory’s access to virus agents enabled a faster and more effective response than would otherwise have been the case and the rapidity of the response was critically important to Australia’s success in the eradication of the disease.

I understand the member’s concern and I would be one of the first to stand up for the strictest biosecurity regime, but we are still getting dangerous pathogens here, despite all. I do not see that we are going to get rid of those by thinking—(Time expired)