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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6036

Mr TREVOR (7:41 PM) —Firstly, for the record, I say that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, has clearly stated that there is only one case in which the government would consider importing live foot-and-mouth virus samples, and that is if there were an actual outbreak in Australia and the government were advised that importing samples would contribute to the eradication of the disease. It is no secret that the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong already holds a limited number of exotic viruses that it has used for a number of years under strict conditions for diagnostic research and disease preparedness. The Australian Animal Health Laboratory is the only facility in Australia which has the appropriate biocontainment capacity for handling the virus. Professor Alan Bell, chief of CSIRO Livestock Industries, has recently advised that the laboratory has no plans to seek permission to import live foot-and-mouth virus for research purposes.

It should be noted, however, that the government has been advised that it may be useful to have imported pure strains to produce test antigens depending on the size of the response required. Some have suggested that the government could rely on the overseas laboratory in Thailand to carry out all necessary work related to FMD. However, that laboratory does not possess every possible known strain of FMD. Therefore, with respect, it is an act of gross vandalism by the opposition to suggest that the government rely on the work done by a foreign government to respond to an FMD outbreak in Australia. This motion—specifically clause 3—states quite clearly that we should not do all we possibly can to respond in the most effective way to an FMD outbreak.

Again, with respect, the coalition’s record on quarantine and biosecurity is terrible. Let us take some examples. Firstly, there was the equine influenza outbreak. Despite many warnings from the horse-racing sector and veterinarians, the Howard government presided over a quarantine system which was dysfunctional, leading to the equine influenza outbreak in August 2007. Indeed, in the past 10 years alone, on the coalition’s watch we saw white spot disease in prawns in Darwin in 2000; black sigatoka in bananas in 2001; fire ants in 2001; small hive beetle affecting bees in 2002; sugarcane smut in 2006; equine influenza; and citrus canker disease in 2004 in my electorate of Flynn, in Emerald.

Citrus canker, an exotic bacterial disease of citrus and other related plants, was detected in the Emerald district in June 2004. As the member for Maranoa will recall, it had a devastating impact on the Emerald community, which he once served. A pest quarantine area was established in July 2004 to prevent further spread and facilitate eradication of the disease. During 2004 and 2005 all high-risk host plants of citrus canker were removed from the pest quarantine area. Australia produces close to 700,000 tonnes of citrus each year. Citrus production is valued at $420 million annually. Major markets for Australian citrus include Hong Kong, Malaysia, the United States, Singapore, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Taiwan, Canada and Korea.

Citrus canker was declared eradicated from Queensland by the national management group on 23 January this year. All other states and territories have agreed to remove all citrus canker related movement and market access restrictions. As with the system that eradicated citrus canker, the Rudd Labor government recognises the importance of a rigorous system to minimise the risk of pests and disease, particularly as globalisation and climate change increase these threats. The government is now working towards implementing the reforms outlined in the Beale report, which are aimed at building a better system which fosters partnerships, improves governance structures and targets risks.