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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6038

Mr HALE (7:51 PM) —I acknowledge the member for Maranoa for putting this motion to the House and I am happy to add my contribution to the points he has raised. I would like to reiterate what the speakers on this side of the House have already said and that is that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 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 only if there was an actual outbreak in Australia and if the government was advised that importing samples would contribute to the eradication of the disease.

Recently I had the privilege of hosting the Prime Minister’s country task force in my electorate of Solomon. We had the pleasure of meeting with many primary producing industry groups. One of the groups we met with was the NT Cattlemen’s Association. NTCA Executive Director, Luke Bowen, does a fantastic job in representing the industry and I know the industry speaks very highly of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the work that he has done. They say that he is possibly the best ag minister they have ever had—and that includes the member for Wide Bay.

I am passionate about this issue because members of the NT Cattlemen’s Association successfully manage in excess of 62,000 square kilometres or 9.6 per cent of the Australian landscape. The pastoral industry generates over $300 million in direct benefits and flow-on benefits worth more than $800 million to the local NT economy. That is about 75 per cent of the NT’s gross value of agricultural production. Last year over 330,000 cattle were exported live through the Port of Darwin, a figure I know the NT Livestock Exporters Association is very proud of.

The significance of the cattle industry to the Territory is not something new to the proactive Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. In fact, I know the minister thoroughly enjoyed a very rewarding experience at a cattle station up in the Territory recently and only last week he was in the Kimberley opening new export yards and promoting Indigenous Australians in primary industry. The Beale review is an independent review of Australia’s quarantine and biodiversity arrangements. The report is an important step in our government’s commitment to improve Australia’s biodiversity system. It provides a comprehensive blueprint for meeting the biodiversity challenges of the future and in principle we have to accept the recommendations of the review.

The chief of the CSIRO Livestock Industries, Professor Alan Bell, has advised that there are no plans to seek permission to import live foot and mouth disease virus for research purposes and that only after an extensive consultation process with industry and other stakeholders would they lodge a formal request should an import permit application for foot and mouth disease virus be required. In opposition, Labor expressed grave concerns about Australia’s quarantine and biodiversity arrangements. As an example, despite the many warnings from the horse racing sector and veterinarians, the previous government were in control of a quarantine system which was dysfunctional. It led to the equine influenza outbreak back in 2007.

The then agriculture minister, the member for Wide Bay, ignored written warnings from the Australian Racing Board not to downgrade post-arrival equine quarantine inspections in 2004. He even wrote to the Australian Racing Board declaring that the outbreak could not occur under the current AQIS post-arrival protocols. Unfortunately for Australia’s racing industry and all the others affected, we did have the outbreak. History will tell us that he was wrong. And, fair dinkum, now we have this private member’s motion effectively wanting this government to state on record that if we were in the unfortunate position of an actual outbreak of foot and mouth disease in Australia, the member for Maranoa wants us to do nothing—just like the member for Wide Bay did nothing in 2004.

The Rudd government recognises the importance of the rigorous system to minimise the risk of pests and disease, particularly as globalisation and climate change increase the threats. This government takes biosecurity seriously. This government listens to experts and industry, and this government takes decisive action. I have a lot of respect for the honourable member. In his first speech in 1990 he said:

This Government has the responsibility to put in place legislation which not only deals with today’s issues but also has a beneficial effect on our children’s future. Today’s children are tomorrow’s adults. Their future rests with today’s decision-makers.

Surely this is a responsible thing to do to guarantee the future of our children. As a government, we do all that is possible to make sure that we can respond to threats to Australia’s biosecurity in the most effective way.