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Tuesday, 14 June 2011
Page: 5978

Dr STONE (Murray) (17:49): I understand, Minister Burke, that you are going to answer these at a later time given your acting—

Mr Burke interjecting

Dr STONE: I would like to continue with the biosecurity questions. On page 64 of DAFF's budget statement it says, under program expenses, that for 2010-2011 there was $483,000,191 appropriated or available. This drops right down in 2014-2015 to $416 million; it drops from $483 million down to $416 million. Obviously that is of great concern to those of us who have rural constituencies who depend on biosecurity activity and expertise to keep our fruit and vegetables and meat products safe. Following up what the previous speaker said, we are most concerned that there is a cost-cutting exercise where it now seems that the protocols New Zealand has in place for their domestic market in apples and pears are going to be acceptable for fresh apple exports into Australia. Is this in fact a cost-cutting measure, given the incredible reduction in program expenses? It is listed on page 64, if you are looking for it.

We are concerned that the industry itself cannot get access to the document that is going to drive the domestic protocols for fresh apple inspections before they come to Australia. We are very hopeful that this is not simply a reflection of the cost cutting that is going on in the government in relation to program expenses, because we have only until 4 July before those domestic protocols in New Zealand are, apparently, going to be accepted by Australia as adequate for exporting fresh fruit to Australia. Could the minister please ask Minister Ludwig to explain how, with that substantial reduction in program expenses, we can even maintain our current levels of biosecurity protection, much less increase them, given the huge additional workload that fresh apples will add to biosecurity's activities?

I would also like to ask when the Western Australian climate change pilot—which is, we understand, to replace exceptional circumstances design and policy in Australia—might be completed and whether that is going to be tested in the southern states, where there is a very different seasonal scenario, especially in relation to irrigation districts. Where exceptional circumstances has ceased—in particular in my part of the world, in northern Victoria—and has been followed, unfortunately, by floods, the damage from which is still impacting on productivity, is there any interim measure? Does the budget have any provisions for this interim period between the end of exceptional circumstances support and the new program, which we understand will be called something like 'climate change adaptation'? The Western Australian pilot is the one I am referring to.

I am also very concerned about the RIRDC and the CAC Act bodies Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation resources statement. Again we see a substantial reduction in funding. We have to have ongoing research into greater efficiencies in Australian agriculture, whether it be water use efficiency or being able to grow more for less, being able to retain or keep costs down. Research and development funding seems to be less. I am referring to page 165, where we have, for example, actual available appropriation of $40,382,000. That seems to decline very substantially into the year 2011-2012. As you know, Australia is one of the countries that put the least amount of support into agriculture. When you compare us with Korea, Japan, the United States and most of our trading competitors and partners, the Australian government puts one of the smallest amounts of money in the world into agricultural support. We are suggesting that, if that amount is eroded even further, we are in for very serious times.