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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 137

Mr COULTON (ParkesThe Nationals Chief Whip) (19:20): I might just comment on the contribution my colleague that preceded me made. There would be very few if any people in the House that would have a more intimate knowledge on biosecurity than that member for Calare. In his previous role as shadow agricultural minister, he was very active in that space. Indeed, I believe it was his advice that got our current agriculture minister through a couple of sticky situations. I am very privileged to be following his contribution.

This biosecurity package of bills consists of five bills: The Biosecurity Bill 2014 seeks to replace the Quarantine Act; the Biosecurity (Consequential Amendment Transitional Provisions) Bill to repeal the Quarantine Act 1908, to update referred references to other Commonwealth legislation, and to ensure the biosecurity risk continues to be managed during the transition from the Quarantine Act to this new legislation; and the three quarantine charges amendment bills will repeal the Quarantine Charges (Collection) Bill and allow charges to be collected under the Biosecurity Bill 2014.

As we heard in other contributions, the Quarantine Act 1908 has been in place for over a century now and has been amended no less than 50 times. During this time, Australia's biosecurity risks have changed significantly as a result of passenger and trade volumes increasing and from imports from a growing number of countries, and new and sea craft technologies. The biosecurity legislation provides a strong regulatory framework that enables the management of biosecurity risks now and enhances Australia's capacity to manage biosecurity risks into the future. The Biosecurity Bill 2014 provides the primary legislative means and modern regulatory framework for the Australian government to manage the risk of pests and disease entering Australian territory causing harm to animal, plant and human health, and to the environment and the economy. The bill is designed to manage biosecurity risks, including the risk of listed human diseases, entering Australian territory or establishing themselves or spreading in the Australian territory or in part of the Australian territory.

There is a bit of background to this bill. It was first introduced into parliament in 2012. It was referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee. It lapsed when the parliament was prorogued. Areas of concern identified during the inquiry have been addressed in the new legislation. There have been a number of significant reviews of the biosecurity system—most recently, the review of Australia's quarantine and biosecurity, the Beale review, outlined opportunities to improve the system, including development of new legislation. This legislation has been developed over many years, with significant consultation undertaken with industry, state and territory governments, environment groups, health professionals, the general public and trading partners.

There has been an issue surrounding the Inspector-General of Biosecurity. I understand that the shadow minister raised this in his contribution, and I am sure that in the summing up the parliamentary secretary will touch on this too. While there have been some changes to that position, the position is now part of the biosecurity legislation, with delegated information-gathering powers to be granted by the minister to ensure the role can be carried out effectively. I think the shadow minister was being a little mischievous in his contribution.

This bill is all-encompassing. I might just touch on what it means to agriculture and particularly the region that I represent. We do indeed live in a changing world. With many businesses now importing and exporting directly via the internet and other means, the flow of goods in and out of our country is not as defined and specific as it was in previous times. An example of this is, some years ago, maybe three years ago, a local group of farmers in my electorate imported some fertiliser direct from China. Upon delivery to Condobolin, it was discovered that they had been fraudulently sent not fertiliser but soil, which created a biosecurity issue. AQIS and other agencies had to act quickly to remediate the situation and clean up what could have been potentially a hazardous situation. Those situations will become more and more possible as our trade frees up, so our scrutiny needs to be much greater.

We have seen in the past what biosecurity breaches and ill-advised imports have done to agriculture. A couple of good examples of this are: the introduction of rabbits and the introduction of prickly pear. Indeed, I discovered in conversations with my father—when I was a child we would talk about his younger days—that the combination of prickly pears and rabbits meant that my grandfather was nearly unviable and nearly lost his farm, because they completely dominated the landscape. It was not until the advent of myxomatosis with rabbits and the cactoblastis moth with prickly pear that they were able to be managed.

In the back of my mind, the biggest risk to biosecurity and the threat to the livestock industries in Australia is the feral pig population. Feral pigs have proved to be pretty well indestructible. Despite millions of dollars and large amounts of effort and time across the countryside every year, the feral pig population is growing. While they are a problem in themselves—they have a hugely destructive effect on the landscape; I know from personal experience they can devour an entire lambing if you are not careful—if foot and mouth disease managed to become embedded in the feral pig population, then agriculture as we know it and livestock farming in this country would be changed forever and all the advantages we have would be lost.

Australia's biggest disadvantage as a trading partner is actually its biggest advantage. Our disadvantage is that we are an island surrounded by water a long way from the major markets and the high population areas, but that is also our greatest advantage. We now can import our produce into many of these countries because we are free of foot and mouth disease, bluetongue disease, mad cow disease and a lot of these other issues that really are crippling our trading competitors, and this must be defended at all costs.

We need to be fair dinkum about this. The member for Calare mentioned that we have dual responsibility. We need to be keeping a close reign on our imports but we also need to be responsible and keep an eye on our exports; because, while it is tempting to use biosecurity as an artificial tariff to protect our own producers, doing so is fraught with danger. We must rely on the science around this. We must be consistent in our exports, as well as our imports, to retain our credibility. We are treading a very fine line.

Current reality television shows about airport security show how people can inadvertently put our livestock producers at risk.

I use the example of someone who has been overseas to their country of birth and their uncle has a secret family recipe he uses to produce salami. If they secret salami into their luggage to bring home so members of their family can have a memento of their trip overseas and the scraps off the table are inadvertently thrown outside and get into a pig population, indeed we would have serious problems. I, quite frankly, do not believe, regardless of what we throw at wild pigs, we could possibly control them.

Also of real concern are fire ants. At the moment there is an operation going on around the port of Botany to track down and eradicate fire ants. Some years ago I visited some cattle ranches in Florida. The fire ant population meant that those properties could not be used for breeding purposes. The fire ants were killing calves. When fire ants get into an agriculture situation you cannot run sheep or small animals because they will be killed by the ants. Indeed, in Florida there were reports that fire ants had actually killed calves. They are such a ferocious and vicious pest. At all costs we need to make sure we keep these pests out.

I do support this bill. I understand that, despite some expected rhetoric from the shadow minister, the opposition will be supporting this bill. I commend them for that. I understand that this bill commenced its life in the previous government. It is an example of how in this place we can work across party lines to come up with legislation that is of benefit to the people we represent. This bill has my full support.