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Monday, 18 November 2002
Page: 6629


Senator CHERRY (5:47 PM) —by leave—I move Democrat amendments (16), (17) and (18) on sheet 2606:

(16) Schedule 1, page 10 (after line 20), after item 30, insert:

30A Subsection 49(1)

After “should be”, insert “refused, revoked or made”.

(17) Schedule 1, page 10 (after line 20), after item 30, insert:

30B After subsection 49(1)

Insert:

(1A) The Minister must refer to the Plant Breeder's Rights Advisory Committee the question whether a grant of PBR that the Minister proposes to make, or an existing grant of PBR, should be refused, revoked or made subject to conditions, if the Minister is satisfied that:

(a) the plant variety is likely to become an invasive species; or

(b) the plant variety is a genetically modified plant that has the potential to establish itself in the wild.

(18) Schedule 1, page 11 (after line 10) after item 34, insert:

34A Paragraphs 64(1)(d) and (e)

Repeal the paragraphs, substitute:

(d) one member who will:

(i) be appointed by the Minister following nominations from either a national consumer organisation that is recognised by the sector as representing the interests of consumers, or an organisation that has traditionally conducted such nomination processes on behalf of consumers;

(ii) represent the interests of all consumers and likely consumers of new plant varieties or of the products of new plant varieties; and

(iii) have the necessary skills and expertise to carry out the functions of the Advisory Committee.

(e) one member who will:

(i) be appointed by the Minister following nominations from either a national conservation organisation that is recognised by the sector as representing the interests of conservationists, or an organisation that has traditionally conducted such nomination processes on behalf of the sector;

(ii) represent conservation interests in relation to new plant varieties and the potential impacts of new plant varieties; and

(iii) have the necessary skills and expertise to carry out the functions of the Advisory Committee.

(f) one member who will:

(i) be appointed by the Minister following nominations from either a national indigenous organisation that is recognised by indigenous Australians as representing their interests, or an organisation that has traditionally conducted such nomination processes on behalf of indigenous Australians;

(ii) represent indigenous interests in relation to new plant varieties and the potential impacts of new plant varieties; and

(iii) have the necessary skills and expertise to carry out the functions of the Advisory Committee.

These amendments relate to the PBR Advisory Committee. Section 49 currently gives the minister discretion to refer matters to an advisory committee, which may recommend that the PBR be granted subject to conditions. In other words, if an application is referred to the committee, the committee's only role can be to recommend conditions. In the way that the act is currently worded, the committee cannot recommend rejection of a PBR application, nor can it recommend revocation of an existing PBR. It is unclear why the role of an expert advisory committee is so seriously circumscribed, but the Australian Democrat amendments ensure that the expertise of the committee is actually used. Amendment (17) requires referral to the committee if the minister is satisfied that the plant variety may become an invasive species or that it is a genetically modified plant which may become established in the wild. Once a matter is referred to the committee under these amendments, it may advise revocation, rejection or that the grant should be made subject to conditions. This does not prevent referral for other matters that have traditionally been entirely discretionary.

Amendment (18) amends section 64 of the Plant Breeder's Rights Act, relating to the composition of the advisory committee. Currently there are three problems with the composition of the committee: there is no environmental or conservation representative on the committee, although there are clearly interests in the environmental community regarding the introduction of plant breeders rights varieties to the Australian landscape; there is no representative of Aboriginal interests, despite the history of bio-piracy in Australia from Aboriginal communities; and the person appointed as consumer representative has been understood to be required only to represent a portion of those consumers who may be affected by a grant of a plant breeders right.

The current consumer representative does not represent broad consumer interest at all; I am advised that he is a member of the National Agricultural Commodities Marketing Association, representing growers and agribusiness. He may, for all we know, have represented all consumers in the advice he has provided, but it is quite clear that his expertise as a consumer representative is in quite a narrow area of consumer affairs. In the Democrats' view this is not good enough. The consumer representative must represent broad consumer interests, not corporate consumer interests. If the government cannot fulfil the role of the committee to represent consumer interests then it is clear that the terms of the act must be changed so that it is absolutely clear what interests are being represented.

The Democrats are also seeking to amend the method of nominating and appointing the new members to ensure that these appointments respect the rights of sectors of the community to have a say in the process of which representatives are selected. Too often we have seen environment, Aboriginal or consumer representatives that do not represent the people, community or organisations that they are intended to represent.

Broadly, these concerns about the act are not new. The Australian Democrats were raising similar concerns in 1994 when the plant variety act was amended, which was the precursor to this act. What has changed now is that we have had the opportunity to examine the operation of the Plant Breeders Rights Scheme in Australia. What the Democrats have seen is disturbing and it is made more disturbing by the government's apparent deep devotion to the introduction of commercial genetically modified crops to Australia, despite a host of unresolved concerns. There is obviously a need for a deeper and broader examination of these issues, and we hope that a broader based advisory committee will ensure that that occurs.