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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 6518

Mr KATTER(4.38 p.m.) —When we talk about level playing fields and equal access I recall that when I was minister for electricity I had a number of contracts to bring to cabinet one morning. All of them were allocated outside of the state of Queensland. I got the commissioner in and asked why there were no Queenslanders and he told me we were under an agreement with the other states to take the lowest tender. Where this is most relevant to this debate is the fact that in seven years Victoria had not allocated a single electricity contract outside the state of Victoria. So while people sign these agreements there are those out there who actively circumvent the agreements on a continuous basis. That is an important background to the decision we are talking about here today. The ALP in this place, the opposition, has come up and acted holier than thou, which is a most remarkable performance. It could only be made as an exercise in total ignorance of what has transpired up to date.

The people of North Queensland suffered a 25 per cent cut back in AQIS—so much for the crocodile tears being shed on the opposition benches today. When we complained about this and said it opens the door to the incoming of diseases to the northern part—we are the gateway for Australia—we were told by AQIS and Mr Keating's government that although the cutbacks were 25 per cent in size they would not in any way open the door to any threats to Australian agriculture or horticulture.

Within 18 months we had the papaya fruit fly in Far North Queensland and the cost to our industries was over $30 million per year—and we are now into our second year. Not only do I criticise the government but really I must also criticise the public servants because no matter how good or bad you are as a minister you definitely will be influenced by the public servants. As a long-serving minister I know only too well that on a lot of occasions you have to rely on their judgment. I would urge the current Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (Mr Anderson) in the strongest possible way to be very careful when he is relying on the judgment of these people because his predecessor, when he relied upon their judgment, was caught imposing upon Far North Queensland, upon all of our industries up there, a cost obligation of $30 million per year. So much for the crocodile tears coming from the opposition but, also, so much for the reliability and reassurances given to us by AQIS; so much for their veracity and dependability.

Where I come from, their standing as far as credibility is concerned is zilch. Let me just reflect upon the fact because I have, in Mareeba, a very significant chicken meat industry that services the cooked chicken meat industry of Australia. If ever there is a town which reflects what has gone wrong in this country and the decision making of the now opposition—the Keating-Hawke government—it is the town of Mareeba. We had a TB eradication campaign introduced and that wiped out 600,000 head of cattle; it did not wipe out TB but it did succeed in getting rid of our cattle. Four hundred jobs were lost in Mareeba with the closure of the meatworks because there were no cattle to process.

We then had Senator Richardson, as minister, introduce world heritage which closed two timber mills. Half the main street of Mareeba is taken up with the giant timber mill that dominated the economy of the town. It was closed down and two, arguably three, other timber mills in the area were closed down, costing us 150 jobs. So that was 550 jobs. The incoming Goss Labor government in Queensland introduced an increase in water charges from around $5 up to around $30 a megalitre and that closed down the rice industry. The deregulation of the tobacco industry is another example. We removed the 50 per cent home content rule from tobacco, which was nothing to do with tobacco being dangerous to health or any of those things. At the same time the United States House of Representatives was passing legislation to increase their home content rule to up to 72 per cent.

So much for level playing fields and so much for the hypocrisy of the now opposition. In all of these decisions we can see the reasons why they are sitting on the opposition benches. I am talking about hypocrisy here today. We had some 12 goldmines in the Mareeba area; they introduced a gold tax which closed at least half of those goldmines and put another 50 people out of work. At the time of speaking, their Hilmer legislation is threatening the sugar industry which we are trying to get under way.

That brings me back very specifically to what we are talking about today. AQIS informed us that it was very safe, that they had everything under control, that they had no problems and that the 25 per cent cutback would result in no cutback in our security against the importation of disease. That is the same thing that they are telling us with this particular legislation before us in this House today.

I must deal in a little more detail with the introduction of the papaya fruit fly. It has now been disclosed that they knew that the papaya fruit fly was in the Torres Strait three years before the outbreak in Far North Queensland. Even though they knew the papaya fruit fly was in the Torres Strait three years before, they introduced no quarantine restrictions upon the Torres Strait islands whatsoever.

For the information of the House, it is extremely easy to quarantine the Torres Strait because there is only one crossing of the Jardine River. All you have to do is pay the ferryman and you have got yourself a quarantine service. You already have six full-time officials operating on Thursday Island who can police the airport. So it was very easy to protect us. AQIS knew that the papaya fruit fly was there, yet they did absolutely nothing to quarantine the Torres Strait. The net result was the loss of $30 million a year to the economy of Far North Queensland.

Let me move specifically to this decision. I say to the minister: please understand that this town is reeling. Blow after blow has been delivered by the previous government. I do not want to see another blow delivered to the economy of Mareeba.

I refer to the Senate estimates hearings—and I will quote from five pages. Mr Deputy Speaker Nehl, I deeply regret that you could not stay on for your own meeting that you called. The AQIS representative in a fairly high-handed manner, I might add, told all of us that the research on this had been done over a long period. I asked whether this was done before this time last year and she said, `Yes, all of it was done before this time last year.' I said, `Fine. You came to this parliament and you told us that this is quite a safe decision,' yet I am holding here the quotes from the hearings of the Senate. Senator O'Chee said:

Are you aware of a letter that Mr Alexander wrote to Mr Peter Board on 9 February 1993, in response to Mr Board's earlier correspondence advising that AQIS was reviewing Australia's prohibition of importation of chicken meat and chicken meat products on the basis of the use of at least one of five time temperature treatments? I ask whether you are aware that, in his response, Mr Alexander said—

and this is the important point for this House and this is the authority upon which AQIS has made all of these recommendations—

I must admit when we did that work I did not expect it to have such ramifications.

That means allowing the importation of cooked chicken meat into Australia. Senator O'Chee goes on:

Let me quote the letter. I will happily give you a copy. He goes on to say:

I would say that the heat inactivation of any organism is dependent on:

1.   The organism—

that was whether it was a high pathogenic level organism or not—

2.   The medium in which the organism is treated and its thermal properties.

3.   The temperature applied.

4.   The length of time the heat process is applied.

The heat inactivation curves that we produced give a guide to the rate at which inactivation of the strain of infectious bursal disease virus used takes place within the specified parameters. Thus the greater the initial number of virus particles present the longer it will take (if the other parameters remain constant) to reach required low probability of survival of infectivity that is selected as the required level of confidence.

I am not going to read all five pages here, but it probably does behove me to read one other quotation from Senator O'Chee. He said:

But you are aware of the fact that if you have different concentrations of the organism then you will require longer time temperature cooking to reach a level at which you can say there is a low probability of effective survival . . . but you do not actually have, across the whole range of meat product, a particular time temperature limit at which you can guarantee no effective survival.

AQIS came forward to the meeting that I attended and told us all that it was 100 per cent safe, yet they are holding a letter from their own expert saying that there are three areas that need to be tested—one is the heat, one is the time that you apply the heat for and one is the pathogen level and the type of pathogen strain that you are dealing with. The third parameter has not been tested. (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins) —The discussion is concluded.