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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23492

Mr WINDSOR (7:07 PM) —I will be supporting the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2002. However, I would like to take the opportunity to raise a matter, which the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is familiar with, concerning the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. It relates to a company in my electorate called Angora City (Rabbits) Pty Ltd. This issue has been raised in the parliament a number of times. As recently as last week, it was raised in question time with the minister, who was to report back to the parliament on the allegations made by the managing director of Angora City (Rabbits), Mr Warwick Grave. The allegations are about the conduct of AQIS concerning Mr Grave's importation of angora rabbits from the United States back in 1998 and the subsequent treatment of Mr Grave in relation to the establishment of his business.

I listened to the previous speaker, the member for Parkes, talk about Australia's disease free status. I think anybody involved in agriculture or in the importation or exportation of animals would be fully aware of the job that AQIS does and would endorse the sentiment that we do need a disease free Australia. But there have been allegations made, and I think they are quite important allegations. I would not go so far as to suggest that the minister is covering up this matter, but I think some further investigations need to be made into the conduct of AQIS officers, concerning the loss of certain articles of research done and the loss of certain communications made over many years in relation to Mr Grave. Other matters related to the treatment of the importation of rabbits from the United States—I think on 4 November 1998—and the subsequent treatment of Mr Grave in relation to various importation arrangements over which AQIS had some determination.

I have with me a list of a number of events that have happened, essentially since 1977, when Mr Grave and a partner became interested in the importation of angora rabbits into Australia. I would like to read into Hansard a couple of things that have happened since February of this year. As the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry is at the table, I would be delighted if he would pick up on some of these issues and notify Mr Grave of the contents of a report which I believe has been done and which I also believe the minister's people have at the moment. However, there is some conjecture as to whether that report will be released. If it is not released, a lot of the things that we are talking about in this bill and a lot of the arguments that have been put forward in the contributions on this bill will really be for nothing. These allegations need to be investigated and a clear report given on them—not only to Mr Grave, who made the allegations, but also to the Australian public—to make sure that things are not happening behind the scenes whilst people are saying something else.

On 28 February 2003 the company owned by Warwick Grave was cleared for quarantine, after an arduous process that had taken many months and required a lot of hurdles to be jumped. It was almost as if the AQIS people were against the establishment of the rabbit business by Warwick Grave. Once Warwick Grave was cleared for quarantine on 28 February 2003, he approached the office of the federal minister for agriculture, Warren Truss, regarding the allegations of illegal United States rabbit imports of 4 November 1998. There had been allegations made prior to that date, but they were made again after Mr Grave's AQIS clearance came through and he was able to establish his business in Guyra, in the electorate of New England.

On 30 May 2003, Mr Grave had a meeting in Sydney with Mrs Meryl Stanton, the executive director of AQIS, Canberra, and with a consultant of Warwick Grave's. The allegations were reviewed, and a full copy of a US quarantine release was offered by Mr Grave to Mrs Stanton. AQIS had withheld one page of that release, which was of major significance. If the minister took the time to sit down and investigate this matter, I think he would find more than one page missing from a number of documents.

On 16 July 2003 the Merit Protection Commissioner—a chap called Alan Doolan—was appointed by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, under Mrs Meryl Stanton, to discuss the legality of the US import on 4 November 1998. The AQIS process was controlled by Mrs Jenny Gordon, who was at that time—and I assume still is—Mrs Stanton's assistant. The minister would well remember that I raised that particular issue in parliament. Six allegations were made at the time, and the minister gave an assurance that he would look into this. I raised the allegations back in June, and on 16 July Alan Doolan was appointed to look at the legality of the US imports.

On the release of the terms of reference for the inquiry, Mr Grave telephoned the United States Embassy as a courtesy call, and certain conversations were held. On 6 August 2003, there was a meeting in Sydney between the Merit Protection Commissioner—Alan Doolan—Mr Grave and two others, at which a promise was given that the report would be completed by the end of August 2003. On 11 November, Mr Grave was advised by the Merit Protection Commissioner that the inquiry would be completed in two weeks—he had previously said that it would be completed in August 2003.

The delay had been caused by the slowness of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service officers responding to the Merit Protection Commissioner. That in itself is something that the minister should be concerned about. Mr Grave was now advised that he would not see the AQIS response to the Merit Protection Commissioner and would not see the final report. I am not privy as to who advised of that but I suggest that the minister might be able to look into who advised Mr Grave that he would not be able to see the report about allegations that Mr Grave made. On 17 November 2003, Mr Grave was advised that the merit protection commission was not a statutory authority, having ceased to be so on 31 December 2001. It is in fact a private contract between the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and Mr Alan Doolan and some associates. If that allegation is correct, and I have no reason to believe it is not, the minister should be making serious investigations into why Mr Grave was told that there would be that inquiry by the merit protection commission—the so-called independent authority in relation to an allegation—and that it would be at arm's length, yet many months later, after giving the inquirer a lot of the information that he required to assess the allegation, he was now told that it was a private contract between AQIS and a private citizen in a sense, not the Merit Protection Commissioner. There are a number of issues that need to be answered.

This process has been going on for far too long, Minister. I am very concerned, particularly given the state of Mr Grave's business at the moment—and not the least the state of his health—because of the problems that he has experienced in this particular process, that the report that was being undertaken by Mr Alan Doolan, in this fictitious role as Merit Protection Commissioner, will not be available to Mr Grave. Minister, while you are responding to the bill—and I will be supporting the bill; I believe it has merit—I would like you to respond to those allegations. I gave you the opportunity to do so in question time last week and obviously, and quite understandably, you were not fully up to speed on that issue. But I believe that as a minister, given an allegation such as that made at question time and back in June, you would have done some homework since those allegations were raised, and I would be very pleased to hear what your intention as minister is on the allegations that have been made—and to the report that was made after the allegations were made—about the illegal importation of rabbits from the United States. If we are serious about the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and about keeping Australia free from any diseases that could come in with various animals, I think these allegations have to be constructively and properly dealt with and not hidden behind a wall, as seems to be happening at the moment. I ask the minister to cover in his response some of those areas in concluding the debate on the bill.