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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 119


Mr HUTCHINSON (Lyons) (17:54): It is a pleasure to rise and speak on this legislation. I note that I am following two Western Australians. I note the member for Franklin is in the chamber. Whilst we sometimes have had differences with Western Australians, in this area I think we do have similarities. Western Australia is divided from much of mainland Australia by the Nullarbor, as Tasmania is separated from mainland Australia by Bass Strait. Therefore, the concept of all of the things that biosecurity brings to our nation in terms of the image and the reputation that Australia rightly enjoys in terms of being a producer of things clean and green—our pest-free status—is enhanced somewhat by those regional differences that the member for Forrest was highlighting. It truly is our nation's competitive advantage. It is what distinguishes us. We are an island—indeed, in the case of Tasmania, an island within an island. That gives us a competitive advantage in terms of biosecurity and our capacity to market our products to countries around the world. It is important, and that is why this legislation is so significant.

I note that this bill was introduced into parliament in 2012 but was subsequently referred to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee, and that committee was still making its findings when the election of 2013 occurred. I think there is acknowledgment on both sides of the House as to the importance of this legislation. That is why the inquiry received 80 submissions from a range of different stakeholders. In large measure, the concerns that were raised have been addressed.

In the case of Tasmania, our reputation is absolutely critical to where we stand and the quality of the food that we produce. It is doubtful that Australia will ever be—as is sometimes misleadingly said—a food bowl for Asia. That would be a gross exaggeration, and something that is far beyond our capacity. We are really a minion in terms of what we actually produce and consumption—even in a large country, like China for example. If Australia is perhaps the supermarket, Tasmania perhaps could better be described as the delicatessen part of that supermarket. It truly is the very best of what we are able to do.

I note recently the 'Restaurant Australia' campaign, which is promoting Australia as not only a travel destination but also a food destination. Many tourists that come to our shores are surprised by the quality of the food here. Tasmania was chosen as the feature for the 'Restaurant Australia' presentation that highlighted food from all around Australia, and particularly from my home state of Tasmania.

Biosecurity is particularly important not only to our nation—also particularly within some of the sectors where my state of Tasmania has a real competitive advantage; one of those is the salmon industry. Again I note the member for Franklin in her electorate—as in the member for Braddon's electorate and also in my electorate—these are important businesses. They are globally competitive businesses. They are very much part of the brand that makes Tasmania very special. There are not too many Australians that would not have enjoyed the quality of Tasmanian salmon. It is highlighted at the very top end of the restaurant trade. For example, Tetsuya's restaurant in Sydney has made an art form of Tasmanian ocean trout, which has become his signature dish.

Biosecurity is critical in this sector. It is critically important. The aquaculture and salmon industries in both Chile and Norway in recent times have been all but wiped out through disease incursions. There are challenges that face the aquaculture industry in Tasmania. We think of Tasmania as being an island to the south but, if you look at where salmon is produced in the Northern Hemisphere, the equivalent latitude would be Heard Island in the Southern Hemisphere. It is a unique business in Australia that produces the quantity and the quality of salmon in largely what is a Mediterranean environment. It is critical also that we maintain the biosecurity of that sector. It is so important to our state.

The commitment to biosecurity has allowed Australia and particularly Tasmania to protect our unique natural habitat but also the health of our people while at the same time maintaining an advantage in primary industries. We cannot take this status for granted at all. I have mentioned the salmon industry but it is true also in the case of apples. There are clearly risks, and they were identified through biosecurity incursions after apples from New Zealand were allowed to be imported into Australia. Once the testing started it was shown that the processes that they had put in place were in fact inadequate and unable to guarantee the safety of those apples being imported into Australia.

A number of global trends highlight a significant change and the growing complexity relating to biosecurity challenges pointing towards a future where existing biosecurity processes may not be sufficient. I refer to the CSIRO report titled Australia's biosecurity future. I want to make a couple of points out of that very worthwhile report. One relates to obviously something we all understand. The number of international tourist movements that occur around the world—and that is true also in Australia—is continuing to increase. It is true of the vessels and the trade that we see in a very much globalised world.

The figure that struck me recently was that, in 2013, 100 million Chinese people left China to travel for pleasure. Admittedly, the majority of them went to places like Hong Kong and Macau. Less than one per cent of those Chinese tourists chose Australia as a destination. That 700,000 or thereabouts is predicted to double by 2020. I think that not only is a very good illustration of the communicable disease risks—they may be able to be moved much more easily than they once were—but highlights the infrastructure challenges that this country has in terms of bringing that increasing and large volume of tourists into Australia. That is why I am very pleased to see the government has invested a record amount of money in infrastructure. I welcomed the announcement in Townsville recently, as I welcomed the announcement of the Hobart airport being upgraded—with a $38 million contribution in this year's budget.

Indeed there is also the challenge we have in urban populations. I guess those living in the urban centres around Australia and indeed all around the world are now more than two generations away from the family farm. I guess that that disconnection from primary industries sees demand for a whole range of different products. That may not have been the case in the past.

Australia's economy, its people and the environment benefit significantly from a strong biosecurity system. Australia's unique pest and disease status helps to protect our way of life, including our environment, human health, as we have mentioned, and the wellbeing of our domestic plants and animals. This unique status means that our agriculture industries, our environment and communities remain free of many pests and diseases found elsewhere, giving Australia a real competitive advantage in export markets. This is true absolutely in Tasmania and even in respect of mainland Australia. For example, cherries are able to be exported to the Japanese market. The phytosanitary and the processes that are put in in terms of managing those disease risks are such that Japan is happy to accept cherries from Tasmania. This is an important and valuable industry.

Australia's biosecurity risks have changed significantly since the Quarantine Act, which this Biosecurity Bill intends to replace, was first drafted more than a century ago. In the intervening 100 years there have been more than 50 amendments to that legislation. This new bill I think more accurately reflects the reality of the world we live in, the goods and products that are traded and the increased movement of people in different modes of transport. Shifting global demands, growing passenger and trade volumes, increasing imports from a growing number of countries, and new air and sea craft technology have all contributed to a new and challenging biosecurity environment.

Science plays an important role in the work that the department of agriculture does. It is the foundation of productive, competitive and sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries. The department has embedded within it a wealth of scientific expertise which is generally readily accessible.

The regional differences within Australia are important. They have been considered in the submissions that were received and have been, I think, to large measure appropriately considered within the drafting of this bill. As I mentioned before, perhaps nowhere more than in Western Australia and certainly Tasmania, we appreciate the benefits that come from the isolation that we both enjoy. Of course it presents challenges from time to time in getting goods to market in a cost-effective way, not least of all across the most expensive piece of water perhaps in the world—that is, Bass Strait. That is a challenge for us and something that I am committed to improving.

The benefits that our state enjoys in terms of market access are not inconsiderable and are very much part of the brand and the reputation that Tasmania and Tasmanian agricultural producers enjoy, whether it be cherries, salmon, red meat or horticultural products in terms of berries and other things—even in the case of wool, an industry that I was involved in for many years. The quality and biosecurity status of wool from Australia are well recognised. We have a reputation for safe and high-quality food—something that we should at all times be aware of and be diligent in making sure that we continue to protect.