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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 127

Mr TEHAN (Wannon) (18:32): The Biosecurity Bill 2014 is about protecting Australia's clean, green image when it comes to what we export, as an agriculture-exporting nation. It is absolutely important that we get this bill right, not only because quarantine is crucial to our nation's exporting future but also because it is vitally important that we have a regulatory framework with which our exporters can work. We do not want to place too much red tape on them as they seek to find and access new markets across the world. For this reason, this bill should be supported. Consecutive governments have taken a piece of legislation which first existed in 1908, which has been amended over 50 times, and have decided, not before time, that what we need to do is consolidate all this legislation into one piece of new legislation which will enable us to have confidence in how we go about protecting our country against the importing of diseases which can do significant harm to our nation—such diseases, for instance, as foot-and-mouth disease, which would be absolutely catastrophic to our nation's economy.

For the electorate that I represent, this bill is significant. We are the largest producer of dairy goods in the nation. When it comes to beef, wool, sheepmeat, grain, our region is in the top 10 when it comes to what is produced. The area I represent is at the heart of our agricultural production. The majority of what we produce is exported, so we have to ensure that the countries that we are exporting our goods to understand that what we are sending them is disease free. We also have to do what we can to ensure that diseases which could put in jeopardy this production are kept out of our country.

It was interesting listening to the member for Lindsay before, when she talked about the impact that equine influenza had on parts of her electorate. As someone who follows the racing with great interest, who likes a punt every now and again and who has had a small ownership in a few horses—some slow, some which have run all right—I remember the impact that equine influenza had on the racing industry and the effort and the cost that it took to try and eradicate it. I remember going out to the Canberra racetrack, where participants had to be behind closed glass to watch the races. The owners and the trainers of horses could not physically go down and see the horses after the races had been run, because of the fear of what that human contact with those horses could have, with the spread of that disease. That is the impact that disease can have on an industry. It was incredibly important that we eradicated equine influenza from our horseracing industry, but other diseases are significant in many ways, and the impact that they could have, especially on our agricultural bulk commodity exports, would be absolutely harmful to our economy.

There are two things which I think are very important to point out about this piece of legislation. The first is the consultation which has taken place to ensure that this piece of legislation does the job that the industries on the ground want it to do. It is worth pointing out that, during the drafting phase of the bill, the Department of Agriculture established an industry legislation working group. The group consisted of 16 representatives, including the Invasive Species Council, the National Farmers Federation, Shipping Australia, Qantas, and the Custom Brokers and Forwarders Association.

It was not only that consultation which took place when the bill was being drafted. Following the agreement from the government to progress the legislation and to inform stakeholders about the changes made and the next steps, a biosecurity legislation forum was held on 24 October 2014. Approximately 80 organisations, bodies and agencies were invited to the forum, with over 40 attending. So what we are seeing here is a bill which, at the draft stage, had industry involvement in its preparation. Not only that but, once the bill was finalised, there was also significant consultation with industry and other organisations involved in this. This is good law-making because, as I said earlier, this bill is vitally important, not only to my electorate but to the nation. The processes which have taken place in putting it together have been excellent with regard to making sure that all participants and all those who could be impacted by it have been consulted along the way.

There is another element to it which is also significant. What the government has not sought to do in modernising this legislation is say, 'What we can do is put this safeguard in place, this safeguard in place and this safeguard in place and provide a regulatory burden on industry and those who are seeking to control our quarantine regime.' This bill has done all that. It is modernised, but it is done in a way which has a deregulatory benefit, and that deregulatory benefit is $6.9 million per annum. This is a significant piece of legislation for industry because it gives industry confidence in how our quarantine regime is going to be managed going forward. It also says to industry, 'In modernising this legislation, we are going to do all we can to ensure that the cost of this quarantine legislation does not burden you. In fact, it will reduce the regulatory impact that it has on you.' That is incredibly important.

There are some other aspects to this bill that need to be pointed out. The import risk analysis—the IRA review—has been replaced. A biosecurity import risk analysis will be introduced to replace the current IRA process in the Quarantine Act. An examination of the IRA process was undertaken as part of the coalition's election commitment in response to stakeholder concerns. Feedback focused primarily on administrative and minor regulatory changes to the IRA process. They have been considered in the development of the delegated legislation and relevant administrative policies.

The issue of regional differences has also been dealt with. Some stakeholders expressed the need for regional differences in biosecurity concerns to be taken account of in this bill. The idea was that there are regional differences in the way that pests and diseases might be more prevalent in one part of Australia than another. This was issued and considerable thought was given as to how this would be best dealt with. When it comes to international agreements, phytosanitary international agreements, the words 'regional difference' are not used. What the government has done is use terminology which can be used and understood in other international agreements, whether they be multilateral agreements or agreements with our bilateral partners. So, rather than using the concept of regional differences, we are using the concept of 'part of Australian territory'. We will talk about diseases or pests entering Australian territory or part of Australian territory. That is how we will deal with this significant change. Once again, this has been done through a proper consultative process which has enabled this new focus to take place in updating and upgrading this legislation.

This legislation was started under the previous government. It then went to a Senate committee and has obviously been finalised by the current minister. I would like to commend the Minister for Agriculture for the way that he has gone about this. I would also commend the Senate committee for the sensible recommendations that they put forward, some of which have been adopted and put into this bill. Also, I praise industry for their willingness to participate in the process of upgrading this legislation, because without that input we as law-makers would not have the confidence that we have in order to say that this piece of legislation should be commended to the House.

In conclusion, I go back to where I started. The government has set about ensuring that our exporters have access to as many countries as they possibly can and in the cheapest way that they can possibly export. Our free trade agreement agenda last year was definitely a significant highlight of what was achieved in this place: free trade agreements with China, with Japan and with South Korea, all of which will benefit our agricultural consistency—you know this as much as I do, Mr Deputy Speaker Whiteley.

But also, what the government has done with this bill is to say to our agricultural constituencies in particular, 'You now have another tool to ensure that you can be absolutely sure that what you are sending from Australia into those countries is disease- and pest-free. And also, you can be sure that the government is doing the best it can in a cost effective way to keep pests and disease from entering Australia.'

We all know that there is risk. But what the government is doing through this piece of legislation is to manage that risk to the best of its ability, saying to industry, 'You need to come along with us in managing that risk,' and saying to industry, 'We stand by you, side by side, especially when it comes to agriculture, to ensure that you can continue to grow and continue to be an absolutely vital part of our national economy.'