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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 434

Senator ARCHER(9.34) —I also support the Quarantine Amendment Bill. I do not want to go over the points that have been very well raised during the debate, but I also pay a tribute to the work of former senator Andrew Thomas and the Standing Committee on National Resources he headed. I am very much concerned about quarantine, particularly its agricultural aspects. We have only to look at the reports in the papers about the outbreak of anthrax in Victoria to see that it is believed this outbreak was caused by spores that may have been in the ground for 80 years. We then realise how important it is to keep out of the country as many of these diseases as we can. We simply cannot be too careful.

I have had various interests in the importation of genetic material and I am well acquainted with the routine that has to be adhered to. I support it absolutely and totally. I do not think any other countries endeavour to be as careful as we are, but I am not sure that they are equipped much less adequately than we are. With our enormous coastline, there could be no less appropriate way of maintaining surveillance than with the handful of naval vessels which are quite inappropriate for coastal surveillance. They cannot operate in bad weather; they are too slow; and they are manned inappropriately. It is ridiculous that they have to try to cope with matters of immigration, surveillance generally, quarantine and defence.

Feral animals are at present a problem in Australia. I refer to animals such as goats, deer, rabbits, buffalo, foxes and donkeys. If there is an outbreak of disease which affects those animals it could spread to domestic animals and leave us in tremendous difficulty.

I would like to raise two or three items that cause me some particular concern. The first is in connection with details of the closer economic relations agreement with New Zealand. I read only the other day that in spite of various discussions and arguments that have gone on over some period, particularly concerning diseases in potatoes, such as the golden nematode, we have now given approval for the importation of New Zealand fresh potatoes. The approval includes a proviso that they be delivered straight to the shops. To say that they are to go to the shops is no protection when there is nothing to stop any home gardener in Australia from buying potatoes in a grocery shop and planting them in his garden. I cannot imagine any easier way to spread the golden nematode. We do not want it in Australia. We have managed to keep it out and it is quite ridiculous that we should have this type of breakdown.

Another matter with which I have been recently associated is the importation of the leafcutter bee. The best answer that I can get as to why we are bringing in the leafcutter bee is that the risk of illegal entry if we ban it altogether is too great. Frankly, I do not accept that as a valid reason for not attempting to keep it out until we are totally satisfied that it is free of any possible complaint being associated with it. I think that the leafcutter bee is perfectly safe, but the quarantine people cannot tell me that. The best answer they can give is that the risk of it being brought in illegally if we try to ban it altogether is too great.

Other speakers have mentioned things like food scraps from the countries to our north, from Europe and from other countries. Tasmania is in a different position again. I am a Tasmanian, in case honourable senators had not noticed. We have a particular quarantine advantage and we should give great credit to Tasmania for having over many years kept the quality of Tasmanian livestock, in particular, at the very high level that it has reached. It is now up to the Tasmanian authorities to see that that advantage is maximised. Tasmania can become one of the great genetic pools of the world because of this. It will probably be necessary to make new arrangements concerning the importation of animal semen and animal embryo from North America. The requirements need to be very strict and must not be broken down. It concerns me because I have seen specific animals in Australia that have gained entry via New Zealand when the original semen or embryo could not have been given entry. Whether this was done by accident or done with malicious intent I do not know, but the animals are here and they would not have been legally allowed to come in on the application of the basis that the rule requires. It goes to show that we need to be more careful and more specific about the actual requirements, and the penalties needed to make ample provision for misdemeanours of this type.

I know many of the officers in the Quarantine Division and I certainly respect them very highly because I think they have one of the most difficult jobs in Australia. What we must do is ensure that we do not weaken their positions in any way. It is not up to this Parliament to bring in regulations which may weaken their approach to the job they have in hand. We need to listen to them more and take more advice on how we can make Australia even more secure, not only with animals but also with plants.

The penalties are grossly inadequate for when officers find people who have done the wrong thing. Quarantine inspections at the ports of entry are grossly inadequate and quite inefficient, but as efficient as they can be under the circumstances. For instance, almost anybody who goes on holiday to New Zealand must pass through a farm, whether that person goes to such places as the Cattle Dome, the deer parks or around the dairy farms to Rurakura and some of those sorts of places. When people come back, in most cases they just fill out their forms as they come through, saying: 'No, we have not been on a farm'. Anybody who has been to New Zealand has more than a 50-50 chance of having been on a farm or to other places with animals, but there is no question of doing just routine inspections to ascertain whether people filling out their entry forms have done so correctly. For a start, things like that should be done. It is not just a matter of seeing how quickly we can get people off the planes and out through the customs halls; it is a matter of seeing how secure we need to be to keep our quarantine intact. I think it is a very small number-I have studied this on the odd occasions on which I have come back from New Zealand-who submit even their footwear for appropriate inspection and cleansing in the hands of the airport staff.

I certainly support the legislation and the transfer of the agricultural, rural sections to the Department of Primary Industry. I hope that we will be able to provide the quarantine staff with better facilities and equipment, and that we will encourage them to recommend stronger penalties for people who break the law. I look forward to Australia's being able to advance its position in the world in the supply of clean stock and clean agricultural plant life of all sorts.