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Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Page: 7879

Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (17:23): I moved the original motion for the committee to report by 10 October 2012. We have had quite a number of meetings and discussions, which have led to the committee needing more time to get some further information. This has led to Senator Bushby asking for that extension of time to 29 November.

The pineapple industry, like many rural industries—and we heard this from the previous speaker—is under pressure. I can recall when the pineapple industry had 800 growers and I was the sort of in-house senator for Golden Circle when it was a cooperative. I spent a great number of hours over there trying to help them in many ways. But unfortunately, like a lot of rural industries, it has been under pressure and the 800 growers are now down to 80 growers—and it is the big growers who are left. They are facing the normal problems from imports and the high dollar. Also, the land that the pineapples are grown on is coastal land. It is very valuable, and it is being sold off to various people for hobby farms and so forth. These growers are rocking on a critical mass, and if they lose any more growers then the critical mass goes and they will not be able to sustain the industry.

There has been a request to bring in pineapples from Malaysia. There is a disease in Malaysia called pineapple strain. This disease started in Malaysia and has jumped to Brazil, Costa Rica and Hawaii. Now we are importing these pineapples and this disease into Australia. A scientist called Glen Taniguchi from the University of Hawaii, who is an expert on pineapples, said that the risk from bringing these pineapples into Australia is high, but the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said that that risk is low. The expert from Hawaii said that at any time, depending on the weather situation, there can be from five per cent up to 40 per cent disease present in pineapples and that it is undetectable. DAFF said, 'Yes, you will import diseased pineapple.' DAFF then made the assumption that this disease will not jump and get into our pineapple farms. But once it is in, it is in. There is no way that you can get it out. There are pineapple farms in very close proximity to Brisbane—maybe 15 or 20 miles. They are all around Caboolture. My argument is: if a disease can jump from Malaysia to the Philippines, to Brazil, to Costa Rica and to Hawaii, why can't it jump from Brisbane to Caboolture, which is about 20 miles away? There needs to be much more research done on this issue.

During the hearings, Mr Derek Lightfoot, the Director of Tropical Pines, who has expertise in risk assessment gained from a background in one of the top four accounting firms, questioned the matrix. The matrix is the way that you multiply out the risk assessment. The matrix is the multiplier effect of all the risk. You multiply all the risk and it comes out good, bad or indifferent. In his view, the matrix is throwing up the wrong level of assessment. He believes that the risk assessment matrix used by DAFF Biosecurity is at odds with the normal, standard matrix. The risk matrix used by DAFF has a bias towards a low-risk result. Nine out of 36 possible outcomes are above low risk—only nine out of the 36. So I made inquiries about this matrix. This matrix is used in every assessment. If the matrix is wrong then we are assessing everything wrongly. The committee has asked for a reassessment of the matrix, for an expert to check this matrix out.

What we have in Australia at the moment is DAFF as the sort of judge, jury and executioner. It is very difficult to question their evidence because they virtually ignore it.

So the committee has sought independent expert advice to see whether this matrix does perform the way it should. If that independent expert advice says the matrix is good, it is throwing up the right answers to the multiplication of the risk assessment, we have challenged it and it has come up okay. If it has not then it is going to make a difference in the assessment of imports going through Australia.

We are facing the import of potatoes, we are facing the import of ginger and we are facing the import of pineapples from Malaysia. At this stage there are huge problems with these minor industries like pineapple, ginger and potatoes. Of course, we have got to accept that we are a free trading nation and if we sell millions and billions of dollars' worth of product overseas, we have got to accept a few potatoes in, but we also have got to be very careful.

Never in Australia's history, I believe, has primary industry been under so much threat. Everything is starting to stack up against it. New Zealand has an application to bring potatoes in and we trade freely with New Zealand. But they have a tremendous advantage over us—the dollar is so high, it is almost impossible to sell anything. Then we have the IR rules and the rates of payment all stacked against the Australian grower.

We are seeing a lot of the farms going overboard. A lot of people are getting out. As I said, we have gone from 800 growers to 80—and it is the big growers remaining, the 400-acre growers. Once our industry gets below a critical mass level then you cannot sustain it. There are only about 45 ginger growers. They run a big factory up there and employ a lot of people.

They want to bring ginger in from Fiji. All right, but Fiji does not even have a government. Why are we bending the knee to Fiji? I can understand from New Zealand and places like that, but if someone turns up at the parliament and says, 'I am the government,' then he is the government in Fiji. I do not know why we have to bend the knee on free trade there. We can say what we like about the Fijian AQIS assessment, but it is not going to work. Those people want to sell ginger and they are not going to worry about a few niceties and whether the ginger has disease or where the ginger comes from. I believe DAFF is just accepting its riding instructions— (Time expired)