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Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority

Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority


ACTING CHAIR: I welcome APVMA. Senator Lines.

Senator LINES: Thank you. On 23 January this year APVMA called for public comment for some proposed variations to the Food Standards Code, schedule 1, to standard 1.4.2, Maximum Residue Limits. Can you tell us what that is about please? I am not sure who is answering that question.

Ms Arthy : I am going to have to flick over to my colleague, Dr Bhula, to take you through what that is.

Dr Bhula : Since the legislative changes which allowed the APVMA to vary the Food Standards Code, we run a process whereby the APVMA will gazette changes to the APVMA MRL standard and then, as a subsequent exercise, we vary the Food Standards Code. So, part of the FSANZ process, as well as the APVMA process for public consultation, is publication of that notice of that type.

Senator LINES: I note that submissions close today. What do some of the submissions go to?

Ms Arthy : Sorry, we are just trying to get the information.

Dr Bhula : Some of the submissions, in terms of variation to the food code, may be people wishing to import product into Australia and wanting to have a higher standard than the Australian standard. There may be submissions made by governments through a WTO consultation process. All of those comments are sent back for Food Standards Australia and New Zealand for response before the changes are made to the food code.

Senator LINES: We have received some answers to questions on notice, where I believe APVMA answered on behalf of Fruitwest—but I am happy to be corrected on that—where in relation to the HOI group you were asked—yes, it was Ms Arthy that responded—the number of growers who felt they needed fenthion, and at least for a phase-out period, as opposed to growers that did not need fenthion. I think we were referred to Fruitwest's submission, but I am looking at Fruitwest's submission today and they do not answer the question, either. They talk about their total membership. I put the question to you again: what is the ratio of growers who are concerned about the withdrawal of fenthion as opposed to those growers who are able to manage without it?

Ms Arthy : That was raised in a private briefing that we had last year. At the time, I just gave an undertaking to contact Fruitwest to see if they had the information, because as the APVMA we have got no powers to request that information. I think I sent the request just after Christmas. I have been away for a couple of weeks; this is my first day back. From what I understand, Fruitwest got in contact with some of our officers and said that they had supplied the information directly to the committee. I think all I can do is to go back to Fruitwest with my original request and just check, because I have not seen the Fruitwest submission into the inquiry, but I can follow it up.

Senator LINES: Yes.

Ms Arthy : As I said, we have got very limited power, we are just doing this as a—

Senator LINES: To assist you to answer the question.

Ms Arthy : Yes.

Senator LINES: I am looking at their public submission, dated 28 January 2014, in which they claim to represent 534 commercial growers, so that does not answer the question.

Ms Arthy : As I say, I will go back to them and see if they have got any more information and I will pass it on to the committee if they do have anything.

Senator LINES: I appreciate that. Moving along, as you are aware, fenthion has been an issue in particular for some of the WA growers, and we have heard evidence about the use of fenthion and APVMA's role in fenthion. Do you acknowledge that there are deficiencies in the communication processes within the APVMA when dealing with stakeholders?

Ms Arthy : The issue of communication is always a tricky one for any government agency. We have fairly extensive communication certainly with state and territory governments, relevant government agencies and affected industry bodies. What we cannot account for is how those industry bodies communicate to their growers. As you know, it is very difficult for any government agency to be able to communicate directly to a grower because it relies on the grower actually getting information when they need it and in a form that works for them, and it is also very hard to be understood as a government agency. We try to work through the industry associations as much as we can. We work through the state and territory governments because they have networks, so we rely on them to be able to go out and communicate on the ground as well. I think the APVMA tries to do as best it can. There is always room for improvement when it comes to communication, but there will always be a case where individual growers or individuals may not necessarily know about what we do.

Senator LINES: Work regarding the safe use of fenthion has been going on since 1998. Can you inform the committee if fenthion will be permanently banned or restricted and detail if this will be across the board on all horticultural products?

Ms Arthy : We cannot provide you with that information now because we are going through the processes to make our final determination. We expect to have the final decision available towards the end of April or May, and that will outline how fenthion may or may not be used into the future.

Senator LINES: So the end of April?

Ms Arthy : There will be three months of consultation, so people will have three months to put submissions back to us.

Senator LINES: That will be communicated in the way you described above?

Ms Arthy : Absolutely. We are now putting together the preliminary review finding which will outline our decision and the reason for our decision. That will be put out publicly. There will then be three months where anyone can write a submission about the science behind the preliminary review finding. We will then confirm the decision after that time.

Senator SIEWERT: Can I just follow up on that? In what period of time following the three month review do you then do your final finding?

Ms Arthy : It is impossible to say right now. It is as quickly as possible. It depends on what submissions we get. If the submissions raise fundamental issues with the science then we have to have a look at it. However, if the issues that are raised are secondary to the science then we should be able to finalise it fairly quickly. It is impossible to say, except I am aware that we need to have things as settled as possible before the next growing season, so we want to try and get it done as quickly as we can.

Senator LINES: Can you confirm that the data regarding fenthion toxicity is that it breaks into six products and can you provide details as to which of the six breakdown products are most toxic?

Ms Arthy : I will hand over to Dr Bhula for that and we might hand to Dr Lutze who does the residues.

Dr Bhula : All of this was outlined in our report, which is published on the APVMA website. Fenthion, the organophosphate, breaks down to six degradates or metabolites. Of those six there are two that are more toxic than fenthion parent itself. We can give you the names of those chemicals if you like. I do not want to waste the committee's time pronouncing all of those and telling you what they are.

Senator LINES: Yes.

Dr Bhula : When we do our risk assessment around exposure through the diet to children and adults, we take into account the toxicity of all of those components together with the parent. That is how our exposure assessment takes into account the overall toxicity of that residue.

Senator LINES: Are there other products currently used in fruit fly pest management that have any of these breakdown products?

Dr Bhula : The same breakdown products as fenthion?

Senator LINES: Yes.

Dr Bhula : No.

Senator LINES: Thank you.

Senator RUSTON: Just following on from Senator Lines's questions—not specifically about fenthion but about the process—in 1998 this product obviously came into your vision. How does that occur? How do you decide that you are going to pursue a product?

Dr Bhula : When the authority was first formed in 1995 there was a program of review of old chemicals put in place at that time, so over a period of about three or four years we announced cycles of chemicals. In the first cycle we did existing organochlorines, then we moved to organophosphates and then we looked at carbamates, so there was reason in terms of what had been done internationally in reviewing groups of chemicals. That is how fenthion, dimethoate and fenitrothion, all of the organophosphates, were announced pretty much at the same time.

Senator RUSTON: What transpired from 1998 to 2012 where it became more obvious that something was not right? That is an awfully long period of time.

Dr Bhula : Because fenthion is used across horticultural products as well as veterinary products and bird repellent products, we broke the review into two parts. We looked at the non-food producing components of the fenthion first and then we looked at the horticultural products. In that first round of looking at the non-food uses we also looked at a human health and toxicology assessment. That was published in 2005, so that would have been the first trigger for people looking at the horticultural products that the health standards had changed. We completed our review of the bird repellent products, which I would have to take on notice but I think it was about 2009-2010.

After that we moved to the horticultural products. In that intervening time there were discussions with industry about data gaps and data generation. That was about 2005-2006 when Horticulture Australia made a commitment to generate Australian data to support a number of uses. If Horticulture Australia had not committed to do that work then a lot of uses would have been lost at the first point of the assessment, so we would not have options for phase-out and we would not have options for new instructions. A lot of the uses would have been gone at that point.

Senator RUSTON: I understand that. That is where I was trying to get to with the 14 years. You say that it was for health standards and a number of things that change over a period of time. If we are taking 14 years to make this sort of assessment, where is the overlap? It just strikes me as an extraordinarily long time, but you have explained why.

Ms Arthy : Part of it, as Dr Bhula was talking about, was trying to give industry the opportunity to generate data to allow a chemical to be kept. That has happened now on at least two or three separate occasions. It happened first of all in 2004-05 when HAL submitted us the data to us in 2010, and ever since then we have allowed industry to generate more data to allow continued use of it. It is always a balancing act, as a regulator, about when we say enough is enough. As Dr Bhula said, if we just drew the line in 2005 then the use probably would have been gone.

Senator RUSTON: In terms of the industry supplied data, particularly in relation to fenthion—and obviously you would have had a number of control sets of data from different places in terms of when you were testing for your MRLs—there was some suggestion that there was some discrepancy between the data from the trials that were conducted in Western Australia in comparison to the data that was collected elsewhere. Is that right?

Ms Arthy : I think 'discrepancy' is not quite the right word. The issue from the WA data, as I understand it, is that they did not test to the levels that we set for them. Very early on we said, 'This is what you need to test including the metabolites', and the WA data set did not go down to that level of detail whereas the other data that was generated did. That was the main difference. It is not really a discrepancy, it is just that the WA data did not test to the full set of metabolites. Having said that, we tried to use as much of the data as we could.

Senator RUSTON: So by not testing to that level they got a result that suggested that it was fine and the results of the more in-depth testing proved to not meet the health standards?

Dr Bhula : Yes. Just to clarify, when we took the decision back in 2012 we had relied on controlled field trial data which was supported by Horticulture Australia. Then when we looked at the differences and uses across the eastern states with the Qfly and the western states with the Medfly we asked for any other supporting information. Now, a lot of that information was basically quality assurance information, anything that growers may have had as individual spray records, because there is no mandatory spray or record keeping in WA, and any information that was available at the time. That is not equivalent to controlled field trial data, but we made the best use of what we could at that time to then issue the new instructions. That is how the different permits for west coast versus east coast came into being.

Senator RUSTON: With the one-off permit that was granted in 2013 for single spray, under what regulation were you able to approve a single spray and, if you were able to approve a single spray in 2013, what is to stop you approving a single spray in 2014?

Dr Bhula : The APVMA issued the new instructions in October of last year which are based on our assessment of all the controlled field trial work. In that permit and new use instructions, no use on peaches and apricots was allowed. Subsequent to that permit being granted, Summerfruit Australia made a request to the APVMA to maintain one spray of fenthion after they had consulted with industry experts about how a single spray may be used in combination with other products closest to the harvest time of the peaches and the apricots. We issued a minor use permit to Summerfruit Australia, and that is the permit that currently runs out at the end of April. We used our normal minor use permit provisions to grant a user group a restricted permit for a short period of time on the understanding that they would apply a single spray and that industry experts had made a determination about what other things could be used within that 21-day window up to harvest.

Senator RUSTON: What you are saying is that they could equally come back to you next year and ask under the same restricted use permit?

Ms Arthy : Technically they could but the difference is that this time around the review would have been finalised. We would have had the final decision. We would have had all the science and everything that we did not have this time last year. I think it would be fairly improbable that we would issue any further permits after we have made a final decision on a chemical.

Senator RUSTON: Assuming there is a final decision.

Ms Arthy : That is right. I am doing all the assumptions here.

Senator RUSTON: I suppose the question is whether there is any possibility—and obviously it sounds like there is—that the determination of the review could be that a more limited use of fenthion may meet your health requirements, or is that highly unlikely?

Dr Bhula : When we finalise a review there are a number of options that are available to us. If we feel that all the risk components that have come out of the individual assessments can be managed through further use instructions during a phrase-out period we can issue new instructions with phase out. If there are too many risks involved in doing that we can have an option of product recall. That is not just the manufacturers but it can go down to farm level if we feel that the risks cannot be managed at all. It really depends, as Ms Arthy has said, on what the outcomes of the remaining assessments are and whether any risk mitigation measures can be put in place as a phase-out period.

Senator BACK: Or the final science may, in fact, encourage you to allow a slight relaxation?

Dr Bhula : It could be.

Senator BACK: It is an option, is it not?

Ms Arthy : If we are talking in general terms, not necessarily about fenthion. If we are talking about general terms, yes, it is an option.

Senator BACK: You do not want to predict the science because it would be unscientific to do so. I am sorry, Senator Ruston.

Senator RUSTON: Chemicals keep changing their names so I get terribly confused as to what is what. What is malathion as opposed to fenthion?

Dr Bhula : Malathion is another organophosphate insecticide. That is approved for control of fruit flies as well as fruit fly baits, and that has been registered for a number of years.

Senator RUSTON: You could spray with malathion without a problem?

Dr Bhula : The labels allow that currently, yes.

Senator RUSTON: It was just that there was some suggestion that that was on its way out as well.

Dr Bhula : Malathion is under review but we are looking at product specifications rather than other risks associated with the product.

Senator RUSTON: Thank you.

Senator BACK: I understand that the government is reforming the Agvet chemical regulatory world to reduce red tape. Can you tell me: is a timetable in place now to remove the reregistration from the legislation that we dealt with in the last couple of years?

Ms Arthy : That is a question for the Department of Agriculture, so I will hand over to my colleagues.

Mr Koval : We have a draft bill out for public consultation at the moment on removing reregistration. It is open for comment until 7 March.

Senator BACK: Ms Arthy, in the last few years—I cannot recall the timeframe—there was a process by which APVMA was assessed against like agencies in like countries, the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Western Europe. I recall the assessment process before last Australia was up there at equal first, and in the last assessment—help me here—in about 2011-12 APVMA had fallen almost to the bottom of the ranking. Am I correct in that summary?

Ms Arthy : I understand what you might be referring to as the International Federation for Animal Health report. This is specifically about the animal health side of our business. The last report was highly critical.

Senator BACK: When was that?

Ms Arthy : The brief states that it was published in August 2012.

Senator BACK: So, it would have been undertaken in 2011-12?

Ms Arthy : I would say so, but I don't know. Yes, 2011.

Senator BACK: Can you tell me when, in the next cycle, the next review is to be undertaken?

Ms Arthy : I do not know.

Dr Bryce : IFAH normally conducts those surveys every five years.

Senator BACK: So, we would not be looking at it for another three to three and a half years?

Dr Bryce : You would be looking at it on data for 2016 and presumably published in 2017. That is entirely up to the organisation.

Senator BACK: If I can just come back again to some of the government's reform processes and minor use for chemicals. Is the government looking at further reform to improve the availability of safe and effective chemicals? Is that part of the process?

Ms Arthy : Again, I would have to pass to the Department of Agriculture for that one.

Mr Koval : There was an election commitment by the government to establish a minor use program. We are in the process of working up those details at the moment.

Senator BACK: That is not part of your review that is due for completion on 7 March?

Mr Koval : No, that is separate.

Senator BACK: Can you explain to the committee what Codex is and can you advise whether it is the International Food Standards setting body that is used as the reference point for Food Standards? Is it to you that I should direct that question, Mr Koval?

Mr Koval : I am not a Codex expert, but I can answer to the best of my knowledge.

Senator BACK: Perhaps you could just explain to us what it is.

Mr Koval : If we need a Codex expert here we would be able to find a Codex expert, if Mr Read is around. From memory, Codex Alimentarius is a standards setting body set up through the FAO. They set standards for a whole raft of food safety, chemical related matters and things like that. They are a standards setting body.

Senator BACK: I just want to change the direction now if I can. Perhaps you could give us more detail on notice. Is it possible to inform the committee, in summary, what the process is of registering a new veterinary active ingredient? Is it going to take a long time to explain that? Should you take it on notice or can give you give us a quick thumbnail dipped in tar?

Ms Arthy : We can probably give you a very quick thumbnail. I will hand over to my colleague Dr Bryce.

Dr Bryce : Essentially we are required to assess the information that is provided to us in an application and to determine whether the use of the product, in accordance with directions on the label, would be safe to consumers, to target animals, other bystanders, to the environment, and would not cause undue prejudice to trade, and that the product would be efficacious. If we go through all of those tests with positive outcomes, then we can register the product.

Senator BACK: Would that process differ? Could it be made more effective/sped up if an application is made to your agency to register a drug for veterinary use when the same chemical is already registered by the Therapeutic Goods Administration organisation for human use?

Dr Bryce : We are in discussions at the moment with the Therapeutic Goods Administration on exactly that issue. We have had instances of several chemicals that have been in use in human medicine for quite a few years, and we have had applications that are for new veterinary chemicals.

Our normal process is to have a human health toxicology assessment done by the Office of Chemical Safety in the Department of Health. With these chemicals that have been in use for long periods it is often uneconomic or it can be uneconomic for the company to actually generate a large toxicity package when they are talking about a product that may well be out of patent. Therefore, if they can get the product registered they may well be looking at giving a free hand to their competition, although they have invested a lot of money in a toxicology package.

We are in discussions with the Therapeutic Goods Administration and the Office of Chemical Safety to see whether it is possible to get hold of information that is held by the TGA in relation to the human products. We are trying to navigate our way through the complexities of the Therapeutic Goods Act in order to achieve that.

Senator BACK: Would that be a process in which data would be held by TGA, it would have to be made available to the Office of Chemical Safety and then onward to APVMA in the scenario you paint?

Dr Bryce : There are two options. The data could be made available by TGA direct to the Office of Chemical Safety or it could be made available to the APVMA and we could then in turn make it available to the Office of Chemical Safety.

Senator BACK: Having regard, of course, as you say, for commercial confidentialities/realities, can you tell me where you are in that conversation? Is it advanced or at its beginning? Is there some hope or expectation that we might receive a satisfactory resolution/conclusion to that dialogue reasonably soon?

Ms Arthy : We have been talking about this for a little while and we are fairly well advanced. There are some pretty significant hurdles that we have to get over to be able to resolve it. However, it is very important for us to resolve it. We are trying to work to get it done as quickly as we can, because it will make a lot more streamlined assessments.

Senator BACK: Does it change the dialogue in any way once that chemical becomes a generic and is out of patent? Does that make the process easier for all concerned or does it have no effect on it?

Ms Arthy : I would have to think that one through, because the issue does come down to commercial-in-confidence information.

Senator BACK: It does.

Ms Arthy : We can talk it through and come back to you separately, if you would like more information.

Senator BACK: I am happy for you to take it on notice and advise the committee in due course.

Ms Arthy : We will take it on notice.

Senator BACK: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Siewert. I am going in blocks of 10 minutes.

Senator SIEWERT: I have only a couple of questions. I do not need 10 minutes. In terms of the reregistration process, submissions close on 7 March. Is there a step after that or do you go straight to finalising the bill for the amendment?

Mr Koval : That depends on what comes out through the consultation process. The draft bill is out there and then depending on what comes through by 7 March that will determine the next steps. The intention is that if there are no major comments it will be finalised and put into the parliament.

Senator SIEWERT: I am sorry. I missed the timeline for dealing with the amendments that Senator Back referred to.

Mr Koval : The minor use?

Senator SIEWERT: Yes.

Mr Koval : The commitment was that the minor use program starts in 2014-15 financial year.

Dr Grimes : Again, like the $100 million and the biosecurity flying squads, it another one that is subject to consideration through the budget process on the implementation arrangements.

Senator SIEWERT: Is it likely that when that is dealt with through the budget at the next estimates we will be able to find out more about it?

Senator Colbeck: That is not a legislative process, that is a program.

Senator SIEWERT: I understood, but it is still finding out about the process for the implementation of that after the budget. I wanted to go back to the iron issue. You would be aware that there was a lot of criticism by growers about communication, and Senior Lines touched on that. It seems to me there is a group of growers that seemed to know what was going on and a group that did not. Have you thought of other ways that you can address that process?

Ms Arthy : We always look for ways to improve our communication. I have certainly met personally with the HOIG, as has Dr Bhula. If the committee has any suggestions with particular groups that we can go to directly or any other suggestions we are open to it. We put a lot of effort into how we can improve things. If there is a particular group, we can certainly look at it.

Senator SIEWERT: Do you do individual mail-outs to growers or do you use the peak groups?

Ms Arthy : That is not usually what we do. We usually go through the industry associations, because we do not hold those sorts of mailing lists at all.

Senator SIEWERT: I take the point. The problem is that not all growers are members of industry groups.

Dr Bhula : At the beginning of a review, when we have made a decision on something, we have what is called an email list where people can register their interest in a particular topic. They register their contact details and we send them email updates on anything that is happening around that particular review.

Senator SIEWERT: With respect to the process that you were talking to Senator Rushton about, and to a certain extent Senator Back, that is, what happens when you make your final decision and the various decisions you could make, hypothetically, if there is a decision that you will go for a phase-out would that bear in mind the fact that this process has been in place for 14 years?

As somebody at the inquiry said—and I know that we are crossing over between the information we heard in the inquiry—this process has been under way for 12 years. I got the impression that some people thought it was never going to end and so did not realise that it was coming up to the pointy end. But the fact is that that is a long period to then put a phase-out process in there. Do you take that into account?

Ms Arthy : Again, hypothetically—when we are looking at phase-out it is usually based on the risk of the chemical, whether the risks that are identified can be managed within a period of phase-out. Because part of the decision is how long for a phase-out period, if at all. It is also a matter of how much product is out there, because we have to find out whether it is sensible to have a phase-out. If there is not much product out there we can probably phase out quicker. We do not usually take into account the length of the time of the review. That is kind of irrelevant. We do everything based on what we need to do to manage the risk once a decision is made.

Senator SIEWERT: I take your point.

ACTING CHAIR: The sad part there is you have copped a good flogging over the last 6 to 12 months. With all due respect, I know you cannot comment, but the state government minister is asleep at the wheel; he has gone missing. A minister over his brief would have been on top of this and said, 'We've really got a problem coming here, ladies and gentlemen.'

Senator SIEWERT: I might be pushing it, but I do have a supplementary question.

ACTING CHAIR: You are not going to defend the state—

Senator SIEWERT: No. I have a supplementary question.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Siewert.

Senator SIEWERT: One of the issues that came up is growers trying to find alternatives. It goes into this off-label use. Do you have a role when growers look for something else, when they use something off label? I remember when we had the inquiry into the amendments to the legislation where off-label use came up and the difficulty and expense of changing the label use. How long is that process if they do come up with an alternative?

Ms Arthy : I will start and then I will hand over. In the Australian system it is usually the states and territories.

ACTING CHAIR: Are you going to do the easy bit?

Ms Arthy : I will do the easy bit and then Dr Bhula can do the hard bit. In the Australian system it is the states and territories who look after the control of use. That is usually where the off label comes in. We do not really have a role in that. However, we do have a role with minor use permits.

Senator SIEWERT: That is when it comes in, minor use?

Ms Arthy : That is right. That is where we come in and where we can allow the use of a chemical under certain circumstances for certain uses.

Senator SIEWERT: So, with that process that we are going to go into in the new financial year—

Ms Arthy : For the minor use work, yes.

Mr Koval : Minor use is still available now. Horticulture Australia Limited does research into. Growers can use that system and they have used that system. They do not need to wait until the new program comes out.

Senator SIEWERT: Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Senator Lines.

Senator LINES: I think you have confirmed this at previous estimates. Can you confirm that it is not part of APVMA's role and responsibility to conduct research or generate any data?

Ms Arthy : That is correct.

Senator LINES: I have a series of questions for the department. Can the department confirm that area-wide management strategies took into consideration the environmental conditions faced by the various growers in the Perth hills?

Mr Koval : The area-wide management is normally run by the state and territory departments. They are the ones who advise growers on how to look after their orchards using area-wide management.

Senator LINES: So, you did not have anything to do with area-wide management?

Mr Koval : No. My assumption would be that it would be an area-wide management based on the unique circumstances of the area they are trying to manage.

Senator LINES: Have any departmental officials or indeed APVMA officials inspected the orchards in the Perth Hills to fully understand what growers are facing?

Dr Bhula : That is not our role. We do not have any jurisdiction upon users.

Senator LINES: So, it is a 'no'. And the department?

Mr Koval : That is correct.

Senator LINES: Has your department met with WA Minister Baston's office to discuss fenthion?

Mr Koval : I am not aware of us as a department meeting with officials or members of the minister's office.

Senator LINES: Is that a 'no' or do you need to check?

Mr Koval : I will check to make sure, but I am not aware of us doing so. We have spoken to Western Australian departmental officials.

Senator LINES: About fenthion?

Mr Koval : About fenthion and fruit fly management and those types of things.

Senator LINES: What did those discussions go to particularly?

Mr Koval : We talked about the circumstances in these regions, the need for extension and communication and those types of things.

Senator LINES: When you say 'regions', do you mean the various regions that exist within WA and indeed across the country?

Mr Koval : That is correct.

Senator LINES: To what extent? What was said?

Mr Koval : I will have to go back and look at the individual notes. I was not party to those conversations myself. We have these conversations amongst states and territories around control of use and those types of things with different chemicals and different regimes. When things change we try to encourage them to look at those and talk to their industries about what the effect may be.

Senator LINES: Did you discuss with the WA agriculture department officials the use of area-wide management strategies?

Mr Koval : We asked questions about what some of the options are. That is one of the things they talked about. Area-wide management is one of the tools that is available.

Senator LINES: Did they talk about area-wide management specifically in relation to the Hills?

Mr Koval : They talked about it generally and certainly in relation to the Hills as a region. We certainly spoke about that area itself.

Senator LINES: So, the WA department of agriculture thinks that an area-wide management strategy is possible in the Perth Hills?

Mr Koval : As far as I understand it, that is the case, yes.

Senator LINES: Apart from the trial they are conducting at Jarrahdale are they conducting any other area-wide management trials that you are aware of?

Mr Koval : I am not aware. We can ask them and get you the information on notice, if that is helpful.

Senator LINES: That would be good.

Mr Tucker : I can give more context in response to your questions.

Senator LINES: Thank you.

Mr Tucker : We as a department are aware of the fenthion issue, the nature of the chemical and its potential impact on children, but equally we are aware about what the changes in its use could mean in terms of the producers in Western Australia. We had concern for both the producers as well as for the health aspects. As Mr Koval has said, given our concerns with the producers, we directly engage with our equivalents in the state department in Western Australia to encourage them and to see what they were doing to look at alternatives for the producers in Western Australia. It is not normally practice for us in a Commonwealth department to talk to a state minister's office. We would only do that at the request of our minister's office.

Senator LINES: But you have certainly spoken as a federal department to the state department?

Mr Tucker : That is correct.

Senator LINES: Have you suggested strategies other than an area-wide management strategy?

Mr Aldred : To add to the context, there was a recognition of the review process going on with fenthion and there was a range of activities run through the plant health committee, and in particular a subcommittee of that. The plant health committee consists of the senior plant health specialists of all jurisdictions. There was an arrangement through the plant health committee. There was also a government and industry arrangement that was established to try to get ahead of the game. That was done to look at the reviews of fenthion but also dimethoate. A whole range of strategies were looked at by that group, and a range of R&D that was funded through Horticulture Australia Limited and so on.

Senator LINES: Can you tell us when all of this took place?

Mr Aldred : It probably kicked off from about 2007. There was a range of meetings about different components of this that stretched out from about 2007 through to 2011-2012. That included more general awareness raising of the issue as well as some specific sessions that were held on alternative strategies.

Mr Tucker : My recollection is that we covered this detail in our submission to the specific inquiry on fenthion. I am looking for confirmation from my colleagues, but I think we have laid out quite a bit of detail in that document.

Mr Aldred : That is correct.

Senator LINES: I think you have. Since the change of government—since September 2013—has that dialogue continued to the intensity that you were undertaking it earlier?

Mr Aldred : In some respects a range of things have been done, in particular dimethoate. A lot of focus on that came to pass in newer radiation arrangements that were agreed with New Zealand. A range of projects have come to fruition. I would have to take on notice the level of detailed discussion over the last couple of months. There have been meetings of the Domestic Quarantine and Market Access Working Group that I referred to under the plant health committee, but I would need to take on notice the specifics.

Senator LINES: We have heard this afternoon from various senators and from APVMA. In light of those ongoing issues and the impacts on growers, has the department given the minister advice as to how this matter should be resolved?

Mr Tucker : Yes, we have provided advice to the minister.

Senator LINES: What did that advice go to?

Mr Tucker : I do not think it is appropriate for us to talk about the details of our advice, but we have given advice to the minister.

Senator LINES: Can you tell us why it is not appropriate?

ACTING CHAIR: It should not be a secret. What if the growers want to know? What if the growers say, 'What is going on?' and the minister says, 'I'm not telling you'?

Mr Tucker : The question was to me. The question was not to the minister. If you wish to put the question to the minister—

Senator LINES: I want to know why you are saying it is not appropriate to give us the context of that advice.

Dr Grimes : The issue is going into the provision of policy advice. We can certainly indicate that we have provided advice.

Senator LINES: What is your objection to not telling us the content of that advice?

Dr Grimes : As a general rule, Senate estimate hearings do not traverse into policy matters. It is essentially that convention.

Senator LINES: I know the general rule. Can you tell me specifically what the issue is about not giving us the content of that advice?

Dr Grimes : As I have indicated to you, it is the convention of Senate estimates. We can take the matter on notice.

Senator LINES: I am not accepting a convention. I want you to tell me what it is.

Dr Grimes : We can certainly take the matter on notice and refer it to the minister.

Senator LINES: Thank you very much. You have told us that you have given advice to the minister. Has the minister sought advice back from the department around fenthion issues?

Mr Koval : We have had a number of conversations with the minister around this issue.

Senator LINES: Around which issue?

Mr Koval : Fenthion, fruit fly and everything else.

Senator LINES: What did those discussions go to?

Mr Koval : The majority of the discussion has been around the current situation in terms of the status of the chemical, the growers and those types of things.

Senator LINES: Can you give us some more information?

Mr Koval : It is the work we are doing around research. Much of the work that Mr Aldred talked about in terms of the chief plant protection officers and what they were doing around this issue and those types of matters.

Senator LINES: When was that advice sought from the department?

Mr Tucker : Almost the first day he became a minister. The other thing that I think is worth while covering is that we also covered the roles that we have talked about in this committee and others about the role of the APVMA, the state department, growers and Horticulture Australia Limited. We are helping to work through that little jigsaw of all the pieces in terms of the roles of the various players in chemical control and use.

Senator LINES: Specifically what was the minister seeking from the department in relation to fenthion?

Mr Tucker : I think we are getting into the realms of policy advice again and we have given our response in terms of our capacity to answer questions on policy advice.

Senator LINES: In the same way I did not accept it before, I would like you to take that on notice and think about why you cannot supply the answers that I have asked for.

Mr Tucker : We can take that on notice.

ACTING CHAIR: We will need to start moving along soon.

Senator LINES: I have one last question, and to use Senator Siewert's terminology, 'and a supplementary'. In relation to your consultation paper on the agvet chemicals legislation the paper talks about delivering its pre-election promises to remove red and green tape. I am directing this to APVMA. If proposals become law, farmers, other farm workers and those working with animals may well be put at greater risk when working with chemicals, so what are the safeguards that should be in place?

Ms Arthy : I do not necessarily accept the first part of your question around changes to safety, because we operate underneath legislation that is very clear about our obligations to ensure that chemicals that are registered in Australia meet environmental health and animal safety. Our normal registration process looks at that, and our chemical review processes are an important part in making sure that the chemicals that are available are safe.

Senator LINES: My last question is to Senator Colbeck. In that consultation paper why is there no reference to occupational health and safety?

Senator Colbeck: I am sorry, I am not sure what reference you are talking about.

Senator LINES: It is a government consultation paper on the agvet chemicals legislation.

Mr Tucker : It is a draft piece of legislation.

Mr Koval : This is the draft piece of legislation.

Senator LINES: In the consultation paper there was no mention of occupational health and safety so it was a question to Senator Colbeck about why the government omitted that.

Senator Colbeck: This is a draft bill around the re-registration process.

Ms Arthy : I might be able to help you. Occupational health and safety usually comes under the term of human health. Human health is the toxicology as well as occupational health and safety. That is usually the catch-all phrase, if that assists.

Senator Colbeck: So, that is covered in part of the processes?

Ms Arthy : It is the case when you talk about health—

Senator Colbeck: So not specifically, no, but it is part of the process?

Ms Arthy : That is correct

Mr Koval : The draft bill makes no change.

Senator LINES: If you use the words 'human health' you also expect the public to understand that you mean occupational health and safety?

Ms Arthy : Yes.

Senator LINES: No wonder you have communication problems. Thank you.

ACTING CHAIR: Just before we go, I have to tell you this: nothing makes me feel sicker than watching officers trying to defend the indefensible. You are honourable. I will give you that. That is your job. But where Senator Lines was going is that there was media all around this. The previous shadow for agriculture came to Western Australia for a few photo shoots. He set the ball rolling saying that he will fix it when he gets in, and that fenthion would get a run. Senator Joyce actually got the prickly end of the deal at the end of the day. You can keep reading and you can keep looking down, but I am actually on your side. I am feeling sorry for you trying to defend that. Do not take it personally. It was all through the media, the talkback and the newspapers. When elections are on people do and say stupid things. It does not help the growers around the Perth Hills. I am getting the wind-up from Senator Back. It is 4.30, so we will take a 15-minute adjournment.

Proceedings suspended from 16 .30 to 16 .45