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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 364


Mr STAPLES(12.08) —The Quarantine Amendment Bill 1984, which is before the House, gives effect to Australian Labor Party policy and an election promise by this Government. It again demonstrates the great concern that this Government has for primary industry and for the primary producers of this country, as well as for the health of all Australians. This Bill, in effect, removes the anomaly of the Minister for Health being responsible for plant and animal quarantine areas when, if anything went wrong, the Minister for Primary Industry and the Department of Primary Industry probably would be left carrying the can. So, whilst the Minister for Health quite correctly retains responsibility for the human health and quarantine areas, I am sure that on this occasion the Minister for Health is quite glad to see the transfer of his responsibilities for plant and animal quarantine to the primary industry field.

Before entering Parliament I worked on animal diseases with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in the Division of Animal Health in Parkville and may I say, somewhat tongue in cheek, that, were it not for the well-honed sense of judgment of the voters of Diamond Valley at the time of the previous election, I would probably now be working in the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory at Geelong. It is a front line in exotic disease control.

Having worked on diseases such as bluetongue and akabane as well as pleuropneumonia, I am aware of the huge losses that Australia has sustained because of the introduction of exotic diseases into this country. Today, with jet travel and fast surface transport, we are obviously not as isolated as we were when the Quarantine Act of 1908 was first enacted. We live in a very fast world where diseases may not be evident on arrival because of the incubation period. The speed at which people and animals travel around the world presents great problems after their arrival on our soil. As has been pointed out, our long, uninhabited coastline is a constant soft spot in our vigilance to ensure that exotic diseases do not reach our shores.

While the Department of Health is well set up to ensure effective quarantine measures at points of access to Australia, and has shown itself consistently over the years to be a very effective operation, the problems of animal and plant quarantine are extensive and the points of access to Australia are not so easily or readily defined. Obviously, an effective quarantine service requires not only extensive vigilance, but also effective laboratory, scientific and technological back-up operations. The Department of Primary Industry, in conjunction with the invaluable resources, skills and expertise of the workers at installations such as the ANAHL at Geelong, are in the best position to provide this for us.

The gross value of agricultural commodities produced in Australia in 1981-82 was in excess of $12 billion. Obviously, without effective quarantine, all that is at risk. It is at risk both for domestic consumption and for our export markets. An important aspect of this Bill is the dual administration clauses. Clearly there are aspects of quarantine which require this interaction and I am pleased to see that the Government has acted responsibly and effectively to ensure that there are no grey areas of responsibility for quarantine control. However, the Toomer case, reported in the National Times last week, highlights a problem that can develop in these areas. Bill Toomer was effectively driven from the Public Service because it was alleged that he was over zealous in the execution of his duty. That simply brings me to the point that where our primary industries and the health of Australians are concerned, I do not believe that any person can be accused of being over zealous. Those who would attempt to short circuit quarantine regulations for financial gain or for speed of processing of their imports are very short-sighted and they constantly threaten our industries and the jobs and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Australians.

I believe that while speaking of the very important installation at Geelong, ANAHL, it should be recognised that there has been continuing support and co-operation from the Cain Government. The siting and operation of this laboratory at Geelong is very important to the people of Victoria and to Australians generally. Obviously the partnership between the Cain Labor Government and the Federal Government works for the benefit of us all.

In relation to ANAHL, I wish to make particular reference to the workers at that installation and to those in the Division of Animal Health in the CSIRO. Working with animal diseases is often dangerous to the individual worker and working with human diseases is almost always dangerous, but it is through their constant efforts and adherence to strict security regulations that we in this country are protected day after day. Unfortunately, public servants, including scientists, technicians, support staff and quarantine and health inspectors, are often subjected to ridicule and derision. I am glad that the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Ian Cameron) saw fit to praise these people as well. We should remember the quiet way that these officers do their job and the value of that job to this country. I commend this Bill to the House.