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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 30032


Mr SCHULTZ (7:35 PM) —Recently I was compelled to rise again in this place to talk about the plight of sheep producers adversely affected by the policies of various agricultural departments as a result of their ovine Johne's disease strategies. Today I rise because of another threat, and yet again the problem can be traced directly to the policies of bureaucratic ideologues with little consideration for the men and women whose policies they affect. The threat I am talking about is fire blight. At the moment Australia is free of fire blight, but the importation of New Zealand apples, which are not free of fire blight, would bring this virulent disease to Australia and devastate our apple and pear industry.

Recently, the apple and pear industry was thrown a lifeline when Biosecurity Australia established a new risk assessment panel to complete its investigation into the possible importation of New Zealand apples. But the question we should be asking is: why is Australia even considering importing a disease? There are also grave concerns based on the past performance of Biosecurity Australia when dealing with fire blight. Australian Apple and Pear Growers Association Fire Blight Task Force Chair John Corboy has highlighted problems with the way Biosecurity Australia approaches scientific investigation and whether Biosecurity Australia even follows its own guidelines. Mr Corboy said:

From past experience over two-and-a-half years, the industry realises that the devil is in the detail. The only reasonable approach for us is to ask Biosecurity Australia to fill in the gaps.

And there are many gaps to fill. There is the lack of detail Biosecurity Australia has provided the industry, the failure of Biosecurity Australia to follow its own guidelines, the doubt over Biosecurity Australia's process of investigation and what areas it will focus on, and confusion over the role independent scientists will play in the study or whether they will be ambushed by Biosecurity Australia.

It would be nice to think that Biosecurity Australia is on the side of Australian producers. I can assure the House that the scientific data to date has supported the caution of Australian apple and pear growers. In March of this year I drew attention to the fact that the processes of Biosecurity Australia were flawed, and the concerns remain to this day. On 8 March I wrote:

I am also dismayed by the fact that Biosecurity Australia's work was always flawed on scientific grounds, which Liberal backbenchers and Senators have consistently told the Minister. While our protestations have finally resulted in the ban on importing New Zealand apples, it is outrageous that he has taken so long to act. The question needs to be asked: why was the industry, and Members of Parliament, such as myself, ignored for so long?

The good news is that the Minister and Biosecurity Australia appear to be reacting to the compelling arguments from the apple and pear producers, and have also begun to take note of the weight of scientific evidence; however, the crunch will come when they review this decision again after the latest scientific paper is presented. The Minister can be assured the industry will not stop fighting against the importation of Kiwi apples which could destroy the apple and pear industry.

It appears that in the five months since I expressed the fears of the industry not much has been done except to launch another inquiry by the same mob, which has no respect for the industry. Through all of this I am compelled to ask: to whom does Biosecurity Australia owe its allegiance? I doubt it is to biosecurity, and we now know it is not to Australia.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Senate committee for the magnificent contribution they made in their report on fire blight, and for the 14 recommendations which should be undertaken as a matter of urgency and which they included in that report. I thank the House for this opportunity to once again speak on an issue which is very important to the producers of this country.