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Thursday, 23 August 2001
Page: 30189

Mr O'CONNOR (9:58 AM) —The purpose of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2001 is to amend the provisions of legislation within the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry portfolio to harmonise with the Criminal Code. The amendments will apply the Criminal Code to all offence creating and related provisions in the portfolio; delete some references to some general provisions of the Crimes Act and replace them with references to equivalent provisions in the Criminal Code where appropriate; apply strict liability to some individual offences or to specific physical elements of some offences; reconstruct provisions of the legislation in order to clarify physical elements of conduct, circumstances and results, and to clarify defences; remove or replace some inappropriate fault elements; and repeal some offence creating provisions which duplicate general offence provisions in the Criminal Code.

There has been some concern expressed about the decision by the government not to apply the provisions of the Criminal Code regarding corporate criminal responsibility to legislation in this portfolio where such legislation already contains provisions relating to corporate responsibility. It is an approach that has been undertaken by the government in applying the Criminal Code to, for example, environment and heritage legislation. We will be monitoring how the amendments proceed throughout the full gamut of legislation in this portfolio area and probably, as usual, it will be left to the incoming Labor government and the incoming Labor minister to mop up some of the incompetencies of the government with respect to this type of legislation. We have had to do it before. We will let this one roll through the committee here and through the parliament, but we will be monitoring those concerns that we have with regard to the approach that the government has taken with this particular portfolio area.

As I glance through these amendments, it is interesting to note the wide range of legislation in the portfolio that is affected by these amendments. There are several pieces of legislation relating to the use of chemicals, particularly the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Act, the Meat and Live-stock Industry Act, the Export Inspection and Meat Charges Collection Act, the Farm Household Support Act, the Fisheries Management Act, the Horticulture Marketing and Research and Development Services Act, the Loan (Income Equalisation Deposits) Act, the Meat Inspection Act, the Plant Breeder's Rights Act, the Primary Industries Levies and Charges Collection Act, the Torres Strait Fisheries Act and the Wheat Marketing Act. It certainly applies right across the gamut of legislation covered in the administrative orders of this particular portfolio area.

I raise this point because it indicates how sophisticated farming is today in the modern Australian economy. Farmers are not only producers; they are also expected to be financial managers and people with an intimate knowledge of their marketplace. They are called on to have a wide range of skills in operating increasingly sophisticated farm machinery. There is a touch of the agronomist about everything that they do. The market that they produce for is, of course, becoming increasingly sophisticated. The consumers of today change their tastes on a regular basis and primary production in some areas does not have the physical capacity to adapt to the changes in consumer taste. For example, in the wine industry we have seen the growth of the consumption of reds, but there is a reasonably long lead time before the sector can adjust to these particular developments on farm. No sooner have they arrived at that particular point than the consumers' tastes move on to some other product or some other wine. It is a very difficult task that the modern farmer has in tuning into that sophisticated marketplace and predicting exactly what they ought to be producing in what quantities.

This is a very important piece of legislation because, throughout farming practice in Australia today, there are criminal penalties involved in some of the actions that farmers engage in as they go about their business of producing for that sophisticated marketplace. Farmers need to be aware of those increasing pressures that are coming upon them and the sanctions that are there in the Criminal Code for behaviours that step outside of the law, particularly in that area of using chemicals in agricultural production. Once again, consumers are becoming sophisticated and they are demanding of the farming sector that it use fewer chemicals in production processes.

I can recall the days on the farm when we used to hop on the tractor, which was open aired, and would rarely look at which way the wind was blowing. We would put the sprays on our crop without really having the finer skills of application. But, of course, those times have changed. Certainly, many of my father's generation died early. At that time the women in the local community lived much longer than the men. I suspect that that was due to some of the farming practices at the time when chemicals were being introduced. My father's generation was certainly not aware of the dangers of many of those chemicals, and indeed society was not aware. Of course, when the science did catch up with this area of agricultural production, it was too late for many of those farmers.

So it is not surprising that we come now to a bill where a substantial part of the amendments relates to the application of the Criminal Code in the area of the use of chemicals. We will not be opposing this piece of legislation; we will be watching the amendments play out. There is no doubt that somewhere along the line, probably in a future parliament, we will have to revisit this legislation. However, at this point we will be supporting the legislation through this committee and the House.