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Tuesday, 25 February 2020
Page: 1281


Senator McGRATH (QueenslandDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (12:51): I'd like to rise on this bill, the Agriculture Legislation Amendment (Streamlining Administration) Bill 2019, and second the remarks of my good colleague from the Northern Territory Senator McMahon in relation to the importance of biosecurity and of the broader agricultural industry across Australia.

Those who are regular listeners to Senate FM will have noted that I will bore for Australia about the yellow crazy ants. The yellow crazy ants are an invasive species that have come from somewhere—we think the east coast of Africa—and I'll tell you how bad the species is and explain the situation of a man south of Cairns called Frank Teodo. Frank is what you call one of those true characters of Far North Queensland. He is very frank in his views and very earthy in his approach to politicians. Frank woke up one night, as you sometimes do, because he could feel something moving across his face. He wiped it away, and what was happening was that a swarm of yellow crazy ants were deciding that his face was going to be a nice resting place. The yellow crazy ants don't bite, but they spray a form of acid on their prey to immobilise them, and Frank was blinded for a number of weeks because of the acid that had been sprayed on him by the yellow crazy ants. Frank also has a number of dogs that he uses for hunting wild pigs or wild boars, and the yellow crazy ants were able to get into their nostrils and destroy their sense of smell, which unfortunately meant that the dogs were not particularly efficient at chasing wild boars. This is just one example of the impact of yellow crazy ants on one individual.

Supercolonies—and that might sound like slightly emotive language—of yellow crazy ants have formed up in the tropics. Luckily a number of people—such as Frank Teodo and a staffer for the Wet Tropics Management Authority, a lady by the name of Lucy Karger—have been leading the efforts to fight against yellow crazy ants. And the local federal member up there, Warren Entsch, has been particularly strong in advocating down here for extra funds so that we can try to stop these supercolonies from growing and developing and actually wipe the supercolonies out. So the federal government has spent millions of dollars, in conjunction with an amount of funding from the state government, to bait these supercolonies of yellow crazy ants, not just through using what used to exist, in terms of the Green Army, but also by using helicopters to drop the baits into wild areas—because unfortunately the yellow crazy ants didn't just stay in and around the southern parts of Cairns, around Gordonvale and Edmonton, but actually got up into Kuranda—hence the interest of the Wet Tropics Management Authority.

With this invasive species, you might think it's a little ant—it's quite a tiny ant—that can't do much damage. But when they form these supercolonies they have the ability to wipe out the native animals of Far North Queensland. And, although this is not a point for partisan politics, I know that the Labor Party has also supported the granting of money to local groups up there to fight this scourge of yellow crazy ants. That's why it is so important that we do everything possible to utilise and streamline our biosecurity measures, because Australia is one of those rare countries that has such a pristine natural environment where invasive species, notwithstanding the aforementioned yellow crazy ants, are kept at a minimum because of our biosecurity measures—and it's not just because we don't want to wake up in the middle of the night with a swarm of yellow crazy ants deciding to nest on our face and temporarily blind us; it is because of the importance of the agricultural industry to Australia.

We all know that back in the 1950s and 1960s Australia rode on the sheep's back. We still ride on the back of sheep, and on the back of cattle, and we also ride on the fields of barley, maize, wheat and sugarcane. Our total farm production is estimated at $62 billion. That is a lot of money in anyone's terms. It's many, many Lotto rollovers on a Saturday night. But the potential that is there for our agricultural sector is so important. Our exports are valued at $49 billion, and that's up by almost 27 per cent since we came to office. This bill is so important because of how it could help protect our agricultural sector. We've done a number of things over the years since we came into power in 2013 to protect and grow the agricultural sector as well as to grow our biosecurity measures. In the 2019-20 financial year the government has made available $852 million for biosecurity to maintain our strong pest- and disease-free status and to support agriculture trade. Senator McMahon mentioned earlier the threat of swine fever to our pork industry in terms of the damage that has previously been caused and could be caused if our pork industry is wiped out.

We're spending $29 million to strengthen our agricultural export trade through developing an internationally competitive and profitable horticultural sector and working to minimise the impact of non-tariff measures, and that's particularly important in our trade with some of the South-East Asian countries. What is interesting is that when you travel around Queensland, which I do as a senator for Queensland, all farmers have one eye to the horizon—to the clouds—to see if rain is coming, but they also have one eye open to where the markets are. The days when farmers would necessarily just trade with each other are still there in certain small quantities, but so many farmers are dependent on our ability to trade not interstate but overseas. Queensland farmers know that their ability to grow their farm and to grow their property comes from their ability to export their goods overseas to that growing market in South-East Asia and also across South Asia, Sri Lanka and India.

But it's not just biosecurity and trade where we're spending money to ensure the future of our important agriculture sector; it's also to do with what's happened with the drought. As much as I've bored senators about yellow crazy ants in this place for this years, I've also bored senators for many years about the impact of the drought in Queensland. It was only about two years ago that the drought came onto the national stage. For many people in Queensland who, at that point, had been living in drought conditions for up to six or seven years, it was a little bit like saying: 'Welcome to the party, ladies and gentlemen. This is what we've been dealing with.' There were kids in western Queensland who had never actually experienced rain. We're talking about six-, seven- and eight-year-olds who had never experienced rain, such was the length of the drought and such was the impact of the drought on local communities. You just think about that—trying to explain to a child that there's a thing called rain, and it's just something they see on the television.

We're spending not just millions of dollars or tens of millions of dollars but billions of dollars over the coming years to help droughtproof Australia and to help ensure the resilience—that's probably a word that is overused—to ensure the future of farming in this country. This country is a dry country. I live out in the Darling Downs. I live in an area that has been drought declared for a number of years. And even though, in the last four weeks, we've had as much rain as we received in all of last year, we are still a drought declared area. Because of what's happened now, we've got what's called a green drought. The grass is green and the grass has grown a bit, but, until we get more sustained rain and the restoration of the normal rain patterns, we are in a green drought.

But this bill—the Agriculture Legislation Amendment (Streamlining Administration) Bill 2019, to give it its full title—is something that's going to assist the efficiency and effectiveness of our biosecurity system by authorising automated decision-making for decisions made by biosecurity officers under the Biosecurity Act 2015. That may not sound particularly exciting to those listening at home, but, to those who are sitting on their tractors, this is very exciting. To those who've come in to have a lunch break, this is particularly exciting news. That's because what the government is doing is ensuring that we are making our biosecurity system more efficient. Produce not only leaves this country but comes into this country. And what those on certain sides of politics—the far Left and the far Right—sometimes don't understand is that trade means we can export our brilliant produce around the world, but it also means we do need to import. But we need to make sure that our imports that come into this country go through the proper mechanisms, through proper screening and through the proper processes to make sure that we do not get invasive species, like yellow crazy ants, coming into this country and allowing them to damage and destroy our agriculture industry.

The approach of this bill will be to support deregulation and improve the effectiveness of the biosecurity framework and the imported food system. The bill is urgently needed to enable the use of current technologies to effectively and efficiently enforce biosecurity controls over vast cargo volumes that may pose a high biosecurity risk to Australia. Briefly, I did reach the dizzying heights of Assistant Minister for Immigration and—

Senator Duniam: Lofty!

Senator McGRATH: Lofty heights. What was interesting about that, working under Minister Dutton, was going and looking at our airports and looking at our ports in terms of the huge volume. Sometimes we forget about it, but there is a huge volume of produce that actually does come into this country. We realise that we rely so much on technology in terms of screening—seeing what's there. We rely so much on the professionalism and the hard work of those staff who are on the front line fighting against bad things trying to come into this country. We do put invasive species into the category of bad things, considering they pose such a threat to the economic security of this country. That's why this bill is so important.

The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment process an average of 45,000 commercial cargo referrals each month. That is a lot, and that is why this bill is needed. Senator McMahon talked about the brown marmorated stink bug. I'm just going to call it the stink bug. In terms of the—

Senator Duniam: Doesn't it have an acronym?

Senator McGRATH: It does have an acronym, but I'm just going to call it the stink bug. The impact that stink bug can have on—I don't want to say on our biosecurity—our home is big. Biosecurity is about protecting our home. What this bill does is make sure that the screens we have around our homes—the guard dogs, the burglar intrusion systems and the security cameras—are all working efficiently. That is why this bill is a good bill and it is a bill that is needed to make sure that our agricultural sector is protected, that jobs are protected, that small businesses are protected and that security of Australia is protected. Australia is one of those rare countries around the world where we have such a pristine environment. We are so strongly protecting this environment because we know it is so important in protecting our economy. Thank you.