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Tuesday, 3 April 1984
Page: 1147


Senator SCOTT (Leader of the National Party)(10.06) —The Opposition supports the Quarantine Amendment Bill. I shall spend only a few moments in talking on this measure. It is probably necessary and proper to make one or two observations about this quarantine Bill if for no other reason than that quarantine is of importance to a vast island continent such as Australia. Only a day or so ago the Senate was talking about the need for surveillance in relation to defence, against terrorist activity, illegal immigration, drug running, and so on. We have to be just as alert in the surveillance of our coastline to maintain quarantine arrangements. Australia is an island continent. We have massive sea lanes of communication. Our economy is very significantly dependent on healthy stock and healthy plant life. Therefore we need to establish a quarantine system that maintains that healthy stock and plant life.

The Bill basically seeks to increase the penalties currently imposed. They have not been increased for some five or six years, and I believe that the Bill increases them quite properly and quite severely. In the case of individuals, the Bill seeks to increase fines from a maximum of $10,000 to $50,000. It seeks to increase gaol sentences from five years to 10 years. Both penalties may apply . In the case of a corporate body, the maximum penalty is to be raised to a fine of $200,000. One only has to contemplate the horrific effects of the outbreak of any of a number of diseases in our animals to realise the enormous consequences that that would have on the economy of this country. If foot and mouth disease, which has occurred in a number of countries around the world, were to break out in this country it would probably denude the agricultural or primary industrial economy of something like $2.5 billion in the first year. Its ultimate effects are hard to evaluate because such a disease would be not only disastrous in that it would kill a vast number of our livestock but also it would make great inroads into the bloodstock lines and into the breeding capacities which have taken generations to establish. The real and ultimate losses of such a circumstance can be imagined and seen to be of enormous consequence in that field.

I believe it is unfortunate that at the moment the amount of aerial surveillance which is carried out in Australia has been reduced. We have lost the operation of the Nomad aircraft with its 360 degree radar search capacity. That is a serious blow to our capacity to observe and tighten the quarantine controls in this country. If Australia is not protected from the outbreak of disease it will not only mean significant loss to one or two specific industries but also it will have an equally disastrous effect on employment, particularly in the northern parts of Australia.

The legislation carries out a number of virtually administrative procedures which improve the operation of the quarantine laws, and it is to be commended on that ground. For instance, it rationalises the appointment of quarantine inspectors. Only the Director of Quarantine and chief quarantine officers will now be appointed by the Minister, the rest of the staff can be appointed by the Director. This, of course, simplifies the procedure and has to be seen as more efficient.

I remind the Senate that it was the observation of the Australian Labor Party at around election time that the quarantine management of animal and plant life should be transferred from the Department of Health to the Department of Primary Industry. To date that has not occurred. I must agree that such a transfer would appear to be a thoroughly acceptable and logical move. I express the hope that in the months that follow the Government will increase its attention to the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory which was established at Geelong. That is an organisation, an institution, of the very highest level of capacity in the scientific evaluation of the problems that relate to animal diseases. It is a laboratory which, when it reaches its maximum capacity, will be an institution of world-wide renown and acknowledgement. With those few observations, I express again the support of the Opposition for the Quarantine Amendment Bill and wish it a speedy passage.