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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 1013


Senator BROWNHILL(4.57) —The Horticultural-Plant Variety Rights Bill 1984 [1985], as introduced by Senator Hill, has my complete backing. I am sorry that Senator Vigor has intimated that the Australian Democrats will not support the Bill, because I feel that there is a misunderstanding and that he has not read the explanatory memorandum. This Bill proposes to establish an Australian-wide scheme for the granting of proprietary rights to plant breeders over any new horticultural varieties which may be developed. The Bill incorporates the following principles: All varieties of ornamental, cut and fresh flowers, fruit varieties and vegetable varieties are included in the scheme. Participation in the scheme will be voluntary. The grant of a right would be given only where a new variety could be clearly distinguished by one or more important characteristics from any other known plant variety. Ownership rights include the right to levy and collect royalties from other persons growing and selling protected varieties for commercial purposes. Protected varieties will be freely available for research purposes and to plant breeders for use in breeding programs. Protection of a right, once granted, will be the responsibility of the owner of the new variety through the normal legal processes. Appeals against decisions of the registration authority can be made to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. The scheme is to be administered by the Department of Primary Industry.

This legislation is very clearly long overdue. The question of plant variety rights has been around for the past 10 years at least and certainly has been a very contentious issue. This is not the first time that legislation for a plant variety rights scheme has been introduced in to the Senate, nor is it the most all-embracing. However, absolute frustration at inaction by the Federal Government has brought about this private senator's Bill. The Bill unquestionably has the support of the entire horticultural industry. I am sure other senators have been inundated as I have been with representations from all phases of the industry-the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation, the Orchardists and Fruit Cool Stores Association of Victoria, the Australian Horticultural Growers Council the Central Coast Citrus Growers Organisation, the Livestock and Grain Producers Association and many others. All have written seeking my support for the Bill. In fact I have not had one letter opposing this legislation.

Plant variety rights was first discussed at Government level in 1977 when the issue was discussed and approved by the Australian Agricultural Council. However it was not until May 1979 that a draft PVR Bill was circulated to various appropriate government departments and various seed and nursery organisations. It was intended that the Bill would be presented to the House in 1980 but it in fact did not get introduced until 1981. It was then that the legislation and indeed members of parliament were swamped by a very well organised campaign of opposition from a number of groups, many of which linked PVR with increased genetic erosion, dominance of multinational corporations in seed and agrochemical industries and exploitation of agricultural industries in developing countries. All these arguments were presented to my former colleagues. From the sound of it I am perhaps glad I was not here at the time.

However, looking at some of these arguments a number of years down the track, I am not sure that many of them were based on any hard fact. I can accept the argument that seeds and all other forms of genetic material are and should be a public resource. That argument is sound as far as it goes. But without protection for our plant breeders and plant breeders sending material to Australia we will not have available to us the very best that the world's breeders can offer, and similarly, our breeders will have no protection for any new strains which they may develop. This does not encourage the investment that is required to produce higher yielding, more virus and weed resistant strains of plants. There is an argument that farmers and others will or could be required to pay more for seed material. This perhaps could happen. But if in fact people are getting a better product for their money the additional investment will, in the long run, be more profitable and more cost effective.

I believe the advantages of PVR far outweigh the disadvantages. The purpose of this legislation is to encourage horticultural plant breeding and research. It will do this because it will provide financial incentives to those breeders. Certainly the range of flowers and other horticultural varieties of fruits and vegetables will expand significantly. In the past overseas growers have been frightened to send any material to Australia because there would be no protection for them and no financial benefit. With this Bill, the range of horticultural products grown here will expand, and the quality of produce will also improve. I frankly cannot see what objections there could be to the passing of this legislation. Those most affected and involved in it-the growers in Australia-all want it. The fact that an Opposition senator has introduced the legislation shows the vacillating that the Government has shown over the entire PVR issue for a number of years now.

The Senate Standing Committee on Natural Resources took some time to finally bring down its report. It came out with the conclusion that a PVR scheme should be introduced. The subject was referred to that Committee for consideration, and was duly considered. Yet the Government in its infinite wisdom chose to send it off yet again for yet another opinion. I have no confidence at all that if this latest report is also favourable to the introduction of a PVR scheme the Government will not find another stalling manoeuvre. This legislation is wanted by the industry and I do not believe we have the right to reject it. I support the Bill.