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Thursday, 10 October 1985
Page: 1017

Senator HILL(5.25) —in reply-I wish to thank all honourable senators who have contributed to the debate. I suppose I should begin by saying why we are debating this Horticultural-Plant Variety Rights Bill [1985]. It is basically because of the frustration and disappointment of horticulturalists who, as my colleague Senator Crichton-Browne has just pointed out, have for years sought legislation of this nature in order that they might compete effectively with those in other countries. Some 22 other countries in the world have plant variety rights legislation of various types. Time and time again there has been delay. I listened to what Senator Robertson said in an otherwise very fair contribution. He said that there was another inquiry presently under way and that the Government would want to see the results of that inquiry. I can recall a similar argument when the Australian Democrats and the Australian Labor Party sent the former Government's Bill off to the Senate Standing Committee on National Resources. They claimed that we needed further consideration, on that occasion by a committee. The committee brought back its report and it was a learned report covering the issues extremely well, but as has just been pointed out by my colleague, there is a political difficulty on the Government's side and it hopes to avoid the problems of factions by calling for yet another inquiry. Thus, the matter has been unfortunately deferred to another inquiry.

I shall go through the stages of this highly important matter over many years and I shall explain in greater detail the basis of the frustration of those whom I am representing today-principally the horticulturalists of Australia. Their frustration is shown simply by the fact that they have approached a private senator and asked him to introduce a Bill. They can see no other way of putting sufficient pressure upon the Government in order to make it act. In this case I was approached by the South Australian Fruit Growers and Market Gardeners Association with the support of the South Australian Nurserymen's Association. They asked me to draft and submit to the Senate a Bill that could achieve for them what they very reasonably wanted to achieve.

I do not want to go back through all the major arguments for plant variety rights in Australia. These have been stated by my colleagues in this debate and I set them out in detail in my second reading speech. Let me briefly summarise what a PVR system would do for Australian horticulture. It would help to encourage the development of horticultural plant breeding and research in Australia through the financial incentive provided by the operation of proprietary rights. I know that some senators on the other side cannot understand this financial incentive, and certainly Senator Vigor has made it clear today that the Australian Democrats cannot understand it. However, it is part of the real world. The financial incentive will enable research to take place in Australia, research that is not taking place at present and it will give horticulturalists a greater opportunity to compete. With better products they can more effectively compete in export markets; with better products they can more effectively meet export competition. For those who have said that there is no evidence that this can be achieved, that it will provide greater research into plant breeding, I simply repeat what Senator Watson said earlier, that when New Zealand introduced PVR legislation over a decade ago there was a 500 per cent increase in plant breeding.

Further, the Bill will provide Australian horticulturalists with access to improved overseas varieties of vegetable, fruit and ornamental seeds, thereby enabling the Australian horticultural industry to become more competitive in both domestic and export markets. I will read into the Hansard in a little while a number of examples put by horticulturalists of their being unable to gain access to the best and most up to date varieties of their products from throughout the world because Australia is out of step. We do not have a PVR regime and because we cannot offer the protection that these producers of new plant breeds in other countries require, they simply will not take the risk of exporting them to this country and losing control of their product. Very simply, in those ways a PVR system in Australia would revolutionise horticulture for the benefit of horticulturalists and for the benefit of the whole community.

The Bill is limited to horticulture. That has been done because we understand that there are still some areas of concern about fodder, pasture and field crops. There are still fears in some sections of the community that in some way the introduction of PVR relating to field crops could detrimentally affect public breeding. In logic I simply cannot see that that follows; there is no direct relationship whatsoever. But certainly, public breeding institutions continue to express fear that in some way governments may restrict their funding and therefore they may be able to contribute what they have in the past. That lobby remains strong. Rather than delay the whole subject matter while that debate is resolved, we decided to limit the Bill simply to that sector of agriculture in which there is no dispute, where there are not public plant breeding programs and where the plant breeding programs cannot be relevant in any way. That is why it has been limited to horticulture.

I think I can say, with little fear of being shown wrong, that there is unanimous support from horticulture. Certainly, that has come through in the mass of correspondence that I and other honourable senators have received from horticulturalists throughout Australia, all asking for PVR and all failing to understand why this Government is not prepared to do what is necessary in their interests and in the interests of the community as a whole; that is, give them this instrument that will allow them to compete overseas more effectively. Therefore, we limited the Bill to horticulture.

I refer to the question of definition. Horticulture was not defined because, as was said by Senator Watson, it is a generic and scientific term. To try to provide a more specific definition will only create more problems than it will solve. The advice of the Parliamentary Draftsman and of the scientists in the field is that what is horticulture is commonly known in the industry and no real problems will result therefrom.

Let me briefly run through the history of PVR or the lack of PVR in Australia. Australia is one of the few developed countries still without any PVR system. There are some 22 other countries in the world with plant variety rights, and they are listed in the Senate Committee report. These countries include West Germany, which has had plant variety rights for more than a century, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France , Hungary, Israel, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Romania, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Yet here today we have heard the Australian Democrats say: `Show us that it can work. How will you be able to solve the administrative problems with PVR?'-almost suggesting that it is something novel to the world. All we are really trying to do with this Bill is catch up with the rest of the world. Unfortunately there are those within Australia who are not prepared to let us do so. The debate about PVR in Australia has been in the public domain since the late 1960s. It was the subject of ongoing Australian Agricultural Council discussions during the 1970s. It was first placed in legislative form in 1979 with the preparation of a draft Bill by the Department of Primary Industry. It is interesting that those departments which found what they see as technical faults in this Bill have largely been responsible for the original drafts which have been refined over the years with experience. Of course, they should have supported the Bill.

The former Government introduced a PVR Bill into the Parliament in early 1981. It was allowed to lie on the table for public consideration and comment. Then in 1982 the Bill was passed by the House of Representatives. In September 1982 the Senate referred the Bill to its Standing Committee on National Resources for consideration and report. It lapsed with the change of Parliament. It was reintroduced. The Committee brought down its report in May 1984. The principal recommendation was that the Commonwealth consider the introduction of a PVR scheme for Australia. In effect that is an endorsement by the majority of the Committee of PVR. I quote from the report:

After considering the potential advantages and disadvantages of PVR and a number of alternatives, the Committee has concluded that PVR is the most appropriate means of improving access to overseas varieties and stimulating plant breeding in Australia.

The report was brought down in 1984. In March 1985 the Government responded and effectively delayed the matter further by deciding that it should go for another investigation by Professor Lazenby from Tasmania. Meanwhile, the horticulturalists that I am representing here today continue to suffer from the absence of this legislation.

What is happening now is that the Government is saying: `Wait until that report comes in. We want to have it ready for submission to the AAC by February 1986'. It may be ready then. If it is, it may be submitted and then it will wait for Australian agricultural bodies to comment and then it will go back for further consideration. The matter is obviously going on and on with constant delays. The only rational reason that can be given for that sort of delay is the factional problems within the Australian Labor Party, the embarrassment that they are going to suffer if the Left again will not permit them-

Senator Zakharov —The majority of the National Conference was of that view. Is that the Left? I wish it was.

Senator HILL —Is the honourable senator saying that the majority of the Labor Party is against PVR legislation for horticulture?

Senator Zakharov —That was the National Conference decision last year.

Senator HILL —The horticulturalists of Australia then do not seem to have much chance. That seemed to be somewhat inconsistent with what Senator Robertson said. I thought he seemed to indicate that he was reasonably hopeful. In the short time that I have let me remind the Senate of just some of the views that have been put to honourable senators on this critically important matter, partly because the Democrats do not seem to understand that the horticulturalists really want it or why they want it. I refer to submissions that have come from such bodies as the Horticultural Association of South Australia Inc. which says:

Without plant variety rights the Australian horticultural industry has no chance of competing on the world markets, nor do we have the opportunity of maintaining viability and supplying the Australian consumer with a wider range of fruits and vegetables from high yielding, better quality varieties.

There was a submission in similar terms from the berry growers section of the Horticultural Association of South Australia Inc. and from the Renmark branch which was concerned about the inability to get the latest root stocks for stone fruits from overseas sources. The potato industry committee of that body expressed concern about New Zealand's advantages because that country has PVR and can more effectively compete with better products that we cannot get into this country. The onion section of that body says that it wants to give this industry access to improved, high yielding varieties, but is simply denied such opportunities through PVR not existing in this country. A submission from the brussel sprouts-celery section in similar terms says that those growers cannot effectively compete in export markets. I would have thought that even the Democrats would have been interested in our industry being unable to compete more effectively overseas because of the lack of legislation in this country. The flower growers' section of that same body said:

We are committed in our industry to floriculture. We believe that the evidence in favour of plant variety rights is irrefutable.

The Sunraysia Districts Citrus Co-operative Society Ltd has written speaking of the advantages of some of the American products that it would like to get into Australia but cannot through the lack of PVR. I have a very sophisticated letter from the Wine and Brandy Producers Association of South Australia Inc. explaining the difficulties growers face in the advancement of different grape varieties in this country through the lack of legislation. I have a letter from the Western Australian Fruit Shippers Committee supporting the legislation. The South Australian Association of Nurserymen Inc. has written giving concrete examples, which I will be pleased to show to Senator Vigor, of why, because of the lack of legislation, it cannot get into this country the products growers want. I could go on. I have correspondence from the Central Coast Citrus Growers Organisation, the Western Australian Fruit Growers Association Inc., the Victorian Cherry Association, and the Cherry Growers of South Australia. I have also received letters from some plant breeders such as Phytotech, who have written explaining their difficulties. The plant breeders referred to the opportunities for markets in South East Asia that they cannot get into because we cannot compete effectively.

I have had correspondence from the Tasmanian Apple and Pear Growers Association, the Apple and Pear Growers Association of South Australia Inc., the Eastern Metropolitan Fruit Growers Association, the Livestock and Grain Producers Association of New South Wales, the Almond Co-operative Ltd, Murray Citrus Growers Co-op. Association (Australia Ltd), the Australian Cherry Growers Federation, the Queensland Nurserymen's Association, all setting out arguments why they need this legislation. I have received not just brief two-line letters, but letters that explain each organisation's unique circumstances. The rights they seek are being denied to them by this Government and by the Australian Democrats. I have received letters from the Australian Berryfruit Growers Federation, the Nurserymen's Association of Western Australia Inc., the United Farmers and Stockowners of South Australia Inc. and Orchardists and Fruit Cool Stores Association of Victoria. I could continue.

I do not wish to take up the time of the Senate for much longer. If I had more time I would go through the various arguments that were put by honourable senators who spoke in this debate. Perhaps during the Committee stage when we have an opportunity to consider Senator Vigor's proposed amendments, that will be the time to look at his arguments, which, I must confess, I found most strange.

Senator Puplick —The Democrats would not have a science policy without a patents system, would they?

Senator HILL —That is an interesting point. Patents seem to have been forgotten. I also want to talk about Senator Zakharov's arguments. No doubt I will have the opportunity to do so in the Committee stage. I commend the Bill to the Senate. It has been called for by the industry which has demonstrated why it needs it. It is for the benefit of Australian export and for the provision of better products in this country. It can result only in greater efficiency. I would have thought that that was what we were all about and were seeking from industries such as this. I therefore hope, notwithstanding what has been said by the Labor Party in this debate, that it will reconsider and give its support to this Bill.

Question put:

That the Bill be now read a second time.