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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5490


Senator TAMBLING (Deputy Leader of the National Party of Australia) (3.27 a.m.) —Preparation for the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Bill 1992 and the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Amendment Bill 1992 commenced in 1967. In July 1991 the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments agreed to replace the existing eight State and Territory registration bodies with a single national scheme to register agricultural and veterinary chemicals. These Bills establish the National Registration Authority for Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals. The Authority is another step towards the development of a national registration scheme for these chemicals.

  The Authority will replace the Australian Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Council as well as eight State and Territory statutory authorities. Its statutory power is considered necessary as it will be the national registration authority for these chemicals. The Bills do not change the arrangement for the registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. Another Bill to do that is expected next year. The Minister will have the power to direct the Authority in exceptional circumstance but, if he does, he must present the direction to both Houses of Parliament and it has to be reported in the Authority's annual report.

  The Authority will have eight part time directors, appointed by the Minister for three years. They will come from industry, State government, the rural sector, the trade union movement and consumer organisations. The Authority must fully recover its costs from the ag-vet chemicals industry over the next four years. The Authority is to be given maximum flexibility to operate in a businesslike manner, free of government and Public Service restraints. It can set the terms and conditions of employment for its staff. It is being established before the main legislation relating to the national registration scheme to allow it to contribute to the development of the legislation which it will administer and to consult with interested groups.

  The Australian agricultural industry is one of the least intensive users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals in the world. Australian agriculture has also been one of the most careful users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. That is a positive image and a situation that we should continue to exploit with our exports to other countries. Australian agriculture is not a heavy user of chemicals compared with many other countries, due to the fact that our agriculture is extensive rather than intensive. This means that it has a low input cost system because it gets only a low return in export markets. Much of our agricultural area has low rainfall, and this creates certain restraints on the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals from a cost-effectiveness point of view. Also, much of our agriculture is grazing and livestock production rather than cropping. Cropping forms of agriculture are heavier users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals than the grazing industry.

  At present we have the situation in the sheep industry where the industry would be better off if it could afford to use more veterinary chemicals than is presently the case, a situation brought about by the low returns to many of those sheep farmers. On the other hand, horticulture is a more intensive user, but it has adopted a positive policy to reduce the use of agricultural chemicals. I have noted the comments made by my colleague the honourable member for Murray, the shadow Minister for primary industries, Mr Bruce Lloyd, regarding the horticultural industry's policy towards reducing the use of agricultural chemicals to biological control.

  The growers have a legitimate complaint because, while in Australia there are restrictions on the use of chemicals and on residue with regard to fruit, vegetables, meat, et cetera, at this stage there are not the same requirements on the products coming into Australia with which they have to compete. That is an unfair situation as well as one that is not in the best interests of the consumer. I know that progress is being made in this area. I just hope that it accelerates so that we have a situation where the standards required for people producing food in Australia are applied equally to food, or whatever it may be, that is being imported. These Bills are supported by the industry and by the coalition.