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Tuesday, 17 September 1996
Page: 3528

Senator WOODLEY —My question without notice is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industries and Energy. Minister, on 27 June I asked you whether or not the government would undertake an environmental impact study into the impact of newcastle disease virus on Australian poultry and native birds as promised in a letter to John Clarke of the VFF by John Anderson prior to the 1996 election. You answered, `I am sure if Minister Anderson wrote to Mr Clarke and said that, he will do it.'   The Australian Chicken Meat Federation received a further letter advising that an EIS was not needed. Minister, was your confidence in Minister Anderson misplaced or did you make a mistake when you gave that assurance to the Senate? Will an EIS be completed before a decision to allow imports of cooked chicken meat into Australia is made?

Senator Faulkner —He can't turn up the brief.

Senator PARER —You're right. Thank you, Senator Woodley, for your question. Yes, I do recall answering that question

Senator Faulkner —That's a good start.

Senator PARER —There is a brief here somewhere from the minister about this. I said that the minister had written to Mr Clarke promising there would be an extensive EIS and the minister, in opposition, expressed his belief that the quarantine risk assessment process warranted investigation and, in the case of newcastle disease, the conduct of an EIS.

Since that time, the Nairn committee has been established and, on coming to government, the minister moved to strengthen the evaluation capacity of the committee. In relation to an EIS on cooked chicken meat, however, the minister found on coming to government that the previous minister had received a final report from AQIS nearly 12 months earlier than indicated and that AQIS had considered the risk of newcastle disease becoming established in the poultry industry and the native bird population. There has been extensive consultation with scientists, industry and state departments.

Senator Bob Collins —I didn't lie to the industry.

Senator PARER —In response to the interjection, the former Minister for Primary Industries and Energy was one Senator Bob Collins. The effectiveness of the time temperature parameters proposed by AQIS as a minimum measure against disease agents of quarantine concern has been acknowledged by all parties.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator PARER —The rabble on the other side are not particularly interested in hearing this answer because it is embarrassing to them. A decision was taken in March 1995 to admit spray-dried whole egg powder based on the same scientific principles as proposed for cooked chicken meat. Since AQIS considers that importation, subject to the strict conditions proposed, would reduce risk of disease transmission to either commercial or wild birds in Australia to negligibly low levels, the decision on the importation of cooked chicken meat is unlikely to have any significant environmental implications in terms of the EP(IP) Act.

Senator Faulkner —I don't think you should have turned this brief up. You are making a horrible hash of it.

Senator PARER —An EIS for cooked chicken meat is therefore not considered necessary by the minister.

Senator Faulkner —You would have been better adlibbing.

Senator PARER —You're right. This notwithstanding, the minister has initiated a process of consultation with industry to work through the technical details on the import protocols. Once that working group has concluded its work, all responses and industry concerns will be considered carefully and quarantine processes will then be finalised.

Senator WOODLEY —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer. I am not sure whether Senator Boswell should be asking this supplementary, but perhaps I will. I believe the government is confused, Minister, and I wonder if you might help us a bit more. Yesterday in the Australian Mr Anderson was quoted as approving the import of cooked chicken meat into Australia. Will you give an assurance that a final decision will not be made until the Senate rural and regional affairs committee has completed its inquiry into this matter?

Senator PARER —Senator, as you would know, and as Senator Collins would know, the actual decision as to whether or not things like cooked chicken meat are imported into Australia is a matter for AQIS.

Senator Bob Collins —That is not what I told them, Warwick.

Senator PARER —Hang on.

Senator West interjecting

Senator PARER —I beg your pardon, Senator, check with your own ex-minister if you do not believe me. He knows that as well as I do. From a practical perspective, the minister has some obligation to ensure that the scientific processes—you are nodding; Senator Collins is nodding—carried out were adequate. (Time expired)