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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6216

Senator BOSWELL (2:10 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Sherry. I refer to comments made on Monday by the Prime Minister of Vietnam regarding Australia pledging to ‘reconsider its quarantine measures on Vietnamese seafood’. As the minister would be aware, Biosecurity Australia have received an enormous amount of scientific evidence that prawns from South-East Asia infected with white spot syndrome virus pose a major risk to our wild catch prawn populations and crustaceans, including lobsters. I ask the minister: what commitments were made by the Prime Minister on relaxing quarantine restrictions against seafood imports from South-East Asia? If there is to be a change of policy, will the minister outline the process the government will take when reconsidering quarantine restrictions against seafood imports and will the scientific evidence that has previously been compiled be considered before that decision is taken?

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) —I should point out that I am not the minister for primary industries—I actually represent the minister. But I am willing to assist you. I am very happy to assist you, Senator Boswell. It is a good question. In fact, it is only the second question I have had in almost a year from the National Party in respect of primary industry and fishery issues. I do wonder from time to time—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, address your comments to the chair.

Senator SHERRY —Mr President, I do wonder from time to time—we have only had two questions from the supposed champions of rural and regional Australia.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, address your comments to the chair.

Senator SHERRY —I have got an enormous range of detail that I am happy to give to the Senate about the issue of prawns. I have got an enormous range of material I can give you about the issue of importation of prawns. But I do think it is reasonable to point out that this is only the second question I have had in one year. Nevertheless, I am prepared and I do have some advice I can pass on on behalf of the minister, who is actually located in the other chamber, Senator Boswell.

I am pleased to receive this question from Senator Boswell because the previous Liberal government, particularly on this issue of quarantine and prawns, had an absolutely appalling record. The fact is that the prawn and prawn products import risk analysis was first published as a draft in 1998. Ten years later, the Rudd Labor government, when it was elected, found that the prawn IRA was still in draft form. So it has taken 10 years and it is still not finalised. Goodness knows what the National Party was doing when it was in government. In the meantime, because of the 10 years it has taken—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! When there is quiet, we will proceed.

Senator SHERRY —In the 10 years that it has taken to develop the draft—it is still in draft form—prawns have been imported from around the world, potentially carrying white spot virus and a number of other diseases. In response to a suspected occurrence of white spot virus in a research facility in Darwin, the former government announced interim measures and later updated the interim measures. That is what the current Labor government has inherited—interim import conditions and a draft risk assessment which, as I have said, is 10 years old. Before the National Party—in their occasional, very occasional, foray in this chamber into these issues—dare to criticise, they should have a long, hard look at what they did not do in 10 years in this area.

To go to the comments of the Vietnamese Prime Minister in respect of this matter, Australia has amended interim quarantine measures for prawns and prawn products based on a comprehensive scientific risk assessment that is essential to ensure that Australian prawn stocks remain free of the diseases of concern. The quarantine measures that were introduced in July 2007—and I think that the current opposition were actually in government then—allow imports to continue, including from Vietnam, provided Australia’s import requirements relating to testing and processing are met. Australia recently amended the measures to remove testing requirements on uncooked prawn meat for—and it is in Latin, so here it goes—infectious hypodermal and haematopoietic necrosis virus. Following the discovery of IHHNV— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT —Order! Resume your seat, Senator Boswell. When there is quiet I will call you. Quiet please. On my right! Senator Boswell is entitled to ask his question in silence. Senator Boswell.

Senator Boswell —Two minutes were taken up by a National Party bash, and you just let the minister rave on. I ask you to pull him into order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Boswell, that was not a supplementary question.

Opposition senators—It was a point of order.

The PRESIDENT —I did not hear him say that it was a point of order. You have to nominate, Senator Boswell, that you are taking a point of order. That is one of the weaknesses in this chamber currently. When people stand to take points of order, on both sides, they should nominate that they are standing to take a point of order and then explain their point of order. I could not hear that it was a point of order. Senator Boswell, your supplementary question.

Senator BOSWELL —Was the Prime Minister made aware of the biosecurity issues with white spot syndrome virus before he made assurances to reconsider quarantine restrictions against seafood imports and, if so, why would he make those commitments?

Senator SHERRY (Minister for Superannuation and Corporate Law) —Forgive my Latin pronunciation; I must say that it was never one of my great strengths. Following advice that Australia—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator SHERRY —I am the first to admit that Latin is not my strong point.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Sherry, ignore the interjections; respond to the question.

Senator SHERRY —Following advice that Australia has a newly identifiable strain of the prawn virus—and I will use the acronym, IHHNV—and that it is not considered feasible to undertake a national eradication or control program, Biosecurity Australia have reviewed the interim quarantine conditions for prawns and prawn products and removed the requirements relating to IHHNV. AQIS implemented the amended interim quarantine conditions from 11 September 2008. This means that uncooked prawn meat exported to Australia from all countries will no longer need to be tested for IHHNV. The prawn meat will be tested for other disease agents of quarantine concern. These are white spot syndrome virus and yellow head virus. (Time expired)