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Tuesday, 19 August 1980
Page: 448

Mr Humphreys asked the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice, on 21 May 1980:

(1)   ls legislation currently being drafted that will effectively give control of the international seeds market and the granting of patent rights to plant breeders to a small group of trans-national corporations.

(2)   Has his attention been drawn to reports that the introduction of legislation of this kind in the United Kingdom and the United States of America led to a spree of buying small seed companies by non-seed trans-national corporations.

(3)   Is there any substance in statements that the introduction of legislation of this kind would (a) lead to the concentration of seed production and marketing by a few transnational corporations and (b) increase the costs of seeds.

(4)   Would any benefits flow from legislation of this kind; if so, what are they.

(5)   Do (a) the existence of plant collections such as those of the (i) New South Wales Department of Agriculture and (ii) Australian Wheat Board collection and (b) current considerations of the Australian Agricultural Council for the establishment of plant genetic resource centres indicate that governments in Australia are aware of the danger in having all varieties of species on a narrow genetic base.

(6)   Does this attitude conflict with the reported intent of the legislation referred to in part (1).

(7)   Has his attention been drawn to a recently reported statement by Sir John Crawford warning that scientific effort and its technological application are frustrated unless a great complex of policy issues are attended to and the point is clearest and perhaps more complex in agriculture as agricultural research is not frustrated by patents.

(8)   Has the cost of regulating a system of plant variety rights been considered.

Mr Nixon - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   No. Legislation is being drafted to introduce a Plant Variety Rights Scheme into Australia. The proposals for such a scheme were put to the Government several years ago and since then there has been close examination of all aspects of plant variety rights by experts from all State Governments, the CSIRO and rural industry organisations. These organisations, the Australian Nurserymen's Association, the Australian Seed Industry Association and the Australian Seed Producers' Association, whose members include small business and farming interests, have thoroughly investigated the operation of similar schemes in overseas countries. They are of the firm opinion that a Plant Variety Rights Scheme would be of benefit to their industries and members.

(2)   I am aware that a number of such allegations have been made. Most of these were printed in a book by P. A. Mooney entitled 'Seeds of the Earth' but I have not been able to obtain any other substantiating evidence. Take-overs of -commercial firms by other firms are not confined to the Seed industry but are common practice in most avenues of commercial endeavour. It is most unlikely that take-overs would be initiated by Plant Variety Rights legislation.

(3)   None that I have been able to substantiate. Evidence indicates that there has been an increase in the number of small firms in the plant breeding business. For example of the 25 firms breeding soy beans in the USA only one such firm has been operating for more than 12 years.

(4)   Yes. The Australian Agricultural Council has examined the whole question and recommended that the Government should introduce legislation to establish a Plant Variety Rights Scheme in Australia. It was convinced that it would be of benefit to Australian agriculture and would encourage plant breeding by individuals, commercial firms, and publicly funded organisations. It would lead to the development of new improved plant varieties and allow Australia access to improved varieties from other countries which are presently denied to us.

Small business firms and individual breeders would be in a better position to compete on more equal terms with large


companies as the capital invested in developing new and improved varieties would be protected. It is only equitable that they should be able to recoup their expenditures of time, skills and funds. At present they have no such protection and the results of their enterprise can be pirated at will.

(5)   Australia, together with many other countries, has important collections of plant genetic material. Such collections provide basic material for plant breeding. Consideration is being given to expanding these collections as plant breeding is of great importance to Australia and its rural industries. The maintenance of plant genetic resource material is a separate issue to the granting of proprietary rights over new plant varieties. It should not be confused with the objectives of a plant variety rights scheme which is related to identification registration and ownership of new and distinct varieties.

(6)   No.

(7)   I have read the statement by Sir John Crawford in his summary of the Workshop discussions relating to Science and Technology- For What Purpose? in April 1979, and I am in agreement with it. There is certainly a need for realistic policies and positive action to ensure that the results of research are available and adopted. It is true also that generally, agricultural research is not frustrated by patents. However many technical developments resulting from research efforts have been patented. Plant variety rights, or patents on new plant varieties, do not frustrate research as has been demonstrated in the many countries including the USA, the UK, New Zealand and in Europe, that have operated plant variety rights schemes over many years.

(8)   Yes.

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