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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 972

Mr ALLAN MORRIS —My question, which is directed to the Minister for Science and Technology, flows from a question asked earlier today. Did the former Government approve of the importation of live foot and mouth disease virus into Australia? If so, how did it make that decision, did it make that decision public, and did it actually put it into practice?

Mr BARRY JONES —In November 1980 the then Acting Prime Minister, the Rt Hon. J. D . Anthony, Leader of the National Party--

Mr Dawkins —Is he an FRS?

Mr BARRY JONES —He is not a Fellow of the Royal Society. He wrote to the then Minister for Science and Environment, David Thomson, granting approval for the handling of foot and mouth disease virus at the Australian National Animal Health Laboratory. This followed a joint recommendation to the then Prime Minister, Mr Fraser-remember him-from Mr Thomson and the Minister for Primary Industry, Mr Nixon, and the Minister for Health, Mr MacKellar. The decision was made at prime ministerial level and was never referred to the Cabinet or to the Government parties for debate. The Government decision was never made public. This was a classic case of making a judgment first, covering it up and then leaving it to others to initiate a public debate, if any. In 1981 and 1982 farming groups and rural councils began to lobby against the importation. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation lobbied very hard for a long term commitment to the importation of live foot and mouth disease virus to Australia for use in ANAHL after it was biologically proven, but in advance of any outbreak in Australia. The decision was not implemented. Following a further investigation by the Australian Science and Technology Council the present Government decided on 30 May that no live FMD virus would be imported but that the matter would be reviewed in 1987. This change in judgment reflects the complexity of the issue. What we need now is a complementary approach which makes the best use of ANAHL as well as the Academy of Science's flying squad approach. It is not a matter of picking between one and the other; we have to make use of both.