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Senate Committee scathing of assessment of apple, banana imports.

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Senator John Cherry Democrats Senator for Queensland

Dated: 17 March 2005 Press Release Number: 05/126 Portfolio: Agriculture

Senate Committee Scathing of Assessment of Apple, Banana Imports

The risk assessment of Filipino banana imports and New Zealand imports by Biosecurity Australia failed to take proper account of scientific evidence and economic consequences and, as a result, undermined Australia's low risk quarantine system, the Senate Rural Affairs Committee has found.

Committee member, Democrats Senator John Cherry said the unanimous committee report was one of the most scathing analysis of a Government agency by an all-party committee in many years.

"This fearless and robust report is an example of a Senate Committee operating at its best. The Committee found that it, growers and the public had been mislead by Biosecurity Australia and has recommended significant changes to the way Biosecurity Australia operates into the future," he said. "What was clear in this Inquiry was that Biosecurity Australia was running an agenda to free up trade rather than defend the interests of Australian farmers consistent with our international obligations.

"For example, the WTO treaty on quarantine which allows members to consider 'relevant economic factors' including 'the potential damage in terms of loss of production or sales' was watered down in the Biosecurity handbook to merely refer to 'the objective of minimising negative trade effects'.

"The Senate Rural Affairs Committee and the Democrats have been relentless in pursuing BA over its watering down of Australia's quarantine standards over the past four years, forcing Government last year to remove the head of BA and radically restructure the organisation.

"These results would never have occurred if the Senate had not taken on this issue and pursued it. Without this Senate Committee's work, the serious risk of fire blight devastating the apple and pear industries and Moko devastating the banana industry would have been ignored by the Government.

"This would have put at risk rural industries worth hundreds of millions of dollars, affecting rural towns like Tully, Innisfail and Stanthorpe in my home state of Queensland.

"The Government has already agreed to re-do the import risk assessments of apples and bananas that triggered this Senate Inquiry and review the flawed methodology used to assess them.

"The Democrats call on the Government to accept the Committee's recommendations for a more conservative and robust scientific assessment of import risks, more consultation with growers, better record keeping of decisions and disagreements and AQIS being more proactive in ensuring that importers abide by import protocols, he concluded.