Quarantine Amendment (Disallowing Permits) Bill 2011 - Second Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:32): I also have some concerns with this bill. I have been listening to the debate very carefully and I thank particularly Senator Colbeck for his leadership on this issue. I hasten to say twice in two days that there is one aspect of the debate on which I agree with the Greensthat is, what a fool our Prime Minister made of herself when she went to New Zealand and there made a major announcement on apples which involved the biosecurity of our country. To do that in New Zealand just shows how poorly served we are by our current Prime Minister. I continue to be amazed as to why the Greens, with all their criticisms of Ms Gillard as occurred in today's debate, continue to support her in the Lodge. I suppose the answer is the evidence this week when, by a guillotine arrangement supported by the Greens, this parliament adopted the carbon tax legislation, even though just 12 months ago, as Australians listening to the debate will recall, Ms Gillard promised the Australian public, very solemnly, very sincerely, that there would be no carbon tax under a government she ledyet this week that carbon tax was introduced into Australia.

How can anyone ever have any confidence in anything Ms Gillard says in the future That dishonest approach to political campaigningpromising there would be no carbon tax because she knew at the time, had she been honest, that Australians would not have voted for herwill never be forgotten by Australians. Similarly, apple growers in Australia will never forget the Australian Prime Minister going to the New Zealand parliament and making an announcement about importation of New Zealand apples to Australia with what many people believe are not the right biosecurity arrangements. I am going to have to curtail my speech because again the Greens and Labor Party have put a time management arrangement on all the bills before us.

Senator Polley: How many times did the Howard government do that

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Senator Polley, as I recall, was always first to her feet saying how awful that was. These things happen, but it is the hypocrisy which really disturbs me. What happened to the time when you could come into this chamber and debate fully bills of importance The speakers list shows how very importantly senators treat this bill. We are all being time constrained. A number of senators who want to speak simply cannot get onto the speakers list. I have agreed to restrict myself to just 10 minutes so that other senators have an opportunity to put their views forward.

I am concerned about making biosecurity more a political issue than a scientific issue. That is why I have genuine concerns with this bill. As I said, Ms Gillard's actions in the New Zealand parliament showed that the last thing Australia needs is politicians grandstanding and playing politics in matters as important as biosecurity.

The majority of submissions made to the committee which investigated this bill argued that it would weaken Australia's quarantine and biosecurity framework. The committee was also told that, in the view of many of the submitters, the bill was unworkable specifically because it would cause significant and unnecessary delays both in the issuing of permits and in trade. As well, many of the submitters indicated that it could result in the disclosure of commercially confidential information. What concerned me was the argument made by a number of people who made submissions that the legislation was potentially contrary to Australia's World Trade OrganisationWTOobligations. A lot of Australians do not fully understand the import of WTO rules and regulations. A lot of them say we should be building tariff barriers and we should not be letting in other goods and commodities that compete with ours. But, of course, Australians benefit more from WTO regulations than do many other advanced countries around the world.

For example, we grow more sugar than we could ever consume ourselves and it is terribly important to Australia that the trade be as free as possible without tariff and non-tariff barriers. The Australian sugar industry is only as good as it is because it exports a considerable proportion of the cane that is grown in this part of the world. I come from a cane-growing area so I know just how important the cane-growing industry is to Australia and how many jobs it supports and how many people's lives depend on that industry. So it is absolutely essential that WTO rules are followed and observed, because it is in Australia's interests.

Similarly, I have, on behalf of the opposition, shadow ministerial responsibility for Northern and remote Australia and I note the beef cattle industry is so terribly important to Australia but, again, we consume only a small proportion of the beef that Australia produces. Our industry is really so good because we can export practically free of constraints to many parts of the world. There are many parts of the world, like the United States and Japan, to which we do export quite a bit, but there are some constraints. This is why our trade in live cattle exports to Indonesia is so very important to Australia and why the quite stupid decision of the minister to totally ban exports for a period of time was such a bad policy decision and made things so difficult for so many smaller operators, particularly those in the beef cattle areas.

I also want to briefly touch on the issue of importation of bananas. We have to allow free trade, but our biosecurity rules should be such that they allow us to reject imports that do not meet the very stringent arrangements we have for disease-free fruit. Banana growing is a very important industry and is to be found in the area that I come from, around Tully and Innisfail and now up on the Atherton Tableland. It is essential that our quarantine and biosecurity arrangements are first class. To have politicians interfering in scientific arrangements for the importation of anything is the wrong way to go, and that is why I have some serious concerns about this. I congratulate the Australian banana industry, as it is a fabulous industry that employs so many people in the north. We do believe, if I may say so with perhaps a little bias, that Australian bananas are the best that you would find anywhere in the world. But we must continue to protect this industry with proper biosecurity arrangements.

The Asian honey bee, which I first raised many months ago after some people from Cairns raised it with me, is an issue that is not very well handled by the current government. We have the government supporting scientists who did not really seem to have any interest in eradicating the honey bee, whereas other scientists doand certainly the industry, and I think most parliamentarians, are very keen that the government should be doing everything to eradicate the honey bee. I think the idea that you cannot eradicate it so you control it is the wrong one. Had action been taken right at the beginning, when this was first raised, I think eradication would have been easy.

It is similar to the situation with the tilapia fish that are now infesting waters in North Queensland and will soon do it elsewhere. The state government, who control our waters there, particularly the rivers, did nothing for years and allowed the tilapia to get a real foothold which will now be very difficult to eradicate. I will finish my remarks there, although there are a lot of other things I would like to say, as I am conscious of the time. I will leave my remarks there and reserve my position on this particular bill.

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