House debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading

12:38 pm

Photo of Bob KatterBob Katter (Kennedy, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

As far as we can make out, and as far as I am advised, what is happening here is—for those who are not familiar with the process—that all chemicals that are used in Australia have to be approved by an agency before they are allowed to be used. This bill seeks to re-regulate them. Even though they have been allowed in, processed and accepted as right and proper to use, we now want to re-assess these particular chemicals. I am well aware of the arguments with DDT, which was used for 50 or 60 years and was then found to be very detrimental, particularly to human health. If a problem is suddenly found somewhere with a chemical that is accepted and used, then we act. If you are telling me that we process it and then process it again, yes, let's process it five times or six times. Let's keep processing it.

I cannot help but introduce one little metaphorical touch. Malcolm Muggeridge, the great raconteur, long-serving editor of Punch magazine in Great Britain and populariser of Mother Teresa, said that the giant armadillo, with each successive wave of evolution, clothed itself in more and more protective armour until eventually it was impervious and safe from attack by any other creature on earth. However, its great weight meant that it could not forage for food and rapidly became extinct. I think that is a great metaphor for what is taking place here: we will protect ourselves so damn much that we will not have any food to keep ourselves alive. No-one seems to worry in this place. I am the only speaker I have ever heard mention the fact that within three years the country will become a net importer of food. I always qualify that by saying that, if you use a separate definition, it could be as long as eight years. But, whether it is three years or eight years, the country will be a net importer of food.

I can talk about the Australian dollar, about Woolworths and Coles, and about the protection that is available in other countries—a 41 per cent subsidy tariff level. But there is another problem for us, and that is the cost of this ridiculous imposition that is coming forward today. As I am informed, Diuron is going to be struck down under this legislation or the regulations that will be made pursuant to this legislation. Diuron has been used extensively for many years. It removes grasses and weeds from our cane fields. We do not have to use it very much, because we now have a trash blanket which, along with some studious use of stuff such as Diuron, means that we do not have to cultivate anymore . I am not a great advocate of action on carbon dioxide. I do believe there is a problem that will arise in the oceans at some indefinite point in the future. We as a party—my party—have never been totally opposed to consciousness of that problem. But there is the enormous benefit of not cultivating in the sugar industry. For those who are not familiar with farming, cultivation is when you put a light plough through the ground to dig up the weeds so that there is no competition for the seedbed that you have planted or the plant cane that you have planted. So, when the cane plant breaks through the soil, there are no competing grasses and weeds, and that is the way that we wish it to be. With the trash blanket that we leave on the ground after harvesting—a very thick trash blanket—we do not have a great problem now with grasses, weeds and other things interfering with the growth of our cane.

A similar situation exists in the other industries, except that we are constantly confronted with this danger to the reef. Professor Ian Atkinson from JCU has a device that monitors all outgoing waters from our streams and creeks. If one of those devices were put in the mouth of every single river running onto the Great Barrier Reef, we would find out whether there are any contaminants or insoluble matter that could cause trouble, or even soluble matter that could. The device monitors all unnatural presences in the waters flowing out of these streams. So we already have the machinery to deal with this problem. Do we have these monitors on all the creeks, rivers and streams going out to the Great Barrier Reef? No, we do not. We have had some rogue miners—not many but a few—and they could have been quickly traced back with that mechanism. There were the terrible events that occurred at Gladstone harbour, where hundreds of thousands of fish and marine life were destroyed. The problem that was arising there could have been picked up enormously quickly, but it was not because these monitoring devices were simply not there.

Putting in a costly new layer of public servants—to make our life a misery in every aspect of farming—is a sheer waste of money. One of the many reasons that the previous Labor state government were thrown out on their heads, in a record landslide—which is possibly going to occur again later this year—was this sort of rubbish. If you want people to hate you, torture them. Make their life a misery, impose upon them a hundred restrictions to make their life a misery, and then they will hate you. This is a classic example of that.

We have already processed all of the chemicals that are being used. They have already been processed. If a problem occurs, surely there are people out there who should be on the ball to ensure that, if a problem occurs, it is addressed. But you are not going to address a problem; you are simply going to redo what you have already done—that is, assess these chemicals—at great cost. Whatever tests you are going to apply with this new layer of oversight and regulatory mechanisms have already been used. They have already been used. So we are using them again. That is a sheer waste of money.

The Premier that I served under for 20 years of my life in the Queensland parliament said, 'We have a transport department in Canberra that builds no roads and we have a health department that does not deliver any health services.' The head of the main roads department said: 'What it means is this, Bob: it costs me a lot of money to do the engineering work and various recommendations on environmental effects with any road building that we do. It costs a lot of money. But if I then have to prepare a report to go to Canberra, I double the engineering and environment assessment costs, and then someone in Canberra is paid to go over that report. So there is a trebling of the cost of the engineering and environmental work, which has an enormous impact on the cost of building a road.'

We released lands under our act in the Aboriginal areas in Queensland for nil cost. I think there was a $20 processing cost. We released land in Charters Towers for a nil processing cost. But, when we came under the local government act and the state government rules and regulations, it became almost totally impossible to get a piece of land in Queensland under $100,000. So we went from $20 to $100,000.

Like the armadillo, it would be nice to protect yourself from attack from every other animal on earth. It gives you a nice warm and comfortable feeling and the greenies in your electorate and the doctors' wives sitting at home or at the local coffee shop can feel very contented and comfortable. But, if you are a farmer in this country trying to make ends meet, God help you!

I had the very great honour of being the minister who introduced prawn and fish farming in Australia. I deserve absolutely no credit for it. Credit goes to the heroic leadership in that industry—the entrepreneurs and businessmen, like Jimmy Riall, Sharkers, the Cocos, the Wardoes,and Ervin Vidor, a very famous man in Australian history and one of Australia's richest men as well. These great pioneers and all of these families deserve the credit. Dr Joe Baker, the head of the Institute of Marine Science, also deserves the credit. I deserve no credit, but I did have the honour of being the minister who took a number of critical steps to facilitate the industry.

We expected that we would catch up to Thailand in prawn farming within six or seven years. Prawn farming has almost vanished in Australia. I think we are down to about five or six farms. That is all that is left. We went up close to 600 million at one stage and now we are down to virtually nothing. The reason for that is: in China, in Vietnam and in Thailand they dump raw sewage into the rivers and they take the water out of the rivers and put it into their ponds, and each day they dump the water back into the rivers again. If you are in Queensland or New South Wales, you cannot dump the water straight back into the river each day; you have got to process it four times before it goes back into the river. The processing cost effectively doubles the cost of running a prawn farm. So it has got nothing to do with wage structures; it has got nothing to do with those countries giving land for free to their prawn farmers to develop it. No, it is the cost impositions by ridiculous people trying to placate extremist green organisations.

Going back 25 years, believe it or not some people would have described me as being a bit of an environmentalist. We had some big 'shikes' and 'yikes' over the logging of virgin areas of North Queensland, and I was on the other side of the fence to where I am these days. But that movement moved on, and they just became a monster that had to be fed every six months. We are feeding them the Coral Sea this six months—and we have stepped it up now and we have got to feed them twice every six months. We are going to feed them the Gulf of Carpentaria. Then we are going to feed them Lake Eyre Basin. Then we are going to feed them the seas off the south-west of Western Australia. Each six months they will find some other human sacrifice that has to be made to the green monster. And we are making another sacrifice here today. I do not know how many farmers are on the knife edge. I think we are slightly below cost of production in grain growing in Australia. I think that sugar, over the last 15-year average, has been disastrously below cost of production; but of course they have pulled back a bit in the last three years with good world prices.

These sorts of decisions will destroy what is left. I know of a young man who got off his backside and went out and worked in the middle of nowhere, in the mines—Daniel Messina. He got the 'best player' award in the rugby leagues battle of the mines, as we call it. This young man, at a very young age, was head of his workshops in a big mining operation in north-west Queensland. He saved enough money to buy a couple of hundred acres of cane land, and he is making a quid at the present moment. But you will pull that quid out from under him! You will break his heart and shatter his hopes, because you just keep piling this burden upon him until we can no longer produce food economically in this country.


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