Monday, 26 May 2014
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014; Second Reading
With this bill, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014, the coalition government delivers on an important commitment we took to the 2013 election. We promised that we would remove the reapproval and re-registration process introduced in June 2013 by Labor. This bill delivers on that pledge. It also contributes towards the coalition's objective of reducing red tape by $1 billion every year. That is a significant amount of money—it is actually the same as the monthly interest bill on Labor's debt at the moment—and that important agenda of reducing red tape is being ably led by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Kooyong.
Agricultural and veterinary medicines—that is, agvet chemicals—play an important role in ensuring the quality of Australia's food, fibre and meat production, all of which are produced in the Riverina electorate in south-west New South Wales which I proudly represent here in the federal parliament. The government does not dispute that there needs to be some level of regulation to ensure that the agvet chemicals that are used are safe and appropriately adapted to use in Australia. We have unique conditions here and of course those chemicals need to be used safely and appropriately. But that regulatory regime needs to be as efficient as possible and it needs to ensure that registration of chemicals is time and cost effective.
We need to allow farmers and other agvet chemical users the opportunity to get on and do what they do well. They are the ultimate environmentalists. They are people who are very educated and very adept in doing what they do well with agricultural chemicals and pesticides. They want to be able to get on with the job of farming this country for the benefit of this nation. Rather than preventing the re-registration of certain chemicals beyond a certain date, the amendments in this bill will permit and allow active constituent approvals to remain in force so long as they are not cancelled and are subject to periodic renewal, putting the onus back on the regulator rather than backing companies into a particular corner. Registrations will also need to be renewed less frequently. That takes the onus off farmers in one sense. It provides greater certainty and reduces cost to business. Farmers do run businesses, they are very aware of every dollar they spend and very aware of every litre of water they use. They are very efficient managers of the land which they farm.
As a quid pro quo, the regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, APVMA, will have extended powers to request information about chemical products and to require that further analysis be undertaken where it considers that it is necessary to protect human, animal and environmental health and safety or to protect trade. That is why I take issue a little bit with the member for Throsby, who talked about removing the guardrail. Indeed, it does not do that. He said, 'We will not take an obstructionist approach.' It is great to hear that Labor are finally going to get out of the way of farmers. It is great to hear that Labor are going to allow farmers to get on with the job of producing food and fibre and to do it in the very best way in the world. He talked about industrial health and safety, and of course they are important measures in this legislation. The Minister for Agriculture, the injured member for New England, might I say, at the moment—he had a bit of a tumble on the weekend—certainly made sure that those safeguards were in place when this particular piece of legislation was being drawn up. The bill makes amendments to the framework within which companies can request information of the regulator, to ensure that the cost of this function is more equitably shared. That is important. The Abbott-Truss government is reducing red tape for the agricultural sector and investing in the biosecurity infrastructure which will help keep Australian food, fibre and meat production safe and clean.
While I talk about biosecurity measures, it was a pleasure to attend a facility—or what is not quite a facility yet; it is actually a greenfield site on Donnybrook Road, Mickleham, in Victoria. It is in the Labor member for McEwen's seat. It was a pleasure to be there on Thursday 1 May this year with my colleague Barnaby Joyce, the Minister for Agriculture and Deputy Leader of the Nationals, to mark the start of work on this important project. The member for McEwen was also there, as well as his state colleague Liz Beattie and the deputy mayor of the local council, Adem Atmaca, for the sod-turning for this important post-entry quarantine facility which will be built at a cost of $379.9 million. During my speech I remarked on the vision that Labor showed in identifying this site. Labor having picked out this site for this important post-entry quarantine station, we are going to get on with the job of paying for it. We are going to get on with the job of constructing it and making sure it is built, hopefully, on time and within budget, because that is what coalition governments do and do so well.
The project, as the minister said at the sod-turning exercise, will play a vital role in the nation's biosecurity into the future. Biosecurity is of critical importance—we all know that; certainly in my electorate, where they grow just about everything animal and vegetable, and for this nation and its exports. Given the importance of safeguarding our nation's quarantine measures, as this legislation does—safeguarding agricultural pesticide and veterinary chemical measures—it will not surprise anyone that the site at Mickleham was the first I visited, in my role as parliamentary secretary, along with John Owens and Tooey Elliott from the Department of Finance and Colin Grant from the Department of Agriculture among others.
I am delighted that work is now underway. Many people would be familiar with Finance's role in constructing the budget; but in managing the Commonwealth's domestic non-Defence property portfolio, the department also does an exceedingly good job in managing major Commonwealth construction projects of which the post-entry quarantine facility is one. A key part of any new construction project is the initial planning and design phase. The right location and the right design are essential, and facilities such as that at Mickleham are going to deliver value for money for the Commonwealth—and we all know the importance of delivering value for public money and taxpayers' dollars. We did not see much of that in the six years of the Labor government, but we are certainly seeing it now as we get on with the job of fixing the mess we inherited.
To this end, we are getting on with the job of building this important facility which is going to comprise a site totalling 144 hectares, with construction to take place in an area which is separated from current residential use but not too far away from the international airport at Melbourne. These were key criteria in selecting its location. I did point out that the site was selected by the previous government, and they showed foresight in that. Development of this site by the Commonwealth is consistent with the precinct's zoning for industrial and commercial developments. Eventually the facility will have industrial and commercial neighbours, with residential areas further along Donnybrook Road.
As is often the case with large construction projects, the new quarantine facility will be delivered over two construction stages. Stage 1 will be completed in late 2015 and will provide facilities for plants, bees, cats, dogs and horses as well as the administration building and other essential infrastructure. The second stage will be completed in late 2018—so it is a long-range project, but one very important to agriculture—and will provide facilities for ruminants such as alpacas, additional cat and dog facilities and an avian facility. The avian facility will cater for both live bird and fertile egg imports.
It is important that we get on with the job, as a nation, of building these sorts of facilities, just as it is important to get on with the job of ensuring, with this particular bill, that the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has the necessary powers to undertake the sort of work that they are doing—ensuring that our farmers have safeguards and safety measures in place but are able to get on with the job of doing what they do best.
Speaking of doing what they do best, the coalition gave farmers and people with an interest in agriculture the opportunity to talk about agriculture with the recent white paper round table discussions. One took place in Griffith on 8 April—the Agricultural competitiveness white paper public consultation—and it was well attended. People took the opportunity to deliver personal representations on behalf of their community. They came from the citrus industry, the viticulture industry and all sorts of industries from throughout the Riverina, dairy included. They turned up at this hearing and gave good evidence. Many people also made written submissions to the white paper process.
We want to get on with the job, as the coalition, of getting out of the road of farmers, in one sense, and letting them get on with the job they do so well. That is why, when Senator Simon Birmingham took charge of the water portfolio, in his role as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment, he followed up on Tony Abbott's promise to cap buybacks at 1,500 gigalitres—which means only 249 gigalitres of water remains to be recovered. I know the member for Kingsford Smith, who is just leaving the chamber, gave a speech about water in the Murray-Darling Basin just recently. I am not quite sure how many irrigation farmers the member for Kingsford Smith actually represents in his electorate but his electorate, like that of the member for Parramatta opposite, does rely on food. Much of that food is grown in the Riverina electorate; all of that food, I would argue, should be grown in regional areas of Australia. A lot of it is, unfortunately, imported—but we certainly export more than we import as far as food goes. I commend, to that end, the trade minister for getting on with the job of preferential trade agreements with Korea and Japan and certainly working towards getting a preferential trade agreement happening with China as we speak.
The agricultural competitiveness white paper is about forming Australia's long-term agricultural policies and consulting with growers, producers and other key stakeholders to see what can be improved. One thing we do very well—and it is one thing that Labor certainly did not do well—is talk to people and see what they want out of any legislation. Whether it is the pesticides and chemicals bill before the House, for the Murray-Darling Basin or whatever, we get on with the job of consulting the public. These reforms have been informed by extensive stakeholder consultation. Chemical industry groups, environmental organisations, primary producer associations and Commonwealth, state and territory agencies were all involved in discussions about this bill. That is important.
That is one thing we did not see a lot of from Labor. It was knee-jerk reaction after knee-jerk reaction. Take the live cattle fiasco. We saw a program on Four Corners on the ABC one night and—bang—days later the live cattle trade was stopped. That had such a dreadful effect not just on northern Australia but on a stock crate maker in Wagga Wagga, for example. It pushed the price of the cattle market at Wagga down because they thought that because the cattle were not going to be exported to Indonesia they would come south. The member for Parramatta might find that slightly amusing, but it is the truth. The policy agenda driven by GetUp!, the Greens and social media had a real effect on regional Australia. Regional Australia does provide a lot of the wealth. It certainly provides the food that people in city electorates enjoy so much.
Submissions were sought on the bill before the House between 18 December 2013 and 7 March 2014. There was an exposure draft of the legislation and an associated consultation paper—Proposed agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation amendments: consultation paper. There were 42 submissions received and considered. Teleconferences and face-to-face meetings with interested stakeholders occurred over January and February 2014. The bill was revised to address some of the issues raised during the consultation. That is something we never saw under Labor. They never changed anything. It was just policy on the run and policy by knee-jerk reaction that was put through this House with indecent haste without any regard whatsoever for the people it would affect. Certainly when it came to regional Australia there was never any regard. Shame on Labor for that. Certainly this bill is worth supporting and I commend it to the House.