Monday, 26 May 2014
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014; Second Reading
I am certainly pleased to follow on from the member for O'Connor, who, without a doubt, knows a lot more about these things relating to farming, given he is a fine farmer himself. But I am going to do my best nonetheless. I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this bill today. In my electorate of Durack we know how vital the agricultural sector is and the effect that additional regulatory burdens can have on farmers who are already doing it tough due to Mother Nature's ongoing challenges.
The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 is an important piece of legislation in the Abbott-led government's overall strategy to cut $1 billion in red and green tape each year to improve productivity, investment and employment opportunities for all Australians. March 26 marked an historic occasion with the Abbott government holding the first ever red tape repeal day, which effectively removed over 10,000 pieces and 50,000 pages of legislation and regulation, saving of $700 million in compliance costs. This bill further delivers on this government's election commitment to removing the reapproval and reregistration scheme and introduce other much-needed efficiency measures with the aim of providing additional savings for Australia's primary producers.
The bill amends three acts within the agriculture portfolio in relation to agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines, or agvet chemicals. These chemicals are registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, also known as APVMA, with each of these amendments principally proposing changes to the agvet code. Unless you work in the agricultural sector you may not have heard of agvet chemicals. These are extremely important for the agricultural sector, as they protect crops and animals from pests and diseases, and are fundamental in improving productivity for farmers and ensuring the quality and safety of Australia's food production. It is therefore critical that the point is made that, although the Abbott government has committed to cutting red tape, this government and in particular the Minister for Agriculture is and will continue to be mindful of only removing unnecessary regulatory measures and not those that we need to maintain these important food safety standards.
This bill principally focuses on three key aspects of the agvet code, with each amendment aimed at improving Australia's regulatory system and reducing inefficiency at the authority. The first amendment to this legislation focuses on removing the reapproval and reregistration processes for chemical products. Under the new legislation, registered stakeholders will no longer be forced to waste valuable time reregistering for approval, with their registration instead remaining active subject to periodic renewal. Red tape is being further reduced by changing the requirement for registration renewal to occur annually to allow a longer time frame, which will be set out in the regulations. This could be up to seven years. This will significantly reduce the burden of unnecessary paperwork which costs the agricultural industry financially when paying for unnecessary regulatory reapprovals and reregistrations and in time due to the processing of onerous amounts of paperwork.
The second amendment is a measure to ensure that the authority, as the regulatory body for agvet chemicals, has the necessary power to effectively evaluate these chemicals. This is particularly important when addressing concerns in relation to chemical product quality which, if wrongly supplied, could have a significant impact on the health and safety of humans, animals and the environment—I do not think there would be any argument there.
This bill, therefore, includes amendments that improve the ability of the authority to require a person who supplies an agvet chemical product in Australia to provide information such as the chemical analysis of the product they are supplying. This will ensure that the authority is able to cross check that products then supplied to the market are the same as those being evaluated and registered. This is a key amendment that will improve community confidence that all chemical products are being effectively evaluated and risks to health and safety are being managed. It will also improve the regulator's ability to scrutinise chemicals available in the market rather than processing thousands of unnecessary pieces of paper each year.
The last amendment to this bill relates to the authority's current obligation to provide information to companies that are responsible for a chemical product about its registrations which are provided under the Freedom of Information Act. This is currently producing a significant time and financial burden on the authority, with payments for information sought under the Freedom of Information Act not covering the cost of providing the information.
The bill therefore amends this requirement so that requests for documents will instead be supplied by the authority for a fee. This provision will, however, not allow the release of confidential information unless the recipient was entitled to the information being sought.
These amendments will not only save the agvet chemical industry $1.3 million in time and fees annually, but will also provide surety that access to chemicals with a history of safe and effective use will not be compromised by an unnecessary bureaucratic process.
Although this legislation is not a funding measure for the agriculture sector, any move to reduce regulatory burdens on the sector will have a flow-on effect to our farmers. Amendments such as these will in particular help to encourage the development of new chemistry by reducing the industry's regulatory burden. This is an important long-term measure that will ultimately have a flow-on effect at the farm gate with improvements to production.
The implementation of measures such as these is imperative for Australia's own food needs, and for our future as a key market exporter. With the global population expected to reach nine billion by 2050, it is vital that the Australian government works with the agriculture sector now to cut red and green tape, implement new legislation to benefit the industry overall and our farmers directly, and to amend current legislation that reduces Australia's ability to create sustainable industries.
This is particularly important for my electorate of Durack, with the electorate contributing approximately $3.5 billion to Australia's overall agriculture and aquaculture production. In Durack, agriculture production can be found in each of its key regions. This includes: approximately $1 billion in the wheat belt through its agriculture and fishing industries, while the Pilbara contributes approximately $13.6 million to total agriculture production, through its agriculture, forestry and fishing industries; some $171.1 million is contributed by the Gascoyne in horticulture, pastoral and fishing; $2 billion in the mid-west, in agriculture, fishing and aquaculture; and $266 million in the Kimberley in agriculture, aquaculture and fishing.
When looking at Western Australia's agriculture industry, a key development has, and continues to be, the Ord River development scheme, which is in Durack's Kimberley region, with the potential to cross into the Northern Territory. Although the Ord River scheme has been criticised as a 'white elephant', it remains a key agriculture project in my electorate, which, I believe, needs to be cultivated and developed to its full potential through a collaborative effort by the Commonwealth government, Western Australian government and Northern Territory government. Although, as I said, it is considered to be a white elephant, these days my eastern-states colleagues all say to me they wish they had an Ord River development scheme.
The Ord River Scheme has a long history, with the possibility of damming the Ord River for irrigating tropical agriculture first discussed in the mid-1930s. However, it was not until 1957 under then Prime Minister Menzies that its development began. The first stage covered the construction of the Kununurra Diversion Dam to form Lake Kununurra, along with the irrigation infrastructure and associated works, the township of Kununurra, and was completed in 1965.
Stage 2 of the project was passed in 1967 and involved the construction of the dam which formed Lake Argyle, which was opened in 1972, and irrigation works required for 40,000 hectares of land in WA. However, at the present time only 14,000 hectares are being irrigated from the Ord. Stage 1 and 2 are now commonly referred to as stage 1, with stage 2 being the future expansion of the irrigation area. To date, the Commonwealth government has contributed $32 million to what is now stage 1, and has committed $195 million to deliver social and common-use infrastructure in the East Kimberley region as part of the Ord-East Kimberley Expansion Project.
This ongoing development of the Ord has recently been a key focus of the Northern Australian Joint Select Committee's inquiry into the development of Northern Australia, which I am a member of. The committee's recent tour of the Kimberley included a visit to the Ord in Kununurra. This was a very important part of the committee's overall inquiry, as the Ord and learnings from the Ord have the potential to play a key role in this government's overall aim to develop the north and, ultimately, Australia's agriculture sector as a 'food bowl' for Asian investment.
I look forward to Kimberley Agricultural Industries progressing to develop stage 2 of the Ord River Scheme as quickly as possible. KAI will invest approximately $700 million, which will have a positive impact not only on the economy of Kununurra but also on the Kimberley more generally. I am certainly doing my bit to ensure federal government environmental approval is obtained as swiftly as possible.
The Ord River Scheme currently contributes $101 million to the Kimberley's total agriculture production, which is predominantly from sandalwood and which contributed $63 million to production in 2008-09. There is, however, a range of other irrigated farm activity already taking place at the Ord including chia, mangoes and melons.
Research into the Ord River Scheme has already identified significant development potential, while a recent assessment by CSIRO of water and agriculture potential for the northern Australian beef industry, also has found there is sufficient ground water to sustain almost twice the area of land currently irrigated in northern Australia, of which the Durack electorate encompasses approximately two-thirds.
The agriculture competitiveness white paper will also play a vital role in determining how Australia plans to move forward and harness this key sector, and increase our production potential for domestic use and international export viability and investment. It will particularly focus on matters that influence Australian agriculture, such as improving farm-gate returns and competitiveness through the value chain, and reducing inefficient regulation, which amendments to this agvet bill are already working to achieve.
Despite our best efforts, Mother Nature will, however, continue to pose significant challenges to the productivity of farm businesses across Australia. That is why this government announced a $280 million drought assistance package in February, which offers concessional loans to drought-affected farm businesses for debt restructuring, operating expenses, drought recovery and drought preparedness activities. A $50 million concessional loans package was also announced in January, which is aimed at boosting productivity and helping Western Australian farm businesses grow.
It is clear that this government is working to create a sustainable Australia. We have implemented key inquiries into our development potential, not just in agriculture, through the agricultural competitiveness white paper and Northern Australia inquiries, but in other key areas, such as child care and early childhood learning and the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Separate to these inquiries, this government is already delivering on key election commitments, including infrastructure projects for the 21st century, which are already being implemented across Australia, including in my electorate of Durack, with $482 million dedicated to fund much-needed upgrades to the Great Northern Highway and North West Coastal Highway. These upgrades will include realignment work, road widening, the provision of additional overtaking lanes and intersection upgrades for the Great Northern Highway, and a package of works, including upgrades to bridges, strengthening pavements and widening the North West Coastal Highway. This is just one of the many policies that this government has implemented to improve Australia and make it a better place to live and support these key economic arteries.
We are a government who work for the people that make up this great nation, and we do that by implementing measures that will benefit them now and long into the future. We have to work now to create a sustainable nation and sustainable industries to ensure that we as a nation continue to grow and are in a position to benefit from the vast export opportunities that will be available to Australia if we develop strategically and create an environment where our businesses and industries are able to flourish, especially our agricultural sector. I commend this bill to the House.