House debates

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012; Second Reading

12:32 pm

Photo of Luke SimpkinsLuke Simpkins (Cowan, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 on behalf of a local agribusiness in my electorate of Cowan. I would like to begin by saying that I, along with the coalition, support the stated objective of the bill, which is to reduce regulatory compliance costs for business and to improve competitiveness. It is disgraceful, however, but typical of this Labor government that what this so-called agvet chemical reform actually represents is nothing but the government trying to deliver an election promise made to the Greens, at the expense of our hardworking agricultural industry and those who work in that industry within the electorate of Cowan and other places around the country. This bill is designed, first and foremost, to implement a reregistration system, to raise the cost of chemical registration and to make the registration of many chemicals uneconomic. The reregistration process adds absolutely no triggers; it is simply another expensive recheck of the triggers, funded by the industry.

I was recently contacted by a local business that has been working in the import industry for over 10 years through the current practices listed by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority regarding this issue. The business is extremely concerned about the significant increases of APVMA application fees proposed under this legislation. If this bill is passed before 1 July 2013, this business is going to be faced with paying fee increases that will come into effect on 1 July 2013, 1 July 2014 and 1 January 2015. It is appalling that businesses should be forced to pay more for something that will deliver absolutely no extra benefit to them or to the industry.

Internationally, our registration process is struggling to compete. It has been suggested that the Australian industry is being laughed at by our overseas suppliers, as we are operating on a far from level playing field. This is one of the key reasons that the industry and the coalition supported a reform to make it more efficient.

As I said earlier, this legislation is all about a deal the Labor government did with the Greens. This legislation will give the green lobby designated time frames to concentrate on campaigns to have chemicals removed. As it has been said by previous speakers, the campaigners will run a campaign on a chemical because of a tenuous link with a disease that is unscientific and forces the APVMA to withdraw registration because of political pressure, not scientific fact. The re-registration system does not introduce any new triggers but simply makes the APVMA run costly rechecks to the existing triggers; costs which are passed onto local businesses.

I can just imagine a green lobbyist trying to wear down the industry, making it too difficult to continue, instead of allowing the industry to have science-based reviews triggered by candid issues. Despite Labor's and the Greens' claims, this bill is not designed to reform the chemical registration process or to improve efficiency. What this bill will do is create a net loss in the efficiency of the regulator and reduce the ability to identify and review suspect chemicals.

Unlike the Labor government, we are committed to implementing measures that will cut unnecessary red tape and will assist business in an industry, not burden them. For this reason, the coalition will not be supporting this bill in its current form, and the Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food Security will move amendments in the third reading stage to delay commencement by 12 months. This will allow time for the development of a risk management framework which will clearly detail the application requirements. This is essential in supporting other efficiency measures, including Shut the Gate and elapsed time frame reforms.

The coalition also believes that registrants should be given the opportunity to work with the APVMA to road-test the risk framework, to make sure that it operates in the way in which it was intended. To date, this has not occurred and there has been no consultation on the risk framework. It has been identified that there are considerable gaps in the current manual of requirements and guidelines which must be addressed. Lastly, without a comprehensive risk framework to deliver high-quality applications to the APVMA, they may struggle with applications that do not have all of the information required. This would result in more applications being denied, longer time frames for decisions and a higher refusal rate.

The coalition is not arguing that the current system is perfect, nor do we consider that every aspect of the bill is incorrect. On the whole, the bill makes a number of changes to arrangements to manage agvet chemical registration and improvements to compliance enforcement arrangements, most of which try to improve efficiency. As such, industry supports the measures and so do we. What we are seriously concerned about is that, while the intent of the bill is right, the bill in its entirety only adds to the problem. Our amendments will improve the bill and ensure that the implementation of these aspects that are beneficial can effectively proceed.

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.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member will desist from using the term 'you', and I thank you for your completion with that fine flourish—as your usual style requires.

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

It was meant in the plural sense.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you for that apology to the chair, as well.

12:53 pm

Photo of Luke HartsuykerLuke Hartsuyker (Cowper, National Party, Deputy Manager of Opposition Business in the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. Today we have another bill and another layer of red tape for the productive people of Australia. This time we are talking about more red tape for more primary producers. This bill is all about imposing increased costs which will make it more difficult for farmers to be competitive.

This bill implements changes to the approval, registration and reconsideration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals to allegedly improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the current regulatory arrangements and to provide greater certainty to the community that chemicals approved for use in Australia are safe.

The re-registration process was the only election commitment Labor delivered in agriculture in the 2010 election, and there is no doubt that it was announced to placate the Greens. The Labor Party did not explain this in their pre-election statement clearly to avoid highlighting the negative impact on the agricultural community. Reforms are supposed to reduce cumbersome assessment and registration processes, be more cost-efficient for farmers and to provide industry with timely access to the best and safest crop and animal protectors. We support these objectives. This is supported by the 2008 Productivity Commission report into chemicals and plastic regulation.

Recommendation 8.1 states:

The Australian Government, in consultation with the states and territories, should impose a statutory obligation on the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority to ensure that:

•   The costs of chemical assessments are commensurate with the risks posed by the chemicals concerned

•   Its assessment priorities are directed to the most efficiently management of the aggregate risk of all agvet chemicals.

In general the bill makes a number of incremental changes to the arrangement to manage agvet chemicals registration and improvements to compliance and enforcement arrangements, most of which try to improve efficiency and are supported by industry. The coalition supports a process that focuses resources on suspect chemistries through a streamlining of existing process. However, the most significant change in this bill is the re-registration process which contradicts these objectives and instead will entrench yet another layer of red tape through an automatic seven- to 15-year review process for all chemicals with extra costs ultimately passed on to chemical users. The current bill retains all existing mechanisms for triggering a review.

The Australian National Audit Office's inquiry into Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has confirmed that we have a reliable technical and scientific regulatory system for effective management of risk. This is what the report had to say:

The ANAO concluded that the APVMA has reasonable arrangements in place to identify chemicals that require review and to prioritise the reviews according to the risk they represent.

APVMA do look at what is happening around the world and if there are concerns raised about a particular chemical they do actually act and with the current review process they do that. There is a system to make sure that, if a concern is raised somewhere else in another jurisdiction or within this jurisdiction, we do look at it.

However, despite these findings, the government has decided to add another layer of red tape through mandatory re-registration. The re-registration system adds no triggers but just another expensive recheck of the triggers funded by industry. It is also to give the green lobby designated time frames to concentrate on campaigns to have chemicals removed. For example, the campaigners will run a campaign on a chemical because of a tenuous link with a disease that is unscientific, and force the APVMA to withdraw registration because of political pressure, not scientific fact.

The re-registration system does not introduce any new triggers; it just makes the APVMA run costly rechecking of existing triggers. This needlessly duplicates existing arrangements and places an added cost on the farm sector—a cost it can ill afford at this point in time. Now is not the time to again hit the farm sector, particular farmers in my electorate and across the North Coast of New South Wales who is doing it tough.

Primary producers in my electorate are doing it tough because of a range of factors. Over recent times famers have been hit by a number of flood events which have left them reeling. The first flood event back in January and the second flood event in February were quite devastating. In January, floods in the Clarence Valley effectively wiped out the sugarcane crop. For many this represented the third crop they had lost in the past four years. Four years of costs and three years of no returns from sugarcane is a very difficult situation.

The January event also had an impact on local fishermen, particularly in the Clarence Valley. The impact has been magnified by the follow-up February flood event, which has effectively prevented the fishermen from deriving income for months. The situation became so bad that a local community organised to have food hampers donated to families who could no longer afford to put food on the table. Many of these families were fishing families who have not had income for months. They are proud people but their current situation was diabolical.

Across the North Coast region primary producers have been affected in many areas. In the Nambucca River, the oyster industry was particularly badly hit and the overall impact on the industry was expected to run into millions. As one oyster farmer said to me in an email:

My partner and I run a small oyster farm on the Nambucca River. The recent floods have had a substantially negative impact upon our livelihoods.

Loss of stock and infrastructure, river closures and equipment damage have all affected our business in the past months. Our business has completely come to a halt.

We have no income and are struggling to make repayments. We are in dire need of assistance. Our river coordinator has put together an estimate of these cumulative damages, and we would truly appreciate your consideration with regards to any assistance you may be able to offer our local community of growers.

In other parts the floods have wreaked havoc on fences and there have been reports of stock losses, mainly in the lower Macleay Valley. I should mention that there were some retailers also impacted, with tenants of the Old Buttery Factory in Bellingen severely impacted.

What all this information demonstrates is how marginal many primary production can be at this point in time. Every year their costs seem to increase and the prices they receive seem to decline. Every year it gets harder for these farmers to survive. Under this government, all they seem to receive is more red tape and more levies. In the context of these floods, I have welcomed the additional assistance provided to primary producers.

With regard to this bill, the coalition proposes to introduce amendments to delay the commencement by 12 months in order to allow time for, firstly, the development of a risk management framework clearly detailing the application requirements, which is essential to support other efficiency measures such as the 'shut the gate' and 'elapsed time frame' reforms. Secondly, registrants agreed to work with the APVMA to 'road test' the risk framework to ensure that it operated as intended. This has not occurred to date. No consultation on the risk framework has occurred. The current Manual of Requirements and Guidelines, or MORAG, is insufficient, with significant gaps that need to be addressed. Without a comprehensive risk framework to deliver high-quality applications to the APVMA, it may struggle with applications that do not have all the information required, resulting in more applications being denied, longer time frames for decisions and a higher refusal rate.

The consequence of poorly handled transitions will be to amplify the problems identified by farmers and industry—that is, that fewer safe products will remain on the market, diminishing the competitiveness of Australian industry. This will increase costs for farmers as the price of pesticides increase. Some generic products will be lost from the market. Products are also less likely to be introduced as regulatory risk and regulatory cost increase.

In conclusion, this bill will lead to a net loss in efficiency of the regulator and, contrary to the stated aims, it will reduce its ability to identify and review suspect chemistries. The bill does have some benefits in efficiency, but the only way to ensure the current bill has a net benefit in efficiency and improves the process to identify and review high-risk chemistries is to move amendments that remove the reregistration process and delay the commencement date.

This is in line with our commitment to cut unnecessary red tape by $1 billion, if the coalition should be elected at the forthcoming election. In government, we believe there will be significant scope to further cut red tape and increase the efficiency of the system. That will deliver faster assessment processes for new chemistries and faster reviews of suspect chemistries and remove unsafe products from the market.

If Australian agriculture is to prosper, if our farmers are going to be self-sustainable, it is essential that governments cut the red tape and cut the green tape to allow farmers to get on with the business of producing. But we know this government has no understanding of the agricultural sector, and this bill is just another example of how out of touch the Labor Party is with the primary producers of Australia.

1:03 pm

Photo of Sid SidebottomSid Sidebottom (Braddon, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank members, and the shadow minister opposite, for their contribution to this very important legislation and debate today. Whilst I have the opportunity, I would also like to thank all those staff in the department for the tremendous amount of work over years that they have put into this very important piece of legislation, as well as staff in the minister's office, my own staff and, of course, stakeholders who have participated in this process.

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 improves the regulatory system for agricultural and veterinary chemicals in Australia. The bill also meets a 2010 election commitment.

Essentially, this bill is about continuing to secure the safety of farmers, those who work on farms and those communities that are involved heavily with farming and agriculture. It is there to give assurances of health and safety to consumers of products from our farms and also to improve and secure the security and protection of our environment. These are worthy ideals indeed. It is an improvement and it seeks to do more to improve the system we already have. I hope the member for Kennedy will listen carefully to what I have to say, taking into account, notwithstanding his contribution, some of his criticisms.

The bill improves the current high level of protection for human health and the environment and provides a greater certainty to the community that agricultural and veterinary chemicals approved for use in Australia are safe. Other measures improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the work of the national regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, or APVMA , which I will in this speech refer to as the 'authority'.

At its core the authority is an evidence based risk manager. Its job is to scientifically evaluate and review agricultural and veterinary medicines—or 'agvet' chemicals as we commonly call them. Its job is to monitor and promote compliance. The authority regulates approximately 10,000 agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines, products vital for food and fibre production in the community. In other words, it is an essential service.

Stakeholders are keen to see changes to the way we regulate agvet chemicals. Environment and community groups, the chemical industry and farmer groups have made significant contributions to these reforms, including the re-registration scheme and risk framework. Some members opposite have tried to make the claim that the government has not consulted industry, including farmers, about these reforms. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Stakeholders have been extensively consulted during the development of the reforms proposed in this bill, and the government has listened to these. The minister, his office and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry have put substantial energy into stakeholder engagement on this bill. It is important that I reinforce this. There has been dialogue between the government, the Public Service and the agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines industry. We have heard from stakeholder groups in more than 190 submissions. Nearly 200 people attended workshops and public meetings. We published two separate drafts of the legislation and listened to stakeholders about these drafts before introducing the bill to parliament. So it is a nonsense to suggest we have not consulted or not consulted widely.

Australia's agriculture, fisheries, forestry and food industries have been involved. The government has discussed this bill with primary producer organisations in every state. Community and environment groups and the general public have had their say and been heard, as they have a right to. The states and territories have been consulted. We will continue to engage with and listen to stakeholders as we implement these important reforms. I would like to thank on behalf of the government all those groups that contributed with submissions, participated in workshops and who were involved in the committee processes.

It is clear that not all stakeholders are happy with the current system and want to see improvement; but it is not true that none of these stakeholders are happy with this bill. As with any new piece of legislation, there will always be a variety of views. Given the different priorities stakeholders have for the system, it is not surprising that some views are not aligned. This bill seeks to balance the conflicting interests of different stakeholder groups and make sensible compromises where those interests do not align. I am pleased that both the House and Senate committees in their recent inquiry reports into the bill have recommended that the bill be passed.

The member for Calare, during the previous debate on the bill, made claims to the effect that there was no need for these reforms. The member pointed to ANAO findings from a 2006 audit. But we must remember that the ANAO did not find the agvet chemical regulatory system to be all 'fine and okay'. The Productivity Commission also looked at the APVMA. The ANAO and the Productivity Commission, in their reports, picked up on a number of areas where issues were evident, flowing from: overly complex and prescriptive legislation that is difficult to understand and administer; legislation that could better ensure stakeholder confidence about the safety of chemicals; and a one-size-fits-all approach that does not enable—I say again: does not enable—the APVMA, or the authority, to allocate regulatory resources to the most efficient management of the aggregate risks of agvet chemicals. This legislation simply sets out to fix those issues, so noted by the Productivity Commission.

Let us look at the area of improving efficiency. Schedule 1 of the bill encourages the development of more modern and safer chemicals by providing for a more transparent, flexible and streamlined regulatory process. Amendments will allow the APVMA to use the most up-to-date international research more effectively and provide improvements to intellectual property protection for those who invest in the development of the new chemicals. The reformed system will provide the regulatory settings necessary to enable the authority to do its job better. It will be able to deliver more predictable outcomes, particularly for low-risk products—and I emphasise this—in a more timely manner, contrary to the claims of those opposite. The reformed system will also result in improved health and environmental protection for the broader community.

The bill also improves the way the authority works. These amendments will result in a more straightforward assessment process that is easier to understand and is more cost-effective to administer. These processes will have high levels of transparency and predictability for those seeking approval for agricultural and veterinary chemicals to enter the market. This will make the process of getting a new agricultural or veterinary chemical approved easier to understand. Thus it will remove unnecessary regulatory burden from the industry. The bill will not only make it easier to prepare good-quality applications; it will make it a requirement and, in so doing, the authority will be able to focus its resources on good-quality applications and will be working more effectively. This will be to everyone's benefit.

What about re-registration? We have heard a few industry representatives and those opposite on this debate raised some concerns about having a re-approval and re-registration scheme. This scheme is set out in schedule 2 of the bill. The scheme is about better protecting human, animal and environmental health, as I mentioned earlier, and providing greater certainty to the community that the agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines used in our nation are safe. This is of the utmost importance. The regulator receives around 3,000 applications a year for new registrations, approvals, permits and variations. Very few applications are made for genuinely new and innovative products. The market is dominated by generics. The authority estimates that more than 9,000 of the products currently available contain actives grandfathered into the national registration scheme when it commenced under Labor in 1993. That is—and this is a very important point to remember—more than 90 per cent of products available today contain chemistry that has not been reviewed against contemporary standards. There is currently no systematic approach to considering whether it is appropriate for a chemical currently on the market to stay on the market. This is unacceptable. It is clear that the community expects a rigorous scientific approach to agvet chemical assessments.

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

If you just sit there quietly and listen you will find out. You are a respectful type, I must say—I have travelled with you and you do not snore.

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (Robertson, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair, if you will, Minister.

Photo of Sid SidebottomSid Sidebottom (Braddon, Australian Labor Party, Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

But it also expects that these assessments will occur on a regular basis so they remain up to date.

This government is concerned for the health and safety of those people most exposed to dangerous chemicals. We want to improve farmer safety as well as improving the health and safety of all people exposed to agvet chemicals. We also want our trading partners to be assured about the agricultural products we export. The reregistration scheme proposed brings Australia into line with other comparable international regulators but is not a copy necessarily of the overseas approach. The scheme in schedule 2 complements the Australian chemicals market so it delivers the desired outcomes without unnecessarily resulting in the withdrawal of safe and useful chemicals. So let us be clear about this: companies will not have to generate new data to make an application for reregistration. Opposition members have continually repeated this fundamentally wrong view about what is involved with a reregistration application.

The scheme design imposes the most minimal requirements on industry. Holders of approvals or registrations would only need to provide information that they should already have access to. They will make a simple application electronically; the authority then does all the work from here. There is no blanket requirement for a chemical company to generate a whole new set of data to support reregistration, contrary to statements made by those opposite. The bill specifically provides that the authority cannot—and I reinforce that, cannot—require information from an applicant that the applicant cannot reasonably be expected to have. The government accepts that a long history of safe use counts in favour of keeping a tried and true chemical on the market. After looking at the simple application, where there are no reasonable grounds to believe a chemical is not safe the chemical will be reregistered without further obligations on the chemical company. The chemical company may choose not to reregister a chemical rather than have its safety examined. It is their choice. That is a commercial decision. The government does not promote particular products over others.

The opposition also does not understand how chemicals will come into the reregistration scheme. The safety of a chemical is determined mainly by the hazard of the active constituent. Whether or not a product passes reregistration will be determined almost entirely on whether the active constituent in the product is still safe to be used. The APVMA will consider all products with the same active constituent together. It will not be looking at individual products, as mentioned by those opposite, so much as it will look at the chemistry behind the product. There are only 780 different active constituents. The authority will not have to, as the member for Paterson earlier incorrectly claimed, assess applications for more than 9,000 products in one year. All reregistration applications will not happen all at once, as the member for Paterson said earlier in a gross exaggeration—but why am I not surprised by that?

Applications will be made progressively over the next 15 years, with the order of those applications determined by the risk of the chemical. This was made clear in draft regulations published last year. Products will remain on the market during this time and will continue to be on the market until a decision is made. If the decision is that a more detailed review is required, this will be scheduled and unless there is an immediate safety issue the product will remain on the market until a full scientific review of the issues identified in reregistration can be considered. The reregistration process cannot be manipulated by pressure groups to force chemicals off the market. (Extension of time granted)

Finally, on compliance, in 2011-12 the authority closed 198 cases of alleged noncompliance, completed eight investigations, completed 18 recall actions, conducted 96 compliance monitoring visits and oversaw 60 audits of veterinary manufacturers. Schedule 3 of the bill improves the authority's ability to do this job. It provides the authority with more enforcement options to allow it to respond to the risk posed by non-compliant behaviour in an appropriately proportional manner. This will improve the authority's ability to make regulatory decisions that protect public health and safety and the environment with confidence.

It is of great concern that the member for Dawson should think that improving the authority's ability to deal will those few malfeasant companies that try to avoid the law should mean that the system is harder to navigate. Industry is supportive of strong compliance powers as they benefit law-abiding makers and users of agvet chemicals. The authority is developing education and communication information to assist industry with the adjustment to the new law. This includes publishing a risk compendium. The compendium has already progressively been published by the authority's websites.

I understand that the opposition will make amendments seeking the removal of the reapplication and reregistration scheme and delaying implementation, as the member earlier mentioned. I will have more to say about these amendments and the importance of and the need for these reforms at the appropriate time. Thanks for your patience.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.