House debates

Monday, 26 May 2014


Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014; Second Reading

5:51 pm

Photo of Joel FitzgibbonJoel Fitzgibbon (Hunter, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

The bill before the House is a very important one. It will impact on Australia's $48-billion agricultural sector; it will affect Australia's multibillion-dollar plant sites and crop protection industry; it will have implications for our natural environment; and, most importantly, it is about the protection of human health. These are all very important points but for the opposition the last point—that is, human health—is paramount. Ideally, we want a low-cost regulatory regime—one which permits the use of chemicals in a safe way and in a manner which maximises productivity and farm-gate profits.

According to the minister, the main aim of this bill is to lower the regulatory burden of the regime. That is an objective which Labor supports. Indeed, the former government's bill that gave effect to the regime which was about to come into effect on July 1 if this bill were not successful, promoted red tape reduction as a key objective. The question is: does this bill before the House tonight strike the right balance between that aspiration and human health objectives—human health, as it relates to those who use the sprays involved and those who will consume the products sprayed further down the track? Again, this is a primary question for Labor.

As political parties we must always strive to ensure the burdens of our regulations are as low as is possible, but regulatory regimes do and always will impose regulatory burden. People listening to this debate tonight will be surprised to learn that currently there are some 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines—or agvet products, as they are generally known—listed with the regulator, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the APVMA. They are not just used in agriculture. Indeed, believe it or not, members, I was using one such spray in my garden on the weekend—under the direction, of course, of my wife! So it is not just about agriculture as we generally see it.

Those listening to the debate can see that the APVMA has a big job. First, testing the safety and effectiveness of chemicals; then registering them for safe use; and then, in turn, reassessing them as new information and data emerges about their safety. The controversial part of this bill is that which repeals the 2013 bill's mandatory re-registration scheme. I will come back to that point a little later. It is now almost 20 years since the Labor government established the successful regime we now have in place and, indeed, established a national regulator. Last year the former Labor government sought to further modernise and strengthen the regime in response to both community concern about the impact on human health and its efficiency on the regulatory burden front.

It is pleasing that this bill does not seek to unravel Labor's reforms entirely. The reforms in Labor's bill were substantial and extensive. They were primarily about improving the predictability and transparency of the APVMA's decision-making processes and providing greater reassurances to the community that agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines used in Australia are safe.

Apart from reregistration, the 2013 reforms encouraged the development of more modern and safer chemicals, and the cost reductions to industry of keeping existing chemicals in the market by: one, improving the consistency, predictability and transparency of agvet chemical assessments, and aligning the regulatory effort with chemical risk; two, reducing red tape by reforming assessment processes for agvet chemical applications for approval/registration and variation for better efficiency and effectiveness and improving the timeliness of agvet chemical approvals, registrations and chemical reviews; and, three, removing disincentives and providing greater incentives for companies to invest through improved intellectual property protection.

The reforms improve community confidence also in the regulatory regime by: (1) reducing the backlog of chemicals requiring review; (2) providing the regulator with contemporary compliance powers to improve its ability to protect humans, animals and the environment; and (3) by improving the ability of the APBVA to enforce compliance with its regulatory decisions, for example, by introducing civil penalties and infringement notices.

The current bill before the House is divided into two schedules. Schedule 1 removes the need for mandatory reregistration, as I have indicated, of active constituents. That means approvals will remain in force until such time as the approval is revoked by the APBVA. This is the most controversial initiative in this bill. Once registered, chemicals need to be renewed on an annual basis. Schedule 1 also allows less frequent renewals for particular products including, in some cases, up to five years rather than on an annual basis.

Schedule 2 of the bill deals with variations to approvals and, according to the government, seeks to streamline simple variations to approval registration for labelling. In his second reading speech, the minister argued this 2014 bill further builds on the reforms of Labor's 2013 bill. It does so, he says, by (1) the introduction of a new process for the notification of the simplest changes to a chemical registration and a very simple application process for less complex variations; (2) by reducing the frequency of renewal, removing annual returns about active constituents and improving information access provisions; and (3) rewriting provisions will allow the APVMA to collect information from suppliers of chemicals to make sure products being supplied are the same as those the APBVA registered. I am not sure these are exhaustive so I do not mean to suggest they are.

The curious thing about these changes and in particular the revocation of the mandatory registration is that they are being sought before the 2013 act actually comes into effect. As I indicated, that date is 1 July 2014. In other words, the government has passed judgement on Labor's reforms, most of which it appears to support, before they have even been given a chance to work. The key point of difference between the 2013 bill and the 2014 bill is the mandatory reregistration regime. And no doubt this will be an ongoing key point of debate both in this chamber and in the other place.

The opposition, I can announce, will not oppose or seek to amend the 2014 bill in this chamber. In other words, we do not claim that the 2013 regime is necessarily the only way of protecting human health and the natural environment while also providing farmers and other consumers with affordable and appropriately easy-to-access crop protection. Rather, we will allow the bill passage through the House but we have referred the bill to a Senate inquiry for further review. I note that the inquiry is already underway and that already the committee has received some 22 submissions, 20 of which support the removal of reregistration.

It is an important guide for me, as Labor's agricultural spokesman, that amongst the 20 organisations supporting the change is the National Farmers' Federation, other peak industry groups and, indeed, the Queensland government.

The change has been opposed by the WWF and by CHOICE. I should say I truly believe their voices are also important. On important issues such as this I am always determined not to form a political view or worse play politics with the issue. Rather, I am determined and my party is determined to do what is best for public health and for the environment and what is best for the agriculture sector. It is this approach which will determine our final position on this bill. The test for the Senate committee will be the extent to which it satisfies us for the changes being proposed in this bill do not reduce protections to human health. That is very important for the opposition.

I do accept that subjecting every chemical to a re-registration process every seven to 14 or 15 years does not necessarily guarantee the best outcome. I am more than happy to have that debate and have the Senate committee test that proposition. I also accept that there was an argument that it may be more effective to ensure that the APVMA's limited resources—very limited resources—are free to be directed to a robust risk management review regime and to properly respond to new information and data which may trigger a review in a more timely way.

Just to reinforce that point, if a red flag goes up on a particular chemical we want the APVMA to have the resources to immediately properly and thoroughly investigate the concern that has been raised by that new information. I do understand as a result of number of briefings I have received including from the department that there is nothing in the 2013 bill which dictates that re-registration also triggers a review. In other words the 2013 bill might make mandatory re-registration every seven to 15 years but re-registration will not necessarily mean an in-depth review of the chemical concerned. This should not necessarily be seen as a deficiency in the 2013 bill, I am not conceding that because it would have the potential if it were otherwise to trigger expensive time-consuming and potentially unnecessary reviews at great cost to the companies who produce the chemicals in particular.

It is now over to the Senate committee. A committee inquiry which I will be watching with great interest as I am sure many other members will. When it has completed its inquiry, and made its recommendations Labor will be better placed to perform a better position on the bill before the House this evening.

6:02 pm

Photo of Eric HutchinsonEric Hutchinson (Lyons, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 amends three acts within the agriculture portfolio as follows: the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemical Products (Collection of Levy) Act 1994. Importantly the bill implements the 2013 election commitment to remove re-registration and includes additional reforms to improve the efficiency of agvet chemicals regulation. It was an election commitment to remove the reapproval and re-registration scheme and introduce other efficiency measures.

Industry needs an efficient regulator so that it can have timely access to new technology to reduce the cost of production and provide options to reduce resistance and to continue to provide the highest-quality food both domestically and to international markets. These reforms aim to reduce red tape for farmers and other businesses involved in this sector to encourage development of new chemistry with a range of benefits for farmers and other users. The environment and the broader community.

Agriculture is one of the major economic drivers in my home state of Tasmania. The latest figures reveal the total exports from Tasmania in 2011-12 were valued at $3.4 billion, with agriculture representing 30 per cent, or $1 billion, of that total. Farmers are also significant land managers in my state, particularly in my electorate of Lyons, the biggest Tasmanian electorate comprising more than half of the state's total area. Nearly one-third of Tasmania's land area of 68,300 square kilometres is committed to agriculture. This means that agriculture is one of the most important and largest contributors to the Tasmanian, proportionately more than any other state in Australia. These figures illustrate dramatically that Tasmania must keep its agriculture sector viable, profitable and competitive.

In a former life I spent many years working for an agricultural services business in Tasmania and whilst not involved directly in the sale and advice in regard to agricultural chemicals, Craig Fife who ran that division worked closely with many producers who understand that there are certain tasks and certain things that just cannot be done and improvements in the way they can access with appropriate regulation agricultural chemicals is critical. I am please today to support the amendment to the agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation which will remove the re-approval and re-registration scheme which was part of changes to the legislation adopted by the 2013 amendment act. I take this stand on good advice from my constituency, particularly from the agriculture community led by Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association chief executive Jan Davis. The TFGA support the proposed amendment to the agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation because of the importance of chemicals to farmers to control weeds, pests and other diseases.

Farmers restricted in their use of chemicals will become less competitive because they will either have to accept reduced productivity in many instances or because they will have to move to alternative and, very often more expensive, control mechanisms. Rules and regulations are indeed important—particularly when it comes to chemicals of any kind—but so is a prosperous profitable and viable agricultural sector.

Indeed, agriculture will increasingly become a major driver of jobs in my home state of Tasmania. At every opportunity I get, I encourage young people to look at agriculture as a career opportunity. Such a diverse range of careers are available, from science through to economics and trades that are available for a range of different careers that young people might embark upon. More than 8½ thousand Tasmanians are in fact employed directly in agriculture, food and fibre value-adding, which makes up nearly nine per cent of my state's working population. In a state which has some of the worst unemployment figures in Australia, particularly in the case of youth unemployment, we strive to maintain one of our important and most critical economic drivers.

But it is not just Tasmanian farmers who are telling me that they want legislative change to stop extra layers of duplication and unnecessary red tape burdening users of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. Dairy farmers support the government's initiative to modernise and simplify this legislation and to reduce the red tape associated with the use of agvet chemicals on farms. The Australian Dairy Farmers made a submission in writing on this proposed amendment legislation. Dairy farmers, like so many others, need access to safe, affordable and effective agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines so they can manage the pests and diseases that would otherwise threaten production of safe food. It is also important for them to look after the health and welfare of their animals.

Dairying is one of the state's fastest growing agricultural sectors, with major expansions in the north-west, in my colleague the member for Braddon's electorate, and also within the electorate of Lyons in the Meander Valley and the Northern Midlands. In the Southern Midlands, we expect to see the rollout of the Midlands Irrigation Scheme very soon. The potential in the Derwent Valley is enormous as it is in the area around Sorell. New irrigation development in that area will, no doubt, see the expansion of dairy production in that part of the state. I was fortunate on Tuesday last week to go to a meeting in Hamilton, in the Derwent Valley in my electorate, where Fonterra have just announced that they will also be sourcing milk from southern Tasmania. This is a major commitment and a major step forward for the dairy farmers and the potential production in that part of Tasmania. Prior to now they have only had access to one purchaser of that milk. So that expansion will provide a lot more competition.

In fact, even as we stand at the moment, to fulfil the capacity that exists for stainless steel and to value add local production in Tasmania—which we expect to approach a billion litres of milk in the next couple of years—it is estimated that in my state we will need at least 70,000 more dairy cows. That will involve up to 400 people with a range of skills—from on farm through to extension and work involved within the value-adding and processing sector in the state—and, ultimately, an injection of around $650 million worth of capital just to fill the stainless steel that has been built in, so great is the capacity and the potential for dairy in the state of Tasmania.

In the next couple of months we also expect to see the launch of the Midlands Irrigation Scheme in my electorate of Lyons. Many people would not be aware of this, but the area to be irrigated under this very well designed and very well managed scheme—which will be delivered on time and on budget—will irrigate an area quite similar to that that is irrigated in the Ord scheme in the north of Western Australia.

We want to do everything we can to support and encourage farmers that are prepared to take a risk and often move away from more traditional enterprises, such as beef or sheep grazing and, in some cases, cropping, into a new area that involves a lot of capital infrastructure and a lot of investment on farm and the purchasing of the available water that is coming online now. We want to support those farmers, and the dairy industry tells us that the re-registration process has been an unnecessary burden.

Outside of the agricultural sector, despite the chaotic fallout to the industry in my state, and particularly in the electorate of Lyons, from the previous Labor-Green government's Tasmanian forests agreement, forestry also remains one of the most important industries in the state of Tasmania. The Australian Forest Products Association, with its strong Tasmanian representation, tells us that chemical use is critical to maintaining and improving the plantation estates' productivity and competitiveness to increasingly meet future wood fibre and product needs. It is not lost on me that the irony here is that the native forest sector within Tasmania has a natural ability to regenerate after harvesting and does not require any chemicals at all. This is sometimes lost on those who have an ideological opposition to such an important and, I would argue, perhaps one of the most renewable resources that we are blessed with. The forest products industry also has a strong interest in agvet chemical regulation reform. It too supports our amendments to remove the mandatory reapproval and re-registration provisions introduced by the 2013 act, describing them, in this case, as unnecessary.

These amendments will save the agvet chemical industry nationally $1.3 million in time and fees by removing duplication and unnecessary red tape—and I struggle to find an argument against that. At the same time, the amendments ensure that farmers and the broader community can continue to have access to effective and safe agvet chemicals. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority estimated that re-registration would cost them alone an extra $2 million per year to process and assess applications, with all costs ultimately to be recovered from industry, which makes industry and industry participants, not least of all farmers, less profitable. We cannot let this happen. Industry has calculated that removing the reapproval and re-registration scheme will save farmers and other stakeholders nearly $9 million annually in red tape and associated costs, while maintaining access to effective and safe agvet chemicals.

I would encourage the House to support the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 and to support the agricultural sector, particularly in my home state of Tasmania, which we all want to see flourish into the future.

6:15 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Small Business) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to stand to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. Since the government was elected in September last year we have heard a lot of rhetoric from the government, particularly about regulation. We have seen almost a demonising of regulation. But it is actually heartening to see that, in the case of regulation regarding the safety of chemicals, the government has taken a slightly more modest approach and left much of the work that the Labor government did over the last six years in place. We on this side of the House still have some doubt about the efficacy of the amendments as they are, but, as the shadow minister has said, we are prepared to wait and see the outcome of the Senate inquiry into this bill to see whether it will be effective.

This is an incredibly important piece of legislation. This is regulation that affects the use of chemicals that are used in agriculture and veterinary medicines which are registered under the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, the APVMA. There are about 11,700 of them currently in use around Australia. They are the chemicals that protect crops and animals from all sorts of pests and diseases and, in doing so, help improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australia's rural industries. But, of course, chemicals have pluses and minuses, as we all know. The regulatory process ensures that the agricultural and veterinary chemicals that we use are safe for humans—there are a whole range of issues relating to that—and also that they do not damage the environment.

A whole range of stakeholders in this area have had a lot to say about this over a long time, including some environmental groups; consumer groups, quite often with people who live in cities, as I do; farmers; and people who work on farms. There are many stakeholders, and at times the arguments are quite aggressive. I am a city girl, as I quite often say. I would prefer, like many city people, that the fruit and vegetables I eat are as natural as possible. At home I buy insect larvae, costing about $40 to keep four small trees free of pests, so I would not suggest that any farmer try and do that, as effective as it is. Two friends of mine own a mango farm and they leave the ants on the mangoes because that keeps the bats at bay. As long as the ants are there, the bats do not like the taste of the mangoes. But it means that the market for those mangoes is quite small, because they have the speckles from the ants on them. Those mangoes can be sold to an organic group. But you would not assume for a minute that we could have the kind of strong agricultural sector that we have on a large scale without some incredibly important chemicals.

Back in 2008 the federal government tasked the Productivity Commission with studying the existing arrangements for the regulation of chemicals and plastics in Australia. The purpose was to assess the impact of current regulation on the productivity and competitiveness of the chemicals and plastics industry, the Australian industry and the economy as a whole, together with the effectiveness of the regulations in addressing public health, environmental and occupational health and safety issues and substances of national security interest. The Productivity Commission did its job, as it always does. It concluded that the effectiveness and efficiency of APVMA assessments could be improved. It stated:

The effectiveness of the industrial chemicals and agvet schemes is limited given that all existing chemicals were grandfathered, without modern assessment, at the inception of the schemes. These constitute the vast majority of chemicals ‘approved’ for use in Australia. NICNAS and APVMA have programs for assessing existing chemicals, with review priorities determined on the basis of perceived health and environmental risks. So far only a tiny fraction of existing chemicals have been assessed. Initiatives to greatly accelerate the pace of review under both programs are warranted. In particular, NICNAS should improve its engagement with international existing chemical review programs, and make greater use of modelling tools.

As a result of that Productivity Commission review, COAG became involved. It tasked the Primary Industries Ministerial Council to bring forward to COAG for consideration in the first half of 2010 a proposal for a single national framework to improve efficiency and effectiveness of the regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. You have to remember that various chemicals and substances have approvals processes in the states as well. This brought the regulation of agricultural and veterinary chemicals under a national scheme.

Flowing from that, the parliament passed the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012 and there was an amendment in 2013. Now we have a new government. Before these new arrangements come into place, the government has decided to wind back some of the new mechanisms. In particular, this amendment bill removes the need for mandatory re-registration of active ingredients; removes end dates for approvals and last renewal dates for registrations so that approvals will no longer end after a particular period, which was seven years for high-risk and 15 years for low-risk chemicals; allows registrations to be renewed perpetually; and removes a number of redundant provisions. That is quite a significant winding-back of a range of measures which went through a very lengthy process, dating back to a Productivity Commission review in 2008 and an extensive COAG cooperative process over a couple of years.

As the shadow minister said, we are not opposing this bill in the House. However, we are waiting on the outcome and findings of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee inquiry, just so that we can satisfy ourselves that the health of Australians and the environment are still protected. It is also incredibly important that transparency and certainty are provided under the new scheme, and that is something that I will be looking out for in the committee's report. It is incredibly important, particularly for farmers and for workers, that there is a level of certainty and predictability so that they know that the chemicals they are using will be usable in the foreseeable future.

That is really all I have to say on this. There was an extensive process, which I think was a good process, which led to some significant improvements in the registration of chemicals and the approval process. This bill winds those back to some extent, and we are now waiting on the Senate committee's report. Thank you.

6:23 pm

Photo of Sharman StoneSharman Stone (Murray, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This a very important bill. We know that Australia can produce some of the best food and fibre of any nation. We also know we have some of the highest costs of production. We know that is related to our labour costs, but a lot of this is also related to the input costs of things like farm chemicals. Unfortunately, the red tape that surrounds the whole business of applying for the use of those chemicals to be approved in this country was made much worse under the previous government. They introduced different legislation which we must now amend by removing reapproval and re-registration through the bill we are debating tonight: the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014.

Australia has one of the best reputations for chemical-free production. Of course, we have to use some chemicals to manage pests and diseases, but we have such a stringent regime and such well credentialled primary producers that it is extraordinarily rare—in fact, I cannot think of a single case—that any products on our shelves that are made, produced, grown or manufactured in Australia or products from Australia that are exported to another country have been held up as chemically contaminated. We have an extraordinarily good and fiercely defended reputation. But we cannot be bogged down in the additional red tape that Labor imposed on us—and we are not quite sure why. They just had a frenzy of additional regulation and layers of bureaucracy which meant it took more time to do the job and made it even more expensive for food producers to do their job. So this is a very important bill indeed.

There was a very careful and closely considered committee inquiry that examined the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. Not surprisingly, there was a dissenting report, which said:

… we believe one of the bill's key modifications; the intention to install a system of mandatory re-registration lacks sufficient justification and is likely to create a new layer of compliance and bureaucracy on the pesticide and veterinary medicines industry without demonstrable improvements in efficiency or outcomes and that extra costs will be passed along to Australian farmers.

I say 'hear, hear' to that. That is exactly what it did. Fortunately, we as the coalition have come into power before too much damage could be done by that Labor bill. Tonight, we set things right.

In case Australian consumers who are listening to this are not aware of the problems of chemical contamination in food supplies or food chains elsewhere in the world, I remind you that more than three million hectares of China's farmland is now:

… too polluted with heavy metals and other chemicals to use for growing food, a Cabinet official said Monday, highlighting a problem that is causing growing public concern.

This is from an article published in December 2013. It goes on:

The threat from pollution to China's food supply has been overshadowed by public alarm at smog and water contamination but is gaining attention following scandals over tainted rice and other crops. The government triggered complaints in February when it refused to release results of a nationwide survey of soil pollution, declaring them a state secret.

The figure given at a news conference by Wang Shiyuan, a deputy minister of the Ministry of Land and Resources, would be about 2 percent of China's … arable land.

Some scientists have given higher estimates of as much as 24.3 million acres, or one-sixth of the total arable land, though it is unclear how much of that would be too badly contaminated for farming.

Clearly, we in Australia have to jealously guard the low risk, almost zero risk, of chemical contamination of our arable land. We have to make sure that we do not compromise our current clean, green credentials with things like the insatiable search for coal seam gas, which we are not yet sure about in terms of groundwater contamination and, ultimately, perhaps soil contamination as the contaminated aquifers are brought to the surface and 'ponded' on what was arable farmland. We have to watch that issue very closely as a nation. I have enormous sympathy for people in agriculture right now, fighting the good fight in the most arable parts—for example, in parts of Queensland and into New South Wales around the Liverpool Plains and Tamworth area.

The explosive growth of Chinese industry, overuse of farm chemicals and lax environmental enforcement have left swathes of their countryside tainted by lead, cadmium, pesticides and other toxins. The whole business of China's contamination of their food chain struck home in February-March this year when SPC Ardmona became very concerned after finding that lead levels in cans of peaches imported from China were so high that they were a risk for human consumption, particularly by the young or the elderly. A lot of that canned peach came in the three-kilogram sizes, which are typically bought by the food services sector, say, for aged care, hospitals, prisons and the Defence Force, and of course the consumer in those circumstances—the elderly lady or the Defence Force personnel or people in custody—have no knowledge of where the food is from when it is served to them in their meals. We have found that the chemical contamination of those canned peaches, the lead contamination, was way above what is safe for human consumption. So you have to ask: how did that heavy metal contaminated product get into Australia?

Besides very important veterinary and chemical legislation, we are supposed to have very, very sound and rigorous testing of our food in terms of any additives and contaminants such as pesticides, antibiotics, microorganisms and metals. We have a whole industry of testing food standards. The standards are described in the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code as applying to all food produced or imported for sale in Australia and New Zealand and, as I say, this code is rigorous. It includes standards for labelling of additives and contaminants. So how does some of this product get onto our shelves and, in particular, gets fed to our most vulnerable? Of course there is a huge cost incentive to pick up imports and sell them into the food services sector because, for example, a three-kilo tin of imported peaches sells for some $6 in Australia compared to $9 for the Australian-made product, so there is a huge incentive there to cut costs if you are in one of those sectors like aged care or a hospital.

We test for a whole range of contaminants particularly chemicals. But I am concerned that our testing regime under Labor was compromised with cutting costs and with a very tiny proportion of foods being tested. Surveillance foods are all imported foods that are not considered risk foods. How does it work? When risk foods are imported by a new importer or from a new manufacturer, 100 per cent of the shipments are tested. The risk foods are detained by customs for testing and are not released until the test results are returned. But once there are five consecutive shipments passed—in other words, there are no problems with them in all tests—the rate of testing drops to 25 per cent of shipments. After 20 consecutive shipments have passed this 25 per cent of sampling, the testing rate drops to five per cent of shipments only. If you are a clever importer, you make sure that that first number of shipments are absolutely first-class. They are from uncontaminated areas, perhaps in China. Perhaps they are from other-country sources or re-exported out of your country to make sure that they pass those first tests. Once you have got to that magic figure of only five per cent of your imports being tested, then virtually anything goes. These shipments are not held until the test results are known. They pass through customs.

If the food fails a test in the Department of Agriculture, one of the five per cent, then the relevant food regulatory authorities can do a product recall, but this is at the authority's discretion. Of course once a surveillance food fails a test, then future shipments from that importer and manufacturer are increased back to the 100 per cent rate and so that system starts again until you get down once more to just five per cent of your products being tested because you have had five consecutive shipments pass all tests.

That must be how the Chinese contaminated product got through, I assume. I assume that if it was properly tested for contamination it would have been found. Clearly, those samples were not tested. I am most anxious that our regime within Australia, guided by our own agricultural and veterinary chemicals legislation, is the best in the world. It needs to be, and when we say a product is produced or grown or manufactured in Australia that must be the simple truth.

Our current labelling laws of course allow a lot of misinformation to pass into the public arena. That is another issue we as a coalition must deal with, the fact that Codex Alimentarius allows that if 50 per cent of the value of the product has been met or has been incurred in Australia, including labour and overheads and all of those values, you can call the product 'Made in Australia'. That should not be the case. If it is more than 50 per cent transformed in Australia, for example, if your fish comes in frozen from Thailand but is crumbed in Melbourne, then you can call that Made in Australia as well. So we have labelling problems which can mask serious contamination issues as well.

But I am concerned in this debate about chemical contamination. We have got to make sure that when a consumer whether in the United States, Canada, China or Singapore sees 'Product of Australia', they feel totally assured that the product does not have any chemical contamination, that it is some of the cleanest and safest food to be found anywhere in the world, and that they are prepared to pay a premium for that high value-added product, say, a baby food or a food for the elderly. That is what we are aiming for in Australia. We do not need our agribusiness industry to be tied down and shackled with cost imposts forced upon them through what Labor tried to do. This amendment gives us still one of the most stringent and vigorous agricultural and veterinary chemical legislative regimes in the world. I commend that. That is a very important thing that we do. All of the safeguards will remain in place in terms of making sure that nothing gets past the APVMA. It will retain all powers to recall unsafe chemical products, or suspend or cancel the registration of a chemical product if the product no longer meets criteria for registration. In fact these provisions were recently strengthened and streamlined by the amendment act.

So as a representative of the food bowl of Australia, which supplies more than 25 per cent of dairy produce of Australia, more than 80 per cent of our pears, more than 90 per cent of Australia's kiwifruit, the best beef product that can be found in Australia and the best oilseeds, I am most concerned that our government does away with all of the rubbish that was put through by the previous government, which did not understand anything beyond the tram tracks, beyond metropolitan Australia. So I commend most heartily this Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 and I hope it has a very speedy passage through both this and the other house. I thank you.

6:37 pm

Photo of Stephen JonesStephen Jones (Throsby, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Murray in her intelligent and mostly balanced contribution in this debate on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. I am a member who represents a regional electorate, and I can inform the member for Murray that there are many on this side of the House who know full well what life looks like beyond the rail tracks, as we call them in New South Wales.

I have found common cause with many of the observations she made, particularly where she was talking about the importance of the reputation that Australian agricultural produce enjoys, deservedly, in my submission, for being of the highest quality and free from infection and contamination by toxins. This, and this area of policy, is where economic policy intersects with public health concerns, because this is a reputation that we must maintain and it is also a reputation that must be supported by the facts. So the test of the legislation and public policy in this area is, quite simply: how do we ensure that we can have the highest level and the highest protection for consumers without damaging the important economic viability of the farms and other organisations who rely on these industrial chemicals?

Some background to the legislation: in 2008 the Productivity Commission undertook research into the arrangements for the regulation of chemicals and plastics in Australia. The Productivity Commission took a broad view around the whole industry and economy, encompassing regulations, productivity and competitiveness within the chemicals industry. Public health, environmental and workplace safety and health issues were all considered, as were impacts on our national security.

The Productivity Commission highlighted a number of issues with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority—the APMVA—and suggested that it would benefit from tighter assessment processes. The Productivity Commission highlighted that many chemicals in use had never been subjected to modern testing. In fact, the majority of existing chemicals had been grandfathered onto its approval list, now managed by the APMVA and the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessments Schedule, fondly known as the NICNAS.

It is worth pausing to consider that, because previous speakers have made the point that most chemicals in Australia—the vast majority, in fact—have never been subjected to modern testing. What does that mean? The member for Hunter said in his contribution that there are about 11,000—in fact, the number is 11,700—agvet chemicals in active use in Australia. Of that number around 8,350 are agricultural chemicals, with 2,230 of those agricultural chemicals containing active constituents. The vast majority of these have not been subject to modern assessment. So whilst the relevant agencies have authority to test any chemical based on health or environmental fears, there has not been any systematic approach to this previously.

After the 2010 election, the Labor government undertook significant reform based on the report of the Productivity Commission. An ad hoc review process would remain in place, and any stakeholder could nominate a chemical for safety review: the industry itself, the regulator acting on its own accord or any individual only need raise concern with the regulator to trigger a review. Labor's reform provided a greater level of assurance that existing chemicals and products do not pose undue risk to human health or the environment.

Further to this, and because of the improved regulatory framework put in place under Labor, public confidence is boosted in the regulators. Indeed, confidence in government to fulfil its duty to protect and serve our people and environment is also strengthened. And it is worth observing that when something goes wrong—when a product is contaminated—public attention turns inevitably to government and says, 'Where was the regulator? They should have been on the job—where was the regulator?' It falls to government to ensure that the right standards are put in place; that it does not throttle industry but ensures appropriate safety standards are in place.

Let's talk about the new reforms. The government seeks to give us assurances that the bill on which I have risen to speak will not weaken the environmental or human health protections. But I do note that the government's bill is actually removing the provisions in Labor's reforms that would mandate chemicals being reapproved, thereby subjecting them to modern testing. Remember, Mr Deputy Speaker Broadbent, I have already said that well over 11,000 of these chemicals are in use and that the vast majority of them have never been tested before.

Some may say, and in fact they have argued, that there have been farmers who have been using these chemicals for over 40, 50 or 60 years, and there is some force in that argument. But they have been building houses out of asbestos in the area that I come from for 20, 30 or 40 years as well, and that was supposed to be—if you will pardon the pun, Mr Deputy Speaker—as 'safe as houses'. We now know that it was not, and that an appropriate regulation should have been put in place back then.

So we do have some reservations. The government's bill removes Labor's registration of chemicals requirement, which is based on a chemical's risk profile, that it would be mandated every seven to 15 years. The bill before as will mean that higher-risk chemicals would no longer be required to be retested every seven years and chemicals with a lower-risk profile every 15 years.

The purpose of the reform when it was introduced by Labor was to ensure that never again would we look at our register of chemicals and ask ourselves, 'Well, which of these have been subject to the relevant, up-to-date modern tests? Which are safe to use and which are not?' We would know; we would have confidence that every chemical in use in Australia has been assessed based on the most recent and relevant knowledge.

So I do have some reservations with the bill, that by removing these requirements we are in fact removing the guardrail, the protections that we expect a government to deliver. I am probably not alone in that because I read in some detail the explanatory memorandum which was prepared by the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, the responsible minister. Presumably he did author this explanatory memorandum and he says at page 2, under the heading 'Addressing concerns with chemical product quality':

Removing re-registration removes an opportunity for the APVMA to confirm that chemical products supplied to the market are the same as the product evaluated and registered by the APVMA. This can be addressed in part by improving the ability of the APVMA to require a person who supplies an agvet chemical product in Australia to provide information (for example, a chemical analysis) about the product they are supplying.

So you can see within the explanatory memorandum to this bill itself that it is hardly an ironclad guarantee. You may well argue that nobody can give an ironclad guarantee in these matters, but it is hardly the sort of statement that gives us absolute faith and confidence that the new regulations are going to put in place the sorts of protections that we require. You would expect in an explanatory memorandum prepared by the government itself that the government would be proposing, or have included, a form of words that gave us much more confidence about the system that it is recommending before the House. So we have reservations.

We will not take an obstructionist approach. I know members opposite have talked a lot about the importance of removing red tape, but I say to them that it is important, particularly when it comes to industrial health and safety and the regulation of chemicals, that you get the difference between red tape and a guardrail. And the provisions in legislation such as this take on more the character of a guardrail than of red tape. So we do have a well-founded reservations. We have said we will not oppose the legislation in this place, but there is a body within the parliament that has gained some expertise in these matters, having conducted inquiries into previous amendment bills to the same substantive legislation. We will look with interest as the matter is referred by the other place to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee and we will look with great interest on the findings of that committee. I can foreshadow here that members in this place will take very, very seriously any of the recommendations that that committee makes because we are concerned that, far from just removing red tape, the passage of this legislation may, in the haste to remove red tape, have taken out the guardrail as well.

6:48 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

7:04 pm

Photo of Rick WilsonRick Wilson (O'Connor, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to support the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. This bill delivers on a coalition election commitment to remove the reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products stipulated in the 2013 amendment act as part of this government's program to affect $1 billion of red tape and green tape reductions. By extending the renewal of registrations from annually to up to seven years it will similarly reduce the administrative burden on the regulator. This 2014 amendment bill also further enhances the powers of the federal regulatory body—the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, APVMA—to ensure that all chemicals and drugs used in agriculture are safe to both animals and humans, with minimal adverse effects on the environment.

My electorate of O'Connor is vast and encompasses a variety of agricultural interests, so I stand here today representing the pastoralists of the goldfields, the grain growers of the wheat belt, the sheep and cattle farmers of WA's Great Southern, the grape growers of the acclaimed Mount Barker, Frankland and Pemberton wine regions, the dairy farmers of Walpole and Northcliffe, and the horticulturalists and truffle farmers surrounding Manjimup, the food bowl of Western Australia. Each and every one of these farmers has a right to maximise their productivity unimpeded by restricted access to necessary chemistries and veterinary medicines and at a price competitive with their overseas counterparts.

Each and every one of them gets out of bed every morning not only to provide for their families but to contribute to feeding and clothing our country and to contribute to Australia's GDP through the export of wine, food and fibre. Each and every one of these farmers also recognises the importance of the use, but not abuse, of these herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, antibiotics and vaccines. Our farmers are progressive, educated and cognisant of the risks of resistance when chemistries and medicines are misused. Our farmers are interested in sustainable outcomes, such that the next generation will be able to build on the legacy of this one. And I should know—I am one of those farmers. My farm has been in the family for 150 years and I intend for my children and their children to have the same opportunities as I had.

As a broadacre wheat and sheep farmer, I have seen the development of safe, affordable and effective chemicals revolutionise farming within my lifetime, with massive production, animal welfare and environmental benefits. When I began my farming career after completing university in 1988 the only weed control option available was multiple tilling of the soil. This involved countless hours of turning the soil, burning copious quantities of diesel fuel and breaking down the soil structure, leaving our most valuable asset susceptible to both wind and water erosion. In the late 1980s the advent of the chemical glyphosate, developed by Monsanto and marketed under the trade name Roundup, changed the crop establishment process irrevocably. Safe for use by the operator and safe for the environment, this broad-spectrum herbicide allowed farmers to dispense with countless tillage operations and sow their crops in a one-pass operation, which became known as minimum tillage. This system has evolved over the years into the no-till method, which involves minimal soil disturbance and, where possible, the retention of stubble.

I digress at this point to mention that this no-till system was substantially developed by farmers from my electorate, notably Mr Ray Harrington, Darkan farmer and West Arthur Shire President, who was recognised in this year's Australia Day honours list with an OAM for his contribution to agriculture and in particular for pioneering the development of no-till farming.

This one-pass crop establishment method has seen production increases driven not just by annual yield increases, with results in the Great Southern rising from two tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to better than four tonnes per hectare in 2013, but also by the ability to continuously crop paddocks that previously would have been devastated by the loss of soil structure and exposure to both wind and water erosion. This major change to our cropping systems has led to an exponential increase in the use of other selective herbicides, such as trifluralin, diuron, metolachlor, atrazine, and insecticides like chlorpyrifos and cypermethrin. All of these chemicals were developed more than 30 years ago and are therefore all long off patent and yet remain critical for the viability of today's broadacre farmer.

A stark example of the cost savings to growers that occur when chemicals come off patent is glyphosate, which, when sold under patent by Monsanto in the late 1980s, retailed at the equivalent of $39 per litre in real terms versus approximately $4.50 today. There is a very real role for these older chemistries, even in the face of today's chemical and technological advances. And although farming is what I know best, it is probably pertinent to point out that glyphosate is still used widely in our parks and on our road verges to control a broad spectrum of weeds and prickles. Similar products are also used for managing invasive species and noxious weeds in our conservation areas and national parks. Notably the National Resource Management Ministerial Council of 2006 estimated that the economic impact of weeds alone on the Australian economy is in excess of $4 billion each year, with an environmental impact of a similar magnitude.

Regarding the livestock enterprises across my electorate, it is vitally important to retain access to reasonably priced off-patent veterinary chemicals not only for food and fibre production but also animal welfare outcomes. The control of external parasites such as lice or internal parasites such as worms is critical for the well-being of production animals, and as resistance develops to some of the newer formulations often the older chemistry comes back into play. Conversely with antibiosis, access to a larger suite of affordable antibiotics allows for judicious use of the most appropriate antibiotic and avoidance of the overuse of one product and possible resistance problems.

On the subject of animal welfare outcomes, flystrike, a well-known scourge to both sheep and grazier, has benefited from the insect growth regulator cyromazine, a product that breaks the life-cycle of the fly, thus protecting against flystrike for up to two months. For around 20c per head for two months protection, cyromazine is not only cheap but also safe for the animal, the handler and the environment. This particular product has saved untold numbers of my flock from a slow and grisly death that used to be associated with flystrike. Insect growth regulators are also safe for use environmentally in water sources to control mosquitoes, which spread Ross River virus, dengue fever and malaria between humans.

Insect growth regulators are also pivotal for protecting the built environment from termites, which brings me to the question: do these products really require the regular review that annual reapprovals, annual renewals and regular re-registration of the 2013 amendment act legislation would compel? The reality is that these should be merely administrative processes as there are already existing mechanisms within the regulatory body, the APVMA, to trigger a technical investigation of a product or constituent if indicated in any way. This is verified by the Productivity Commission and the Australian National Audit Office finding that the existing APVMA Chemical Review Programalready effectively identifies and prioritises existing chemicals requiring review.

The main criticism raised in recent submissions by stakeholders to the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee is the extended time frame for completion of some of the APVMA chemical review processes. Surely this will only be abbreviated with the removal of any excessive administrative workload on the APVMA? The current APVMA chemical review system accords with international best practice as dictated by the OECD's recommendations of the Council on Regulatory Policy and Governance.

There is little scope that legislating re-regulation and reapproval will improve upon this system. In the EU, they have identified that their regulators have been overwhelmed with the excessive administrative burden this type of legislation has imposed. In addition, no cost benefit analysis or any other evidence has been presented to suggest that this reform would deliver any net benefit. In short the 2013 amendment act without the additional 2014 amendments is likely to result in several things. These include increased costs for the APVMA to administer re-registration and reapprovals, estimated to be an additional $2 million in 2015-16. There will be diminished access to innovative new agricultural products for use by Australian farmers due to excessive administrative demands on the APVMA distracting them from their real purpose. There will be potential stifling of innovation while registrants support existing registrations rather than create newer, safer and softer agricultural products. There will be increased costs of an essential farm input with flow-on effects throughout the supply chain. For example, CropLife Australia, representing the plant science industry, reveal that in 2011 direct costs to registrants was over $6.75 million as registrants pass the costs down through the chemical supply chain to wholesalers and retailers, until it reaches the primary producers who are already making marginal returns. There will be a reduction in availability of cheap and effective products as the financial burden of the reapprovals and re-registration process makes ongoing production and supply unviable. There will be resistance issues as the suite of chemicals available becomes less comprehensive and products are not used in sensible rotation. And there will be distractions from the important job of the APVMA in ensuring human and animal health and safety as well as positive environmental outcomes.

Recently the Senate referred the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014 for inquiry and report. Of the 22 submissions received, the overwhelming majority were supportive of removing reapproval and re-registration. Two submissions, one from the WWF Australia and the National Toxics Network and the other from Choice, raised concerns that without annual reapprovals and regular re-registration older chemicals that were grandfathered into the National Registration Scheme for Agrivet Chemicals at its inception in 1996 would remain registered ad infinitum. They say that these chemicals have 'never been assessed against today's regulatory and scientific standards'. I am reliably informed that in fact these grandfathered chemicals were reviewed against the then current science and were found compliant throughout the period before the inception of the national registration scheme.

And since the inception of the national registration scheme, chemicals registered before 1996 have always had the capacity to have a chemical review triggered by any newly discovered data regarding toxicity, metabolism, chemistry, environmental fate and environmental chemistry of their registered active constituents. I believe that it is also a legal requirement for any new data and information on the constituents to be disclosed by the registrants upon discovery. There are other triggers of chemical reviews, including: information from any third party; the actions of an overseas regulator in response to that product or constituent; and feedback from the end-use consumer, be that a pet owner, farmer or veterinarian, through a national pharmaco-vigilance system called the Adverse Experience Reporting Program.

My point, therefore, is that retaining the 2013 amendment act regarding cyclical reapproval and reregistration will not provide any new information on these products and constituents that is not already made available under the existing chemical review arrangements. I note from my review of the Senate submissions that WWF/National Toxics Network and Choice were the only submissions to really have any opposition to the coalition's proposed changes to the 2013 amendment act. However, they do fully support giving powers to the APVMA to gather information about products supplied in the marketplace.

This 2014 amendment bill actually rewrites provisions to allow the APVMA more power to collect information from suppliers to ensure supplied products and their constituents are the same as those initially registered, and enables the APVMA to initiate testing processes for safety, efficacy, impurities et cetera on any suspicions of an imported or manufactured product by way of written demand. The AVPMA retains the power to recall, remove from sale, suspend or cancel the registration of any chemical product or active constituent that fails to meet any of its criteria on the safety and wellbeing of animals, humans or the environment.

With respect to the 2014 amendments bill allowing for simple variations to approvals and registrations, the desire is to further streamline the administrative process by allowing for simple changes to a product, such as a change to the colour or flavour of a formulation, the pack size or minor labelling to be a mere notification process rather than requiring an application, subsequent fee and possibly a repeat technical assessment of the already registered product.

I know that as a farmer, I buy certain products in the largest pack size for economies of scale, yet many are only available in the one pack size. For example, for worming sheep I might buy a 20-litre multidose pack of oral Ivermectin, but a suburban veterinarian may only require small volumes of this drug to occasionally worm a guinea pig, budgerigar or pet lamb. Yet this product is only available in the one size. There should be the capacity for smaller pack sizes of an identical product to be made available without incurring the substantial costs and administrative efforts of a full application process to provide a minor variation of an already approved and registered product.

There are currently 11,700 registered agvet chemicals in Australia, comprising one or more of 2,230 approved constituents. This may sound like a lot, but it is probably worth noting that Australia only represents four per cent of the global market. We need to remain an attractive place for companies to invest, bringing their chemicals and animal health products to market and to Australian farmers like me.

We also have to remember that our farmers are competing in a global market. The Black Sea region is one of our main competitors for grains, closer to our markets with lower transport costs into key markets in Europe and the Middle East. South America's beef, wool and grain has significant advantages using the latest technology, including genetic modification, producing at much lower costs with less regulation. Developing markets such as the dairy industry in China and the beef feedlot industry in Indonesia and Vietnam, have cheaper labour amongst other savings whilst reaping the benefit of Australian genetic input by importing our bloodstock.

To lose access to the full suite of chemistries and medications, or to have excessive financial penalties from overregulation, will see us fall behind in the global market. In conclusion, I reiterate my full support for the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014.

7:18 pm

Photo of Melissa PriceMelissa Price (Durack, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

7:32 pm

Photo of David GillespieDavid Gillespie (Lyne, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-Approval and Re-Registration) Bill 2014. This bill is critical for agriculture in Australia. There are 11,700 medicines that are used in agriculture to control pests and disease. These chemicals and medicines protect crops and animals, allowing them to grow to their full potential. It also facilitates health in our pets and our gardens—and indirectly, and sometimes directly, us, because some of these chemicals and veterinary products run parallel in the medical industry.

Could you imagine the loss to our food and crop production if the regulatory burden in the current legislation suffocated the use of these chemicals which have already been registered and analysed to the nth degree and declared to be safe? It would be devastating. CropLife estimates that 68 per cent of the crop production in this country depends on these approved chemicals to control the pests that could ravage a crop of wheat or maize, chickpeas—you name it. If we do not have the ability to control pests and disease, our broadacre cropping could be devastated, yields could drop exponentially. That is a possibility; re-registration every year could mean that some of these chemicals would have to go through the whole process again. In the beef and dairy industry, control of parasites would be very difficult, because most of the parasite control is with pour-on chemicals and drenches which will all go through this registration process.

We had an election commitment. We committed to the Australian public that we would reduce red tape—and, if there was ever a case of red tape, it is the current registration. By these sensible amendments, we will prevent the automatic expiration of active constituent approvals and remove the need to continually reapprove and re-register these active constituents on an annual basis, to a much more reasonable seven years.

Chemical product quality is still protected with these amendments. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority can request analysis to ensure the chemicals in these products are exactly what they say they are. It still controls the packaging, the advertising and the labelling and ensures that it is all accurate. These amendments allow variations to be done at the discretion of the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. It allows product registration details and information that is held with the authority to be provided to those that have the appropriate access to the intellectual property, and allows the owners of the intellectual property to know the details of the status of their registration. There is a cost-recovery mechanism involved in this, to be paid by the recipient of the information.

I would like to make an analogy to the New South Wales driver's licence. They recently extended registration for safe drivers to up to 10 years. If you are a safe driver and you are not breaking the road rules or are involved in accidents and you have demonstrated that you are a good, safe driver, they will give you credit and you only have to renew your licence every 10 years. Under the current legislation, having to renew these many chemicals every time their registration renewal falls due would suffocate the industry. It would suffocate the industry that depends on them for their wellbeing. They still have to be analysed, tested and proved to be safe, but, I hasten to say, the potentially malevolent red tape is removed by these amendments. We will still have quality and still have oversight of a very effective authority, the chemicals will be safe for the recipients—namely, the crops and the animals—the humans who come into contact will get all the information that they need and our agricultural sector will continue to flourish.

I would hate to think of the devastation that would occur if these products that have been around for years and years and have been through numerous analyses and registrations dropped off and had to go through the whole re-registration process, which is a costly and time-consuming procedure. Can you imagine the cost of the chemicals? The chemical companies would have to pay an awful lot of money to go through that process if they were ever to fall off the register. I would not like to be a chemical company supporting our agriculture under the current legislation.

As I drive around the area of the Manning, where we have a quarter of the state's milk supply being produced, I try to imagine the implications if they were not able to drench the animals and control parasites. The milk production would drop off. It would be the same in the beef industry. You only have to look at an animal that has not been drenched and see the growth in those compared to those that have been looked after by their owners. Applications in the aquaculture industry in the Gloucester Valley do not need many chemicals but those they do need are simple and proven to be safe. Imagine if they had dropped off the register and the company could not afford to go through the extensive re-registration process. Around my electorate, we have an agricultural industry that is vibrant but it is under tremendous cost pressures. To have to go through the re-registration process for all the chemicals that foster and encourage the growth of their products would, for many, be the final straw that breaks the camel's back.

I commend these amendments to the House. They are safe and they are sensible. There will still be good oversight by the authority. All the information will be accessible—assuming that there are no intellectual property issues. The registration will be clear and transparent. Simple amendments can be put through by the authority in limited circumstances. So the Australian public and the agricultural and cropping industries should be reassured that there is due oversight of this important part of their business. I commend the legislative amendments to the House.

7:41 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on any bills such as this bill, the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014, which at their very heart are about freeing up Australians from unnecessary burdensome red tape. My colleague the member for Lyne ended his remarks by saying that these were sensible amendments and this was a common-sense approach. This bill seeks to re-establish a sensible, common-sense approach to agricultural and veterinary chemicals for use in the agricultural sector.

The amendment act was passed by parliament in June 2013 and included the introduction of a scheme for reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products to commence on 1 July 2014. This bill delivers on an election commitment made by the coalition in the lead-up to the 2013 election to remove the reapproval and re-registration scheme and introduce other efficiency measures.

Industry needs an efficient regulator so that it can have timely access to new technology, to reduce the cost of production and provide options to reduce resistance and to continue to provide the highest quality food both for the domestic and the international markets. As the global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, it is imperative that Australia, which has one of the most sustainable production systems in the world, continues to punch above its weight to address this growing food and fibre task—with respect to not only domestic production but also, importantly, the ever-increasing export of sustainable product.

I am pleased that this bill will deliver on our election promise to remove that cumbersome re-registration and reapproval scheme for agvet chemicals. These reforms aim to reduce red tape for farmers and other businesses and encourage the development of new chemistry, with a range of benefits for farmers and other users, the environment and, importantly, the wider community.

Australian farmers, quite rightly, take great pride in the products that they deliver to market. Protecting our image as premium quality producers is paramount for the nation. However, the re-registration scheme introduced in 2013 for effect from 1 July 2014 sought to damage that very process and, indeed, had the very real risk of damaging our clean, green image. It was really just another case of industry being tied up in red tape. This government, thankfully, understands how business works. Time spent to re-register a product that has not changed in composition, has not had any credible scientific evaluation to show a change may be needed, is just compliance, disappointingly, for compliance sake. It does not produce a more efficient or more valuable outcome; it just wastes time and money better spent delivering new and improved products.

Our government considers that, prior to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Act 2013, existing chemical review mechanisms allowed for the examination of newly discovered risks about the safety, efficacy or trade impact of a chemical. New mechanisms that duplicate the existing systems and impose additional costs on the industry are not required and are likely to result in a loss of safe chemicals because many cheap off-patent chemicals will not be economical to re-register. Reconsiderations are costly exercises that should be undertaken only when the risk of use of an unsafe product warrants the regulatory burden imposed. The APVMA already uses the activities, assessments and decisions of overseas regulators and reviews peer-reviewed science about pesticides to inform its prioritisation of chemicals for reconsideration.

The approach set out in the previous act would be to add red tape without improving protection or safety provisions. In fact, this time-consuming process may in fact lead to fewer agvet chemicals being available for use due to the costs and, in very many cases, the limited use, albeit importantly. The extra costs from re-registration are despite the former finance and deregulation minister, Penny Wong, using agricultural and veterinary chemical reforms as a second key area, where the government will reduce regulatory compliance costs for businesses and improve competitiveness, as outlined in the minister's paper on the Australian government deregulation agenda.

It is estimated that these amendments will save the agvet chemicals industry $1.3 million a year. That is $1.3 million in time and fees and it is $1.3 million that will ensure that farmers have access to the safe chemicals that they need to efficiently tackle the ever-growing global food task. This bill will ensure that further efficiency is added to the sector by introducing new processes for notification of the simplest changes to chemical registration and very simple application for less complex variations. If a company wants to change pack size or the company address on the label, they do not need to have a technical assessment and lodge an application that would normally cost around $1,000. Instead, for these simple changes they can just inform the APVMA and make the change. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, this is a return to sensible, common sense approaches.

Reducing the frequency of renewal, removing annual returns about active constituents, improving information access provisions—this amendment allows the government to extend by regulation the period of renewal for up to seven years. A renewal is simply an administrative process to extend registration and has no checks for safety and performance. The APVMA has strongly established systems to trigger a review if potential risks to safety and performance have been identified. A review may well be initiated when new research or evidence has raised concerns about use or safety of a particular chemical product. It is deregulation of this nature that is vital for the continued prosperity of Australian business.

This bill and the changes it proposes to make are all about red tape reduction—and what a relief. While I am on the topic of red tape, I want to commend the Prime Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister, the member for Kooyong, for their commitment to the cause of deregulation. Small businesses provide so much firepower to the regional economies in my electorate, and I identify very strongly and proudly with the family-owned businesses in Barker. Indeed, I am pleased to speak on their behalf.

I cannot help but see the world through the eyes of a small business operator. Growing up I was surrounded by private enterprise, given my father's horticultural and agricultural interests in the lower south-east and my mother's longstanding retail fashion businesses. My mother's retail fashion store found itself for a very long period of time on Commercial Street in Mt Gambier. I hasten to think that if those opposite had responsibility for naming the road they might have called it Regulation Road instead. When my wife and I established our own legal practice I came to understand firsthand the pitfalls of over-regulation. The legal profession is of course one of the most over-regulated in the world and in very many respects for good reason. But I know from personal experience that red tape can become the weed which, like some insidious exotic vine, slowly but ever-effectively strangles the otherwise healthy organism that it has latched onto.

We know—at least those on this side of the House do—that Labor is either unable or unwilling to undertake regular pruning of this weed so that red tape or green tape or any other sort of tape is allowed to grow out of control. The amendment act passed in June 2013 was an example of that. Alas, it is left to the coalition government to remove Labor's overgrown and out of control regulatory burden to create the breathing space business needs to create more investment and jobs. So it is our duty to prevent over-regulation. The role of regulators themselves and compliance costs faced by business and the not-for-profit sector have to be put under the microscope.

It is easy to see why Labor and the Greens are not all that worried about the way the regulatory burden strangles our economy. While those on this side of the House, such as me, want to create an environment where small-business operators can grow and employ more Australians, those on the left are happy to see that growth of jobs in the public sector. They rejoice when the bureaucracy advertises for more staff. That is the only sort of growth they aspire to. I, on the other hand, when I read those ads, sigh sadly. They think it is great for this insidious vine of red tape to grow evermore, slowly strangling private enterprise, strangling small family-owned business operators and killing the chances of further growth and job creation. I know that the words of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair have been cited on this topic a few times but, quite frankly, he was spot on. He said:

It seems to be part of the DNA of regulatory bodies that they acquire their own interests and begin to grow.

I am pleased, if surprised, that a member of the Labor party, albeit the British version, was able to make that observation. I wish members of the ALP were willing to open their eyes in a similar fashion.

As the member for Barker, an electorate which boasts a wonderful, industrious small and medium-sized business community and a magnificent agricultural industry across its breadth, I feel absolutely obliged to stand in this place and represent the needs of those whose hard work makes our proud regional communities tick. From my ongoing conversations with the business community in Barker, I know they feel they are being dominated by a culture of compliance and enforcement that stifles productivity. It would be remiss of me if I did not also note that, while regulators have the ability to cost-recover their fees from industry, it is industry that bears the impost of regulators' risk aversion.

The agricultural and veterinary chemicals industry is a sector that is highly commoditised. The reality is that the margins are incredibly small. So, if the actions of regulators increase the costs of inputs, that has a very strong and direct impact on the profitability of the farm sector. I have personal experience when it comes to this. My father, as I said, was an agriculturalist. I remember being about eight and being told by my father that we needed to pass an inspection for the export of a quantity of onions. At the time, he was growing some 4,000 tonnes of onions, which was a significant amount for the early eighties. Despite all his efforts, on the day, we failed the inspection and, as a result, we were required to repack in the order of 1,000 tonnes of onions. It was Easter, and as a religious family it was a cause for great embarrassment that we had to call in every favour we had to pack these onions over Easter. Of course, that is not a time for work but, rather, for religious reflection

I recall vividly, although I was only eight or so, that at the conclusion of that work my father bent over towards me—it is an indelible image—and said, 'That's it.' I said to him, 'That's what?' He said, 'That's it; I'm never growing another onion again,' bearing in mind that we were growing some 4,000 tonnes. It was probably a good decision because the onion industry has had some tough times since 1983. We transitioned into other, less labour-intensive industries but still agricultural—mixed cattle, sheep and those things. But I often wonder what became of the 20 or so people that he employed. This was a decision he made, bored by the unnecessary red tape in a burgeoning export industry—a sad state of affairs.

In any event, I commend this bill to the House. It is a return to common sense, addressing the ever-growing burden of red tape in this country.

7:56 pm

Photo of Fiona ScottFiona Scott (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. Lindsay is a region steeped in the history of agriculture. Our region is bookended by the five Macquarie towns and John Macarthur's sheep, and home to many pioneer farmers just like Sir John Jamison. Today the Lindsay electorate is home to poultry barns and hobby farms, turf farms and thoroughbred studs, cattle and orchards. Our fertile soils on the banks of the Nepean have long been a wonderful food bowl.

Just last month, I had the pleasure of visiting Sylvan Australia and Regal Mushrooms, both in Londonderry, in the northern part of the Lindsay electorate. These two wonderful organisations produce approximately 20 per cent of Australia's mushroom supply, and their facilities are incredibly impressive. As such, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the commitments made by this government to the agricultural sector across Australia.

In the 2014-15 federal budget, the Abbott government confirmed a raft of measures to support this important sector, including $104 million for a competitive grants program to deliver cutting-edge technology and applied research with an emphasis on making the results accessible to farmers. There is $20 million over four years for a stronger biodiversity and quarantine system that will enable early response to import and export related biosecurity issues, strengthen systems and capabilities to contain biosecurity incursions and focus on improvements to the import risk analysis process. There is $15 million over four years to support small exporters with export costs to help them remain competitive and profitable in the international marketplace. There is $9 million for fisheries projects, including support for OceanWatch, and more support for coordinated representation of recreational fishers and for undertaking invasive marine pest reviews. Finally, there is $8 million over four years to improve access and registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals, which brings us to the legislation today.

Australia currently has around 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines, known as agvet chemicals. These are registered with the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Moving away from the scientific complexities of the industry, the chemicals accessed by farming and veterinary industries serve a number of extremely important roles, which is why the streamlining of this industry and reducing red tape are important

Agvet chemicals do the following: firstly, they protect crops and animals from pests and diseases and so help improve productivity and competitiveness of Australia's rural industries; secondly, they ensure the quality and safety of food production while protecting human and animal health and environment; thirdly, they are an essential tool in managing weeds, vital to keep our pets healthy and a necessary part of our indoor and outdoor lifestyle; and, finally, the agvet chemicals industry is a vital quality food and fibre production.

Clearly, this is an industry which indirectly affects every Australian family. These amendments build on previous measures to improve efficiency, effectiveness and safety and they deliver on the coalition election commitment to remove the re-approval and re-registration scheme and introduce further efficiencies with regard to the regulation of agvet chemicals. Further, these reforms build on the coalition's deregulation agenda and aims to reduce red tape for farmers and encourage the development of new chemistry with a range of benefits for all users as well as the environment and the broader community.

To date, a hallmark of the Abbott government has been its decisive action to get out of the way of business and let them get on with the job. These amendments build on this in the following ways. They introduce new processes for chemical registration specifically for less complex variations. If a company wants to change pack size or the company address on the label, they will not have to have a technical assessment and lodge an application that would normally cost around $1,000.

I will just pause there for a moment. As someone who comes to this place as a former marketer, I did a project with the Yates business and, happened to see firsthand that when you are bringing new products to market in different pack sizes or with other changes, this will actually be a huge efficiency that is really going to help the market and the industry and so many other companies that produce agricultural chemicals. For simple changes, they can just inform the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority of the change.

Secondly, this amendment allows the government to extend by regulation the period of renewal for up to seven years. The renewal is simply an administrative process to extend the registration and has no checks for safety and performance. It is worth noting that the authority already has a strong established system to trigger and review if potential risks to safety and performance have been identified. A review may be initiated when new research or evidence has raised concerns about the safe use of a particular chemical or product. It will rewrite provisions which allow the authority to collect information from suppliers of chemicals to make sure products being supplied are the same as those the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority have registered.

Finally, it will fix the food problem for the Food Standards Australia and New Zealand Act to allow the authority to amend the maximum residue limits standard. Without the change, companies will be able to register products or seek permits to use product that producers may not be able to supply—sorry, it is great having the flu in this place—

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

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Photo of Fiona ScottFiona Scott (Lindsay, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am trying not to—to reduce the product of maximum residue that has not been updated. These measures have the potential to increase efficiencies, remove red tape and the burden on industry. They are a good start towards easing the burden imposed on the Australian economy and agricultural sector by reducing red tape and green tape on business. These measures simply makes sense.

The government recognises that industry needs an efficient regulator so it can have timely access to new technology to reduce the cost of production and provide options to reduce resistance and to continue to provide the highest quality food both domestically and to international markets. As the global population is expected to reach nine billion by 2050, it is imperative that Australia, as one of the most sustainable production systems in world, is able to punch above its weight in contributing to the global food and fibre task both in terms of domestic production and in exporting sustainable technology for adoption.

This will lead to simple reforms to our system of chemical registration and has been supported by key industry groups such as New South Wales farmers and AgForce Queensland as well as the National Farmers Federation. In a letter to the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, Matt Linnegar, CEO of National Farmers Federation wrote:

Australian farmers need a system of chemical registration that facilitates the introduction of new chemicals onto the Australian market in a timely and cost efficient manner. Australian farmers compete in international markets and it is important that they have access to the tools that allow them to produce safe, fresh produce in a cost-effective manner.

He continued:

The assessment of the registration process should be a transparent, efficient and effective process to reduce the cost burden on farmers to assess agvet chemicals. It should also shorten registration and reconsideration response and time frames. The National Farmers Federation commends the government on their commitment to this process and would support passage of the agriculture and veterinary chemicals legislation through the Parliament.

It is worth noting that the National Farmers Federation were vocal opponents of the previous government's plan to implement a mandatory re-registration process, duplicating chemical review processes and delivering an unnecessarily regulatory burden on the agriculture sector. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the National Farmers Federation has welcomed the Abbott government's commitment to remove this unnecessary process as well as to reduce the red tape and handbrake currently on the sector.

This amendment has also been welcomed by Virbac Australia, a specialist organisation that employs more than 260 people from Western Sydney and particularly in my electorate of Lindsay where its manufacturing facility is located. In 2012 alone, Virbac sales turnover was more than $100 million.

Virbac Australia is a specialist animal health company, with its core business in sheep and cattle products, veterinary pharmaceuticals and vaccines and a wide range of pet care products for dogs and cats, plus a broad range of products for horses and other livestock. I have spoken with Steven Neutze, the regulatory affairs manager at Virbac Australia, this week, and he has welcomed the Abbott government's plan to increase the efficiency of the industry. He said, 'The passing of this bill will result in improvements to efficiency of the registration process, and this will benefit companies such as Virbac. It employs those people who use Virbac's registered veterinary products.'

Benefits to Virbac as a local business and employer include that the proposal to streamline changes to registered products will add flexibility to the operation at Virbac's Penrith plant, plus increase its efficiency and viability. This, in turn, can create opportunities to develop new products for livestock industries and potential new employment opportunities within Virbac. Removal of the registration scheme will enable Virbac to direct more of its resources to the development of new products at Penrith, providing an opportunity for expansion of the facilities and the employment of more staff.

As you can see, Mr Deputy Speaker, the passing of the bill will have an overwhelming benefit. It is welcomed by the National Farmers Federation and also at a local level, where businesses in my electorate, like Virbac, will be able to see immediate benefits of the passing of this legislation.

It should not be the role of government to strangle Australian businesses with unnecessary red and green tape and the unnecessary duplication of reporting requirements. The Abbott government takes this very seriously. This is why, for the first time, two days of parliament will be dedicated to the removal of green tape, as we saw on 26 March. These agvet chemicals legislation amendment will save the agvet chemical industry $1.3 million in fees annually by removing duplicated and unnecessary red tape. Further, the industry has calculated that by removing the reapproval and re-registration scheme it will save up to $9 million annually in red tape and associated costs.

Overall, the bill will increase efficiency in the regulator and provide greater clarity to stakeholders on the intent of legislation. It will streamline processes which, quite simply, just do not make sense. I am pleased to speak in support of the measures, and once again to represent the businesses and workers within my electorate. I commend these amendments to the House.

8:09 pm

Photo of John CobbJohn Cobb (Calare, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this evening to speak on the Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. The bill does enact an election commitment that I actually made as the shadow minister for agriculture and food security to remove re-registration. The bill also includes additional reforms to improve the efficiency of agvet chemicals regulation.

This is an area in which, unfortunately, I have had a lot of involvement as the member for Calare, in the agricultural sector and as a farmer—largely on the negative front. For too long there have been issues with the regulation of chemicals in Australia, and that is not to say that the regulator—the APVMA—has always done a bad job. It is more that it has not always been given the framework to do it, and it has had interference. However, that is not to say it does not need to be far more efficient than it is—it does.

It is something to think about, that 30 years ago, or less, Australia was the first country in the world where chemical countries wanted to get registered in because we had a very good name for being efficient, for getting it done and for doing it well. Today, Australia is the last place where chemical companies want to come to get registrations done. I think that is a very bad look for Australia, it is very bad for agriculture and it is very bad for chemical companies, without whom we are in huge trouble. They do not always see us as a place where they want to line up early in the piece.

As a former shadow minister, I, along with my coalition colleagues, voted to block amendments proposed by the former Labor government in 2013 that introduced the reapproval and re-registration requirements. We did not supported it then, and we are now working to have it removed. Labor's re-registration requirement actually did not achieve what they stated when they set out on their ill-fated deregulation agenda. The former Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Penny Wong, said that agriculture and veterinary chemicals were a key area of reform to reduce regulatory compliance costs for businesses and improve competitiveness. This was almost humorous when you see that introducing the requirement for chemicals to be reregistered actually added red tape and costs and did not remove anything. And it took away any impetus for companies to want to take away some chemicals that are not used in other parts of the world. In fact, it was a smokescreen for the Labor government to deliver an election promise made to the Greens which, in effect, and as the Greens normally do, effectively crippled some parts of agriculture and affected everybody.

You could go as far as saying that it was completely anti-farming. Labor's promise was made as far away from the farming community as was possible, and was completely about doing a deal with the Greens by making it cost prohibitive to register chemicals and more costly to conduct agriculture generally. It was certainly not made with farmers and veterinary professionals in mind, particularly when many of their electorates simply have no connection with what it is that feeds people and what it is to produce the best food in the world.

The re-registration system did not introduce any new triggers, and I think that is the thing that was so obvious in what they really wanted to do. Not one new trigger was introduced. In other words, the current triggers as they existed then were perfectly sufficient to safeguard the use of chemicals in Australia, be they veterinary or chemicals for the control of weeds or whatever. The re-registration system just made the APVMA run a very costly recheck of existing triggers, which of course added costs for those people who use the chemicals, being the farmers and the vets. Ultimately, those costs have to be passed on, which again made us less competitive with imports because they do not have anything like the same constrictions on them. We are very preventative country—we take enormous trouble, one could almost say unnecessarily so at times, and this was the greatest example of taking an unnecessary step. To add further insult to injury, there was no cost-benefit analysis undertaken, perhaps because the former government knew it was going to increase red tape and costs, not decrease them, which most certainly would have gone against what Senator Wong said they were doing it for.

Our bill seeks to remove this costly and unnecessary re-registration requirement. It also includes additional reforms to improve the efficiency of agvet chemicals regulation. As I mentioned, the current system is not efficient. The many industry groups and individuals who took the time to comment on this bill, and to me previously, have attested to that. Obviously getting rid of the reregulation procedure goes a long way to making the whole thing a bit more sane, but there is more than that. APVMA themselves have to become more efficient. I think that getting lazy is one of the things that is involved here. When something is totally cost recovery, that takes the pressure off bureaucracy to get its act into efficient mode. I think there is no doubt that APVMA have probably woken up that they are one of the bodies that have to do that. Currently they are not meeting their obligations to finalise all applications within the statutory time frame. That is partly because of the new regulations the previous government put on them, which increase the cost for both them and the applicants and impacts on users' access to pesticides and veterinary medicines.

A major flaw in the argument that the re-registration system was for health and safety is that the recheck of the triggers under the registration process will actually reduce resources available to the APVMA, reducing their ability to process the reviews of high-risk chemicals in a timely manner. This is happening. The other major flaw in the argument is the fact that no new triggers were introduced because the current ones do the job and they did the job before the previous government altered the legislation. I am not saying with regard to efficiency that it is all the APVMA's fault. They are merely adhering to an agenda that has been set for them. However, they do have to pick their act up as well. I have met quite a few of the staff and I am sure they want to do a good job—it is very obvious that they do. Removing the re-registration requirement is one way of ensuring that they can.

Internationally, our registration process is already struggling to compete. That is one of the key reasons the industry and the coalition support reforms to make it more efficient. I have already said that years ago we were the first place where companies wanted to come and test their products because our process was good, our word was accepted and once a product was registered in Australia it was like an 'open sesame' in those days to go into other countries; now we are the last place. That has to be changed, and this is the first step to getting that changed. I can quote a couple of examples. One is a sheep drench that Pfizer developed in Australia for Australian conditions which I think I am right in saying, though I cannot be exact, has been registered for use in New Zealand for three years, if not longer. To the best of my knowledge it is still not registered in this country. Another product is a tea-tree sheep dip that is based on tea-tree oil. A tea-tree grower had come up with an innovative way to use natural tea-tree oil—I actually went and saw this—as the basis for a sheep drench. However, it was going to cost about $3 million to generate data on things such as toxicity tests, and with very limited data protection for such a product there was no way that the company could get the return on investment in a small market like ours. We have to accept that we are small market, even though we are big exporters.

Our agriculture needs an efficient regulator so there is timely and affordable access to new technology to reduce the cost of production and keep us up there with our competitors around the world. It is not enough just to say we have got the best product, therefore we can always sell it. Life is not that simple. It is also important that we have access to a range of new technologies to improve options to reduce resistance, which is an enormous concern in modern agriculture and would become more so with limited chemicals on the market. We all know the opportunities that exist for Australia with the Asian boom and the global population demand for quality and safe products. If Australia is to truly capitalise on these opportunities we need to have an efficient chemical regulator that is world first, as we used to have, not lagging behind our competitors because it is wrapped up in unnecessary red tape and burdensome requirements. All re-registration achieves is to limit the market, squeezing out the smaller chemicals and chemical companies that cannot afford the costly registration process. At the end, the buck lands with the consumers, who bear the extra costs for re-registration—or the cheap imports, which are the other possibility. We committed to getting rid of $1 billion worth of unnecessary red tape a year, and there could be no greater example than some of the things that agriculture puts up with

You have the former government willing to do a deal with the Greens who simply do not want us to use any products at all—in fact I am not quite sure if the Greens want people on this planet, let alone something for them to eat. I cannot believe that a previous government, which was supposed to be here for the good of everybody, would do a deal with the Greens which was definitely designed to make life harder for agriculture. It made the best product in the world less available to our own people, let alone to the rest of the world—which has always looked upon us, and certainly still does, as an example of how good a product can be. I have always said our greatest selling point in Australia is that we have a product as good as or better than anyone else's in the world when it comes to agriculture. It is our clean, green image but its quality still has to compete with others who do not have the same pressures on them that we do.

It really is up to Labor and the Greens to get behind our agricultural sector and give them the support that they did not when they introduced this re-registration requirement in 2013. I hope we see a time, not too far away, when once again we are the first country in the world that chemical companies come to to get their product registered and have a trial.

8:23 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The bill before the House tonight, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-Approval And Re-Registration) Bill 2014, will reduce red tape and remove the requirement for the re-registration of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines by removing end dates for approvals and last renewal dates for registrations, so that approvals will no longer end after a particular period and registrations may be renewed perpetually. The bill also removes redundant provisions that allow applications to reapprove and re-register active constituents and chemical products. In doing so, the government is keeping another of its key 2013 election commitments and reducing Labor's red-tape burden.

The bill also: introduces reforms that    reduce red tape by providing for less frequent registration renewals; improves the APVMA's ability to secure information about the safety of chemicals supplied in the market; introduces further simple reforms to agvet chemicals regulation to reduce red tape and improve efficiency, two key issues; obliges the APVMA to provide access to information about approvals and registrations in its files to persons eligible to receive it; and addresses some of the minor implementation issues identified in existing reform legislation.

Farming is often a high-cost, low-return enterprise and this has become considerably worse in recent years and decades. Gone are the days when a couple of bad years in a row could simply be absorbed by the particular business. Today the cost of farm operations means that most farmers are significantly impacted by difficult years and high costs. To give an example so that the members who are here might better understand: in the late 1970s a farmer might sell his cull cow at market for perhaps $1 a kilogram, live weight. At the same time a two hundred litre drum of fuel, which was mostly known as the old 44 gallon drum, could be purchased for less than $40. Today the same farmer might still get $1 a kilogram live weight for his cull cow; however, that same drum of fuel now costs him or her over $200. A similar disparity exists for equipment, fertilisers and pesticides. It also exists in the rising price of power for the dairy industry—which is exponentially higher than it was, nearly doubling in the last decade alone.

The price farmers take for their output is not related to the cost it takes to produce it. This has made farming an often poor return on the investment required. I have repeatedly raised in this House the commercial returns on investment or lack thereof. It is a tough world and in this farming environment, it is essential that government minimises, where it can, any additional costs it imposes on the farming sector. We saw Labor do that before. This bill is a step in the right direction.

Australia currently has around 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines registered with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Each of these products contains one or more of only 782 active constituents. These chemicals protect crops and animals from pests and diseases and so help improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australia's rural industries. They also help to ensure the quality and safety of food.

Australia's gross value of farm production is worth an estimated $47.9 billion a year, with the export value of farm commodities around $38 billion. It is especially important in the cropping industry which is central to agriculture in Western Australia. The crop protection industry body CropLife Australia estimates in a recent report that $17.6 billion of Australian agricultural output is attributable to the use of crop protection products; that is 68 per cent of the total value of crop production.

The importance of agvet chemicals in the cropping sector cannot be overstated. With the continual emergence of more resistance to existing chemicals the industry must rely on two key avenues: the development of new chemicals, especially those with different bases of action to which there is no initial resistance; and, more importantly, the use of strategic chemical rotation to ensure resistance is managed and delayed as long as possible. Chemical resistance can be divided into two areas. Firstly, exposure over time is almost certain to create resistance in target species. This is because biological organisms are by their very nature adaptive. The need to survive and reproduce is paramount in all species and nature has a way of getting around most problems—or chemicals—eventually. The power of nature in this area is not to be underestimated. Thus resistance is related to the number of exposures: the more often a species is exposed to the chemical the more likely resistance is to develop. There is, however, a second wave of resistance.

Many chemical programs have attempted to reduce the number of exposures to chemicals and compensate by using a reduced number of higher concentration exposures. Indeed, this is the principle behind the most common genetically modified plant breeds, which are bred to tolerate higher levels of pesticide. This allows higher levels of pesticide to be used on crops less frequently. However, the second wave of resistance follows. Target species develop resistance more slowly; however, that resistance is to higher and higher chemical concentrations. This also has a significant impact over time, developing highly resistant weed species. We have a major problem with weeds and feral pests in this country. To manage this resistance, chemical manufacturers and farmers have to be at the cutting edge of both new chemical development and chemical rotation strategies. They do not need government to get in the way, particularly the way Labor did.

This is what happened with the introduction of reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products by amending the Agvet Code, the schedule to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994. Re-registration currently requires examination every seven to 15 years of active constituents and products. Without changes to the Agvet Code, re-registration will come into force on 1 July 2014. While the government has committed to remove re-registration, it will retain the existing comprehensive powers that the APVMA has that ensure newly identified risks about the safety, efficacy or trade impact of a chemical are examined.

Schedule 1 of the bill amends the Agvet Code to implement the election commitment to remove re-registration by preventing the expiry of active constituent approvals and preventing the application of dates after which a registration cannot be renewed, and    removing the provision for applications to be made to reapprove active constituents or re-register chemical products. It also makes additional consequential amendments to the Agvet Code, the collection act and the amendment act and reduces red tape by allowing for less frequent renewal of registrations. This is just pure common sense.

In effect, the bill will prevent the expiry of active constituent approvals and prevent the application of dates after which a registration cannot be renewed. Removing re-registration, however, does remove an opportunity for the APVMA to confirm that chemical products are the same as the product evaluated and registered by the APVMA. This can be addressed in part by changes that will empower the APVMA to require a person who supplies an ag vet chemical product in Australia to provide information about the product they are supplying. This will need to be in a form that provides confidence, such as an independent chemical analysis of a random sample of the chemical.

Naturally, quality control must be paramount to maintain confidence in the proposed system. This is important because Australia's reputation is one of high-quality, clean agricultural products. We see this around the world. Australia is so respected for the quality of its food and fibre. This has been and continues to be our competitive advantage in the international food marketplace. I am particularly proud of this as a farmer. The people I meet all around the world talk about the safety of Australian food. As a farmer who helps produce that that makes me particularly proud, but we need to be able to produce that cost-effectively and remain competitive. That is what we in the government are all about. There is no way that Australia can afford to lose this reputation.

The work of the APVMA will be even more vital once these changes are enacted. The bill before the House builds on progress that has already been made through the national registration scheme, a partnership between the Commonwealth and all the states and territories, and on elements of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013. Our gross farm production is worth an estimated $47.9 billion a year and the export value of farm commodities is around $38 billion. We often underestimate that.

We often also underestimate the value of our farms and farmers to regional communities. They underpin local economies. They use the local small businesses, and the dollars circulate within the community. Agriculture keeps alive many rural and regional communities, and it is frequently overlooked. Day after day, year after year, they contribute. These people are there day in and day out. They do their job very well and they just get on with it. Although the nation may no longer ride of the back of the sheep industry, agriculture is still the lifeblood of the bulk of Australia's landmass, yet many communities are struggling—not just the farmers but those who rely on them for their livelihood. Small towns and small businesses all need a vibrant farming community.

We are doing things like this to reduce red tape to make sure that farmers can remain as viable as possible. We need to get out of the way wherever we can. Red tape reduction in the agricultural sector is quite critical to ongoing profits and opportunities. We do know that this measure is supported by the various industry bodies and groups, such as the National Farmers' Federation. I cannot emphasise enough how important the agricultural sector will be in the years ahead.

When we shop at our local stores we tend to take for granted having access to some of the finest quality food and fibre in the world. I have said that repeatedly in this House. When we go into our local stores and pick up some of the most fabulous fruit, vegetables and dairy products we often think they just happen, but they do not. Someone produces them. Someone is out there at all hours of the day and night. They are doing an amazing job.

The measures in this bill will assist by reducing the red tape burden for people involved in this sector. As I said, one of the most critical issues for the farming sector is access to ongoing commercial returns for what they do. We as the government are committed to reducing red tape and encouraging them to be productive and competitive. That is what we as the government are committed to doing. I support the bill.

8:37 pm

Photo of Louise MarkusLouise Markus (Macquarie, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. This bill is one key part of our commitment to cut red tape so that small business and industry can get ahead. We, the coalition, recognise that too many businesses have become entangled in unnecessary and costly regulations. The legislation before the House delivers on our election commitment to introduce further efficiencies, particularly to the regulation of agriculture and veterinary chemicals—agvet—by removing the reapproval and re-registration scheme—a duplication in that scheme.

This bill is about achieving a balance in the approach to safety and regulation within the agriculture sector while ensuring that there are no excessive duplications. Agriculture is one of the most significant industry sectors in our nation, and this sector within the electorate of Macquarie plays a vital role in defining the character and the landscape of the region. We have one of the largest privately owned mushroom-growing producers in the nation. We also have a significant number of boutique apple growers and wineries, just to name some of the agriculture that is taking place in the seat of Macquarie, in both the Hawkesbury and in the Blue Mountains.

Australia currently has close to 12,000 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines that are registered with the Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, known as the APVMA. The APVMA is the federal government statutory authority established in 1993 to centralise the registration of all agricultural and veterinary chemical products into the Australian marketplace. The APVMA estimates that Australia's primary production is worth an estimated $30 billion a year with an export value of over $25 billion. Pesticides and veterinary medicines are vital to this production; they assist with food quality control and fibre production. This important industry must have the proper safeguards without the burden of over regulation. These reforms aim to reduce red tape for farmers and other businesses and encourage the development of new chemistry with a range of benefits for farmers and other users, the environment and the community. It is about getting the balance right.

The bill puts forward amendments to the previous government's amendment act. The amendment act was passed by parliament in June 2013 and included the introduction of a scheme for reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products to commence on 1 July 2014. We believe that the new mechanisms put forward in the former government's amendments were not required. They only created a duplicate of the existing system and sought to impose additional costs on industry. What is more, they would have been likely to result in a loss of safe chemicals because many cheap off-patent chemicals would not be economical to re-register. To re-register well-established products over and over when the products have not changed is an unnecessary burden on any business, especially for our farmers and producers who already operate in a sometimes tough, competitive and often volatile environment.

There are a few elements crucial to this bill that I would like to emphasise to the House. The bill will introduce new processes for notification of the simplest changes to a chemical registration. It will also allow for a very simple application for less complex variations. For example, if a company wants to make a minor change to product packaging, they do not need to have a technical assessment and lodge an application that would normally cost around $1,000. Instead they can just inform the APVMA and make the change. We are further reducing red tape by allowing for less frequent renewal of registrations. It is important to highlight the reasons we are doing this: a renewal is simply an administrative process to extend the registration and has no checks for safety and performance. The regulator, APVMA, has strong, established systems already to trigger a review if potential risks to safety and performance have been identified. Therefore, frequent renewing is not necessary and nor is it helpful to those having to fill out the paperwork. The regulations will set the period for renewal, which could be up to seven years. Furthermore, the bill will enable the rewriting of provisions that allow APVMA to collect information from suppliers of chemicals to make sure products being supplied are the same as those the APVMA registered. This allows the regulator to require testing of a product to ensure its safety and efficacy.

These changes will be most welcome to producers and farmers in my electorate of Macquarie. The region of the Hawkesbury includes the Hawkesbury-Nepean catchment, which is one of the most productive agricultural areas of Australia. This catchment produces around l5 per cent of the state's agricultural produce, including a large proportion of Sydney's poultry; leafy green vegetables; mushrooms, which I have already mentioned; and some dairy produce. Agvet chemicals are critical to the quality of this supply chain and farmers do not need to be bogged down with excessive paperwork and administration in order to access and utilise these substances. These reforms will assist in boosting day-to-day productivity and let producers get on with the job—what they are best at doing.

It is interesting to note that the agricultural industry has calculated that removing the reapproval and re-registration scheme will save it up to $9 million annually in red tape and associated costs. These reforms will also benefit manufacturers, importers, wholesalers, retailers and users of agvet chemicals and will have a positive knock-on effect for this sector. The coalition government is committed to lifting the burden on the agricultural sector; it does not want to get in the way unnecessarily. Ultimately, it is small businesses like the ones I have already mentioned in my electorate who create jobs. We have to make sure the government works for them, not the other way around. The coalition is holding to its commitment to cut $1 billion every year in red and green tape costs. Overall this will improve our nation's competitiveness, help to create more jobs and encourage innovation. I commend the bill to the House.

8:44 pm

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to rise in the House tonight following the member for Macquarie. Can I commend the member for Macquarie for the excellent job she just did in explaining this important amendment bill and explaining what the government is doing for Australian farmers. This bill is fairly dry in its context but it is very important in what it sets out to do. It sets out to ease the regulatory burden on Australian farmers. It is incredibly important to my electorate and to regional and rural Australia.

I will take the time for a minute just to explain the importance of agriculture in my electorate of Wannon. It produces more wool than any other region across Australia. It produces more dairy products than any other region across Australia—more mutton, more lamb. It is a region that is at the heart of Australia's agricultural production and it is why I proudly stand here today to support this bill before us. Because anything we can do which makes our farmers more efficient, more effective, more productive and, most importantly, more profitable, is not only good the electorate of Wannon but it is also good for Australia as a whole.

As you know Deputy Speaker Vasta, agriculture is still one of our key exports and provides much-needed income for our nation. This bill falls into two categories. One is that it is about the government's agenda to reduce red tape—and I will get to that—but it is also about what the government is setting out to do to support our agricultural industry. As we have seen through the election commitments that we have made, this government is very serious about making sure that our agricultural sector is one of the key sectors which will drive the growth that this economy needs into the future—to produce the jobs that we needed, to produce the income that we need to make sure that the nation continues to grow, continues to generate employment and continues to be able to make this country so great. It is a pleasure that that is what this government has set out to do and it is a pleasure to commend this bill which goes a little way in helping in that regard.

The government also took to the last election a real commitment to cut red tape. We have already had the first repeal day, where we saw the first instalment of us moving to cut red tape. This bill adds to that. What we have here for our farmers is a cutting of red tape which will lead to those farmers being $9 million annually better off as a result of this red tape reduction. We should not underestimate that, because little by little by little by little, if we can continue to cut the red tape obligations that we are placing on Australian business our economy will be all the better for it. That is what this bill does. I am hoping and looking forward to seeing from the Minister for Agriculture more bills like this which will cut the red tape burden for our agricultural producers, because farmers, like small businesses in many other sectors, have been pointing out that more and more they are faced with a regulatory burden which just makes it harder and harder for them to get on and do their job.

This bill before us does what needs to be done in this area. Obviously we had the previous government put some legislation through. There was a lack of consultation. The implementation, sadly, was like a lot of implementation which took place in the previous government. We have had to come in and clean up the mess. That is what the amendments in this bill do.

It is worth having a look at what those amendments will do. The first, as I have explained, will mean that we reduce red tape by providing for far less frequent registration renewals in this agricultural and veterinary chemicals area. By lessening the registration renewals, obviously that helps the businesses involved in this and helps them and enables them to be able to pass on savings. It will also enable the APVMA to better secure information about the safety of chemicals supplied in the market. Being able to secure that information will help the APVMA be able to do their job. It introduces further simple reforms to agvet chemicals regulation to reduce red tape and improve efficiency. It obliges the APVMA to provide access to information about approvals and registration in its files to persons eligible to receive it and addresses some minor implementation issues identified in existing reform legislation.

That is what in the broader context the bill sets out to do. Specifically it honours the election commitment that the coalition took to the last election. It is worth noting here how the coalition has set about trying to ensure that all the commitments that it took to the last election are honoured. This is just another example of that—of our commitment to make sure everything we took to the last election we are going to implement and we are going to roll out.

It is just bit by bit that we will be able to prove to the Australian people our determination to make sure that those commitments are rolled out. This is a small part of that, granted, but it is an important part, because the Australian people bit by bit will see that we are sincere and we are honest with what we are presenting to them—what we presented to them before the election and what we are rolling out now. We introduced the reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products by amending the agvet code, the schedule to the code act. Registration requires periodic examination every seven to 15 years of active constituents and products. Without changes to the agvet code, re-registration will come into force on 1 July 2014.

While the government is committed to removing re-registration, it will retain the existing comprehensive powers of the APVMA and will ensure any newly identified risks about the safety, efficacy or trade impact of a chemical are examined. So rather than just mandating every seven to 15 years a regular commitment that the APVMA has to act, we are saying, 'Let us use some common sense.' If there are some reasons or some needs then, sure, the APVMA has the power to look into re-registration and to act. But why should we require the APVMA to do that just for the sake of it? Why would you do that, especially when you know the regulatory toll that that would have? We are putting forward a sensible amendment here. Once again, it is an amendment which means that $9 million in the regulatory burden on Australian farmers is eased.

This bill also looks at the concerns with chemical product quality. Removing re-registration removes an opportunity for the APVMA to confirm that chemical products supplied to the market are the same as the product evaluated and registered by the APVMA. This can be addressed in part by approving the APVMA to require a person who supplies an agvet chemical product in Australia to provide information, for example, a chemical analysis, about the product they are supplying. Once again, we are seeing good common-sense legislation here and this will make a difference on the ground.

We are reducing red tape in other ways such as by allowing for simpler variations to approvals and registrations. The previous section 26A in division 2A of part 2 of the agvet code allowed for the applications to be made for variations to certain particulars of an approval or registration. The particulars that could be varied under this section were to be set out in a legislative instrument of the APVMA. The section was intended to streamline applications for simple variations to an approval or registration. The bill amends division 2A of part 2 and inserts a new division, 2AA, to improve the effectiveness of the agvet code and increase efficiency in dealing with these simple variations of approvals and registrations. So once again, we are seeing some very common-sense law-making here. I could go further into the detail of that but, in very simple terms, it just means it cuts down on the regulatory burden of those administering this act and enables them to use common sense in dealing with these issues.

One of the best things about this process was that the coalition took this commitment to the Australian people in the lead up to the election. The reforms have also been informed by extensive stakeholder consultation. I know that you, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, are very aware of the importance of this aspect of law-making. One of the great tragedies of the last six years was that the previous government did not seem have any idea of what proper stakeholder consultation was about. We saw some tragedies as a result of that in the way that legislation was made and implemented and, sadly, we have a royal commission looking into one such program.

The government took a commitment to the last election. We then said we were going to honour that commitment. Just because we said we were going to honour that commitment did not mean that we would then just rush that through. No, we took our commitment and we then consulted widely with the sector. The sector said, 'Maybe you could make this change here or this change here. This is how you could ease the regulatory burden.' Through that proper consultation, we have been able to come up with the amendment, which will save $9 million to the Australian agriculture sector. Once again, this is very good, sensible law-making.

I commend the Minister for Agriculture for the process he took in going about and putting forward these amendments. I also thank the parliamentary secretary who has been in charge of deregulation. Obviously the consultation he did on a portfolio-by-portfolio basis led to these types of issues being identified and these regulatory-easing pieces of legislation coming before us.

In summing up, this is an important bill because it deals with an important sector of our economy, the agricultural sector. It is a sector which creates jobs and it is also a sector which creates income for the nation. So it is a sector that this government takes extremely seriously and is a key policy area to continue to develop. We have seen that, for instance, with the way we are opening new markets for our agriculture sector. It is also a bill which deals with easing the regulatory burden on Australian business—small business, large business, farm sector, retail sector, financial sector. You name it, we are easing the financial burden, especially the regulatory financial burden. This is what this bill does, and it does so to the extent that our farmers will have $9 million less red tape around their neck, and that is important for that sector.

The bill also goes to show that this government is serious about honouring its election commitments. It took commitments to the last election and it is now going through the process of acting on them. An important part of the process of governing is to make sure that not only do you take commitments but then you legislate and you ensure that the implementation is delivered in sensible manner, in a way that people on the ground will see and feel the difference and that is what this bill does here tonight.