Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bills

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

11:32 am

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC) Share this | Hansard source

The opposition will be supporting the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014. However, we do have one amendment that we will move at the appropriate time.

There could be no greater responsibility for government than to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. The regulation of toxic chemicals is part of that process and we must accept nothing less than world's best practice in this area. That is why the former Labor government developed and delivered landmark reforms which markedly improved the effectiveness and efficiency of our regulatory system. We had three terrific agriculture ministers in that six-year period—Minister Burke, Minister Ludwig and, most recently, Minister Fitzgibbon.

While in government, our initiatives included providing the regulator with greater enforcement and compliance powers and resources; removing impediments to engagement and data sharing with the regulators of other countries; improving the consistency, predictability and transparency of agvet chemicals assessments and better aligning regulatory efforts with chemical risk; reducing red tape by reforming assessment processes for agvet chemical applications for approval, registration and variation; improving the timeliness of agvet chemical approvals, registrations and chemical reviews by, amongst other things, preventing 'gaming'; removing disincentives and providing greater incentives for companies to invest through improved intellectual property protection; and, finally, establishing a mandatory review of the legislation every five years.

The one contentious matter in the bill is the removal of the yet-to-be-implemented mandatory re-registration scheme. The Labor Party will not be opposing the revocation of this initiative. We will not, from opposition, try to argue that re-registration is the only way to ensure the system is as robust and effective as it can be. Many have argued that, in the absence of significant additional funding, the re-registration scheme will divert limited resources away from the main game—the risk based review processes. It needs to be remembered that the APVMA has more than 11,000 products registered under its regime and receives some 3,000 new registrations each year. Because of his, reviews take place in order, and on the basis of assessed risk. The APVMA is a world-class organisation and home to some of the world's best scientists in this field. The opposition has confidence in their work and we know they welcome the additional powers Labor's 2013 bill delivered to them.

I have seen emails suggesting that there are chemicals on the market that have never been assessed. This is patently untrue. These so-called 'grandfathered products'—those that were brought across from the old state regulatory regime—have been assessed by state regulatory bodies, and the APVMA is working its way through re-assessments in order of priority. Under the regulatory system, suggestions that any of these products are particularly harmful—whether the suggestion comes from a regulator in another country, the supplier, an NGO or, indeed, a citizen—can be brought to the attention to the APVMA, and if it is found to be of high risk the product will be pushed up the priory list. I have also seen suggestions that the number of grandfathered chemicals totals 5,000. This is also not true. There may be 5,000 products, but the active chemicals common to so many of them number around 300, 180 of which have been identified as high priority, and of those approximately 80 have been reassessed.

I believe both Labor and the coalition want the same thing—the best regulatory system for ag-vet chemicals we can deliver. This is important both for the people who use the chemical and for those who consume the foods on which they are sprayed. It is also important to the agriculture and veterinarian sectors. To do their work successfully they need chemicals, and they will have the ongoing opportunity to use them only if we have public confidence in the regulatory system that guarantees their safety.

One suggestion the opposition has today is for the government to explore the establishment of an Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation (IMAP) framework that the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme (NICNAS) has established. IMAP identifies and rapidly assesses existing chemicals of concern. Stage one of IMAP is assessing chemicals based on characteristics agreed by stakeholders including: chemicals for which NICNAS already holds exposure information; chemicals identified as a concern, or for which regulatory action has been taken overseas; and chemicals detected in international studies analysing chemicals present in the blood in babies' umbilical cords.

It is important that there is continual discussion looking at the work of the APVMA to ensure the Australian population can retain confidence in the safety of the ag-vet inventory in Australia. Furthermore, it is important for the government to appropriately resource the APVMA to apply this framework and any possible reviews that follow.

Except for one amendment, which I will move now, the opposition will be supporting this legislation. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

but the Senate calls on the government to:

(a) explore the establishment of a systematic process of assessment within the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) for existing agriculture and veterinary chemicals similar to the Inventory Multi-tiered Assessment and Prioritisation process established under National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme; and

(b) appropriately resource the APVMA to apply the framework and conduct reviews.

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