Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-approval and Re-registration) Bill 2014; Second Reading
The Greens' contribution would lead you to think that we are going back almost to the days before regulation existed. I must say that the Greens pretend to be the friend of the farmer; they trot around the countryside suggesting they are the farmer's friend. But my experience is that they put in place red tape and green tape that cost farmers time—and time is money—and that has a negative impact on the industry. They would be more than happy if we went back to horses and carts and farmers' markets, but we do live in the modern age and we do have an issue in producing food and fibre to feed Australia and the increasing demand in export markets. We need to have a sensible process in place to deal with necessary agricultural and veterinary chemicals.
Under this measure and some of the measures introduced in the last parliament which we supported there are strong and established systems to review agricultural and veterinary chemicals. Those systems look at the risks to safety and at the performance of the chemical. The mechanisms were actually strengthened by the previous government, and we supported those changes. Senator Siewert talked about the time taken—well, the previous government's 2003 act strengthened chemical review arrangements by improving time limits, flexibility and transparency; reviews need to be completed within time frames. In opposition, we have participated in discussions with industry players around a number of agricultural chemicals. I can recall discussions around Dimethoate and the concerns around access to that chemical. It was being reviewed because there were concerns about its safety. That review has been completed, and access to the chemical is now restricted. Senator Siewert talks about Fenthion: we have also participated very closely in the process of the review around that chemical—a review implemented because there were concerns about its safety. So to suggest that we are going back to the Dark Ages is, I think, a bit of a stretch.
With regard to the discussion around chemicals being banned in Europe: you need to be very careful of the Greens' language when you are listening to these claims. The Greens will claim that chemicals have been delisted or banned, when what has happened in fact is that their registration has lapsed. And why has it lapsed? Because the re-registration process is so costly—there is no return for anybody who goes through the re-registration process. This is actually a backdoor way of taking some chemicals off the market. These are chemicals that have been utilised safely for a long period of time. There have been no concerns raised about their efficacy or safety. So we need to be very careful of the language we use; the Greens talk about banning or delisting when, in a lot of cases, it has been a lapsing of the registration which has effectively taken the active ingredient off the market.
There needs to be a sound and solid framework around the management of agricultural and veterinary chemicals. The government is looking to strike a proper balance. We do have systems in place. We do have adverse reporting systems in place so that if there is an activity or an event that requires attention, it can be managed; it can trigger a review of the chemical. We do take into account—despite what Senator Siewert has said—what is happening in other jurisdictions around the world. We do take notice of new science. That can be put into the process, and can trigger a review of a chemical. But we do not need a mandatory process where every chemical has to come up for re-registration every five or seven years—that is unnecessary red and green tape. I would like to congratulate the opposition on coming around to supporting our view, because it provides a sensible balance: between the strengthened provisions which they put in when they were in government—and that we supported; and reasonable access to the necessary agricultural and veterinary chemicals that are available to industry here in Australia, so that we can meet our obligations. The government is concerned to ensure that we have an effective mechanism for the approval and registration of ag and vet chemicals in Australia.
We made a commitment at the election that we would remove the re-registration provision. We did not support it in opposition; we saw it as unnecessary duplication and as red and green tape. We know that environment groups have been trotting around the countryside over a long period of time, trying to align the government with these sorts of provisions and, unfortunately, the previous government—with its close relationship with the Greens at the time—fell for it. They fell for the trap. So I congratulate them on taking this one small step away from the alignment with the Greens. It is timely and it is worthwhile. The government is committed to reform in this area—further reform—so that we continue to have a strong system for the registration of agricultural and veterinary chemicals—one that is efficient and one that is cost-effective for our industry, but one that maintains efficacy and ensures that agricultural and veterinary chemicals are fit for purpose, and safe—for people and for the environment. So we will continue to drive reforms. We need to ensure that new, safe and softer agricultural and veterinary chemicals are available to the Australian agricultural sector, and we will continue to do what we can to ensure that that comes to pass. I congratulate the government on their stance on this piece of legislation and I look forward to their support. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.