Friday, 28 June 2013
Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2013; Second Reading
I rise to make my contribution to the debate on the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2013. This is another important piece of legislation that is being guillotined through this place, with less than 25 minutes for debate. That means that only two people will get the opportunity to speak on this piece of legislation that is one of the 55 that is being guillotined through this place just in this week. There are 55 pieces of legislation; yet the previous Howard government was criticised up hill and down dale for guillotining 32 pieces of legislation in an entire term of parliament. Yet this bill is one of 55 guillotined in just one week and one of more than 216 in this term of parliament.
This bill continues a theme I have mentioned a number of times in presentations this week and in recent weeks, that of the adding of cost to industry, and particularly agriculture, by this government. They ignore the calls of industry to reduce the cost of government to business. They have a history of adding government cost to business. Despite the new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, saying just yesterday that he was going to take—
My apology, Mr Acting Deputy President. Just yesterday Mr Rudd said that he would take a different approach to business, and yet we see the government continue to proceed with legislation under the gag that will add cost of government to business.
You cannot believe a word this Prime Minister says, just as you could not believe a word the previous Prime Minister said. The previous Prime Minister told us, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead,' then proceeded to introduce one. The new Prime Minister said, 'We will take a new approach to business,' then proceeded to continue with the old approach to business: add cost of government to business. The government talk about Australia being the food bowl of Asia. All they do is make us less competitive and make it more difficult to get product out of the country. Export fees and charges under this government have risen by up to 1,600 per cent for a small operator. We cannot afford to get our product out of the country, let alone be the food bowl of Asia. The government with this piece of legislation is doing more of the same, joined happily, I must say, by the Greens.
Senator Siewert interjecting—
I am pleased you make the interjection, Senator Siewert—the acknowledgement that you are adding cost to business, because that is exactly what this bill does.
It might be disorderly to interject, but it is within my right to acknowledge the interjection, and I do so because it makes the point that I want to make. This government, in conjunction with the Greens, has devastated Australian industry and business around this country—those two together, and particularly the former Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Mr Tony Burke, who set this process in train and who did a deal with environmental groups to set this process up. They wanted to get at agricultural chemicals that were available for industry. How do I know? They have told me that this has been a four-year campaign. They want to get rid of agricultural chemicals that are important to industry here in Australia. The Greens also want to get rid of agricultural chemicals that are important to industry here in Australia. That is why they have teamed up with the government. Senator Milne trots around the countryside saying the Greens are friends of the farmer. The farmers know who their friends and their enemies are, I can tell you quite clearly, Mr Acting Deputy President. They know and they tell me who their friends and enemies are.
Here we have another bill being guillotined through this place, another bill that will add red tape and cost to industry—an estimated $2 to $8 million a year. What do we hear from industry? What are industry crying out for at the moment? They are saying to us, 'We need you to reduce the cost of government to business.'
We sat down in my office and we started doing a reconnoitre and looking over the dopey things that this government has done to agriculture. We came up with 13 pages of notes on additional costs from bad things that this government has done in respect of agriculture in this country. Firstly, there is the carbon tax. The government tried to tell agriculture that the carbon tax would not apply to them, but we know they all use energy. You talk to any dairy farmer—up to $15,000 in additional direct costs on farm from the carbon tax. Then there are the costs pushed back down the supply chain from the processors, because processing dairy products is an energy-intensive business—30 per cent of the cost of dried milk powder is energy. That cost cannot be passed back to the consumer, as some Labor members have tried to tell us industry could do, because product is sold on the global market. So the cost is passed back to the dairy farmer, and the dairy farmer wears that cost. We have Minister Burke, the culprit again, who said that dairy farmers would benefit from Coles selling milk for a dollar. That is how out of touch this government is. That is how out of touch with agriculture this government is.
Just imagine a small cherry exporter, like the one in my home state of Tasmania, who are looking to get cherries into the lucrative Asian market and are paying $500 a year for the registration of their shed. Those fees are to go to $8,500. They cannot afford to get the cherries out of the country; their total sales are $36,000 a year—a quarter of that just to register their shed for export. These are the absurdities that this government has come to with this through the last six years.
And here, on the last day, guillotined with less than 25 minutes to speak in this place, we have another piece of legislation that adds millions of dollars a year to the cost of doing business for agriculture in this country. Agriculture came and told us that; the National Farmers Federation came and told us that. How are we to remain competitive in the global market—the global market that this government says is going to be an important part of the future for agriculture—if it is too expensive to get our product to market? Because the government has gone to sleep on free trade agreements we are at a tariff disadvantage getting into those markets, and then the government takes away access to the agricultural and veterinary chemicals that are important to the agricultural industry and animal husbandry to grow and produce that product that they are supposed to send. It is because Tony Burke did a deal with the environment groups before the 2010 election. That is the genesis of this. We know because they told us.
Then there is the damage that this government has done to our markets by banning the live export trade to Indonesia. That did damage not only to our relationship but also to our markets. Then there was the flow-on damage, the absolute animal disaster that is occurring in the north at the moment, as a result of the fact that the stations up there are overstocked. This government has no affinity with the agricultural community. It has no understanding of the agricultural community. It is understandable that agriculture is so frustrated with the relationship and with the way that they have been treated, when the government continues to add the cost and red and green tape to their businesses, making them less competitive.
It is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that here we have another piece of legislation that continues to add cost, that continues to add red tape. And it is no wonder that the opposition continues to express its dissatisfaction with the way that this government is treating it, as it has done with so many other elements. Minister Burke—I am not sure what he is minister for at the moment, but I understand that he is going to remain a minister even though he was a supporter of the previous Prime Minister—
Senator Bushby interjecting—
He might have offered his resignation, Senator Bushby, but if he really meant it he would have insisted on it, like some of his colleagues did.
Senator Smith interjecting—
Or, more preferably, resigned from parliament. There would be a lot of people happy about that, Senator Smith—I think you are right. This is a man who has done so much damage to the agricultural sector. I am really disappointed that the minister who had the courage to resign over the recent change in leadership and stick to it was pushed aside so many times by the government and was not able to deal with some of the impositions of Minister Burke into the agricultural portfolio. Minister Burke set a whole heap of this up when he was minister between 2007 and 2010. He is the minister who did not even leave a policy for agriculture at the 2010 election. He is the minister who set up the harvest strategy in the small pelagic fishery, inviting companies to bring vessels into that fishery and then, when there was a ruckus kicked up, changed the law to send them away—that is now in court. The judge has described that legislation as poorly drafted. That is the record of Minister Burke.
And it is Minister Burke who has driven the destruction of the forest industry in my home state of Tasmania. He is one of the early architects of this legislation. In Tasmania this government is spending $100 million at the moment on a slush fund for the next election to shut down an industry. This government talks about jobs. It is spending taxpayers' money to shut industry down, and that is also the effect of this sort of legislation, which adds red tape, green tape and cost. It is expending, in this case, industry funds to make them less competitive, and that is why we object to this piece of legislation.
This piece of legislation went through two inquiries, one in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate, something that does not often happen, I have to say. In both houses there was concern about particularly the reregistration process in this piece of legislation. That is where the additional cost comes. That is where the attack on the availability of agricultural and veterinary chemicals comes as part of this bill. And that is what concerns the opposition about this piece of legislation.
It is also why we are disappointed that only 25 minutes has been given to the debate on this. There are a number of people with particular expertise on this piece of legislation. Senator Back in particular, an experienced veterinarian with real concerns around the design of this piece of legislation, will not get the opportunity to speak on this piece of legislation because of the gag—the gag that has put 55 pieces of legislation through this house in just a week. And yet it does not seem to be too much of a problem for this government, which complained bitterly about 32 gags in the entire Howard government of 2004 to 2007.
This piece of legislation adds over 200 new pages of regulation and removes none. When you look at the approach that the coalition is taking versus the approach that the government is taking to regulation and red tape in this country, it exposes quite clearly the difference between the two. Over 20,000 new regulations have been imposed by this government. The opposition has a commitment to reduce red tape and regulation by a billion dollars a year. Yet this government still does not get the message. It still does not have the connection that people in the community and business are crying out for government to get out of their way and reduce the regulatory burden. I am not sure how many regulations the government has actually reduced or has actually taken away, but I reckon you could probably count them on one hand, and yet it has put 20,000-plus in place. Our commitment is to remove the regulatory burden, and our commitment is to make it easier for business and less costly for business.
In respect of this bill, one other thing that really concerns us is the capacity of campaigns to add cost. We have seen how, particularly in the case of the live export debacle that the government created, when a few emails start rolling in the door, they react. They do not sit down and assess. They closed the live export trade to Indonesia. We know that the new Prime Minister, Prime Minister Rudd, was then foreign minister and was telling the Indonesian foreign minister that everything was okay: 'It'll be okay. It'll be all right. We'll negotiate with you. We'll sort something out.' The cabinet back here in Australia were of a different mind. They made a decision to ban the trade the following day. Prime Minister Rudd, then foreign minister, was not aware of it. The Indonesians heard about it on the radio. So we know what the potential effect of campaigns can be, particularly with the Labor Party dependent on the Greens in power.
The capacity under this piece of legislation for campaigns to escalate from what the government tries to assure us is going to be a low-level cost for the re-registration cycle of chemicals to become something that is much, much more expensive, and that requires full documentation, is of real concern to the coalition. It is of real concern to industry because they have seen the effect of GetUp! style campaigns, particularly on the Labor Party, and being driven by the Greens—the Labor Party's coalition partner that has been so destructive for this country and particularly for my and Senator Bushby's home state of Tasmania.
The negative impact on Tasmania of the Labor-Green accords at a state and federal level has been absolutely devastating. Our economy is going backwards. Our unemployment is way above the national average. Why would we not be concerned about the potential for more of the destructive type campaign that we have seen impact on our home state to be embedded into the process with another piece of legislation such as this? Because we know how the Labor Party is prepared to succumb. And so we oppose that approach.
We are more than happy and, in fact, we are determined that agricultural and veterinary chemicals that are utilised in this country be safe. We are determined that there be a strong regulatory regime, but we do not want to overdo it. We do not want to hand it to the GetUp! style campaigns so that all you have to do is press a button, perhaps not even knowing that you are sending an email to a campaign type set-up and adding to a perceived level of concern to the community over that process. These processes need to be rigorous. They need to look at all of the data, but we do not need to overdo the process. We do not need to bring in additional regulations because a small group decide that that is what we ought to do. We have a strong record in this country and we need to ensure that our regulators do the work that is required of them. It is important for the efficacy of agriculture that we have a strong regime of agricultural and veterinary chemical registration in this country. I do not think that there is anybody who would disagree with that. But we do not need to overburden industry in this country with costs. We are already—and it is widely acknowledged—high-cost producers.
So why continue to add and layer additional costs where it is not necessary? Why continue to put in place the capacity for campaign type systems when we know that is the way that the Labor Party and the Greens react? Let us have a sensible and strong regulatory regime, but let us not overdo it. Let us not put in place processes and regulations that add millions of dollars a year to the cost, but require, in the case of the campaign, to go back and to go back and to go back. The agricultural— (Time expired)
I rise in support of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 and seek leave to table a letter which I have circulated to the whips, which is the government's response to the concerns that we have raised through our report on the committee inquiry into this bill.
The Greens believe that Australians should have access to the safest and smartest methods and chemicals available for pest management in their homes and gardens and, in particular, for the production of the nation's food. However, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority has never had the proper legislative triggers it needs to systematically review and quickly remove highly hazardous and unmanageable pesticides from the market, making way for safer pesticides.
Australia still allows highly hazardous pesticides banned in other countries. It permits pesticides to be used in our food that are known to cause cancer and mutations. It allows pesticides that cause reproductive damage and long-living pesticides that build up in the environment and in wildlife, where they cause damage. The APVMA is one of the last regulators in the world to recognise that, for example, the insecticide Endosulfan was unmanageable, despite all of the scientific evidence clearly labelled for it. Endosulfan is now listed on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and is banned globally. It will take years before its residues disappear from our bodies and the environment. The authority to date has taken an ad hoc approach to chemical review. There is no rationale for what ends up on the chemical review list. We believe these changes are necessary. You should not continue to have on the list a pesticide that is a known carcinogen.