Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Bills

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

12:35 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I will be seeking leave to move the Australian Greens' amendment, but, Senator Xenophon, are you going to ask some questions?

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I just have some questions in respect of the bill. In terms of legislated risk-based re-registration schemes, is the government aware that they operate in other jurisdictions such as the United States, Canada and the European Union? How do they differ from what is being proposed in this bill? Is it the case that we will be out of kilter with some of these other countries—our trading partners, and countries with which we share similar values in terms of regulation and in having a system to protect consumers and the farming sector from the use of chemicals that can have a negative impact on the agricultural sector?

12:36 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Xenophon. Yes, we do have a different system from other jurisdictions', but we do a number of things. We have a risk-based system of assessment here in Australia. We take note of decisions in other jurisdictions. We are aware, obviously, that there are other approaches in other jurisdictions. Ours is not legislated, whereas theirs is. But, as I said in my contribution earlier on the legislation, we do take account of decisions and activities in other jurisdictions in respect of both registration and reviews of chemicals.

12:37 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Colbeck for his answer on behalf of the government. I am trying to establish this. If I have not understood it properly, I apologise, but it seems to me that the re-registration schemes in the USA, Canada and the European Union are to ensure that older pesticides on the market are subject to the same standards that apply to pesticides registered today. Is what is proposed in this bill consistent with what is occurring in the United States, Canada and the European Union or are we moving away to a different process to that of our allies and trading partners of the USA, Canada and the European Union?

12:38 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Senator Xenophon. We do have a different system. But, as I said a moment ago, we take the decisions of those other jurisdictions into account. That is an important element of our scheme. But ours is not a compulsory re-registration scheme. As I also said in my contribution earlier, one of the effects of the compulsory re-registration scheme in other jurisdictions is the loss of some chemicals because companies just do not re-register them. Their registration lapses and so industry loses access to chemicals that have been safely used for a long period of time. Companies choose just not to re-register them. So we are actually taking note of what is happening in those other jurisdictions. We cooperate with them. We have a different system, yes, but our system will not take off the market chemicals or actives, as they are termed, that just do not get re-registered because of the pure economics.

12:39 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Again, I thank Senator Colbeck for his answer. I think Senator Colbeck knows I hold him in high regard in respect of agricultural issues. I am not trying to pick a fight with him. I am just concerned. I have a genuine concern that we are moving away from a similar type of scheme to what operates in the United States, Canada and the European Union and that the consequence of that may be that we do not have adequate scrutiny of some chemicals where it is not just a question of economics and red tape—if that is the issue for a company—and the re-registration fees being too high. Presumably if it is an effective chemical it will stay on the market because it is of economic benefit to both the company and the farmers who use it. That is one issue.

The other issue is that we have the inquiry into Australia's bee population and the effect of pollination services. I referred in my second reading contribution to the impact of neonicotinoids. There is a real concern that colony collapse disorder is materially linked in part to the use of pesticides. I think Senator Colbeck, given his passionate advocacy for agriculture in this country, knows better than most what the impact of that will be on pollination. A significant proportion of agricultural production in this country will be affected if we continue to see a decline in our bee population. I am concerned that in practical terms this bill will mean less, not more, scrutiny of neonicotinoids. I have a real fear as to what that will mean for our bee population and the ongoing impact on Australian agriculture because of the pollination it provides.

12:41 pm

Photo of Richard ColbeckRichard Colbeck (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Xenophon, particularly here in Australia I would not agree with you about a decline in bee population. I know that there are issues, particularly in Europe. I have read the report that you have read in relation to that. A lot of the issues around bee decline in Europe relate more to hive management than agricultural chemicals. I am very sensitive to that because I understand that somewhere north of 60 per cent of our horticultural pollination is done by wild bees and so maintaining that population is very important.

We do have a different system. We do watch and we do interact with other jurisdictions. We have an adverse reporting system. So, if there is an event, that process itself—the adverse reporting process—can trigger a review. So there are a number of safeguards in place. It is not that we are operating in isolation. We have looked at what happens in other jurisdictions and seen the impact on those markets. We are very cognisant of that. We did that during the Senate inquiry into this piece of legislation before the election. That is why we took the position that we did then, and we maintain that position now. We are very conscious of the need to have safe access to chemicals with good efficacy for agriculture but also to protect the environment and, as you quite rightly say, bee populations. But we believe that this provides the right balance.

12:43 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Colbeck for his answer, but a report just yesterday from BBC News in London by Matt McGrath, their environment correspondent, talked about neonicotinoid pesticides causing significant damage. It referred to a number of reports and said:

Researchers, who have carried out a four-year review of the literature, say the evidence of damage is now "conclusive".

In the context of this recent report—and I am not sure if Senator Colbeck is familiar with it and I do not blame him if he is not; it only just came out overnight—will this regulatory regime mean that action on neonicotinoids and their impact on bee populations will be slowed down? Will it take longer? We heard Senator Siewert's assertion that sometimes review processes can take up to 10 years.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Longer? Okay, I stand corrected.

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Some have been over 12.

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Some have been over 12 years. The question is: what will the practical effects be in terms of this worldwide literature and research on neonicotinoids? What will the impact of this bill be in the context of those international concerns about neonicotinoids?

Progress reported.