Senate debates

Wednesday, 17 June 2020


Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020; Second Reading

9:38 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor supports the passage of the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020. The bill seeks to change the definition of 'goods' in the act to include narcotic goods, which will support the legitimate export of narcotic goods, in alignment with foreign country import requirements. Labor unequivocally supports the bill. We think it is time for the government to harness the full potential of this crop. In the explanatory memorandum, the minister claims the amendment will 'remove unnecessary and unintended regulatory barriers on the trade of Australian hemp products'. We agree. Hemp is a product that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Despite its low THC level, the full utilisation of this plant—including for medicinal purposes, local consumption, textiles, oil and exporting—has historically been prevented due to misinformation about its narcotic character. Labor encourages the growth and development of the hemp industry. It should be legal to ingest, cultivate and produce hemp products in all states in Australia. Hemp is an environmentally friendly crop. It provides opportunities for value adding an export growth.

It is also time to remove unnecessary regulatory barriers to medicinal cannabis, starting with responding to the recommendations made by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. Australian agriculture has been hard hit by the protracted drought, bushfires and now COVID-19. At every step of the way, this government has failed to respond to the needs of the sector in a timely manner. Sadly, this is just another example of the government's failure to provide a strategic, well-informed plan for Australian agriculture.

The National Farmers' Federation have put forward their vision to grow Australian agriculture to $100 billion in farmgate output by 2030. However, the NFF have made it clear that the Morrison government will need to play a central role by stepping up with developing a national strategy for agriculture. Farmers and regional communities are doing it tough and they are missing out on critical export opportunities, such as in hemp, because this government cannot get its act together.

As previously mentioned, Labor supports the substance of this bill. But we urge this third-term government to stop taking for granted the resilience of our farmers and regional communities. Start developing a competency plan for agriculture that addresses long-term drought resilience and allows farmers to capitalise on emerging opportunities, through innovative solutions, to address future challenges that will impact the value of the sector.

9:41 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in support of the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020. This bill removes barriers to Australian hemp and medicinal cannabis companies exporting their products to supply international markets. The Greens support this bill because we understand the many potential benefits of medicinal cannabis and we support a healthy Australian medicinal cannabis industry. But this bill also raises serious concerns about the domestic market. Since the Greens led the charge for the introduction of medicinal cannabis as far back as 2015, I've been highlighting the enormous barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis in Australia. The TGA arrangements at present are failing to provide people with timely, cost-effective access. As a result of the problems within the current regulatory system, we undertook a detailed inquiry into the barriers and problems with regulation of medicinal cannabis in Australia. We did that earlier this year and the committee tabled its report in March. It's now essential that the government implement the recommendations of that report. At the end of my speech I'm going to be moving a second reading amendment to that effect.

It's really important to understand the history here. The government made medicinal cannabis legal in 2015 and set up the regulatory framework through The Therapeutic Goods Administration. At that time we advocated very strongly that a separate, independent standalone regulator be established to allow people to access medicinal cannabis. That's the approach taken by many jurisdictions right across the world, recognising the very unique issues associated with a drug that in many circumstances has been prohibited for consumption and understanding also that medicinal cannabis is not one drug but indeed many different drugs.

We decided to give the government the benefit of the doubt. It was a big change at the time. Up until 2015 it was illegal, full stop, for a doctor to prescribe a patient medicinal cannabis. But what we've seen now is that the system is failing people. In the five years that have now passed, what we've seen is people failing to get access to medicinal cannabis when they need it. The barriers are many and I'll go through some of them in a moment.

The Community Affairs inquiry into patient access to medicinal cannabis uncovered a range of issues which advocates in the industry have been highlighting for many, many years. At the moment, if a doctor wants to prescribe a patient medicinal cannabis, they require the use of the Special Access Scheme through the TGA. This is important to understand. The TGA regulates products for approval here in Australia, but where there's a pharmaceutical drug that's from another jurisdiction, that hasn't yet entered the Australian market and hasn't been approved for use in Australia, there is a special provision called the Special Access Scheme that allows doctors to seek permission to prescribe that product. That's a scheme that was designed to be used in exceptional circumstances for drugs that may be of benefit to a limited number of people. The scheme was never intended to be used at scale for something like medicinal cannabis. It's remarkable—you've got the regulator, the TGA, that is designed specifically to regulate for the approval of pharmaceutical products, and they've been chosen to regulate a drug which bypasses their normal approval processes and uses something called the Special Access Scheme. As I said, what that scheme does is to allow for the prescription of products not yet approved for sale here in Australia, but it requires doctors to jump through a number of hoops in order to be able to prescribe it. It requires doctors to complete a detailed form every time, per patient, per script.

There is another way in which you can avoid having to go through that approval process for every specific script for a patient. You can become what is known as an authorised prescriber, but, again, the number of authorised prescribers has been extremely limited, and not only is the process for becoming an authorised prescriber onerous but also the committee found that the required approvals are really hard to come by. There are very few people who have been designated as having authorised prescriber status.

I will just give a practical example. When I was in general practice, if a patient came in to see me I could write a script for an opiate. Opiates are drugs—codeine type drugs and other injectable preparations of opiates, like pethidine, for example. I can write a script for an opiate like codeine without requiring any approval from anywhere else. It's up to my discretion as a prescribing doctor as to whether I think the patient will benefit from an opiate. Now, we know from what is happening here in Australia—indeed, right around the world—that there is a crisis in overdose deaths from prescription opiates. In the US, tens of thousands of people are dying from prescription overdose deaths. I can do the same for benzodiazepine type drugs—I can write a script. And we know that, when it comes to the use of drugs like opiates and benzodiazepines, people do die when they are taken in large quantities. The potential for overdose is very real. I don't require any approval to be able to prescribe those drugs, and yet I have to jump through a range of hoops to prescribe a drug like medicinal cannabis, for which there has not been one documented case of overdose. When you talk about the relative safety of particular drugs, medicinal cannabis is safer than over-the-counter drugs like alcohol. We're trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

The issues don't stop there. Doctors are struggling to get the necessary training and information they need to appropriately prescribe these products. Look, when I was training, we didn't even know there was an endocannabinoid system—it was something that just wasn't understood in medicine. We know now that medicinal cannabis products work because we have our own endogenous system, our own endocannabinoid system—our own body produces variations of these drugs itself, and that's why these products are effective. We didn't know about that only a short time ago. So the amount of information that doctors have on cannabis type products is very limited. Indeed, the only training I got was that cannabis is a dangerous drug and you need to ensure that people stay away from it.

If you can find a doctor who's willing to undertake the paperwork and feels comfortable in prescribing, you're going to find red tape in accessing medication thanks to the overlapping regulation not just at a federal level through the TGA process but also at a state level. I'm sure we'll have a contribution later on where we hear about the huge problems in Tasmania specifically, where that state has decided to make it harder than any other state for someone to access medicinal cannabis.

If you manage to go through the tangle of federal and state restrictions, patients are then going to be hit by the enormous cost associated with accessing these products because they're not subsidised—again, unlike other medications. So patients who need these treatments, who will benefit from them and who want to do the right thing continue to use the black market because they can get these products cheaply. Unfortunately they don't know what they're getting, it's an unregulated market and often what people think they're getting is not what they're purchasing, but they are being forced to break the law.

Our inquiry included contributions from senators on all sides and made unanimous recommendations on how to urgently fix this failing system. These recommendations need to be the government's highest priority in this area. While we support our local industry accessing export markets, surely we should be looking after Australian patients first. Our committee has recommended that immediate changes be made to both the Special Access Scheme and the Authorised Prescriber Scheme to allow a smoother, simpler, more straightforward process for doctors. We recommend that investment be made by the government and by the colleges to ensure that appropriate doctor education is available so that people learn about the endocannabinoid system and the benefits of medicinal cannabis rather than the stigma that's currently associated with the use of these products. Crucially we recommend that the government investigate a compassionate subsidy scheme for medicinal cannabis so that patients are not faced with huge price tags just for accessing their medication. Right now, when people are given a script, they can be forced to pay hundreds and hundreds of dollars each month simply to get access to a medication that would be of tremendous benefit to them and their families.

Through the committee we made a number of other recommendations, and I commend the report to all senators, but the key one is that the government moves forward to reform the system—that we establish an independent, stand-alone expert regulator for medicinal cannabis and move away from the TGA system, which is good for what it needs to do, but we are trying to put a square peg into a round hole. The report said very clearly that the government should reform the system if barriers to patient access persisted 12 months after tabling the report. Personally, I would've liked to have seen a stronger recommendation—immediate reform of the system—but, working across the divide with both Liberal and Labor senators, we accepted that the government be given 12 months to address the inadequacies of the regulation associated with medicinal cannabis.

We know that an independent regulator which understands many of the complexities associated with medicinal cannabis would allow for far greater patient access. That's experienced in many jurisdictions overseas. The irony of the current system is that, although the TGA is the pharmaceuticals regulator—it regulates the introduction of pharmaceutical products in Australia—most medicinal cannabis bypasses the normal regulatory framework within the TGA through the Special Access Scheme. So it circumvents the processes that are established within the TGA to regulate medicines. We have decided to use a regulator to regulate medicinal cannabis only to have it bypass their normal regulatory processes. It makes no sense, it's not sustainable and Australians deserve much better.

Of course, all these improvements to patient access would improve the viability of the Australian medicinal cannabis industry. This is a young market. It's just starting out and it wants to supply a domestic market, but the barriers are so high that despite knowing how many Australians are likely to benefit from these treatments there are only a trickle of prescriptions coming through. Yes, there has been incremental improvement over recent months, but it's coming off an extraordinarily low baseline and is still not enough to meet the extraordinary demand there is for medicinal cannabis progress. It's been estimated that millions of Australians would benefit from the use of medicinal cannabis or at least a trial of those products. At the moment, all we have is a few thousand Australians being able to access those products.

We know that our domestic market isn't enough to sustain a medicinal cannabis industry, and that's why the export market is important. As I've said, we do support that, but let's sort out our system here in Australia so that Australians can benefit from medicinal cannabis products. I have said on many occasions that this isn't a wonder drug. It doesn't have the benefits that some advocates purport, but it does have many, many potential benefits. You only need to talk to people who've experienced a remarkable improvement in their quality of life to know that this is a drug that Australians should be able to get access to.

The key issue for both industry and patient access domestically is the descheduling of CBD, one of the components of medicinal cannabis—and again it's important to understand here that THC is the drug with the psychoactive effect; CBD products don't have any psychoactive effects—and there's now a move to deschedule CBD-only products so that they can be accessed like other complementary medicines. Since the inquiry, the TGA has begun a progress to down-schedule small-quantity-CBD products, from schedule 4 to schedule 3, so they can be available over the counter at pharmacies, rather than requiring a prescription. It's a good start, but the issue remains that even schedule-3 CBD—which, as I said, has no capacity to create a so-called high; we know it's safe, we know it's well understood—would still require registration on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Drugs, requiring all the years of huge investment in clinical trials. Clinical trials are important, but they shouldn't be a barrier.

So we support the bill, but it's time we got on with fixing the situation at home so that Australians can access medicinal cannabis products here. I therefore move the following second reading amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate calls on the Government to urgently implement the recommendations contained in the report of the Community Affairs References Committee on its inquiry into current barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis".

9:56 am

Photo of Perin DaveyPerin Davey (NSW, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through you, Madam Deputy President, I would like to thank Senator Di Natale for his contribution, which I acknowledge, and I support the intent of his contribution. However, this bill is specifically about export, and I think we need to deal with TGA matters through the appropriate regulations.

There are a lot of opportunities in the medicinal cannabis area—and I'd like to just put in a plug for my colleagues in the New South Wales parliament, who in 2016 moved to enable the use of medicinal cannabis; so it is truly a bipartisan acknowledgement that there is a lot to be said for medicinal cannabis—but today I want to talk about the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020.

This bill reflects the ongoing support from our government, the National Party working with the Liberal Party, for Australian agriculture, because, at the end of the day, whether it is used for medicinal cannabis or industrial hemp, this is an agricultural product. I share the National Farmers Federation's ambitious goal to grow Australian agriculture to $100 billion by 2030—it's currently at $60 billion—and to do this we must look at two things: firstly, identifying emerging agricultural markets; and, secondly, ensuring that we in government do what we can to increase market access overseas. This bill recognises that legal narcotics such as medicinal cannabis and low-THC hemp are emerging markets, and we are easing restrictions so our producers can access those markets. Two-thirds of our traditional agricultural produce is exported. This legislation is designed to give our producers of legal narcotic products the same chance as we give to our wool-, beef- and wine-producing farmers, who enjoy the status of being leading Australian agricultural exporters.

Currently, markets in East and South-East Asia, as well as Europe, require government issued certification on plant exports, and that is fair enough. The amendment legislation we are debating today will allow our government to issue those certificates for our narcotic products—legal narcotic products. It will amend the Export Control Act and, in March 2021, will replace the 1982 act to ensure continuation. It is important to note that these changes only refer to legitimate narcotic goods, such as medicinal cannabis, and will not change other regulatory controls that we have in place on narcotics more broadly which we do not seek to produce, export or import. But, for our legal narcotics, we want to ensure that our growers are not at a competitive disadvantage in international markets, and this bill deals with that quickly and efficiently.

This legislation supports two key products that I want to talk about very briefly. Medicinal cannabis is a different product to marijuana—and our traditional view of it. It is a clear opportunity for a positive agricultural product—to grow cannabis plants under strict control orders and legislation. It is something the Morrison government, the coalition, strongly believes in, as shown by government's announcement last October of $3 million for the Medical Research Future Fund to examine the benefits of medicinal cannabis for pain or symptoms and side-effect management for cancer patients. Our government is committed to ensuring a safe, quality, regulated supply of medicinal cannabis to Australian patients, and this bill will enable the producers of that safe medicinal cannabis to access international markets.

There is also industrial hemp. This is a low-THC cannabis plant, the fibres and seeds of which are used for a variety of products. The use of low-THC cannabis as a useable fibre can be traced back some 50,000 years. Today it has multiple uses, including in paper, textiles, ropes, clothing and food for humans as well as animals. In fact, hemp seed is now claimed as a superfood in a lot of the trendy cafes.

The potential for our farmers to compete in international markets is huge, and this bill will assist our Australian growers to participate in those markets. Allowing government certification will give such growers the best chance to export their product overseas. We all know our farmers make decisions on what to grow based on current demand, supplies, what is best for their on-farm business and where they can access markets, and that's what this bill is about.

In 2011-12 the gross value of Australian hemp production was around $300,000—over an estimated 185 hectares of plantation. In November 2017 the Australian food standards code was amended to permit the sale of low-THC hemp seed for food consumption, which has seen a small increase in hemp production. This bill will further raise the opportunities. Due to the perceived health benefits of hemp seed and the like, as well as traditional and novel uses for hemp fibre, which now include being used for biodegradable plastics, it should be no surprise that there is perceived to be a global increase in industrial hemp demand, making it an emerging market both domestically and internationally.

The certification of Australian industrial hemp and now medicinal cannabis by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment will give many countries the assurance required to import our produce, and we all know Australia is very highly regarded internationally for its agricultural produce. Our government supports this because we believe in Australian agriculture, we believe in the Australian farmer and we believe in regional and rural Australia.

Today we are talking about an emerging agricultural market which will continue to grow, and it would be remiss of us not to enable our farmers to have full access to those markets. When you increase exports you increase the incomes of farmers and strengthen the economies of regional and rural Australia, and that is what this legislation is designed to do. Agriculture in Australia has always been ambitious and innovative. This legislation reflects that ambition and recognises this increasing market as an opportunity. We have a tremendous reputation for our produce both in the amount we produce—three times more than we consume—and in the quality. There is no reason why that reputation can't extend to our production of legal narcotics, and I commend this bill to the chamber.

10:05 am

Photo of Pauline HansonPauline Hanson (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020 is another example of the commitment One Nation and I made to the Australian people that we would pursue changes in our laws to unwind the stranglehold on the cannabis industry. I need to pay respect to Senators Cormann and Kitching for their combined efforts to assist me in making this bill pass the parliament. My office reached out to the minister for agriculture, who is also the Deputy Leader of the National Party, David Littleproud. Minister Littleproud originally had no interest in making this bill come before the parliament, even though market standards predict global industry hemp demand is projected to grow from $4.6 billion to $26.6 billion over the next five years. I was listening to Senator Davey's comment that they're really interested in growing the agricultural industry in Australia, and again David Littleproud made a comment. The dairy industry is still dying. Over 500 more dairy farmers went last year. So, when it comes to pushing for the agricultural industry, I don't think Mr Littleproud is up to the job.

Mr Littleproud showed zero interest or foresight into the very real fact that the future hemp industry could very well act as a transition crop for struggling cane farmers in Queensland, including North Queensland, where sugar millers are squeezing them out of the market. When Mr Littleproud refused to deal with this bill in a timely manner, I went to Minister Cormann's office, and it was he and Senator Kitching—a Labor senator, and I thank her very much—who brought both the Liberal and Labor parties together.

I've seen the benefits this crop offers to food, fibre and medicines. I want to acknowledge the countless health-food stores who've been pushing the benefits of this crop, but I also want to acknowledge Woolworths, who have recently taken on Australian-made products, including hemp seed and hemp oil. I'm aware of Australian dog food companies who are looking to implement plant based substitutes like hemp, which is high in fibre. I also want to recognise the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics, which operates within Sydney university and whose use of cannabis to treat epilepsy will be recognised tonight with a virtual award for their efforts in assisting the many Australians who suffer these debilitating fits. Researcher Dr Lyndsey Anderson, an American attracted to Australia to work at the Lambert initiative, is being internationally recognised for her work.

We have an enormous way to go in making medicinal cannabis more readily available for patients across this country. But today's passing of this bill is another shuffle in the right direction in assisting the cannabis industry. I will be encouraging farmers nationwide to get on board with the cannabis industry, and I will be ensuring, after the next Queensland election, that One Nation remove the barriers that have been put in the way of growing hemp as a food and fibre product. I not only welcome the passage of this bill but am very pleased to have instigated the change we're legislating here today.

10:09 am

Photo of Amanda StokerAmanda Stoker (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Morrison government is very much committed to finding ways to continue to grow our agricultural sector, and AgriFutures, whose research is so very important to planning out policy in this area, have noted the potential future for the growth of the industrial hemp market worldwide. They've said:

There is a great opportunity for Australian growers to capitalise on growth of current and future products derived from industrial hemp with Global Market Insights predicting the market to surpass US$270 million in size globally, by 2025.

Most countries currently regulate unprocessed and semiprocessed plant products against the introduction of injurious plants, pests and diseases, but, up until recently, we've had some difficulties in being able to access some of those international markets that Australian growers might like to reach. This bill, the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, ensures that there is the kind of legislative coverage needed to enable government certification for goods of this kind so that Australian growers have international market access. That means that we are complying with international agreements around this, like the International Plant Protection Convention, and it means that a problem faced at present, where the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment aren't able to issue government certificates to support the legitimate export of these goods, can be fixed so that those sorts of certifications can readily and easily be provided.

I must say this bill led me down a path of having to make some inquiries, because I'm on the record as being somebody who is antidrugs, in the narcotics sense, in every possible way. I'm always conscious of ways that we can reduce Australian people's use of harmful drugs. Despite the fact that there are some people out in the community who think drugs like marijuana are harmless, I think very differently, and I think that, once we start to tally up a lot of the mental and social costs associated with what some people pretend is harmless, it is exposed as nothing of the sort. But the inquiry I was led to by this bill was to find out precisely what kinds of things we were talking about under the heading of low-THC goods, low-THC hemp and medicinal cannabis products. I found it quite informative. I learned that the low-THC hemp, which is the subject of this bill, is a plant that's got 0.3 per cent or less of THC, which is the part of marijuana that gets a person high, so it's not a product that poses any kind of drug type risk. In fact, it's a really important agricultural product.

The hemp seed—of course, the variety that doesn't have those potentially harmful drug-like attributes—when hulled and unable to germinate, is a food product that is used by many. Again, I'm assured that it is not something that's harmful at all. I found the other uses for the hemp plant pretty interesting too. It's a really important fibre that is used in the production of fabrics and textiles, and those fabric, textile and food uses can provide a great opportunity for Australian farmers to diversify the crops they grow so that they are more resilient for different environmental and market circumstances. Anything that gives agricultural communities more of the choice and flexibility they need to be viable has to be a good thing. Medicinal cannabis in this country is heavily regulated but legal. While I'm not an enthusiast for it, the very tight controls that we have around it in this country are maintained by this bill. In circumstances where that is legal here and legal in other places, there's not really much of a reason why we should stop high-quality Australian farmers from being able to access those important markets.

So I commend the bill to the Senate. I think it is an important measure that we can implement to create better market access for Australian producers. Every thing we can do to ensure their ability to be viable, their ability to contribute to our economy, their ability to employ and their ability to continue to invest in the communities in which they grow has to be a good thing.

10:14 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As a servant to the people of Queensland and Australia, I'm delighted to say that this bill, the Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020, holds enormous promise. For far too long, cannabis and hemp have been suppressed for reasons that have everything to do with established interests and nothing to do with the merits of the plant. That has hurt people for years and is hurting hundreds of thousands of people now. This bill addresses one area that has been holding back the Australian cannabis and hemp industry.

Currently, there is no formal system for providing approvals for the export of medical cannabis and hemp. The producer must apply to the minister for an ad hoc approval. While approvals have been granted, the volumes are a fraction of the potential that this crop offers. The Export Control Act 2020 came in this year and allows the minister to make rules that govern the issue of export certificates. If a substance is on the list, rules are issued to regulate the export of that substance. Cannabis and hemp were not included in that act. This amendment corrects that. Cannabis and hemp growers and manufacturers can now have certainty about the rules for export. Every grower is on the same footing. All who meet the rules can get an export licence and sell product into the world market, and what a market that is. The cannabis and hemp market in Australia is expected to grow to a billion dollars in just four years and double that to $2 billion by 2028. At that time the Asian market, our near neighbours in Asia, will exceed $10 billion. This is the start of a wonderful opportunity.

Australia's reputation as a high-quality, safe supplier of food and medicine will help our producers take a significant share of that huge market. I must compliment the government on its decision to require all cannabis producers to follow the international safety and quality standard known as the GMP—good manufacturing practice. Quality processing has been instrumental in growing our reputation for trusted product, and that means a lot to people overseas and in Australia. Internationally, the world market for cannabis and hemp is expected to reach $50 billion by 2030. Some of this growth is from the trend to legalise recreational cannabis, which, I need to make clear, One Nation does not support. We do support natural Australian whole-plant medical cannabis by way of doctors prescription to any person with a medical need supplied by pharmacist and subsidised on the PBS. I note that the government is also looking to reschedule low-THC cannabis into schedule 3 as an over-the-counter chemist-only medication. One Nation supports that rescheduling. We have long pushed for this.

The Liberal government talks about market efficiency, but in the cannabis market we have nothing but overregulation and disincentives to enter the market. This bill will help, but there is much, much more to be done. I draw the government's attention to the review of the Narcotic Drugs Act conducted by Professor McMillan, which reported almost 12 months ago, in July 2019. Professor McMillan made 26 recommendations to improve the commercial efficiency of the cannabis market in Australia. None of those recommendations have been implemented. Many of those recommendations dovetail nicely with the intent of the export control legislation amendment to develop an Australian export industry for cannabis and hemp. The report calls for a reduction in the onerous conditions being applied to the industry and to people who work in it. These restrictions are an unnecessary and costly barrier to efficient, quality production. They're holding our farmers back. They're holding everyone in the supply chain back. They're holding customers back. Professor McMillan has recommended that a single licence be issued for all or some of cultivation, production, manufacture and research, instead of the individual licences currently being required at each step.

The report also suggested licences be valid for five years rather than 12 months. Most exported cannabis and hemp is value-added. Allowing one producer to now grow, process, manufacture and research new products on a five-year licence guarantees the security of their investment, which improves the return on their investment. By encouraging vertical integration, our producers can benefit from multiple profit centres and insulate against fluctuations in one area of this emerging market. Export opportunities will be enhanced by a wider range of products offered for sale.

Volume and diversity resulting from export markets will benefit domestic patients as well. Let me explain. Currently, medical cannabis is prohibitively expensive. This is in part due to the high administrative, regulatory and security costs imposed on each stage of the process, from cultivating or importing through to selling the product to a patient. This high cost is spread across low volumes because of restricted access, making each prescription too expensive for patients to afford. That creates an ongoing cycle of high prices and low affordability, leading to low volume, which leads to high prices. It's a vicious cycle. This bill represents a way out of that self-defeating cycle by allowing for the current small domestic demand to be met through high-volume, low-cost export production.

The best medical cannabis is produced from plants that have been processed as little as possible. It is a wonderful, natural product. Conversion into vaping solutions, patches, topicals and capsules does not disturb the compound profile of the plant. It is a wonderful product. As medical cannabis has been legal for many years in most nations on the planet, we are seeing an explosion of new varieties of medical strains of cannabis. I have seen some of them myself. These have been developed to provide the optimum profile for a specific medical condition. This wonderful plant, in its many varieties, can be tailored to the specific needs of patients, and there are many patients in desperate need of this. Hundreds of different varieties are now available to the world market—hundreds. The more of these varieties that can be grown in Australia to support export demand, the greater the variety available to supply domestic patients will be. People can have this marvellous natural plant tailored to suit their specific medical needs. With a professional, efficient and profitable export industry, Australian patients will be able to access the exact cannabis profile for their particular health condition at much reduced prices and for much greater value.

As a senator from Queensland, I'm excited that we have a growing centre for cannabis excellence in Southport. Our beautiful climate is perfectly suited to growing hemp for food, textiles, cosmetics, oil, building products and so much more. Queensland will be on the forefront of this multibillion-dollar export industry for both hemp and cannabis. One Nation's policy of restoring property rights to farmers and building more dams will deliver to our farmers the capacity to grow Australia's agricultural capacity through hemp and cannabis.

Before closing, I want to reiterate what our party leader, Senator Hanson, said and express my thanks to Senator Cormann from the Liberal Party and Senator Kitching from the Labor Party. It was them who made it possible. Senator Hanson and some of our staff have been pushing for this for years, vigorously, and it is wonderful to see this step. Tiny though it is, it is a wonderful step, so thank you.

In closing, may I suggest that the success of this bill will depend upon what the export rules for cannabis are. To date, rules on medical cannabis and hemp have been so damn onerous that people have been left wondering if the government is fair dinkum about a plant that has so many proven applications and also so many successful runs on the board overseas. We look forward to the government proving, through fair and effective regulation, that they are indeed genuine about implementing this bill's intention.

10:24 am

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Families and Social Services) Share this | | Hansard source

The Export Control Legislation Amendment (Certification of Narcotic Exports) Bill 2020 is required to amend parts of the export control legislation. The bill will amend the definition of 'goods' contained within the Export Control Act 1982 and the Export Control Act 2020. The amendments will remove discrepancies in the treatment of narcotic goods with other goods that pose a similar risk to Australia's trade reputation and market access.

Markets for industrial hemp in Australia are underdeveloped by comparison to other OECD countries, especially Europe, the UK and Canada. The past 15 years have seen significant global innovation, significant levels of research into agronomy and the development of high-performance hemp products. AgriFutures has noted the potential for future growth of the industrial hemp market worldwide, stating:

There is a great opportunity for Australian growers to capitalise on growth of current and future products derived from industrial hemp with Global Market Insights predicting the market to surpass US$270 million in size globally, by 2025.

Most countries currently regulate unprocessed and semiprocessed plant products against the introduction of injurious plants, pests and diseases. Under international plant protection conventions, exporters and countries can issue phytosanitary certificates attesting to the absence of such pests and diseases on exported plant products, which is what this bill seeks to facilitate.

Since 2015, in place of phytosanitary certificates, alternative assurances have been provided for cannabis products exported to markets in Korea, the United States, Uruguay and New Zealand. Earlier this year an exporter from Queensland sought to export a commercial quantity of seed to the United States. The US Department of Agriculture indicated they would require formal phytosanitary certification from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment for exports to be accepted. Since late 2019 exporters have expressed interest in exporting to other markets, including Thailand, Vietnam and Canada. These are all markets that require official phytosanitary certification—certification that the passage of this bill will finally allow Australian authorities to issue.

The proposed amendment will allow Australian exporters to meet the biosecurity import requirements for any market that requires a phytosanitary certificate. Countries that currently have strict import requirements including phytosanitary certificates for unprocessed plant products include China, Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, Canada and the US. In fact, the only major markets that don't have such requirements are Hong Kong and Singapore. This bill will address the government's current inability to issue phytosanitary certificates and enable certification of a broad range of agricultural commodities, including narcotic goods within the meaning of the Customs Act 1901. The bill will ensure Australia meets its obligations under international agreements and provides assurances to trading partners that our exported agricultural goods meet their requirements. The bill provides the confidence for existing and future exporters to pursue lucrative export opportunities, particularly for those involved with new and emerging industries. Being able to access a broad range of markets creates more export opportunities and higher profits for Australian farmers, producers and export businesses. The bill will support initiatives of the government to congestion-bust in regulation and ensure the agricultural industries come out firing after the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Without the ability for government to provide this certification, Australian exporters are at a disadvantage when compared to global competitors. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Di Natale be agreed to.