Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation and Processing) Amendment Bill 2013
Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East)— I too am pleased to speak on this bill and am very supportive of the proposal before the house. The possibility of growing opium poppies, which are in fact alkaloid poppies, was considered in this country some years ago. In 1971 Tasmania took up that opportunity and put in place the appropriate controls to enable poppies to be successfully grown.
Tasmania is the only state that has gone through this process, which means it has had the jump on other Australian states. People such as me who have travelled to Tasmania in summer will have seen the beautiful poppy crops coming into flower and looking quite spectacular. This adds to the touristic experience in Tasmania as well as providing an important product for the therapeutic and health industries, which is in high demand. Poppies are a high-value crop that has been grown successfully in Tasmania for over 40 years. In recent times the growers of those crops, or the people in the industry, have realised that there is both an opportunity and a need to consider in which other states in Australia the poppies can be grown successfully.
They are a cool weather crop and an annual crop that has been grown successfully in Tasmania. People had initial concerns about the growing of poppies in Tasmania. People asked, ‘How could you grow these crops? It is a drug.
What is going to stop people piling over fences where the crops are grown, harvesting the crops or pinching the drugs and using them for personal illicit purposes?’. However, that has not occurred in Tasmania. It has not been a serious threat, and the industry has been developed in a sensible, controlled manner. The concerns raised in the 1970s have not come to fruition.
The other interesting thing about the growing of alkaloid poppies is that the product derived from them has been processed in in the Portland area of Victoria for many years. This has required the crop to be harvested in Tasmania and then transported to Portland, where it has been processed. It is sensible to consider growing the crop in a state other than Tasmania because growing it in one state means that if something happens to the industry there — for example, a bad year for the crop — the entire Australian crop will be affected. Having the crop grown in a different state with a different environment and weather conditions is clearly going to be a benefit to those relying on the crop. Victoria, where the crop is processed, is obviously a sensible place to grow it.
Victoria’s environmental conditions are considered to be quite appropriate for growing poppies, so I am pleased that the minister was receptive when approached by the companies involved in using these crops in production. In fact it has been proposed that the poppies be grown in areas near where I live.
The Ascot area is one potential site, and there are other potential sites down towards the Western District. That provides significant alternative opportunities for farmers in my region as well as other parts of Victoria.
In my region, in the area where they are considering growing poppies, farmers have been growing potatoes extensively over recent years and are beholden to just one or two companies — in particular McCain — to purchase those potatoes. As McCain has cut back on its requirements, our farmers have been looking for other crops that can be grown successfully in the area to provide good returns and use the facilities they already have — for example, for irrigation and so on. I have noticed that pyrethrum has been grown in my area in increasing quantities in recent years. The alkaloid poppy crop will clearly provide a significant opportunity for farmers in my region and in other areas of the state. I am pleased that with the passing of this legislation we will be able to give that opportunity to our farmers in Victoria.
It is not just the farmers who benefit when successful new crops are grown; a number of other people involved in the industry can also benefit — for example, people in the transport sector. I was pleased to have a briefing on this matter from the company involved with growing poppies last year and that when the minister was approached he was supportive.
With legislation such as this we must ensure that there are appropriate safeguards because these poppies will be used to produce a narcotic drug; therefore we need to ensure that the learnings from Tasmania are heeded. The secretary of the department will have the opportunity to look at growers’ licence applications as they come forward. If it is thought to be appropriate, applications can be refused, suspended, cancelled or renewed. This bill will put in place an appropriate licensing system under which the crops can be grown.
Farmers who wish to grow the crops will need to look closely at the requirements, but they will be clearly explained to them when they go to access the seed. The growing of poppies is closely controlled by those who control the seeds, and the poppies are generally grown under contract to the company that will process the plants.
In talking with the proponents of this project I was interested to learn that it is not the seeds of the poppy that are processed to produce the product but the straw of the poppy, particularly the section just below the head, and the head of the poppy, rather than the seeds. I expect many people will have a misapprehension about that and will believe it is the seeds that are the source of codeine, the alkaloid that is used in the drugs produced from the poppies.
As a former student of agricultural science, it has certainly been interesting for me to learn a little bit more about this crop, to gain a bit more background on the matter and to understand the issues associated with growing the poppy crops as it has been practised in Tasmania for some time.
I am pleased to see that with this legislation Victorian farmers, including those in the region where I live, will in the future have an opportunity to consider growing this crop. I am confident this will be a very successful industry in Victoria that will provide great opportunities for our rural communities. I am always pleased to see such options coming forward for rural communities. We know some of the options that have been put forward in the past in terms of growing alternative crops or raising different animals — such as ostriches — to expand the sector have failed miserably. A range of things have been tried over the years, but I think this one can be a winner, and I am fully supportive of it.