Plant Biosecurity Amendment Bill 2013
I am certainly pleased to add a few words in regard to this piece of legislation on plant biosecurity, which is of course a very important issue for Victorians.
As we have heard from previous speakers and as we heard in the very brief second-reading speech from the Minister for Agriculture and Food Security — it is a little hard to speak at length on a bill where the second-reading speech is a very brief piece of work — the horticulture industry is worth more than $2.6 billion to the state and national economies, and in Victoria export was valued at $479 million in the year 2011-12. We know it is important for our overall state’s economy, but the other issue we cannot get away from is that is very important for those who are growers.
Over many years this state has continued to work hard to support a whole range of biosecurity issues, whether it be in the horticulture area or whether it be in animal biosecurity. Of course Victoria is somewhat at the forefront in terms of its own government investing in research throughout an extensive series of laboratories, where we are able to do our own identification of many pathogens and diseases which may threaten plants and animals.
That is a significant part of our security mechanism, but the other end is seeing that the right things happen on the ground on people’s properties.
The only problem I have with this particular bill — and I will briefly touch also on our concern that the government has not invested in helping to remove trees no longer required in the Shepparton area — is that the land-holders who do not do the right thing, whether in horticulture or weed management, are often not doing well; financially they are pretty hard done by. It is therefore a difficult issue. The department has always found this a difficult area. It wants to see that the right thing is done, but to push some land-holders too hard to address their weed problems or biosecurity issues such as cleaning up fruit trees — whatever it is — might push them into desperate financial straits or push them off the land. We know that there have been some pretty serious cases involving farmers in desperate financial states associated with depression and all of those sorts of things.
As the minister knows, the department has to deal with these things in a sensitive manner.
Overall the thrust of the legislation is sound, but it is sometimes going to be difficult to implement. The way the legislation is framed, if it is determined that works need to be done and the land-holder does not do them, the state will go in and see that the works are done to address the issue, and the cost will go directly to the land-holder. If the land-holder says they cannot or will not pay, the cost can be held against the land title. That is a sound move, but it still puts a great deal of stress on land-holders who may already be under financial stress. Having said that, I trust this will be followed through sensibly and sensitively and in a way that holds to the overall aim of ensuring that our plant biosecurity and the fruit and other horticultural products of various places around Victoria are maintained at the standard for which Victoria has managed to gain a very high level of respect.
We have been able to market our Victorian produce to other parts of the world as being clean and green. I had the pleasure at one stage of going to South Korea to look at how we had been marketing our Victorian agricultural produce into that country. The people I spoke to there were aware of that message — that Victoria is a clean and green environment and that the quality of our produce is very good. We need to make sure that we continue to satisfy ourselves that the standards are always high. We are aware of occasions in other parts of the world where such matters have gone wrong and serious biosecurity threats have led both to local farmers losing a lot of money, after their markets have been lost, and to whole national economies losing out as a result.
As the last opposition speaker said, we are also concerned at what seems to be a bit of a double standard with respect to issues associated with fruit trees in the Shepparton area that are no longer going to be producing fruit.
The farmers have been calling out for funding to support them to remove those fruit trees, but this government seems to have been very slow to make that $3 million available.
Mr Walsh — You didn’t do it for the grape industry.
The minister is using a previous example of government activity to explain his position at the moment. I do not know whether that holds with the land-holders, but clearly this is an issue whereby the state needs to support people who are going to remove trees. To simply put the cost on the farmers will drive them further backwards. I hope the government will see that there is a way to provide that $3 million funding to ensure that this work is done properly and to show that this government is going to support measures to ensure the industry stays clean and that the trees are dealt with. I hope that when this legislation eventually passes it will act as a plank of further support. However, funding from this government to support these kinds of activities still needs to be provided.