September 5, 2013  |  Second Reading

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.