Further red tape reduction for agriculture

The bill before the House tonight, the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment (Removing Re-Approval And Re-Registration) Bill 2014, will reduce red tape and remove the requirement for the re-registration of agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines by removing end dates for approvals and last renewal dates for registrations, so that approvals will no longer end after a particular period and registrations may be renewed perpetually.

The bill also removes redundant provisions that allow applications to reapprove and re-register active constituents and chemical products. In doing so, the government is keeping another of its key 2013 election commitments and reducing Labor’s red-tape burden.

The bill also: introduces reforms that reduce red tape by providing for less frequent registration renewals; improves the APVMA’s ability to secure information about the safety of chemicals supplied in the market; introduces further simple reforms to agvet chemicals regulation to reduce red tape and improve efficiency, two key issues; obliges the APVMA to provide access to information about approvals and registrations in its files to persons eligible to receive it; and addresses some of the minor implementation issues identified in existing reform legislation.

Farming is often a high-cost, low-return enterprise and this has become considerably worse in recent years and decades. Gone are the days when a couple of bad years in a row could simply be absorbed by the particular business.

Today the cost of farm operations means that most farmers are significantly impacted by difficult years and high costs. To give an example so that the members who are here might better understand: in the late 1970s a farmer might sell his cull cow at market for perhaps $1 a kilogram, live weight. At the same time a two hundred litre drum of fuel, which was mostly known as the old 44 gallon drum, could be purchased for less than $40.

Today the same farmer might still get $1 a kilogram live weight for his cull cow; however, that same drum of fuel now costs him or her over $200. A similar disparity exists for equipment, fertilisers and pesticides. It also exists in the rising price of power for the dairy industry—which is exponentially higher than it was, nearly doubling in the last decade alone. The price farmers take for their output is not related to the cost it takes to produce it. This has made farming an often poor return on the investment required.

I have repeatedly raised in this House the commercial returns on investment or lack thereof. It is a tough world and in this farming environment, it is essential that government minimises, where it can, any additional costs it imposes on the farming sector. We saw Labor do that before.

This bill is a step in the right direction. Australia currently has around 11,700 separate agricultural chemicals and veterinary medicines registered with the Australian Pesticide and Veterinary Medicines Authority. Each of these products contains one or more of only 782 active constituents. These chemicals protect crops and animals from pests and diseases and so help improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australia’s rural industries.

They also help to ensure the quality and safety of food. Australia’s gross value of farm production is worth an estimated $47.9 billion a year, with the export value of farm commodities around $38 billion. It is especially important in the cropping industry which is central to agriculture in Western Australia. The crop protection industry body CropLife Australia estimates in a recent report that $17.6 billion of Australian agricultural output is attributable to the use of crop protection products; that is 68 per cent of the total value of crop production.

The importance of agvet chemicals in the cropping sector cannot be overstated. With the continual emergence of more resistance to existing chemicals the industry must rely on two key avenues: the development of new chemicals, especially those with different bases of action to which there is no initial resistance; and, more importantly, the use of strategic chemical rotation to ensure resistance is managed and delayed as long as possible. Chemical resistance can be divided into two areas. Firstly, exposure over time is almost certain to create resistance in target species. This is because biological organisms are by their very nature adaptive. The need to survive and reproduce is paramount in all species and nature has a way of getting around most problems—or chemicals—eventually. The power of nature in this area is not to be underestimated.

Thus resistance is related to the number of exposures: the more often a species is exposed to the chemical the more likely resistance is to develop. There is, however, a second wave of resistance. Many chemical programs have attempted to reduce the number of exposures to chemicals and compensate by using a reduced number of higher concentration exposures. Indeed, this is the principle behind the most common genetically modified plant breeds, which are bred to tolerate higher levels of pesticide. This allows higher levels of pesticide to be used on crops less frequently.

However, the second wave of resistance follows. Target species develop resistance more slowly; however, that resistance is to higher and higher chemical concentrations. This also has a significant impact over time, developing highly resistant weed species. We have a major problem with weeds and feral pests in this country. To manage this resistance, chemical manufacturers and farmers have to be at the cutting edge of both new chemical development and chemical rotation strategies. They do not need government to get in the way, particularly the way Labor did.

This is what happened with the introduction of reapproval of active constituents and re-registration of chemical products by amending the Agvet Code, the schedule to the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994. Re-registration currently requires examination every seven to 15 years of active constituents and products. Without changes to the Agvet Code, re-registration will come into force on 1 July 2014. While the government has committed to remove re-registration, it will retain the existing comprehensive powers that the APVMA has that ensure newly identified risks about the safety, efficacy or trade impact of a chemical are examined.

Schedule 1 of the bill amends the Agvet Code to implement the election commitment to remove re-registration by preventing the expiry of active constituent approvals and preventing the application of dates after which a registration cannot be renewed, and removing the provision for applications to be made to reapprove active constituents or re-register chemical products. It also makes additional consequential amendments to the Agvet Code, the collection act and the amendment act and reduces red tape by allowing for less frequent renewal of registrations. This is just pure common sense. In effect, the bill will prevent the expiry of active constituent approvals and prevent the application of dates after which a registration cannot be renewed.

Removing re-registration, however, does remove an opportunity for the APVMA to confirm that chemical products are the same as the product evaluated and registered by the APVMA. This can be addressed in part by changes that will empower the APVMA to require a person who supplies an ag vet chemical product in Australia to provide information about the product they are supplying.

This will need to be in a form that provides confidence, such as an independent chemical analysis of a random sample of the chemical. Naturally, quality control must be paramount to maintain confidence in the proposed system. This is important because Australia’s reputation is one of high-quality, clean agricultural products. We see this around the world. Australia is so respected for the quality of its food and fibre. This has been and continues to be our competitive advantage in the international food marketplace. I am particularly proud of this as a farmer. The people I meet all around the world talk about the safety of Australian food. As a farmer who helps produce that that makes me particularly proud, but we need to be able to produce that cost-effectively and remain competitive. That is what we in the government are all about. There is no way that Australia can afford to lose this reputation.

The work of the APVMA will be even more vital once these changes are enacted. The bill before the House builds on progress that has already been made through the national registration scheme, a partnership between the Commonwealth and all the states and territories, and on elements of the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Legislation Amendment Act 2013. Our gross farm production is worth an estimated $47.9 billion a year and the export value of farm commodities is around $38 billion. We often underestimate that. We often also underestimate the value of our farms and farmers to regional communities.

They underpin local economies. They use the local small businesses, and the dollars circulate within the community. Agriculture keeps alive many rural and regional communities, and it is frequently overlooked. Day after day, year after year, they contribute. These people are there day in and day out. They do their job very well and they just get on with it. Although the nation may no longer ride of the back of the sheep industry, agriculture is still the lifeblood of the bulk of Australia’s landmass, yet many communities are struggling—not just the farmers but those who rely on them for their livelihood. Small towns and small businesses all need a vibrant farming community. We are doing things like this to reduce red tape to make sure that farmers can remain as viable as possible. We need to get out of the way wherever we can. Red tape reduction in the agricultural sector is quite critical to ongoing profits and opportunities. We do know that this measure is supported by the various industry bodies and groups, such as the National Farmers’ Federation.

I cannot emphasise enough how important the agricultural sector will be in the years ahead. When we shop at our local stores we tend to take for granted having access to some of the finest quality food and fibre in the world. I have said that repeatedly in this House. When we go into our local stores and pick up some of the most fabulous fruit, vegetables and dairy products we often think they just happen, but they do not. Someone produces them. Someone is out there at all hours of the day and night. They are doing an amazing job. The measures in this bill will assist by reducing the red tape burden for people involved in this sector.

As I said, one of the most critical issues for the farming sector is access to ongoing commercial returns for what they do. We as the government are committed to reducing red tape and encouraging them to be productive and competitive. That is what we as the government are committed to doing. I support the bill.