I rise today to speak in support of the Primary Industries Research and Development Amendment Bill 2017. This bill amends the Primary Industries Research and Development Act 1989, which governs four statutory R&D corporations: fisheries, cotton, grains and rural industries.
As my colleague the shadow minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry has stated Labor supports the passage of this bill.
However, we request that the House acknowledges that the Turnbull government has failed to develop evidence based policies to support primary industries. It has failed to support appropriately targeted research and development or ensure an efficient allocation of funding.
In a relatively short time, the Turnbull-Joyce government established a sorry track record of instituting populist policy issues across our primary industries that were, frankly, quite rubbish. We saw the deputy leader of the coalition force the relocation of the APVMA and the statutory research and development corporations.
This, as we know, was an ill-thought-out move that brought about unintended consequences and failed to deliver the promised long-term benefits—I ask you: scientists working out of wi-fi at Macca's in Armidale? It is just unbelievable.
It is but one example of the former agricultural minister's ignorance of evidence based policies to pander to his electorate and his own satisfaction.
Rural industry is crucial to the Australian economy and this irresponsible expenditure channels money away from substantive issues that genuinely matter and make a difference to rural and regional Australians.
I know this firsthand because my electorate of Paterson is known for its beef, dairy cattle, fishing, prawning and oyster farming. Our farmers work incredibly hard and, in recent times, things have not been easy, to say the least.
Parts of my electorate have this summer experienced their driest season in 80 years. Stock farmers were forced to sell their beasts or face exorbitant hand-feeding costs. Vegetable farmers watched entire crops fail and even those with river irrigation access struggled due to rising salinity.
In the words of one of my constituents, this drought on the land equalled a drought on the water. Our fishers bore the brunt of the big dry as well. These trials and tribulations are nothing new. They are, unfortunately, the lot of many of those who live on the land.
But the extremes of weather are becoming more marked and more regular, as our planet heaves under the changes being wrought by global warming. In the face of these uncontrollable challenges, we owe it to our farmers to appropriately support their industry and, in turn, their livelihoods, in any way possible.
Rural industry bodies are the future of Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry. The Primary Industries Research and Development Amendment Bill supports these industries by supporting the R&D corporations that stand behind them, and that is a good thing.
R&D corporations are crucial. They keep these industries competitive in national and international markets. They conduct and provide imperative research and development advice.
This bill fosters the ease with which industries can reap the benefit of these R&D corporations. In particular, this bill concerns the marketing activities of R&D corporations, an element central to the success and expansion of rural industry. Changes to the act introduced in 2013 allowed R&D corporations to conduct marketing on behalf of industry, as long as a marketing levy was attached. However, the fisheries R&D corporation and industry bodies reported that small industries found levy collection too onerous, too expensive and too time consuming.
The bill removes this hefty burden on small industries, and I do welcome that. It will mean that fisheries, cotton, grains and rural industry research and development corporations can raise voluntary contributions for marketing purposes by gifts, grants or bequests. There is no limitation on who can contribute these funds: industry representatives, companies, governments, individuals—the list goes on.
With more contributors, small industry will reap more benefits. This brings these R&D corporations more in line with their non-statutory counterparts. It will also allow small industries to contribute funds on a voluntary basis, which is the preferred option of the affected industries.
Secondly, the bill removes a requirement that an R&D corporation can only undertake marketing if there is a marketing levy in place. Thirdly, the bill expands the definition of marketing activities. The revised definition of marketing activities will include matters incidental to marketing. This ensures that much-needed research and development funds are indeed spent on R&D and that marketing remains a separate kettle of fish in terms of funding. It will allow the R&D corporations to not only commission marketing activities but also plan, consult about and organise marketing on behalf of industry.
I'd like to make the point that when we speak about marketing we're not speaking just about advertising or sales campaigns. And this is really critical.
To draw on my own electorate of Paterson, as an example I'd like to describe the plight of wild caught prawn fishers.
I first met Sue and Rob Hamilton when their family prawning operation was shut down in 2015, when the RAAF Williamtown PFAS scandal broke out. The Hamiltons and other commercial fishers working Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove were stripped of their livelihoods when it was discovered that firefighting chemicals, PFOS and PFOA, had leached from the base into the waterways and its community. Fishing bans lasting 12 months were implemented. This took a toll on the Hamiltons and other fishers in Paterson.
The Hamiltons battled through, however, and returned to the water and their industry, thankfully.
Sue contacted me again in October last year to raise her concerns about the prevalence of white spot syndrome, a virus in imported green prawns. Importation of the prawns had been suspended following an outbreak of the virus in commercial prawn farms in Queensland and then around wild prawns in the Logan River and Moreton Bay. It had spread.
Sue reached out to me after the then Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, lifted the suspension on the importation of green prawns into Australia.
Sue was concerned because white spot is a massive deal. It leads to a highly lethal and contagious viral infection. Outbreaks have been known to wipe out entire populations of prawn farms in days. The virus is not dangerous to humans, and it's killed when the prawn is cooked. But the Aussie tradition of putting a green prawn on a hook and throwing in a line puts our waterways and our seafood industry at risk.
Sue and her husband, Rob, still reeling from the year-long PFAS shutdown of their family business, were incensed by the biosecurity issues that remained in play even after the importation ban was lifted. And it's no wonder. The situation was and is nonsensical.
Imported prawns infected Australian wild prawns and prawn farms. Affected Australian wild prawning areas and prawn farms were slapped with a ban. Meanwhile, the ban on the very source of white spot—the imported green prawns—was lifted. In what universe does that make sense? In Sue's words:
I would like you to think about the allowing of green prawns into Australia.
Australia was always 'white-spot' free but last year there was a huge outbreak in Southeast Queensland and it has been attributed to the importation of green prawns.
There was a halt on imports but Barnaby has again allowed these prawns to come into Australia.
Where is the proof that it won't happen again?
Mind you, currently prawns caught around the Moreton Bay area cannot be brought into NSW 'just in case', but the prawns that originally brought the problem to our shores are now allowed back in!
It just doesn't make sense. There is a strong case for a permanent ban on the importation of green prawns. While investigations continue into treatment and testing regimes, this situation is a real-time example of how marketing levies can protect our primary industries.
As mentioned, schedule 1 of the bill expands the definition of marketing activities to include activities that allow the R&D corporation to consult about, plan, scope and organise marketing on behalf of industry.
In the case of Sue, Rob and other Australian prawn fishers, marketing became a tool to educate the public on the importance of protecting our waterways from disease.
Across a four-year period, the Seafood Cooperative Research Centre facilitated the voluntary collection of marketing contributions for the Australian Prawn Farmers Association and the Australian Council of Prawn Fisheries. It funnelled the funds into its very successful Love Australian Prawns campaign, which not only encouraged consumers to support our domestic fishers but also raised awareness of the scourge of white spot.
There is enormous risk associated with allowing green prawns into our waterways or inadequately disposing of any part of their waste. Consumer research and sales data by Love Australian Prawns confirmed the effectiveness of its campaign on several fronts. The Love Australian Prawns campaign will continue for a fifth year, but not without overcoming obstacles thrown up by the government's tardy attention to this bill. This led to unnecessary complication and confusion about how funds held by the Seafood Cooperative Research Centre could be rolled over for use in this most valuable campaign.
In 2018 the campaign will target Woolworths, seafood retailers and consumers. They will be provided with educational material about handling green prawns. In addition, the campaign will expand into the food service sector.
We know that there is a great demand for uncooked prawns in food service. According to the Australian Wild Prawns website, of the 30,000 tonnes of prawns imported each year, to the end of 2016, 10,000 tonnes were uncooked, 7,000 tonnes were marinated, and 13,000 tonnes were cooked, crumbed or battered.
When the import ban was in place, the food sector reported that prawns were being taken off the menu due to their increased cost. Regardless, we know that many Australians prefer to buy Australian, and better menu transparency is expected to drive demand for Australian prawns. Again, this is where marketing can help educate and inform consumers, igniting their preference to support local farmers and increase domestic support for Australian produced products.
While considering this bill, my office spoke with Sue, the local prawner, for an update on her situation. Her frustration with the lack of biosecurity around the importation of green prawns remained palpable. While she believes the Love Australian Prawns initiative has and will be a positive measure in support of our Australian prawning industry, she has other points to make.
So, on behalf of my constituents Sue and Rob Hamilton, I ask you: why is there a continued ban on Queensland prawns while imported prawns, which still are testing positive to white spot, are on to our shores and into our markets? Why are there no stringent biosecurity measures around green prawn imports?
It's one thing to support a marketing and education campaign encouraging people to love Australian prawns, but, like many consumers, people who buy prawns are price driven.
As I mentioned earlier, a drought on the land equals a drought on the water. For prawns to flourish in my electorate of Paterson, we need good rain in the north-west throughout August, September and October, to flush the river and bring the prawns down. When this doesn't occur, there are fewer prawns to catch.
With our great Aussie thirst for prawns, the demand stays the same, so even more are imported. And then, when our domestic fishers actually do bring in a catch, they are competing with cheap imported product.
Imports devalue our Australian prawns. I ask you: why is imported seafood so cheap? Well, as with much in life, you only get what you pay for. With prawns, what we're getting is prawns that are often infected with white spot. No amount of marketing activities will change that truth.
I put to you that the Turnbull government has failed to ensure efficient allocation of money.
The situation that our prawn farmers and fishers find themselves in is a gross example of negligence.
I understand that the then minister for agriculture had a great deal on his mind during his tenure in the role; even so, surely the issue of white spot demanded the former minister's attention.
Surely the greater threat to the iconic prawn warranted investigation and biosecurity intervention. Surely the effects of climate change on our farmers of land and sea are worthy of scrutiny. Surely there is more the Turnbull government can do for those who are at the mercy of our ever-changing climate and endure heartbreaking and unavoidable drought.
I can only hope that for the sake of Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry the Turnbull-McCormack government has its head is the main game and spends our tax dollars wisely.