BIOLOGICAL CONTROL (MISCELLANEOUS) AMENDMENT BILL

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 22 September 2016.)

Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:04): I rise to speak on the Biological Control (Miscellaneous) Amendment Bill 2016, which essentially makes amendments to our Biological Control Act 1986. Why is this so important? Because the area that has not been canvassed to date by either the proponents of this bill or indeed the opposition's position, as ably presented by the member for Hammond, and taking into account that the principal act of 1986 was established with a clear understanding and knowledge of the interests of the Australian economy and the general protection of the Australian environment, it is the necessity to implement and have an ongoing scheme for the biological control of pests across the states and territories.

Whilst the implementation of the scheme requires some uniform approach, and indeed legislation to a large degree, to try to administer the effective biological control, the act also is highly restrictive on the capacity for anyone, whether they are a farmer, an environmentalist or a resident, but someone who may be adversely affected when something goes terribly wrong, is extremely limited.

It is an act which already bars the capacity for people to take legal proceedings in respect of those who are responsible for the release of an agent organism in a state; and, secondly, if they have been instituted they have almost no capacity to recover any loss or damage in those circumstances. We therefore expect, and quite reasonably, that whatever the authority does—and we have a South Australian authority that is responsible under the act to administer it—it has to do properly because the consequences are very stark and there is not an easy remedy. In short, if they bugger it up, then there are very dire consequences.

So, when we come to considering a bill where we are going to amend it to expand the definition essentially of an organism, allegedly to avert any particular court challenge that might emanate from a virus not being defined as an organism (which I think would be hard to prove, and nobody seems have done it since we have had a number of grubs and bugs issued to deal with Salvation Jane) that is the fear being presented to us as the need to pass this legislation.

It was apparently the basis upon which the ministers got together in one of their meetings across Australia to consider to avert any possibility of there being a challenge before we deal with the carp virus (because, frankly, that seems to be the one that is really precipitating this), then we better get it right and we better make sure that we tidy it up. For that reason I am prepared to support that, but members ought to be aware that there is scant opportunity for an individual adversely affected by a process in which biological control is used and where there is damage caused.

Of course, if there is reckless indifference and some mischievous criminal activity by somebody, there are other means by which one can usually make some claim. At present, we are alienated if we are a victim, so we expect these authorities to properly test things before they administer them. I will come back in a moment to the two pests that have been identified that are in need of treatment.

One matter I do want to raise is the process whereby this has been brought to the parliament. A short second reading contribution was presented by the minister for primary industries—quite rightly: he is, of course, responsible for the act and its administration. He provided a short explanation to the parliament that outlined the need for the act as having its genesis in the June 1983 proposed release of insects to control Salvation Jane. Everyone knows about that: it is an important pasture weed in South Australia. In fact, it is a general pain in the neck in a lot of areas. I saw it growing recently along the median strip outside the Burnside Village, so it is pretty effective in getting anywhere and causing a problem.

I did not have a problem in reading, with some comfort, that there had been a claim to the minister 'which has been very effective and is now preventing its dominance in pastures'. That was good to hear, I thought, and it was certainly consistent with anecdotal information. When I have a briefing on this matter, I will inquire as to the progress of that and any assessments that have been done which actually support this statement which, as I say, I was pleased to read.

In the course of what is the next stage consistent with the progressing of most bills and changing of laws, a briefing was provided to me by Mr Will Zacharin (who, at the time was acting deputy chief executive of the primary industries department) and Ms Alice Vista, who I think is from the minister's office from recollection, but maybe somewhere else. In any event, both ably set out that they had no information about the Salvation Jane programs or any assessments or reviews that had taken place.

It seemed that they had not been alerted to the fact that these statements had been made in the second reading contribution, but they went on to outline the significant areas of proposed biological control they wished to implement and be part of a national push for, and that was the issuing of a virus to deal with carp and the calicivirus type 2 to deal with rabbits. As I say, they have been largely dealt with by the member for Hammond and he, of course, is very familiar with their problem and their management.

During the course of the briefing, I did inquire why there had been absolutely no mention by the minister, at the time of his second reading, of the two principal activities which we were about to be protected by, namely, the virus for the carp and the rabbits. We already knew that a national program had been announced during the last federal election campaign, about the middle of this year, by Senator Anne Ruston and the Hon. Barnaby Joyce, the federal minister, about a program they were going to promote. Funding had been announced for it and it was going to take, I think, two or three years to implement, even though it was active in other places in the world.

Obviously, introducing a virus needed to have special assessments and preparation done, etc. We knew about that. There was nothing to hide about that. It seemed pretty consistent that he would tell us about that. It seemed that there would be no reason he could not tell us how the first calicivirus program had gone. I remember all the hoo-ha when it happened because, of course, it went out a bit earlier than it should have at the time. Nevertheless, it was effective, and apparently immunity builds up and there is a need to develop and test another virus, and they have provided that. That is excellent.

However, that was a briefing that at least I had, given that the minister had given no information about what this was all really about. I made some inquiry about the assertions about Salvation Jane. I was forwarded—it must have been immediately after the meeting because they did not have anything—some flyers from the website which, frankly, did not tell me about the review, just about what 'salvation' meant and what it did, where it grew and so forth. What concerned me was that, firstly, there had been a non-disclosure by the minister as to what this was really about, which seemed bizarre to me, given that there were quite genuine and, it seemed to me, sensible reasons for doing it.

Secondly, when I asked to have information about the pest that was identified in the second reading to justify the existence of the review and the expansion of the definition, I was told that it was really nothing to do with this bill and that I did not need to have it. In that regard, I felt that the information given by Miss Ruth Sibley, who I think is also in the employ of the minister, suggesting that it was effectively going to be a waste of their time to have to follow up that information, was frankly unhelpful, unnecessary and totally inappropriate.

In whatever role she plays in the future in the promulgation and promotion of law reform, she needs to understand that whilst ministers gallivant off to have meetings at a national level and discuss things of mutual benefit and interest they need to come back to the parliament on a number of these things and they need to get our approval, and it is about time that she understood that. If her minister does not fully disclose that in the process of his presentation to the parliament and we ask for it, we are entitled to it and we expect to get it, and they will not have the swift passage of legislation unless they provide it. I hope I make myself clear for future purposes.

However, on that aspect, subsequently I met with minister Hunter, as I do once a year to deal with a number of issues in my electorate, and I asked him about pest management, which is always on my list. We have a problem with rabbits and foxes (apart from the ones I see in here). Coming from Kangaroo Island, I did not grow up with rabbits and foxes, but I have learnt a lot about them since. I get an update about what is happening or not happening with the foxes program, etc. I still do not know a lot about rabbits, and I do not care to, so I will leave the member for Hammond to sort them out.

However, I make the point that at least during the course of that meeting Ms Tara Bates, who I think is in the employ of minister Hunter at a senior level, did follow up and has followed up for me (it took her a while to get the information through her department and through SA Water) what was actually happening at the moment in respect of carp. Whilst there might be a tsunami of carp carcasses when we implement the benefits of the new virus proposed to be issued in a few years' time, I wanted some understanding of what was happening with this mischievous and unpleasant, at best, fish that nobody seemed to want or like.

I have been in the River Murray area with the member for Chaffey, who has taken me to a number of areas, and one of them was the Chowilla dam site—we call dams 'regulators' now—and this was a new and beautiful freshly built regulator. Of course, it is designed to do a number of things, one of which is to ensure that there is a water flow to manage areas further downstream that continue to need to be watered to protect our natural wildlife. It is a very interesting project and a very expensive one. However, not very much done seems to have been done to manage this offensive level of carp that is really taking all the oxygen out of the river system to the detriment of the other natural fishes, etc.

When I asked for that information, it was drip fed in, but it appears, in summary, that there are still some traps along the way, particularly at one of the locks. They are emptied from time to time (not very much as it turns out in the end), with only a very small amount of 80 to 100 kilograms a year from Lock 1. A small amount of that goes to Sydney. The Charlie Carp program seems not to be terribly effective, but a small amount may go to them or for lobster bait or other purposes. It seems that for quite some time now that the very expensive and perhaps not as effective trap system has not been at least been implemented; if it has, it is only for small amounts.

This is very concerning because it appears, from what we are told, that it will be three years before this new program is implemented. Our River Murray system, which of course is a lifeblood for South Australia, is going to continue to be infested with these creatures. I will be disappointed if the government is not doing something about making sure that we at least keep some cap on the population of these fish, so that we might at least have some chance for the other life in the river to be protected. SA Water has the management of these locks, and I think it is incumbent upon them to give some information to the parliament—perhaps they could do it in their annual report, if we ever get it—as to what they are doing, and what application is being implemented, to biologically control that pest.

In respect of the amendments themselves, we are not making an amendment specifically for particular viruses to be allowed. We are changing the definition so if other viruses are developed or identified that will have an effect for pest management then there is no need for them to come back to the parliament to deal with it. I do not have a problem with that, but I make the point that I expect the management of the pest control to be carefully administered, properly researched, and with all of the appropriate safeguards.

I feel some comfort, at least, with the federal department covering these matters. They seem to at least have a grip on the situation, and are progressing along a path. I am informed that, for the purposes of the rabbits to initiate the release of the new virus at the beginning of autumn next year across Australia, or probably in trial periods to start with, we will need to pass this legislation this year. It is necessary to avoid the risk of liability in court proceedings if someone were to challenge that.

For that purpose, I am happy to advance this. If we were just dealing with carp and we had three years, frankly I would be asking the government to be a bit more effective in the provision of information when it is asked for in a timely manner, if they expect our support in respect of these matters, to ensure that we give swift passage to legislation that is meritorious. I would also ask that, where necessary, we be properly informed so that when we are consulting with any stakeholders, who may raise issues themselves, that can be appropriately dealt with. It is a lesson, I suggest, in making sure that some respect is maintained for the fact that it is this parliament that makes the decisions about law, not individual ministers or people who work for them.