Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill

Second Reading

I rise to speak on the bill in respect of genetically modified crops and note the foreshadowed amendments by the member for Giles as well as an indication from the government that they will be agreed to. Essentially, it is to set up a program of allowance for various councils to seek the approval of the minister, after having consulted with their communities, for their area of jurisdiction to be a designated area for the purposes of the continuing moratorium on the use of genetically modified technology.

The debate on this matter has been a very interesting one to watch. In a way, it reminds me of a time when I had discussions with my mother about radioactive waste and her fear of the unknown, and with my great-grandmother about the use of electricity, which she refused to allow in her house, notwithstanding raising 14 children, because she also feared its danger. It is hard to imagine in this day and age how we would live without electricity, but she did. She had her gas lanterns and her candles and she had her outdoor toilet. She survived well into her 90s and bore seven sons and seven daughters.

It is the fear of the unknown that I have seen evaporate over a period of time in relation to this debate. I am pleased to see it because the more we have become educated about genetically modified engineering organisms and the GM and GE debate the more we have become familiar with significant benefits of genetic engineering and, indeed, learnt a history of Australia, and South Australia in particular, being at the forefront of science advancement in this field, and we should proudly look at that history.

That has required us to become informed about circumstances that have exaggerated that fear, and with that I talk about the whole Monsanto debate and the enormous number of presentations which are given to us, and of which we have received a diet, which were to lead us to believe that there was some, effectively, carnivorous commercial conspiracy going behind the advance of companies such as these and their capacity and power—empire building—in the world of seed production that was designed to scare us.

I think it is important that we give this some critical analysis. Minds greater than mine of course have looked at these issues, and one by one there has been a development of understanding not only what has happened, what potentially could adversely occur, but also how we ensure that we go forward with benefits of GM genomics generally and have the advances without the perils of the disadvantages.

I thank the minister for bringing to full circle, I suppose, the consideration of genetically modified crop management in this state. It is a very important part of the history. It has had a long gestation period just within this parliament, and I think of people like the Hon. Anne Levy and her committee in assessing what her committee recommended years ago now in this space. I do commend the minister for bringing it full circle and to a close, and with that amendments which are presented and which I suppose allow it to limp along—I do not mean that disrespectfully—and allow a continued consultation and a model which could bring about some differences in application of this in our state.

With that comes the complication of having designated areas. Kangaroo Island, frankly, is easy because it is geographically isolated, and we all understand that. In other council regions or, indeed, the outback authority (I cannot remember its full name now; the member for Giles will remember, as it certainly covers parts of his electorate) there are added complications, probably no more than we have to deal with already on the borders of our state, for example between South Australia and Western Australia. Nevertheless, it adds to the complication. Be that as it may, it is important that we recognise that there is a very significant advance by this being progressed.

What I would like to record from my perspective is two things; one is that over the course of the last 30 years there has been some significant conversation about the development of this area of research and application. It overlaps a time when, as an adult, I watched it with interest, and I have not seen it in any other area, perhaps, except climate change, where there is an ever-growing education of the general populace in relation to how we address, live with and, if necessary, modify our lifestyle to deal with climate change. Similarly, there has been a maturing of public education and understanding of the GM issue.

One of those is a book called Seeds of Science by Mark Lynas, which I was provided (and I think probably other members were too) by Mr Matthew Cossey from CropLife Australia in 2018. Members who might have read this book will remember that Mr Lynas was very active in the anti-GM movement in Britain about which, I suppose two decades later, he had a view that changed in relation to his approach to this area.

In the book, he outlines his activities as an activist in in fact destroying GM crops that were in trial cultivation, culminating in, I think, a mature development of what benefits there are. He fairly critically analyses at least the literature on GM crops, where they have applied in the world, whether they have fed the world and all those sorts of questions, and he has come to an understanding of the benefits of genetic engineering. In fact, I remember a reference in the book (although I could not find the quote as I was bringing it into the chamber) which really stuck with me—that is, that without genetic engineering we would not allow our children to be near dogs today, which of course with genetic engineering have evolved from wolves, as they would be too dangerous to live with our children.

I think it is important that we at least listen and embrace and be prepared, like Mr Lynas has, to work through and I suppose receive what is a sensible maturing of that education, exclude what is obviously not without sound scientific basis and also be prepared to say that perhaps the seeds of science, as he has identified, do have a benefit and that we need to be able to say, 'Let's move forward.' The passage of this legislation is not just symbolic; it is, in a very pragmatic way, I think, going to lead to a foundation of extra financial support in the recovery of our state, which, of course, like the rest of the world has been wounded in recent times with the COVID-19 circumstance.

It is of course not the first difficulty we have had in relation to pest management. All those in parliament who have a background in agriculture and horticulture, which this so significantly affects, would understand that pests and disease can be the biggest enemies in relation to the economic viability of those industries and therefore our state. I agree with the member for Giles: I think there is an opportunity, especially for South Australia, to be able to develop that.

The second area I want to talk about is Kangaroo Island itself. Members know my grandchildren are eighth-generation Kangaroo Islanders and we are proud of it. The development of livestock as an industry—mostly sheep and cattle but some pigs and other enterprises, and some horticulture and viticulture—has been an important part of the agrarian base of the economic underpin of the island. We have tried mining and a few other things over the years, but they have been hopeless failures. Nevertheless, it is still a very significant underpin.

With that is the provision of pasture, and members who have any familiarity with the island would understand that there is well-documented research in relation to the trace element deficiencies in soils on Kangaroo Island. This was a major impediment to the soldier settlement development after World War II, as were the difficulties a number of the new residents on the island took up with that challenge and had to deal with, along with the usual vicissitudes of the sometimes unreliable commodity price and obviously water, which has been difficult in some areas on the island, and pest and disease management.

There are a lot of things that already come with weather, price and disease, but when you are dealing with a trace element deficiency as well, superphosphate is not enough and, obviously, there have to be some other additions, but that is something that has been learnt and addressed. If we have the capacity on Kangaroo Island to ultimately look at genetically modified production, whether that is in pasture for livestock (as the member for Giles mentioned) or whether it is to deal with genetically modified crop production for export, for example, then we need to address that down the track.

It is not as if Kangaroo Island does not have other attributes for an economic base—namely, tourism, for example, which will need a bit of rebuild, and there is no question about that. However, we will need to appreciate the significance of the agriculture and horticulture, and particularly the livestock industry continuing there. Of the several hundreds of thousands of stock on the island, I think something like 60,000 were as lost in the recent bushfires, so the community over there needs all the help it can get to make sure that we rebuild that economic base for Kangaroo Island.

Right back from the recommendation of Ms Levy's committee, it was identified as a geographically isolated area by virtue of its natural boundary and, therefore, something that we are hopeful will be able to assist us in maintaining the benefits of that. If there was ever an example, it is that we have saved the Ligurian bee from Italy from extinction. Whilst I have never been all that excited about the koalas that were taken over to Kangaroo Island and bred up, again the isolation has actually allowed some of those koalas to be brought back to the mainland, and although they might never return to Kangaroo Island they will be important in a breeding program both here on the mainland and, hopefully, even overseas, to enable us to be part of the insurance for that species.

With those words, I would like to say that I appreciate the extraordinary work that has been done by the minister and his department, and I appreciate the contribution made by the opposition, and the member for Giles in particular, in coming to a resolution of how we might advance this. I think the parliament will be recognised for it and our state will be rewarded with it.