Agriculture and Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2016

I rise tonight to speak in support of Labor's proposed second reading amendment to the Agriculture and Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2016, and the companion bill, the Excise Levies Amendment (Honey) Bill 2016. The broad suite of amendments to the various acts incorporated in the omnibus amendment bill remove unnecessary regulation and improve the operation of existing legislation —a good thing. Given that the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources administer nearly 100 pieces of primary legislation, some of the proposed amendments are also intended to streamline administrative practices, which is again a good thing; and reduce complexity, which is another good thing.


There are three particular acts amended in this suite that I will be speaking on today. The first is the Australian Meat and Live-stock Industry Act. I know one particular amendment to this act will be of interest to Canberrans. Canberrans are very concerned about the issue of live exports. I am getting a whole lot of emails coming in from Canberrans as I speak, expressing their concerns about live exports, and I know from past emails and past conversations through doorknocking, mobile offices and coffee catch-ups that the issue of live exports is a No. 1 issue for many Canberrans.

I make the following points regarding the amendments that this bill will make to the Australian Meat and Livestock Industry Act 1997. This bill will repeal division 4 of part 3 of the act. The division contains four provisions, sections 68A to 68D, requiring LiveCorp to produce and provide documentation to the minister which is then tabled in parliament. These documents are the statutory funding agreement, any variations to the agreement, a report on compliance with the agreement and the annual report—all very good, important transparency and accountability tools. Repealing division 4 means that these documents would no longer be tabled in parliament, but the information would be available in other reports, including through annual reports.

In 2004, the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Legislation Committee recommended that tighter accountability arrangements for the live export industry were necessary. The committee's view was:

… for the industry to be properly accountable to the parliament and the Australian people there should not only be a requirement to table the annual report but also a requirement for the Minister to provide a statement to the parliament outlining LiveCorp's compliance with the provisions of the statutory funding agreement on an annual basis.

Like many Australians, I am not aware of any recent changes in operating procedures that would justify the government wanting less oversight of this industry. Rather, given the sensitive nature of this issue for many in our community, you would think it would warrant more, not less.

In fact, the previous, Labor government put in place a comprehensive Animal Welfare Strategy and took a lead role in coordinating this through the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee and the Standing Council on Primary Industries. Labor has a formal animal welfare policy. Labor is committed to establishing an independent office of animal welfare. Yet, since coming into office, the coalition government has abolished both the advisory committee and the standing council.

The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, the member for New England, has also washed his hands of delivering the Animal Welfare Strategy, shifting responsibility to an external body. Like many other areas of policy under this government, this has left a vacuum of leadership—there are significant vacuums of leadership when it comes to this government—and also a vacuum of direction. That is also the case with this government when it comes to protecting and improving animal welfare in this country. We know where the Deputy Prime Minister, the minister for agriculture, stands on the issue of live exports. We also know that this government does not have a formal animal welfare policy in place and does not support the creation of an independent office of animal welfare.

What the Australian public needs from the government is a big commitment to animal welfare, given that, as in my electorate, I am sure live exports are a very significant issue in the electorates of the members here in the chamber. Member for Deakin, I know one person who is very interested in the issue of live exports, and that is my mother, who lives in the member for Deakin's electorate! And I know that there are many, many others, because I still have old schoolmates who are living in that electorate. So I know live exports are a big issue of great concern to many Australians, including many Canberrans and many people in the electorate of Deakin, and we need a commitment to animal welfare and to greater transparency and accountability.

Labor's election commitment would have seen the minister for agriculture providing quarterly reports to the parliament on a number of issues: new and emerging markets; the number of head exported; any allegations of breaches of animal welfare standards, and investigations undertaken; and any sanctions or other action taken for breaches of Australia's animal welfare standards. Again, I call on the minister for agriculture to commit to the same transparent and accountable reporting arrangements.

I now move on to our proposed amendment to the Agriculture and Water Resources Amendment Bill. Labor supports the five-year reviews outlined in the current Basin Plan and the inclusion of a new review that considers the socioeconomic impact of the Basin Plan in the current amendment bill. But what the Australian public needs is this government's commitment to securing an additional 450 gigalitres of water for the Murray-Darling Basin through water infrastructure improvements. This commitment needs to be demonstrated by its inclusion in legislation, and that is the basis of Labor's proposed second reading amendment.

The Basin Plan has been in operation for a number of years now. One of the 2012 policy objectives that informed the development of the plan was for 450 gigalitres of water to be returned to the environment through water recovery projects. All of the basin states support the plan and the delivery of additional water for the environment —water that will get to the mouth of the Murray and keep the whole river system healthy. But now there is uncertainty about the Basin Plan which has been caused by the Deputy Prime Minister, yet again.

On 22 November 2016, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority released the Northern basin review report. The report analysed the socioeconomic impact of the plan and, in particular, reviewed the recovery target of 390 gigalitres for the river systems in the northern basin. Based on the results from the authority's analysis, socioeconomic modelling supported the reduction of the target by 70 gigalitres and considered that this immediate reduction would not affect the overall policy outcome over time. But, Deputy Speaker, do you think this was effectively communicated to key stakeholders and affected communities downstream from the Deputy Prime Minister's own self-interest?

The Deputy Prime Minister came out in front of the report's release and announced his decision to withhold 70 gigalitres of water in spite of the plan. The result has been chaos and uncertainty. It is just like what this government unleashed at the Shoalwater training area. They signed the MOU with Singapore and then went to the community months later. They sent out a letter—that is how they communicate with the community—essentially suggesting there could be compulsory acquisition of land. It is just breathtaking. This government's experience and background in communication and effective consultation with communities on the PFAS issue has been breathtakingly awful. Like this plan, the result has been chaos and uncertainty amongst those communities, so much so that the Prime Minister had to bail out his Deputy and clarify that the 450 gigalitres would be delivered in full, in accordance with the plan.

But the damage had already been done, just like what we saw at the Shoalwater training area. Any trust and confidence that communities and stakeholders had in the Deputy Prime Minister's commitment to the Basin Plan had been eroded. That is why Labor is calling for a further amendment to the Water Amendment (Review Implementation and Other Measures) Act 2016. The amendment will cement in legislation the commitment to delivering the additional 450 gigalitres of water from water infrastructure improvements and projects, providing much needed certainty for the outcomes in the Basin Plan. This commitment was originally made by Labor in 2012. The state and territory governments agreed with the plan—a plan that provided certainty and a framework that was long overdue. What we are seeking with this amendment is the same commitment from the government.

The last part that I would like to talk about, which has been exercising me and the shadow minister for agriculture for some months now, concerns the Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals (Administration) Act 1992. It is not the act which has been exercising us but its application to the APVMA, the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority. The proposed amendment to the act is to cease the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority Advisory Board. The APVMA Chief Executive Officer has the ability to consult specifically or more broadly on issues with stakeholders. The proposed amendment will streamline the operation of the APVMA and reduce its overall operating costs. It will be interesting to see how you get a streamlining of an agency that is going to be relocated from Canberra to Armidale based on no cost-benefit analysis that suggests it is going to be of any benefit to anyone. It is going to be more cost than benefit. It will be at significantly more cost—and who knows what the benefit will be, given that 85 per cent of the staff in the APVMA do not want to move to Armidale. This is not surprising as their lives are here in Canberra, in our nation's great capital. So streamlining the operation of an authority that is potentially going to be reduced by 85 per cent is going to be quite interesting. Nevertheless, the APVMA's operational processes are being streamlined from within, as you know, Deputy Speaker, by this government's blatant pork-barrelling and by the Deputy Prime Minister in particular, but it is also being decimated by this government in other areas. The Deputy Prime Minister is proceeding full steam ahead with his pre-election commitment to relocate the APVMA from Canberra to Armidale, to his own electorate. As I said, this is a shameless and blatant display of pig-headed pork-barrelling, which has never had a shred of merit around it. Even before the cost-benefit analysis—a cost-benefit analysis that the Prime Minister commissioned at a cost of $272,000—was released and we all learned what a bad idea it actually was, the Deputy Prime Minister admitted on PM Agenda:

The analysis has gone through all the cost-benefit analysis. If you're going to premise it on the cost-benefit analysis, we wouldn't do it.

This was before the government got the results of the cost-benefit analysis. When the analysis was finally released —and let's not forget that it took six weeks for the Deputy Prime Minister to release it—we learned what we had long suspected: this move is all cost and no benefit. It will cost the Australian taxpayer $25 million to relocate the agency. This is just the beginning. There are all sorts of incentives that we have read about in the paper that are being offered, so I know that $25 million is just the beginning. Then there is the cost to the Canberra economy: $157 million a year. This is not a one-off cost. This is $157 million a year and 365 jobs ripped out of the Canberra economy. As if this government hasn't done enough to the Canberra economy and the jobs here in Canberra since it was elected! Thousands and thousands and thousands of public service jobs have been lost, and that has had a significant knock-on effect in the private sector. These guys have form. We saw it in 1996 —but I am not going to go back over that.

There is also the cost to the agency and the sector. The loss of expertise will take years and years to replace and add years to the approval time frames of new chemicals. What I am most concerned about is the cost to the Canberra community. There is the cost to the 175 families if they move—85 per cent say they do not want to move. For the families that do move, their kids will have to be pulled out of their local schools. Their partners will have to resign from their jobs here in Canberra. They will have to say goodbye to their friends and relatives and their lives here in Canberra. This is an obscene proposal, which, if implemented, will cost the sector; it will cost the staff; it will cost the city; and it will cost my community—all to help one person only, and that is the Deputy Prime Minister.

Celebrity gardeners aside, the government needs to come clean on what other factors it has considered that carry significantly more weight than the outcome of the cost-benefit analysis. I am hoping the outcome of the new Senate inquiry will achieve transparency and accountability. The inquiry will focus on the making of the order to move the agency and the impact of that order. I cannot wait to see what scuttles away when that rock is overturned and a light is shone brightly on what is underneath. I can tell you, Deputy Speaker, what they will not find. It will not find that it is an evidence based decision. It will not find a transparent or accountable process.

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