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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 12 Hansard (12 November) . . Page.. 3472 ..

Plant Diseases Bill 2002

Debate resumed from 27 June 2002, on motion by Mr Wood:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (5.31): Mr Speaker, I rise to support the Plant Diseases Bill. It is quite timely that, on a day when there has been much discussion about whether this government was ploughing through legislation, we should be coming to a piece of legislation that supersedes one that was instituted in 1934. It is a longstanding piece of legislation which, rightly, has been in the process of being updated for a couple of years as a result of the national competition policy review.

It is often the case that people think that things such as this are a bit esoteric and not of particular importance. They are not of particular importance until something goes wrong. The whole purpose of the plant diseases legislation and the regime that it sets out to put in place is to ensure that something does not go wrong. We have seen through our history that when things go wrong with plant diseases they go very badly wrong. They create a huge amount of economic loss, not just to the particular farmer or whatever who may have an affected plant, but often across the whole of the economy.

Perhaps the most stark of all those, the greatest plant disease of the 19th century, was the potato blight in Ireland which, over seven or eight years, caused more than a decimation of the population, with vast numbers of people dying of starvation and many more having to emigrate simply because of one plant disease. At the end of the 18th century and early in the 19th century, Australia had the phylloxera blight which, as someone said to me today, was the bubonic plague of the wine industry. It took many years for the wine industry to re-establish itself after the outbreak of phylloxera.

A lot of these things, as I said before, might be seen as a bit esoteric, but, coming off the land, I am quite aware of the rampages of the papaya fruit fly, the various blights that get on tomatoes and things like that, and the dreaded red spider. We have all experienced, as we have travelled across the Hay plain and into South Australia and parts of Victoria, the fruit fly barriers. No family holiday in Australia is complete without being forced to stand beside the fruit bin and finish the oranges, bananas, apples or grapes that you bought in the town before because your dad is too mean to throw them away.

This regime of protecting Australia against plant diseases is very important and the bill which is before us today is an important step in bringing that up to date. There are some much more simplified modes of addressing the issues which the members of the opposition are pleased to support. I did have one reservation, as did other members of this place, about one issue, that is, the power of inspectors, but it is not a problem that I have with this bill. It is a problem that I have generally across legislation in the ACT and the minister has undertaken that there will be a review of the powers of inspectors.

I was aware that a similar review of the powers of inspectors began in about 1996 in the Department of Justice and Community Safety, but I do not recall that it ever saw the light of day. I think that it is timely that we look carefully at the powers of inspectors, who often have far greater powers than the police. Apart from that small reservation, we will be supporting this bill.

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