Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3387 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
in the definition in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 of the Commonwealth, nor is it in the definition in the Environment Protection Act 1997 of the ACT. The offending term is, of course, "cost-effective".
Legal concerns have been raised as to the effectiveness of the regulator in relation to the possibility of grounds for appeal. These concerns arise from the fact that the definition of the precautionary principle as it applies to the objects of the act does not include particular reference to human health and safety and that it includes the constriction of cost-effectiveness in relation to prevention measures.
I would like to respond briefly to Mr Cornwell's comments on Tuesday about the precautionary principle. I know that he was not espousing the Liberal Party's position, but I think that I need to comment briefly on them. We have heard recently a lot of talk about salinity in the Murray-Darling Basin. I thought that it might be a good thing to bring that to Mr Cornwell's attention.
We have known for decades about the salt problems Basically, the audit of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission made the point that the salt mobilisation process across all the major river valleys is on a very large scale, that the annual movement of salt in the landscape has doubled, that the salt load exported to and through rivers will double and that there is a critical future hazard for some rivers and the people dependent on them as a source of water.
We could look also at a recent report to the federal government of a biodiversity audit, which found that thousands of Australia's birds, mammals and reptile species face extinction at an alarming rate. It warned that nearly 3,000 Australian biodiversity systems are threatened, with many beyond saving.
Contrary to what Mr Cornwell said, if we had had the precautionary principle applied we would not be having the horrendous nightmare of salinity and the destruction of our major river system. The precautionary principle has come about in response to the fact that for far too long people did not show caution and, because of that, we are suffering today and future generations will suffer. We have lost many species. The salinity issue is destroying our major river system, as I said. So the precautionary principle is very important.
The precautionary principle certainly should be applied in terms of gene technology and it should not be constrained by cost-effectiveness. If you look at what is happening you will see that we would not have gone as far as we have if the precautionary principle had been applied and that there are already serious concerns. The 2002 study commissioned by the United Kingdom's Food Standards Agency showed that antibiotic resistant marker genes from GM foods can make their way into human gut bacteria after just one meal.
Two years previously, the British Medical Association had warned that the risk to human health from antibiotic resistance developing in micro-organisms was one of the major public health threats to be faced in the 21st century. I wonder what Mr Cornwell would be saying about the precautionary principle if he or his family were affected in this way. We are talking about technology that is already having serious doubts raised about its safety.