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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 9 Hansard (28 August) . . Page.. 3388 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

Another finding was that GM herbicide-tolerant crops have increased farmers' use of expensive herbicides, especially as new weed problems have emerged, rogue herbicide-resistant oilseed rape plants being a wide problem in the United States. Contrary to the claim that only one application would be needed, farmers are applying herbicides several times. We are now increasing the toxic load on the earth because no-one was quite careful enough about the application of this particular technology.

I understand that we have agreed, through the ministerial council, to have consistent legislation. I imagine that that will be the argument that Mr Corbell will put up. My response to that is we, as legislators, have a basic responsibility in this place either to oppose this bill or say that it is not good enough and we want the precautionary principle without the constraint of cost-effectiveness in it because we believe that to be our responsibility as legislators. I accept that it would mean that we would be inconsistent to that degree, but I think that it is our responsibility to do that. The minister would have the opportunity at the ministerial council to raise this issue.

MS DUNDAS (4.16): The ACT Democrats will be supporting Ms Tucker's amendments put forward today. We believe the precautionary principle should form an essential part of any legislation dealing with new technologies, particularly those with the potential to cause harm to the environment system.

These amendments of Ms Tucker's have two main effects. The first is to clearly define the precautionary principle in legislation as an explicit definition, and the second is to remove the restriction of cost-effectiveness from the definition. The ACT Democrats recognise this as a very important point. The whole concept of the precautionary principle is about thinking before we act and making the maximum effort to protect environmental values.

The limitation contained in the existing clause of cost-effectiveness is not contained in either the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act or in the ACT Environment Protection Act, and I believe the amendments bring the legislation into line with other ACT legislation. Secondly, the inclusion of cost-effectiveness in the definition mixes up the concept of the precautionary principle with that of economic efficiency.

The whole point of the precautionary principle is that it is not an economic concept. It is an environmental concept which sits alongside that of sustainability, to ensure future generations do not end up paying the price of thoughtless actions by current generations. In the case of genetic technology, the implication is clear that we should not release GMOs which have the potential to escape into the environment, with negative consequences.

The limitation of cost-effectiveness is, I believe, unclear and unhelpful. For example, in determining whether a GMO should be released for commercial production, how would one determine the economic cost if it escaped into the native ecology? What level of environmental damage could be considered cost-effective? Obviously, this makes little sense. Ms Tucker's amendment clears up this anomaly and hence I am happy to support it.

MR CORBELL (Minister for Health and Minister for Planning) (4.18): The government does not support the amendments proposed by Ms Tucker today. The effect of these

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