BIOSECURITY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (INCIDENT RESPONSE) BILL 2023

Second Reading

Danny O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (18:22): I am very pleased to also rise to say a few words on the Biosecurity Legislation Amendment (Incident Response) Bill 2023, and I am not sure that I have or expected to ever say this, but I fully endorse the last comments there from the member for Hastings. It is about time that this chamber more often, more members in this chamber, recognised the work that our farmers do and more so – exactly the points that the member for Hastings just made – that farmers know in the main, with a small minority which is always an exclusion, that they need to treat their animals right, they need to treat their land right, they need to treat their water right and they need to treat their environment properly to hand on their farms to the future generations to make sure that we continue to feed and clothe the nation. One of the reasons, frankly, that I am in this place is to stand up here and support country people but in particular, and as part of that, our farmers, and I think we have become, unfortunately, so good at farming in this country that we are taken for granted. I look around the room on this side in particular and I see the member for South-West Coast; the member for Murray Plains, a former producer; the member for Ovens Valley as well –

Michaela Settle interjected.

Danny O’BRIEN: The member for Eureka – what does she produce?

Michaela Settle: Sheep and crops.

Danny O’BRIEN: Sheep and crops. I acknowledge the member for Eureka and the member for Euroa. But it is absolutely true, I think, that in this country we do not value our food production enough, and unfortunately, as one of the most urbanised countries in the world, we do not understand our food production enough. We see that, sadly, in the amendments and the commentary made by the Greens on this particular piece of legislation.

From my perspective, everyone will say their area is the food bowl, but what a beautiful food producing region Gippsland is, with over 9000 food and fibre businesses in Gippsland employing 16 per cent of the workforce in the region, with around three-quarters of the workers engaged on the farm and roughly 25 per cent in value-added production, much of that in Gippsland South of course, particularly in the dairy and beef industries – and I will fight the member for South-West Coast over who produces more or perhaps who produces better, because we know it is indeed Gippsland South. Gippsland is a dairy powerhouse producing 22 per cent of Australia’s dairy, including milk, milk powder, butter, cheese, yoghurt and other value-added products. And I might add, following the Nationals’ media drinks two weeks ago, where the press gallery was invited along to come and have a drink and each member of the Nationals brought a cheese from their electorate and that was then judged in a cheese tasting competition by the members of the fourth estate, it was of course the Riverine Blue from Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese in the beautiful Fish Creek area of Gippsland South that was adjudged the winner. Now, that is not really that important, and it is probably not the biggest prize that they have ever won – indeed not even close, because Barry and Cheryl from Berrys Creek Gourmet Cheese were in fact named the world’s best artisan cheesemakers this year. That is not an exaggeration. They literally produce the best artisan cheese in the world.

We also produce 25 per cent of the beef in Victoria, wool and prime lamb, as well as 27 per cent of the vegetables, and that is often not understood about Gippsland. I cannot provide a source for this statistic, but I am told that nine out of 10 top salad growers in the country are in Gippsland.

A member: And good asparagus.

Danny O’BRIEN: And there is asparagus at the western end of Gippsland as well. But I highlight again that the importance of this legislation, the importance of having our biosecurity right, comes from the fact that we do need to do more to value our food producers. As I said, I got into politics because I have always thought country people get a raw deal, and one of the things that always annoyed me was the distortions in the global trade markets when it comes to food and the fact that Australian and New Zealand producers do our production with virtually no government support, with very little protection in terms of subsidies or tariffs versus many of the other countries of the world, particularly the EU, Japan and the US.

I had the pleasure of being an adviser for the trade minister. It was, until this job came along, probably my dream job. It was fantastic because it was actually going in and supporting and fighting for Australia’s farmers to get a better deal on world markets. It was in those discussions once on a particular trade negotiation that we were having a discussion with the Europeans, and one of the European delegates made a point that stuck with me forever. He said, ‘You Australians don’t understand, because you’ve never gone hungry. We went hungry after World War II and during World War II, and so we look after our farmers.’ As much as I disagree both economically and from a patriotic perspective, from an Australian perspective, with what the Europeans do – and it is ultimately self-defeating in many respects – they do value their farmers and they understand the value of food production. Unfortunately, as I said, Australian farmers I think have actually got too good at it – so good that we produce good-quality food and fibre, we do it at a good price and we largely do it with minimal impact on the environment, with some of the harshest regulations in the world in terms of the environment, chemicals and of course animal welfare. We do it very, very well, and as a result, unfortunately, it does get somewhat taken for granted.

That is why it is so important to us to have these strong laws for biosecurity in the unfortunate event of an outbreak of some sort of disease or incursion. I know the member for Euroa just talked about the former member for Euroa going back two members ago, Bill Sykes, and thankfully I have not had the experiences that Bill did when he went over as a vet to deal with the UK BSE outbreak – or mad cow disease, as it is known. Listening to Bill talk about the devastation that was wrought, not only the economic devastation and the environmental devastation but the social and mental devastation wrought on entire UK communities and particularly the farming communities of that outbreak, was just heartbreaking, and may it never happen here.

I know the news earlier this year that foot-and-mouth disease had arrived in Indonesia caused many of my farmers to be very concerned about what we are doing. Thankfully, the early panic, if you like, that ‘Oh my God, it’s on our doorstep; it’ll be with us any moment now’, has not yet eventuated, touch wood, but we must be eternally vigilant. So this legislation brings in some tweaks to the existing laws about what will happen, but it also increases penalties for breaches, which I think is very important for us to do. That is why I have a good understanding of the concerns here.

The other one that I just want to mention and touch on is varroa mite, which was a big issue when I used to work at the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation in Canberra. That is where I first met the member for South-West Coast, actually, when she became the Rural Women’s Award winner at the time I was there. Varroa mite was a big concern in the bee industry that we had at the time. It was probably one of the first times I saw some mainstream news on biosecurity issues when 60 Minutes did a story at the time on the threat from varroa mite. Sadly, the inevitable has happened. We always said that inevitably it would come to Australia, and indeed it has.

I think it is absolutely important, though, that we also tackle the issue of farm trespass and the potential impact it has. I was not surprised to hear what the Greens have had to say about this and that they do not want to increase the penalties, because they really have no understanding of anything that happens outside the city – despite the fact that one of their MPs now apparently comes from western Victoria. Whatever they might say, they just seem to not understand anything. There is no better example of that than this week, when they circulated a proposed inquiry about food security. It is 22 lines in total, it has three main points, it has 13 subclauses – and nowhere in it does it mention farmers. Nowhere does it mention food producers. It simply talks about food production and food security. I think that highlights where the Greens are and their fellow travellers in parties like the Animal Justice Party, who have absolutely zero idea how the world works. Food apparently appears by magic in a carton in the fridge or under the plastic in the meat section. They are to be condemned for their lack of understanding and for their pathetic, misleading statements on this sector. I support this legislation. I support our farmers, and I wish them all the best.

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