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Govt accused of rushing through biosecurity legislation

Beef Central, 26/09/2012

The NSW Farmers Association has accused the Federal Government of rushing draft biosecurity legislation through parliament without proper industry consultation.

The Gillard Government has been rewriting Australia’s century-old quarantine act, and has just released the final chapters of the 12 chapter draft legislation.

The public now has until October 24 to provide comments and feedback on the draft Biosecurity bill.

The Government has defended its consultation period, saying that the public has been able to review and comment upon the draft legislation since its progressive release commenced in early July.

NSW Farmers president Fiona Simson says the Government should provide the standard 90 day consultation period for all parts of the legislation, not the 30 day period which has been provided for the just-released final chapters.

She said NSW Farmers had been advised in briefings by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) that the consultation period for changes to the draft legislation had been cut short to ensure it was signed off before the next election.

Ms Simson said she was shocked that the biggest change to quarantine legislation in more than 100 years was “the victim of expediency at the expense of good policy”.

“The quality of the food we produce is a key part of our competitive advantage in this Asian century,” Mr Simson said.

“By ushering in this legislation without sufficient engagement with industry, the Federal Government threatens to damage our clean, green reputation.”

NSW Farmers is particularly concerned that the new biosecurity legislation proposes to move away from a zero tolerance approach to biosecurity protection and to focus instead on risk management.

The association believes Australia must maintain a policy of zero tolerance of threats to Australia’s biosecurity status, and must not put consumer health at risk by imported food which contains elevated chemical residues. 

In a statement to Beef Central a spokesperson for minister for agriculture, fisheries and forestry Joe Ludwig said the Labor Government had inherited an out-of-date biosecurity system when it was elected in 2007 which was in much need of repair and reform.

The Labor Government had moved to repair the system after winning Government by commissioning the Beale Review, and had since invested more than $1.6 billion in biosecurity, investment designed to safeguard the agricultural sector and underpin Australia’s strong reputation as a reliable exporter for high-quality food and fibre.

The spokesperson said the new Biosecurity Bill, which will replace the Quarantine Act 1908, would enable better management of risks of animal and plant pests and diseases entering, establishing, and potentially causing harm to people, the environment and our economy.

On the consultation period, the spokesperson said the first chapters of the draft biosecurity legislation were published on 4 July, 2012, and the new chapters had been progressively published as they had become available.

“On 7 August 2012, because not all of the draft legislation was available, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry left the closing date for submissions open and announced that the closing date will be approximately 30 days after the final draft text is published,” the spokesperson said.

The Government has received 3000 hits on its consultation website and has met with over 400 stakeholders in formal and informal meetings including members of parliament, industry representative groups, state government officials and representatives of trading partners.

“Australia’s world-class biosecurity standing helps our farmers domestically by protecting us from pest and disease, and adds to their reputation as exporters internationally. The Government will continue working with stakeholders to ensure we get the reforms right.”

In a media release issued yesterday Minister Ludwig said feedback on the draft legislation would play an important role in shaping the future of Australia’s biosecurity system.

He said the new legislation would deliver broader, simpler provisions that provide flexible powers to efficiently and responsively manage biosecurity risks.

“The Biosecurity Bill, drafted to replace the century-old Quarantine Act 1908, will support a responsive system that intervenes where there is a biosecurity risk and promotes effective cooperation between governments, trading partners, industry participants and the community,” his press release said.

For information on the draft legislation, to submit comments or a formal submission, visit the consultation website biosecurity.govspace.gov.au, email newbiosecuritylegislation@daff.gov.au or phone on 1800 040 629.

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