Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation) Amendment Bill

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 19:48 :56 ): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Controlled Substances Act 1984. Read a first time.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) ( 19:49 :41 ): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

As a former farmer coming from South Australia's South-East, I have always been very aware of our state's agricultural heritage. Our economy was founded on farming, and what a way it has come since that time. Our total agricultural production is some $4.6 billion in grains, horticulture, livestock and, of course, wine and many other products. There are some 24,000 direct farming jobs in South Australia and there are some 4 million hectares of crops.

As the world's insatiable appetite grows for our exports, so do our export opportunities. That global demand means that South Australia can now continue to be a big provider for as long as rain falls from the sky. Now more than ever, South Australians are beginning to realise that we cannot take every thing and every sector for granted. Our traditional manufacturing industries are dying and the mining sector is at a very low point at the moment. Appreciating our agricultural sector rather than simply assuming that it will continue to provide is the South Australian government's greatest responsibility. But what does appreciating agriculture really mean?

It means recognising global competition and responding but becoming more competitive ourselves. It means facilitating farmers' access to technologies and practices that will allow them to grow and prosper. It means planning and investing in research and development for the future rather than taking money away. It means being proactive, identifying new market opportunities for South Australia and making provisions for those opportunities to be accessed.

For those reasons, it grabbed my attention when I saw reported early last year that the farming opportunities for opium poppies in Tasmania have become so lucrative that other states were looking to get in on the action on the tight monopoly which Tasmania had held. To understand the potential of this industry you need to consider the long-term trend of alkaloid use. The world's ageing population has increased, as has the use of drugs like Nurofen Plus, Panadol Osteo and Panadeine to such a degree that demand for opioids has more than tripled in the last 20 years.

Tasmania has been growing opium poppies for almost 50 years now and it can claim the title of being the largest legal supplier of opiates in the world. The Tassie industry alone is worth some $290 million per annum and now accounts for 8 per cent of Tasmania's primary industries. There are 1,000 farmers contracted to grow poppies and more than 30,000 hectares are grown each year. In the five years leading to 2013, the production of opiates increased 124 per cent to 452 tonnes.

Therefore, it was no surprise that Victoria in 2013, and the Northern Territory in 2014, pressed ahead with allowing commercial production. The former Victorian agriculture minister, Peter Walsh, anticipated that the poppy industry could be worth $100 million to Victoria within the decade and there are currently about 1,000 hectares of crops in the ground in Victoria, and they expect that to go to some 4,000 hectares next year.

Recently, in June, I visited a poppy farm that a farmer had bought in central Victoria, and I also met with a representative of TPI which is one of Tasmania's biggest purchasers and contractors of poppies. They were kind enough to travel to meet me there. It was a really good opportunity to sit down and talk with the farmer, discuss the industry and discuss the opportunities that he saw that it presented for him. It was abundantly clear that he recognised the opportunity and was extremely excited about the potential for growth. For him, and undoubtedly other Victorian farmers, the ability to tap into this industry has presented a long-term security and profitability that many farmers with traditional produce can only hope for.

The visit only confirmed my desire for South Australia to get a slice of the action. With the legislation I have tabled, the bill we are discussing this evening is the Controlled Substances (Poppy Cultivation) Amendment bill 2015. Its essential element is the creation of a licence to cultivate alkaloid poppies and process poppy straw. The bill grants the chief executive of PIRSA with particular powers regarding licence applications and inspection, and enforcement provisions are created. The chief executive is granted power to appoint inspectors, along with SAPOL inspectors, and a host of offences for the contravention of these licences are created by the bill.

Essentially, this bill is a tailored version of the Victorian legislation. Initial feedback from industry is an indication that much of South Australia's potential poppy farming industry will be situated along the areas of the Limestone Coast geographically close to Victoria, so it makes sense that, if they are doing something across the border, we should be looking at perhaps mirroring their legislation.

I am also grateful for a host of people from the agricultural industry, poppy manufacturers and government who have taken the time to respond to the draft bill which I circulated in the community in early May. The response has been positive, which is largely expected, as farmers and manufacturers were involved in the initiation of the bill. Farmers recognise the potential of an industry in South Australia, and in particular there are farmers who are within a stone's throw of the lucrative Victorian farms. Indeed, their weather and soil conditions are identical, but offering different legislative controls. There is no reason the industry could not thrive in South Australia, as it is just across the border.

Members would know that I was farming on the South Australian/Victorian border and clearly these crops could be as close as you and I, sir, with one farmer not able to grow them and one on the other side of the border being able to grow them, so it makes sense that we look at this opportunity for our South Australian farmers.

I am told that farmers in the Limestone Coast region have been looking for viable, profitable alternatives to utilise in their rotations. Of course, they often grow lucerne, other vegetable crops and small seeds. So, opium poppies are looked upon as a crop that you might use in that rotation; you would not grow them on the same ground every year, but they would be part of your farming operation.

The particular area under these irrigated crops in the Limestone Coast prescribed wells areas are around 15,000 hectares, but there are a further 25,000 hectares utilised as irrigated pasture for dairy, beef and lamb, so you can see the potential of some 40,000 hectares that have adequate underground water, because the opium poppy will require some irrigation. It is sown at the same time as canola, so it is after the autumn rains, but it will probably usually require some irrigation to finish off the crop. The bill will help some of these regions, if they are allowed to grow poppies, to remain profitable and viable, and it helps their rotation.

I also met with the MacKillop Farm Management Group. They made a submission to me and, like me, they have been engaging with three property process companies operating in Australia who also see the potential to contact growers here in South Australia. Another submission on the bill was from Grain Producers SA, and they summed up their position saying that they support grain producers having the right and the opportunity to make production choices within legal parameters. That is the fundamental purpose of this bill. It is my role as shadow minister and, indeed, the government's role to give farmers flexibility and choice.

GPSA did not make a representation on the commercial viability of the proposal. Sensibly they seem to recognise that the value of the legislation was simply to present an opportunity for the industry to develop pending the decision for the farmers to use a legal opportunity it would be providing.

Obviously, I wrote to all the responsible ministers, the Minister for Health, the Minister for Police, and of, course, the Minister for Agriculture. At the time it was interesting that his response didn't centre on providing farmers with an opportunity of getting involved in the poppy industry, but rather it focused on issues largely outside the jurisdiction of the South Australian parliament, a decision for manufacturers. Minister Bignell's comments were that we did not have any manufacturers actually coming to South Australia wanting us to grow the poppies. It is a bit like putting the horse before the cart or the chicken before the egg. You have to have the legal framework in place to allow the cultivation of poppies, and then the manufacturers will come.

It was pleasing today, as I met with the minister on some other matters and I raised it with him, and he said he had no problems with the concept of supporting this bill. He thought it was important to do so, and I am encouraged by the two ministers in this chamber tonight saying, 'Please don't be too long winded because at this point in time the government's inclined to support the bill,' and they are threatening that if I am too long winded they will withdraw that support, so I will endeavour to keep my remarks somewhat brief.

Ultimately, providing the legislative framework is within our control and, notwithstanding other influences, my position is simply, as I said, to open up the door for the opportunity. We, as legislators, should not wait until the stars align but should put that opportunity there to enable manufacturers to put some contracts in place with the South Australian farmers.

I know that in the minister's submission to me he said that he had to seek further advice on the legal and other implications with the relevant agencies. It is appropriate to note here that I recently wrote to Mr Scott Ashby, the Chief Executive of PIRSA, seeking his advice on a particular legal query that was raised on the draft bill. I believe at the moment there are no registered pesticides and herbicides for use on poppies in South Australia, and the use of pesticides could leave the applicator or farmer liable if applied contrary to the label.

I am aware that the agricultural chemical products must be registered by the APVMA. In South Australia the main legislation controlling the use of agricultural and commercial pesticides is the Agricultural and Veterinary Products (Control of Use) Act 2002, and the associated regulations.

This legislation is administered and enforced by PIRSA. Registered products have labels instructing on use, but if there are no instructions for the use of that crop in South Australia, the product may not be used on that crop if it is listed for another state. I presume that the appropriate chemicals for poppy cultivation are listed in Victoria and can be applied here. However, I have sought Mr Ashby's advice on whether that is so, and I am confident that it will just be a matter of some changes, of some printing on some labels, but I have asked Mr Ashby for advice on that. It is my intention that this bill will lie on the table over the winter break. I am hopeful that we will have some clarity around that issue and I would like to progress it as soon as we come back from the winter break.

Also, the police commissioner provided me with a very detailed submission on the bill, and I thank him and SAPOL for taking the time to consider the potential in detail. The police have had considerable involvement in implementing this legislation with regard to inspecting farming operations and considering and recommending the granting and refusal of licences. As mentioned, SAPOL made a number of technical suggestions, some of which have been included in the redraft of the legislation, and some of which have not been regarded as based on advice from parliamentary counsel. I will not go into depth about the detail of the suggestions, but here is a brief outline and here are the reasons I did not take up some of the suggestions of the South Australia Police.

With regard to the licence application, SAPOL was concerned that there was no offence created for making a false or deliberately misleading statement in support of an application. I am advised that section 60B of the Controlled Substances Act (False or misleading information) already provides for this provision.

SAPOL was also concerned that the meaning of a suitable person was not defined in terms of who a licensed grower can employ to be active under this licence. There was a suggestion that the term 'suitable' should be replaced with the term 'fit and proper person' as a definition which covers other South Australian acts. Firstly, I am advised that a court would not have an issue defining what a suitable person is, particularly given that if engaged they can have regard to the Victorian and Tasmanian legislation. Further, it is perhaps not appropriate to suggest that employers should deem people fit and proper. They would essentially be acting as de facto police officers.

SAPOL raised the issue that the bill does not provide a requirement that the business is to be managed by an approved person. They suggest that it would be possible for a licence to be granted to a body corporate and managed by a natural person who does not fall within the definition of a disqualified person or an associate. However, that person may not pass a fitness and propriety test based on criminal intelligence. It is noted that a similar requirement is contained in the Liquor Licensing Act.

It has been put to me that this provision is more appropriate in the liquor licensing context, because management has a requirement to maintain standards, for example, capacity limits and alcohol consumption, etc. that are related to licensed premises. In a poppy farm, members of the public are not allowed in, so the delineation between the licensee and management functions is less pronounced.

I am happy to engage with South Australia Police and the minister and the commissioner over these provisions during the consultation period now, after having tabled the bill. I have also pre‑empted a possible concern which is raised primarily on behalf of PIRSA. It was during one of the initial discussions, when one of the farmers down in the South-East had contacted the former chief executive of the department of environment and heritage, as it was back then, Mr Holmes. He had gone to school with him and he had spoken to him about the possibility of doing this, and Mr Allan Holmes had said, 'Look, we haven't got the resources, we haven't got the manpower, we haven't got the people, we couldn't possibly do it.'

That is around the departmental resources for providing the inspection service to make sure the farms have adequate signage, adequate fencing, the gates are locked, etc. I suggested throughout the drafting of this bill, particularly given that the likely geographic situation of the South Australian main poppy growing area would be near to the Victorian border, that it would be appropriate to authorise Victorian officials to inspect the South Australian farms. Particularly through the start-up phase of the industry, it would seem practical to have an option for Victorian officers who are already doing the same work just over the border to do it in South Australia.

I did mention to the chief executive of PIRSA, Mr Scott Ashby, today in the meeting I had with the minister, that that was an option that we should look at, especially in the first couple of seasons, when you will probably only have two or three farmers with 40 or 50, or 100 hectares each. It would not be a big industry; just make sure that we use the Victorian resources to get the industry off the ground. You can see that this, I think, would be an easy way to do it. I think under section 30Z of the bill, the chief executive of PIRSA is able to delegate that responsibility to a Victorian official.

So, Mr President, I will not go on too much longer, because we probably have a long evening ahead of us, but I think it is an opportunity to allow our farming community anywhere where there is adequate underground water, or water for irrigation at a reasonable price, an opportunity to develop a new industry. My understanding from the TPI representatives I met at Boort is that they are looking for about 10,000 hectares in Victoria and potentially South Australia, so it could be something like 7,500 to 8,000 hectares in Victoria and 2,000 or 3,000 hectares in South Australia. I think this presents a wonderful opportunity for another diverse product; it will not be hundreds of millions of dollars but it will still be an important industry for our state to consider. With those few words I commend the bill to chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. G.A. Kandelaars.

 

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