Genetically Modified Crops Management Regulations (Postponement of Expiry) Bill

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY (Leader of the Opposition) (21:09): I rise with a degree of pleasure to speak on behalf of the opposition and indicate at the outset that we will be opposing the bill to extend the moratorium on GM crops until 2025, and also the intention of the bill for it to be made a decision of the parliament to overturn that moratorium. I am also aware that the government has filed some amendments to extend that moratorium for 10 years to 2028 and indicate that we will also be opposing that amendment. I indicate at the outset of this debate that, from the opposition's point of view, it is interesting to see that we now have a clear position from the government in relation to their policy on the GM moratorium.

The Hon. Tung Ngo, in the most recent debate in relation to planning, said that agriculture and primary production was an important and critical driver of the South Australian economy, yet his government, the government he represents in this chamber, is prepared to extend the moratorium for 20 years from when it was first introduced without any sensible or accurate or expert review.

The opposition's policy, if we are elected to government, is that one of the first jobs I would do as the minister for agriculture would be to commission a high-level expert review of our position, and we would do that within the first six months of the moratorium that we have had now for 10 years. The government often says and mostly through its spokesman, the Hon. Leon Bignell, that we get this wonderful premium for all of our production because we are GM free, yet he has not been able to produce any quantifiable evidence of the magnitude of that benefit.

I was on 891 radio with the Hon. Mark Parnell several Mondays ago, when I mentioned our position to David Bevan, the 891 presenter and he said, 'That's just a cop out. Why don't you make a decision?' In the next few minutes, I will outline why it is not possible. He suggested, 'Why don't you have a parliamentary select committee.' He then went on to say we all get paid heaps extra to be on parliamentary committees and indicated that we all had lots of spare time and we could investigate this on a parliamentary committee. I will indicate that it is not possible to look at all the aspects of a GM moratorium with a parliamentary committee.

We all know that we come into this place with a level of expertise that we bring to parliament. The Labor Party are a little bit narrow, mostly sort of union bovver boys and party apparatchiks; nonetheless, they would say they have a little bit of a diverse background. If you look at it from a scientific point of view, we have the Hon. Ian Hunter who has a science degree. The Hon. Mark Parnell has a law degree—

The Hon. M.C. Parnell interjecting:

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: —and an economics degree and a planning degree. We always look to the Hon. Mark Parnell when it comes to listening to his debates on planning because he is an expert in that area. We have a couple of farmers: the Hon. Robert Brokenshire, myself and the Hon. John Dawkins was involved in agriculture many years ago—

The Hon. P. Malinauskas: You are a politician. You are not a farmer.


The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: —prior to coming into parliament. It is interesting, Mr President. I see you have twin heads. I am not sure. They do not look alike those two heads, that is for sure. I am not sure which one is the best looking. You two can decide that. I say that the parliament is not a place to make these very detailed scientific evaluations. Often political decisions and decisions are made here for reasons other than the actual facts. I do not believe that you can handle this in a parliamentary sense whether it is a select committee, a standing committee of the parliament or to have that decision here in the parliament.

I will go through some of the comments that were made by the Hon. Mark Parnell. Often we are a bit focused on the current situation where we have GM canola available in all states and not here, and that is why we need to get the experts to do the review. The Hon. Mark Parnell did indicate and show a bit of, shall I be so rude to say, ignorance about farming systems and farming practices. He looks at the price of canola in isolation. When you are farming, you may have a four, five or six-year rotation. You may actually choose to grow a crop, mow the paddock or spray it as a chemical fallow so that you grow a better crop the year after and you control weeds in subsequent crops. So it is actually a five or six year rotation.

Particularly with the GM canola, farmers grow it to control weeds. It is not to make it an extra profitable crop, but it is a rotation and a management tool that canola is used for.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: Clean up weeds, that's right.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: And it cleans up some weeds. There are people who use it not to make money but as an important tool in their rotation program. Modern farming systems are not all about each crop making the most money; it is about making sure you get the best possible income over a range of seasons and the best possible way to control some weeds. Often what we find with Roundup Ready canola is it is a much easier and cheaper chemical and less environmentally damaging than some of the chemicals you might use in the lentil crop or a wheat crop or some other crop that you may grow. So you cannot just look at it in isolation.

One of the debates that is often used and also why we need the high-level review, because I am not a scientist—we all get bits of information—

The Hon. J.E. Hanson: No!

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: The Hon. Justin Hanson jokes. That is the reason why this is a flawed plan. You are making a joke of an issue that is not a joke at all, the Hon. Mr Hanson. This is a serious part of modern agriculture.

When you look at farming operations, people say, 'They are going to be beholden to the big companies—Monsanto, Bayer and all the others.' Most farms—and the Hon. Robert Brokenshire would attest to it—are very complex businesses. Many often turn over at the very least hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not in some cases million of dollars. They actually make business decisions based on what is the best for their business to return a profit, pay the bank, pay all the costs and try to actually get ahead.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: And look after the environment.

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: And look after the environment, too. To say that people would be beholden to the big chemical companies, I think is a little bit flawed. Again, it is why we need the independent review that we would set up if we are elected next year to actually have a look at all of the facts.

It is interesting; I note that the government and the Hon. Mr Parnell—I nearly called him a minister then—refers to the government inquiry. Well, it wasn't a government inquiry, but there was some sort of research commissioned by PIRSA, I think, and the University of Adelaide. I have the executive summary and recommendations here. It interests me a little because certainly they do talk about the world interest in clean and green food. I am sure that is why the government has premium food from a clean environment. The recommendations, which I think are important, state:

1. Invite SA businesses interviewed as part of the study to a presentation and discussion of the findings.

2. Liaise with Food SA to include the findings in industry workshops it will be conducting as part of developing their ‘Growth through Innovation Strategy’.

3. Depending on sufficient industry support, provide a briefing to relevant Government Ministers on the findings and implications for Government policies and programs.

I would be interested to know whether any of those three recommendations have been implemented and where the thought from the government came to actually amend this bill to extend the moratorium until 2028, because clearly you do not actually have a government policy that is unreviewed and not looked at for more than two decades.

This government had review after review after review. We had the Menadue review into health that did not mention anything about building a great new hospital. Five or six years later the government decided to build a $2.3 billon hospital. There is a whole range of things that this government has done, but they have neglected every aspect of this particular sector.

They had this particular review, looked at it and then decided that they were not interested in progressing it any further. In fact, my understanding is that that particular review went up on the PIRSA website and then came down again and then went up again a few weeks later.

Again, it is why after a decade we think it is appropriate to take a breath and have a look at the benefits we are getting, if the minister claims we are getting all of these wonderful benefits. It is interesting that we have one of the world's leading research centres at the Waite but we have seen nothing but a flood of people leaving that facility. Researchers are leaving. It is one of the world's great grain research facilities.

The Hon. R.L. Brokenshire: Where is this?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: At the Waite. Of course, we have also had the government, under the leadership of the Hon. Gail Gago, when she was the member, reduce the funding for the Centre for Plant Functional Genomics by about $1.2 million. One of the industry advocates writes:

We are very fortunate that Adelaide is home to the world-renowned Waite research precinct however support for it from state and federal governments is dwindling. And to make matters worse, because of the GM moratorium in SA, we are now seeing money from the private sector for research and development going interstate instead of being spent locally.

Again, it is time to have a look at the moratorium and the benefits that the minister and Premier Weatherill claim that we get and see whether they are in the best interests of South Australia. We also need to look at the future. If we are right now at the crossroads of 10 years of a moratorium, and the government's amendment will not extend it for another 10 years, we are at the halfway point of a 20 year journey, if the government's amendment is successful. I think we need to look to the future, and that is where you need experts. In 10 years' time, the Hons. Tung Ngo, Justin Hanson, Kyam Maher and Michelle Lensink might still be here, but pretty much I think the rest of us will be retired.

An honourable member: Not Mr Lucas, surely?

The Hon. D.W. RIDGWAY: The Hon. Rob Lucas may still be here, getting his third wind. Having said that, it is important to get the experts to have a look at the future, and some of the future things are really worth looking at.

Something that I think is quite topical and interests me as a South Australian is the medical use of cannabis. I have the view that, in terms of any plant that grows in the world, if we can take something out of it that helps human health and mankind, we should actually do it. I am told—but again I am not a scientist—that there are hundreds of different strains of cannabis. Some are good for epilepsy, some are good for Alzheimer's, some are good for dementia, and some are good for cancer and pain relief. However, we need to do decades of testing and research to find out which are the particular ones that have the chemical make-up to provide the best outcomes.

We may well find that, to fast track that, those plants will need to be genetically modified. Once we have identified what we need to do, we may find that that is required. Again, that is why we need the experts to have a look at this. There is some other great work being done. Canola is likely to become available soon that, I am told, contains very high levels of omega-3 oil, which is what we see in fish. I have an article that states:

When you do the calculations, if you can achieve 12 per cent levels of DHA in the canola oil, then one hectare of this crop can meet the same production levels produced by 10,000 ocean fish. And we couldn't have achieved this using conventional plant breeding methods.

Is that a crop we can grow in South Australia? Can the experts look at it and give some advice to government about whether in the next 10 years it will be worth growing? Maybe it is not worth it. As I said, I am not a scientist and I do not know. We have no scientists in this chamber who are specialists in this particular highly specialised field.

The issue of climate change I know is very dear to the Hon. Mark Parnell's heart. I think we all see extremes in weather. We see the hottest, the wettest, the driest, the windiest somewhere in Australia each year. I have been a farmer who has experienced the devastation of a frost. Droughts are easy enough to live with, in one sense—it is not going to rain and you know there is nothing coming. A frost is when the crop grows really well and then there is a little bit of a dry spell, and you get a cold night, a cold change, and the frost comes in and you lose an entire crop of barley, wheat or canola.

There is potential—and, again, that is why we need experts to have a look at this—for frost and drought tolerance to be put into our mainstream crops such as wheat and barley. I am so nervous because it is such a risky thing to extend the moratorium until 2028 without having a look at the halfway point to ask: is this the best thing going forward? Are there some opportunities for South Australian primary producers to cope with climate change and some of the variabilities we are likely to see?

There are other things, too. I think that there is potential in lucerne and rye-grass, which give particular traits of extra production per hectare, digestibility and a whole range of other particular benefits. Again, we should get the experts to look at that to make sure that, if we extend the moratorium, we are not denying our primary producers something that every other primary producer in the nation will have. I have been looking at some information in a publication that talks about the commercialised crops. I will read a couple of passages from it:

There is evidence that the GM crops being grown around the world today have lowered farm-level production costs. Other significant benefits include:

higher crop yields

increased farm profit

improvements in soil health

reduced CO2 emissions from cropping.

It then goes on to talk about crops in the pipeline. Again, I am no scientist, so I actually want the experts to have a look at these statements and do some analysis to see whether it is sensible to continue the moratorium and whether or not it is a benefit financially. I know there is a lot of work being done on potatoes and grapes around disease resistance. I know there is some research being done on allergen-free nuts. At nearly all the primary schools in South Australia kids cannot have nuts at school, so I suspect there are some benefits.

They are saying that some work is underway to boost the levels of carotenoids, which are the yellow and orange pigments found in plants. They can be converted into vitamin A, which is essential for normal growth and development, immune system function and vision. Antioxidants can protect the body by neutralising the activity of free radicals. It also talks about essential fatty acids, and it goes on and on. It states that research is also continuing on new and improved crops with agronomic traits, including corn, which of course we do not grow here, as well as canola and a couple of others, including wheat and barley.

It is clear to me that we are not equipped with the expertise, not even in a parliamentary committee. We have all been on them, and there are one or two people who are really focused and passionate, and the rest are just there toeing the party line and being the ones who make up the numbers. To me, it is absolutely the wrong thing to do to give the parliament the control over whether or not we extend the moratorium. I cannot believe a government that says that the food sector is one of its seven strategic economic priorities, yet it does not consult. It is a bit like the old 'announce and defend'.

There has been zero consultation with industry to say that the government has put on the table their policy that we are going to extend this moratorium until 2028—a 20-year moratorium without talking to industry at all. I guess that encapsulates a statement the Premier made a few weeks ago when he said, 'They really don't vote for us out there in the country, so we are not interested in their views.' That is disgraceful. It is the one industry that was here: this state was founded on agriculture. It is a disgraceful and arrogant statement that the Premier made in that particular interview around GM. It is a disgrace to go to a 20-year moratorium without any proper scientific review that this is the best thing to do for South Australian farmers and our economy.

I know the Hon. Mark Parnell and some of the people who share his view say, 'These things are not safe. We are putting these strange, different things and genes into plants.' We do not get the parliament of any country to decide whether a new drug is safe to be released to the community; we have the experts do that. There is scientific analysis, it goes through a testing regime and then a recommendation is made for a new drug, and this is no different. The parliament does not have the expertise to do this particular analysis.

I guess we are all very uncertain about what the next parliament may look like. There may be some members of this chamber who may not be here after the next election, and I am sure there will also be some in the next chamber. I am sure the Hon. Mark Parnell will say, 'Yes, but if really good information came to hand then the Greens would be prepared to consider it,' but we do not know what the make-up of the parliament will be. Are any scientists going to be standing for election for the Legislative Council? I doubt it. I am not sure we are going to get too many more people who have had any practical experience in farming.

From a practical point of view, I am not sure that any of the candidates I am aware of come with that skill set. To me and to the Liberal Party, it is absolutely time to have the proper scientific review to try to quantify it. I have been on the radio and the television saying, 'If there's a quantifiable benefit that we can measure and say we are getting $10 million, $20 million, $30 million or $40 million a year benefit, then let's measure it and make that judgement based on that particular information.'

We do not have that and certainly the parliament is not the place to make that judgement. To go for 17 years, as the Hon. Mark Parnell wishes to do, or 20 years, as the government wants to do, with no review and no expert involvement, that to me says to the farming community, 'Here we are: there are 22 of us. You get stuffed. We know best.'

I am not prepared to stand up for that. It is not worth the risk of locking our farmers out of the review and it is not worth the risk, not knowing what the next parliament is going to be like. We have no idea what members will be here. I do not want to be one of the members of this parliament who says, 'The 22 of us, we know better. We are not interested in having a review and having a good look at what the facts are.' I think we are failing the primary production sector of our state in a big way if we do not actually implement and have a review.

With those words—I cannot speak strongly enough—I indicate that we will be opposing the bill and we will be opposing the government's amendments, and I encourage other members to do the same. It is simply not worth the risk.

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