Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill | SPEECH


Second Reading

The Hon. D.C. VAN HOLST PELLEKAAN (Stuart—Minister for Energy and Mining) (16:49): I rise on behalf of the people of Stuart to support the Minister for Primary Industries and, of course, our government team with regard to this bill. A little bit has been mentioned about the timing of this bill. I can certainly understand the discomfort of members with a bill being tabled and debated very quickly under normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances. Every member of parliament has had weeks within parliament and, in fact, months and years outside of parliament to determine a position on this issue.

It was put to us very clearly in the previous sitting week that some members who voted against the change in regulations might have chosen a different position if they had the opportunity to do so with regard to the consideration of a bill. With that in mind, the minister and our government have given them a bill to consider.

Under the circumstances, I am quite confident that every member in here and every member in the Legislative Council has already considered this issue very thoroughly. As such, it does not actually take any more time for any of them to consider the bill. The bill essentially does exactly what the regulations would have done. I do not accept any argument that this is being pushed through without due consultation or without due opportunity for people to consider their positions or to do their research, because they have actually already done all that.

I have not heard one person in this place express any equivocation about their position on the debate of this bill. This includes the member for Frome, who was good enough to share with us that, overwhelmingly, the people in his electorate who have contacted him have done so in favour of removing the moratorium. I also listened closely to the member for Mawson, and I appreciated the way he went about putting his thoughts together. The member’s position on this area of work is well known. It is not my position, but I think he did a good job in trying to express his concerns.

An area where I differ with the member for Mawson is comparing the removal of a ban on GM—or allowing GM—to phylloxera, foot-in-mouth or a similar disease. Yes, of course, as he said, we need to do everything we possibly can to protect our state from incursions of those diseases and many other things from which South Australian agriculture is, thankfully, relatively free at the moment. However, genetically modified seed is not a disease. It is not as if, if you plant it, it suddenly takes over and destroys all the crops all over the place.

There is a situation, as we speak, on the border between South Australia and Victoria. The border, which we happily have in South Australia, is literally just a farmer’s fence between two paddocks. On one side, the crops are GM free, and on the other side there are GM crops. That is as distinct a border as we have needed until now, so there is no reason why that exact type of border could not exist within a state. There could be a farmer on one side of the fence with a GM-free crop and a farmer on the other side of the fence with a GM crop.

Here is the crux of the debate for me: removing a moratorium is not the same as making everybody plant GM crops. We are going to remove a ban; we are not going to force anyone to do it. That is a very important distinction. I will put myself, as best I can, in the mindset of growers who believe that there is a price premium—or, if not a price premium, then a consumer preference for their product at a similar price—because it is GM free. That is fantastic; good luck to them.

It might actually be that those growers are significantly advantaged by the removal of the ban. It might mean that if they are right, as they believe they are—who better to judge their own business or the wants of their customers—then they will become part of a smaller, more select and presumably more highly sought after group of growers.

They may or may not be able to attract higher prices but, as is put to us, even at the same price they might just be a preferred producer to a market that wants GM free. Fantastic! If there are fewer of them there, if they believe it is true that somebody on one side of the fence in South Australia can do better than a grower on the other side of the fence in Victoria, then let them continue to be the grower on one side of the fence with a GM free crop within South Australia and let them continue to do better than the other farmer on the other side of the fence within South Australia with a different crop.

I also believe in the basic premise that no-one as yet, after decades in fact, has come up with any evidence to say that there is a problem with GM crops. I accept that it is a step that needs to be taken cautiously. I accept that you do not jump from one side of the fence to another willy-nilly, but the research is that this is new, better, more modern technology. It is available to us in South Australia, if this bill passes the parliament, for canola only at this stage. I would expect, like everybody else, that if this passes and it is available for canola in the new year then in subsequent years it would become available for other seeds, other crops and other opportunities over time.

In my mind, let that be the case and, over time, let the grower who in five, 10, 15, 50 years’ time may still prefer to grow a GM-free crop do so. Let that person do so, if they believe there is a market for them. They might have an ethical preference, they might be doing it because it is an input into another organic product, perhaps as a feed or something like that. Let them do it. Removing a ban does not force anyone to grow a GM crop. It just gives the opportunity for those who would like to grow a GM crop to do so. In these years of very low rainfall and other climatic challenges, in my mind, we absolutely could not withhold any longer this opportunity from growers who want to take it up and we certainly will not be forcing it on growers who do not want to take it up ever.