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Biosecurity (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2020

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 18 August 2020

Tags: Legislation, Biosecurity

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Speaker, the Greens will be supporting the Biosecurity (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2020, as we supported other biosecurity bills that went through this place last year. We recognise that this is a machinery bill. In fact, when you go into the bill or its clause notes, largely most of the clauses in this consequential amendment bill either enable the making of regulations or update legislative references, so there is nothing in this piece of legislation we are concerned about.

Just following up on some of the comments made by the minister and the shadow minister, we agree that one of the most important functions of any government is to keep people safe, but also to make sure we are protecting to the greatest extent possible animals, agriculture and native plants. I put in that category wilderness, because Tasmania has a problem with an introduced fungus, the cinnamon rot fungus, or Phytophthora cinnamomi, which can come in on the boots of bushwalkers and the wheels of bikes ridden up at Blue Derby. These sorts of incursions into the natural environment here can cause utter devastation. Anyone who has seen a plant that has died from phytophthora knows they basically rot from the roots up. It is the kind of biosecurity threat that can devastate whole swathes of wilderness, which is why, for example, when we are building new bike tracks - and it is great to see us as a state embracing that more low-impact recreation - we need to have wash stations for people bringing their bikes in, for example.

Of course much has changed since the principal act when through this place last year. We are now in many ways shut off from the world as an island. While imports are coming in - we have food and fuel, and we know that the trade across Bass Strait continues - some of those biosecurity potential threats that were coming in, COVID-19 aside, by air or sea at this point will not be, and the most pressing challenge Biosecurity Tasmania has at this time is, of course, to keep the coronavirus out of Tasmania.

When you are dealing with a biosecurity framework, it needs to have that multiple layer of pre-border preparations, preparations at the border, and what happens if there is an incursion, as there was with blueberry rust, or when fruit fly was found in this state last year, because, as we know, Tasmania's export agriculture sector is hugely dependent on being able to obtain a premium for our products because we are largely pest-free - our fruit fly-free status certainly has given us an edge that we need to do everything we possibly can to protect.

This is also an area of shared Commonwealth and state responsibility. The Commonwealth has responsibility for the national borders and then much of the quarantine responsibility has been delegated to the states. I think it is important to look at an example of where there has been a failure by the Commonwealth to accept its responsibility for borders and that is the decision to allow the passengers from the Ruby Princess to disembark in Sydney. We now know that it was an incorrect interpretation of the information that had been provided by the ship's doctor to Australian Border Force that allowed for approval to be given to New South Wales authority to have that ship disembark. Then you had the absolute farce of Qantas and Virgin Airways, realising what was about to happen and trying to get the flight logs given to them and being denied that by the Commonwealth Government.

As we have seen so often during this pandemic, it has not been national leadership that has got us through. In fact, there are many examples where, as Prime Minister, Scott Morrison failed the leadership test during this pandemic just as he failed the leadership test during the bushfires that happened on the mainland over this past summer, when his office lied about the fact he was on holiday with his family in Hawaii.

It has been very much down to the states to have strong biosecurity measures in place at state boundaries. Here, Biosecurity Tasmania has been working overtime to make sure that our borders are as watertight as they can possibly be. All of that is undone if there is ambiguity over what is an essential traveller or an essential worker. That is why we keep raising this issue of how relatively easy it was for an executive for the tourism and hospitality industry to receive an exemption from quarantine and how difficult it is for countless of our constituents.

Every single day we are getting the most heart-wrenching stories from people who have been separated from family, denied entry to attend a family funeral or, as an only child, to be there for their grieving parent who has lost another child, and for partners who have been separated.

There is obviously good reason to have a very tight control over who comes into Tasmania and what quarantine measures are in place. It sends the wrong signal entirely - however this decision was made - that within 48 hours of the CEO of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Australasia seeking an exemption from quarantine to enter Tasmania to be part of the Crowne Plaza launch, his application had been approved. That is being questioned by people in the community. There is a degree not only of confusion about it but a measure of resentment as well. That question has not been satisfactorily answered by the Premier.

I note that one of the acts that the Biosecurity Act has replaced is the Seeds Act 1985. I wanted to have a chat with the minister about what enormous potential there is for Tasmania to be a global repository of seeds, so that we become a safe place for seeds to be stored in a cool climate and in a stable society. As we are aware, the Arctic is on fire again. This past week, the northern hemisphere recorded the hottest July day ever, in history. That record will be superseded before too long. Evidence-based evolved democracies need to be able to see the future and plan for it. Being a global repository for the seeds of plants from all over the world would be a fantastic Tasmanian initiative. We have a seed bank here and the Botanical Gardens does some very important work in storing plant and seed specimens. As an island, this is something we could elevate as a priority so that we could become a place where the world seeds are stored safely. In the decades ahead, we are going to have to do some mighty work - or our children, or our grandchildren are - to repair and reforest what is damaged and what is lost.

Dr Broad - Like Svalbard, the global seed repository?

Ms O'CONNOR - You say very little that inspires me to converse with you, so I am not going to.

Madam Speaker, I urge the minister to examine that possibility. I know again, that would present a potential biosecurity challenge. We would be bringing in seeds from other parts of the world but it is possible to store seeds safely and for the long term.

We have had other quite disastrous biosecurity incursions in Tasmania that cannot be pinned on the failure of any government or government agency. There is the European wasp that, I believe, came in here on some timber on a ship. There was the toxic dinoflagellates that were in the bilge water from Japanese cargo ships. Then there is the Pacific sea star which is out here in the Derwent. From memory, every time a sea star gives birth - for want of a better term - it can give birth to millions of tiny sea stars. They are an introduced pest which is causing problems for our marine environment.

According to the experts, the COVID-19 pandemic will not be the last one that the world faces. As the climate disrupts and the permafrost warms, we are being warned to expect more viruses and more diseases for which the human body is not prepared.

As an island, we have an advantage. We have demonstrated that advantage through this pandemic. We have a biosecurity unit in government that is wholly dedicated to protecting our biosecurity and our natural advantages. Most importantly, we have a moat around this beautiful island. In the years and decades ahead, we will need to have amplified biosecurity capacity, extremely well resourced, that always puts the welfare of Tasmania, its people and its industries first.

I note here that the minister talked about a biosecurity program for the salmon industry. It is an industry that has challenges with disease, marine pollution, warming waters. It contaminates waterways. I do not know if the minister has been to Long Beach at Port Arthur lately, but near Port Arthur it is absolutely covered in snotty green slime. Without question, that is because there are fish farm pens in Long Bay.

I note also that the minister talks about developing regulations for the beekeeping industry. Again, this minister has failed the beekeeping industry. This Government is failing to protect the leatherwood trees, which are integral to Tasmania's honey makers. In fact, we have a memorandum of understanding between industry and Sustainable Timber Tasmania - so called - or government, that is worth very little. It was an MOU that was signed, I think, on the part of honey producers with hearts full of hope, that finally, after decades of trying to have the big leatherwoods protected, something would change. I am very sad to inform you that nothing has changed for beekeepers, and that leatherwood trees are still being logged. These are big, old leatherwood trees that are not going to be replaced in the next 10 to 20 years.

It is all very well to talk up Tasmania's beekeeping industry and to sign MOUs with them, but it cannot all be take on the Government's part. The Government needs to look after our honey producers and protect their leatherwood forests, protect the leatherwood. At the moment, the honey producers I engage with are very frustrated and deeply disappointed in this minister, who is regrettably both the Minister for Primary Industries and Water and the Minister for Resources and is conflicted as a result of that in terms of looking after our honey producers. I urge him to think about how little it would cost Sustainable Timber Tasmania and the Government to act in good faith and protect the leatherwood forests for our honey makers. We would argue that the Government should protect the leatherwood forests for their own sake but, certainly, if you cannot see the intrinsic value of protecting forests, perhaps seeing the dollar value and the goodwill value of protecting the leatherwood might be possible. We shall see.

With those few words I again confirm that we are quite comfortable with this consequential and transitional provisions bill.