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Genetically Modified Organisms Control Amendment Bill 2019

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Tags: Legislation, Tasmanian Brand, GMOs

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Dr Broad, you never fail to divide and disappoint.

Madam Deputy Speaker, obviously the Tasmanian Greens will be supporting the Genetically Modified Organisms Control Amendment Bill 2019. We commend the minister for ensuring that the moratorium is extended. We also commend the minister for his advocacy at a national level in relation to the decision not to regulate SDN-1 and RNA-derived genetic organisms.

Dr Broad can get up here with his doctorate and lecture us on the science and the knowns and the unknowns, but the fact is that the European Union's highest court has made a decision in relation to SDN-1. The New Zealand parliament has announced it will regulate organisms derived from these techniques as genetically modified organisms. It defies logic that an organism which is manipulated in the way SDN-1 organisms are are not genetically modified. It is playing with language. They are clearly GMOs and recognised as such by the European Union, recognised as such by New Zealand and, indeed, recognised by our own Minister for Primary Industries and Water in the actions he has taken at a national level and in the Biosecurity Act in response to the decision at a national level not to regulate these organisms.

I have not heard anyone in this place saying that all genetically modified organisms are bad things. We recognise there is a level of community concern about GM products, a perception that if they are not regulated in some way or another scientists will seek to play God. That is a deeply held community perception. It is in the market and that is why in markets such as the European Union and in China there is real concern about genetically modified organisms in food products particularly.

It is childish in the extreme to come in here as Dr Broad just did and try to pre-empt what I am going to say. I cannot see Dr Broad's submission to the recent moratorium call for submissions from DPIPWE. There is not one from Labor, but we did the work, we put a submission in and it is a solid submission; in fact it is cited a number of times in DPIPWE's response. We have done the work and made a representation to the Productivity Commission when it recommended that Tasmania's GMO moratorium be lifted on economic grounds when the assessed cost of having that moratorium in place by the Productivity Commission back in 2015-16 was about $300 000 a year.

They did not do the work that examined the opportunity cost, the benefit to Tasmania of having a GM moratorium in place for our primary producers, and indeed it is our primary producers who in this document, the review of Tasmania's genetically modified organisms moratorium final report, which I commend to Dr Broad because it does not sound like he read it, that you hear that of the 76 submissions made to the review, overwhelmingly 63 submissions indicated clear support for continuation of the moratorium. These included submissions from the community, businesses, peak industry bodies from the beef, wine, honey, fruit, organics and salmonid industries.

Dr Broad - We support it. What are you worried about?

Ms O'CONNOR - What I worry about is the childishly partisan and puerile contributions that you make on matters that are substantial policy issues for Tasmania. You gave us a lecture in this place about wonderful GM is, tried to put words into my mouth, and it is clear from the research that we have done that you have not done any work on it. Significant and strong support from the primary producers' sector in Tasmania. It was Dairy Tasmania who recommended that the moratorium be lifted. It is one of a small number of organisations -

Mr Barnett - Dairy Australia, not Dairy Tasmania.

Ms O'CONNOR - Dairy Australia - thank you for that clarification, minister.

Mr Barnett - They expressed disappointment.

Ms O'CONNOR - that expressed disappointment that we were going to move again to defend Tasmania's GM-free status.

On the broad principle of where the community concern about genetically modified organisms in part stems from, it stems from scientific experiments that for example cross spiders' silk with goats' milk to see if we can milk goats for a tough rope. That is the kind of cross-species genetic manipulation that does concern people and it concerns the Greens. We are in an age of global heating. There will be enormous pressure on food supplies and food security and we may well, as a global society, need to look at genetically modified food crops in order to feed humanity in the future. I am not a denialist about that in any way, shape or form.

As I flagged in the submission we made to the Government, we believe that the moratorium which is extended for 10 more years - which is double the time frame for previous moratoriums - should be a permanent ban. Within that there needs to be review mechanisms for DPIPWE. We need to be able to take into account new developments in the field that may be beneficial to Tasmania at some point in the future, as Dr Broad flagged when he was being coherent.

It is significant that we have moved the moratorium from five years to 10 years and a reminder to members in this place that Tasmania, as a state, placed a moratorium on the commercial release of genetically modified organisms in 2001 and then enacted the legislation that we are debating today in 2005 to declare Tasmania GMO-free. We believe it should be a permanent ban. I want to quote from DPIPWE's report. The report which summarised the submissions did not make any recommendations to Government but had a number of findings and the finding relevant to this matter is and I quote from the report:

The duration of the moratorium, if extended, could be five years, as determined in previous years, 10 years or indefinitely to provide certainty for industry, noting the importance of a formal mechanism that would trigger a policy review.

We argue that removing the automatic expiration of the moratorium would not be inconsistent with the findings of DPIPWE's report, which is a response to the submission made to the agency. The Greens believe that the automatic expiration provisions should be removed entirely on the following grounds: they are unnecessary; past reviews and ongoing environmental scans have not identified any significant changes in this area of science since the introduction of the act; environmental scans could still continue and trigger a review if there is a case to be made for one; and repealing this section would result in reduced administration which has proven to be unnecessary - we could cut some red tape here to the benefit of our primary producers.

There is also a governance question. The usual mechanism to repeal an act would be a repeal bill which would require the support of both Houses. In this case, an amendment bill is required to prevent expiration and this is a cycle that we have gone through every five years. This is the third time I have stood up in here and debated an extension of the moratorium.

In this case, an amendment bill is required to prevent expiration and as this has to pass through both Houses of parliament, it could effectively be repealed by the will of a single House. This means, for example, the other place, without the support of the executive, the minister, or the Cabinet or the Premier, can unilaterally initiate a significant policy shift and that opportunity has been provided to the parliament every five years. It will be provided to the parliament again in 10 years.

The expiration of this act, without the adequate time for the executive to respond, would leave a significant regulatory blackhole and, more likely than not, the government of the day would not have the time to set up new regulatory or policy frameworks to deal with this dramatic change.

As we know from a number of cases that have been before the courts, common law does not provide a suitable framework for dealing with GM and non-GM coexistence disputes. There is a well-known case from Western Australia which we talk about in one of our submissions, Marsh v Baxter, and in its 2013 review, DPIPWE did note this issue, and the quote from the 2013 review is that:

The ability of common law to address GM contamination and subsequent economic loss remains unclear in Australia, making it difficult for GM and non-GM farmers and producers alike to accurately assess their legal risks from GM crops. Questions remain about the ability of the liability system in Australia to deal with GM contamination under a coexistence framework.

This is straight from DPIPWE from six years ago.

As we say in our submission, this question has been clarified somewhat since the last review by a case in Western Australia, Marsh v Baxter, where adjacent farming practices led to 70 per cent of the Marsh's farm losing its organic certification. The case was dismissed by the court and no injunction or damages was awarded. Justice Martin ruled the economic loss was due to 'self-inflicted contractual vulnerability' and considered Baxter was as entitled to pursue his own economic interest as the organic farmers, the Marsh's. The court's finding against the organic farmer's interests was in part made due to the fact that Australian law generally only recognises economic loss as:

Some physical injury to a person or to property, such as pipeline damage, damage to a house, or damage, disease, to a potato crop, for example.

In an analysis of this case, one author, John Paul (TBC), in 2015, an academic, found that, concluded:

This case has provided no assurance that organic farming and GMO farming can happily coexist under the current legal framework. There is no constraint on GM farmers to contain their crops within their boundaries and no recognition in the case of the GM crops are a source of contamination for organic farmers.

There was no recognition of the special interests of organic farmers and the rejection of the notion that windblown GM canola plants landing on an organic farm are in any way contamination, nor that the neighbour's actions that led to the incursion of the GM plants are either a matter of private nuisance or of common law negligence. The use of court mechanisms elsewhere to solve coexistence related disputes has been characterised as a form of legal trench warfare in that the exercise is relatively pointless, costly and ultimately solves nothing.

It is clear that common law in Australia is inadequate to deal with these issues and, at this stage, it is clear that GM crops cannot exist without the potential for transgression across to an organic crop. It is clear that there are issues here and that is why, overwhelmingly, Tasmania's primary producers support the extension of the GM moratorium and in some cases support the moratorium being made into a ban.

On the issue on SDN-1 technology - site-directed nuclease technology - as it stands today -


Debate adjourned.


Resumed from 24 September 2019.


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, as I was detailing yesterday, the Greens are proposing an amendment to this bill that would extend the moratorium into a permanent prohibition on genetically modified organisms in Tasmania.

Following Dr Broad's learned contribution on this issue, I went to New Scientist which has a report on how badly GM experimentation can go wrong. There was a field experiment in Brazil that deployed genetically modified mosquitoes to control wild populations of the pest and it may be having unintended consequences. According to a genetic analysis of mosquitoes in the area, it appears the engineered stock has bred with wild mosquitoes and created viable, hybrid insects. A quote from Scientific Reports from 10 September -

The claim was that genes from the released strain would not get into the general population because offspring would die.

Co-author Geoffrey Powell, a Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale University says in a press statement -

That obviously was not what happened. The Biotech company Oxitec began releasing hundreds of thousands of genetically engineered mosquitoes in the city of Jacobina between 2013 and 2015.

The idea is that genetically modified males would mate with wild type females and pass on a gene that kills their offspring before they, themselves, can breed, ultimately knocking down Jacobina's mosquito population.

The study's author began sampling mosquitoes in Jacobina before, during and after the deployment of the GM insects. They created a genetic panel that distinguished the wild type mosquitos from the introduced ones and found that insects analysed more than two years after the release stopped, were progeny of both wild type and mutant lineages.

The degree of introgression is not trivial.

The authors write in their report.

Depending on sample and criterion used to define unambiguous introgression, from about 10 to 60 per cent of all individuals, all mosquitoes that were sampled, have some genetically modified genome.

The point I am making is that we do have to be wary of new technologies and experimentation that is unregulated. When we talk about CRISPR technology and the decision by the federal government not to regulate CRISPR technology and Site-Directed Nuclease 1 - SDN1 - there are potential consequences of this decision for Tasmania's GM-free status. It is that straightforward. That is why we asked those questions on this issue in the last sitting. As I said yesterday, in July 2018, the EUs top court ruled that new GM techniques, such as CRISPR, posed similar risks to the older GM techniques and need to be assessed for safety in the same way. This ruling is consistent with the findings of reviews commissioned by the Austrian and Norwegian governments. These concluded there is insufficient knowledge regarding the risks posed by these techniques and products derived from them so they require a comprehensive case-by-case risk assessment.

Because of these risks, over 60 international scientists have signed a statement calling for these GM processes to be strictly regulated. These GM processes will be unregulated in Australia as a result of the decision of the Morrison government. This has implications not only for our GM-free status, but also for Tasmania's hard-won clean, green, GM-free brand. In the feedback to DPIPWE's consultation on the moratorium, it was the concern for the protection of the brand that drove the beef industry, the honey industry and other primary producers, to strongly support an extension of the moratorium on GM products in Tasmania. We must protect the brand.

We argue strongly that in order to do that and to provide that certainty to our primary producers, Tasmania's GM moratorium should be enacted as a permanent ban on GM products in Tasmania. Of course, you institute a review process in the legislation so we can take into account new developments in these technologies and make sure we are responding to those new developments in a scientific, strategic way that regulates where we have to.

I am very interested to hear the minister's response to concerns about SDN-1 technologies being unregulated in Australia and the implications that this may have for Tasmania's GM-free status. These organisms are notoriously hard to control. We will be going into committee on this legislation so that we can move our amendment to repeal section 36 of Tasmania's Genetically Modified Organisms Control Act. We believe this is what primary producers in Tasmania overwhelmingly want to see and we do not want to be in a situation where, for example, the upper House could move to either remove Tasmania's moratorium as a result of the review process coming up or some other mechanism for playing on the fact that we do not have a permanent ban on GMOs in Tasmania to protect our GM-free status and to protect our brand.

While I am talking about the brand, I wanted to raise a concern that the Greens have about the new Brand Tasmania Board and the new branding that is being put out by the board. It is extraordinarily dispiriting and disrespectful to all those who fought hard to protect Tasmania's clean, green brand that our new brand apparently does not mention wilderness. We have a brand in Tasmania that has been rewritten following the statutory enactment of the Brand Tasmania Board that does not talk about natural Tasmania. It is downplayed, it is dismissed. Therefore we regard it as a false brand. The Brand Tasmania brand that is defined and described on the Brand Tasmania website does not reflect Tasmania's clean, green brand. It does not mention Tasmania's wilderness areas, the fact that there is no place on Earth like Tasmania, and that our character as a people is shaped by the fact that we are an island people with the wilderness on our doorstep.

We are very concerned about what has happened to Brand Tasmania. Following our good-faith support for the Brand Tasmania Bill, our working with the agency and people in the Department of Premier and Cabinet to get amendments into the Brand Tasmania Bill, we thought that those amendments, which tried to place a lens and more of a focus on people with experience in environmental and heritage fields would be on the Brand Tasmania Board. But the Brand Tasmania Board is not reflective of those changes that we sought to have to make sure that there is a strong voice for natural Tasmania, for wild Tasmania, for Tasmania's heritage on the Brand Tasmania Board.

It is deeply disappointing. We believe that all that money that went into making Brand Tasmania a statutory body is being wasted because the brand is not reflective of who we are. We had a meeting with the new director of Brand Tasmania and raised these concerns about the identification of a brand that does not include natural Tasmania, clean and green, wild Tasmania. There is no apparent mention of it in anything that we can find on the website. The answers that came back to us were far from satisfactory, so we are raising these concerns now. We regard the brand that is being defined by Brand Tasmania as it currently stands as being incomplete and downgrading.

What makes Tasmania's brand so special, so prized by primary producers, is that we are a wild island. We are a little green, heart-shaped island at the bottom of the world. The reason that companies and markets all over the world want Tasmanian produce is because they identify it with a clean, green Tasmania and our environmental attributes. That is the foundation of the export markets that are so lucrative to primary producers and on which primary producers depend. They depend on our clean, green brand. That is what markets in Japan, China, the EU and in the United States are after. They are after clean and green, and they are after GM-free.

We are very disappointed in what a lame brand has now been defined by Brand Tasmania. Unfortunately, we believe it is brand framing that has been dictated by the politics of the day where you have a government that wants to log 356 000 hectares of high-conservation-value, independently assessed carbon-bank forests. This is a government that would log some of the most significant carbon-dense forests on the planet. From the Styx to the Florentine to Bruny, the Tasman Peninsula, Wielangta, the North-East Tiers, Ben Lomond, the Great Western Tiers and takayna/Tarkine, these forests are wild, beautiful, carbon rich and independently assessed as being of high conservation value. Yet, we know that the forest industry, which took tens of millions of dollars from the taxpayer to get out of those forests, is now lining up outside the Resources minister's door to get into those forests. It is a disgrace. It is a crime against nature, a crime against future generations, and a crime against our brand.

To be honest, we do not care what the new statutory Brand Tasmania board decides is the brand within the political context of the day, we know that the brand is dependent on forest protection, wilderness protection and looking after our environment. I need to place that on the record because the last time I went, which was only last week, and had a look at the newly described brand for Brand Tasmania I felt frustrated and disillusioned about the process that led to such a weakening of the brand identity that Tasmania has and that our primary producers rely on. If you have a brand that you have redefined to downplay the natural environment and our forests and wilderness, it is not a brand that describes Tasmania. It is not descriptive of the brand we know primary producers rely on to get the prices they do in export markets. It is extremely disappointing. We place on the record that we regard the new Brand Tasmania's identification of Tasmania's brand as underwhelming, inaccurate and, unfortunately, highly political.