Genetically Engineered Crop Trials
Mr IAN COHEN [3.31 p.m.]: I move:
That, under Standing Order 52, there be laid upon the table of the House within seven days of the date of passing of this resolution and made public without restricted access, the following documents in the possession, custody or control of NSW Agriculture:
(a) the report and appendices from Monsanto and Bayer CropScience entitled "Submission to the Minister for NSW Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon. Ian Macdonald MLC—Round up ready Canola and InVigor", dated October 2003, and
(b) The proposal for a co-existence demonstration trial submitted by the Australian Oil Seeds Federation on behalf of the Industry Taskforce.
The Greens have serious concerns about the joint Monsanto and Bayer CropScience proposal for a 5,000-hectare so-called scientific research trial for genetically engineered [GE] canola in 2004. It is essential that honourable members are able to view the documents to find out exactly what is being proposed in New South Wales. We currently have a moratorium order in place that prohibits the growing of GE canola in New South Wales. There are exemption orders in place that allow existing small-scale trials of GE canola to be completed. This significant proposal was apparently put before the advisory council only a day or two before its last meeting. One of the documents apparently contains a proposal for a 4,000-hectare co-existence trial and was given to council members during the actual meeting.
The Minister apparently told the council to deliberate and vote on this proposal, despite the fact that members barely had time to read the material, let alone digest it and confer with their various constituencies. While the Minister may have confidence in his advisory council, there are significant concerns that the council is heavily weighted in favor of large scale GE plantings despite the moratorium and is likely to simply rubber stamp the proposal. The legitimate concerns of those members on the council and the communities they represent who have reservations about such large plantings are being swamped and are simply not being heard. It is in the public's interest therefore that I call for these papers to find out exactly what is being proposed and why such trials need to be carried out. Honourable members need to know whether it is in the State's interest for such a risky proposal to go ahead.
The area currently under GE canola trials in New South Wales in order of magnitude is less than this outrageous proposal for 5,000 hectares. Honourable members will recall that there was recently a breach of the exemption order on a small GE canola trial crop under the direction of NSW Agriculture that was less than 10 hectares in size. The Minister gave Bayer a gentle slap on the wrist and issued a new exemption order claiming that the risk was negligible. I am of the understanding that NSW Agriculture failed to even glance at the data of the escaped plants at the breached trial crop to determine whether they were in fact GE plants. The Minister, without checking, then made a statement to the media to the effect they were not genetically engineered. How could this give anyone confidence that trials could be scaled up to 500 times that size without there being serious breaches and risk contamination of the supply chain with GE canola?
If exemption conditions are breached, will the Minister just grant a new exemption order? How can we have confidence that the Minister will ensure any trials are strictly controlled, especially with what appear to be large-scale commercial crops? The crop being proposed is almost certainly a commercial crop dressed up as a research trial. I have been informed that Monsanto and Bayer intend to produce enough product to fill a container on a ship and sell it on the export market. They are going to sell it, so it is a commercial crop. I also understand that they intend to plant up to 600 hectares just to multiply seeds and build up their supplies for mass plantings should the moratorium be lifted at some stage in the future. There is certainly no scientific merit in this. This again is clearly a commercial planting and should not be permitted under the GE moratorium legislation.
It is extraordinarily unlikely that NSW Agriculture would even have enough inspectors to adequately inspect 5,000 hectares of GE crops to ensure they are carried out in a rigorous scientific fashion, especially when they failed with a 10-hectare trial. The proposed so-called trials would apparently occur on hundreds of farms throughout New South Wales, thus making the planting of GE crops widespread—which is, of course, what these large companies want; making GE crops inevitable in New South Wales and potentially ruining the prospects for other farmers who wish to remain 100 per cent GE-free.
The Minister clearly stated in his second reading speech that the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Bill was intended to implement the Premier's announcement that the Government would ban the commercial production of certain genetically modified crops in New South Wales for three years. Clearly a 5,000-hectare crop intended for sale on the international market should not be allowed to occur under the moratorium. These documents are perhaps some of the most important documents asked for by this House. Honourable members have the right to know what is going on and whether they were deceived at the time of the passing of the moratorium legislation.
As I have said repeatedly, commercial-in-confidence documents will not be released to the public, but members of this House should have the right to examine them. We have had many examples in the past where commercial-in-confidence has been declared. Where the matter has gone to a legal independent arbiter for assessment. In the Redbank power generation proposal, for example, some documents that were returned commercial-in-confidence were withheld, and others were allowed to be publicly acknowledged. It is quite clear that information is being withheld by the Government in this matter. I believe this an urgent and appropriate order. I ask honourable members to consider aspects of transparency, openness and honesty in this process.
In terms of the much-declared argument that the Greens are against any trials, I remind members that we have said that we support trials in a hot house or properly controlled environment. We are witnessing a massive increase in the area of land under trial, and there is considerable evidence that the trials are not properly controlled. I ask all honourable members to have an open mind. I ask them to reject this scurrilous suggestion that all will be open to the public when in actual fact a legal arbiter can be brought in if there is a dispute.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) [3.37 p.m.]: I thank honourable members for allowing this urgent debate. I understand that Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile will be moving an amendment to the motion to omit the words "and made public without restricted access". The Opposition supports that amendment because it will introduce a proper safeguard. I have always said that although we need to be informed, we do not and should not breach access. I feel that if access is too wide, there could be a breach. I remind Mr Ian Cohen that there has never been any breach of the requirements of Standing Order 52 with regard to confidentiality. If there is such a breach, there are appropriate penalties. I do not know whether the reason there have been no breaches is the honour of honourable members or their fear of being penalised. Although the Opposition takes a view about some parts of the motion different from that expressed by Mr Ian Cohen, we agree that it is appropriate.
I referred to a letter from the President of NSW Farmers—a bright and decent fellow. Sometimes we disagree, but mostly we agree. In his letter the president expresses concern about the commercial-in-confidence issue. Unfortunately, he had only been talking to the Minister's officer, not anyone else. Had he had a chance at that stage to talk to someone else, he would have learned of the rules under Sessional Order 52 and would not have made an incorrect statement. The final paragraph is important in the context of this debate because it is almost the opposite of what is said in the first paragraph. It explains that the information he was given might not have been complete. That is probably why there is a mistake in the letter. I quote the entirety of the final paragraph of this letter dated 18 November from the President of NSW Farmers to the Minister, the Hon. Ian Macdonald:
As previously advised, the Association believes that your office and the New South Wales Agricultural Council on Gene Technology must have strict guidelines about what, if any, trials should be conducted, and the specific issues these trials seek to address. The objectives, design and protocols of the trials must be clearly defined, and the trials should address key issues in relation to agronomic performance, insurance, liability, segregation, marketing and/or trade. The Association has provided you with an extensive list of questions that it believes must be addressed during the moratorium, a copy of which is again attached.
That is a statement, not by me or by Mr Ian Cohen, but by the President of NSW Farmers on behalf of farmers in this State. The questions bear careful examination. They are described as grower issues to be addressed during the New South Wales Government moratorium on GM food crops. The first questions on identity preservation are:
Do the Australia Oilseed Federation's (AOF) Canola Industry Stewardship Principles result in the required levels of segregation of GM from GM-free/non-GM canola along the supply chain?
What is the probability of and consequences of identity preservation system failure?
What are the on-farm identity preservation costs?
What are the commercial delivery requirements and associated costs for GM and GM-free/non-GM delivery?
Are there any related supply chain costs and who pays? Including costs to certify the status of other grains or produce e.g. wheat, barley, and pulses.
The following are the association's questions on farming system implications:
Do GM canola varieties deliver the claimed agronomic benefits? Including:
• Weed control
• Vigor and fast establishment
• Uniformity of crop maturity reducing harvest losses
• Canola and wheat yields in rotation
• Grain quality and oil content
• Disease resistance
Do GM canola varieties deliver the claimed environmental benefits? Including:
• Reduced herbicide use
• Less toxic herbicide use
• Less fuel consumption
• Less soil erosion
What are the implications for weed and herbicide resistance management? Including:
• Integrated weed management
• Multiple herbicide tolerance
• Herbicide resistance management
Do GM canola varieties have any disease or insect management issues?
What are the management implications for controlling volunteers? Including:
• Efficacy of current management options
• Distribution of volunteers e.g. roadside verges
• Relative toxicity of control measures
• Cost of control measures
What are the implications for pollen flow?
I remind honourable members that this is not some green document. This document is from the President of NSW Farmers about a trial that he wants to go ahead—and certainly I want to go ahead—but it emphasises the need to ensure it is a proper trial with appropriate controls. On market access—one of the important matters the trial should take into account—the following questions are asked:
What are the market implications for GM canola, GM free canola, non-GM canola and other grain commodities? Including:
• Market access
• Demand where there is market access
These are absolutely crucial issues, and they need to be addressed. Yet there is silence from the Minister on all the matters. Day after day in this Chamber I ask similar questions, and I keep getting stonewalled by the Minister. NSW Farmers poses the following questions on the issue it titles "Cost/Benefit":
What are the fees for accessing GM canola varieties?
Do GM canola varieties deliver the claimed economic benefits?
What is the balance of cost/benefits compared with identified risks?
What methods for harvest equipment clean-down were utilised?
These are still further essential issues that need to be addressed in the trials. Finally, on liability, NSW Farmers ask:
Who is liable in the event of grain not meeting commercial identity preservation standards?
Are there any special liability issues for GM canola which are difficult to process under common law?
What is the scale of liability to which a grower could be exposed?
Is insurance available, and how much does it cost?
Those are all relevant questions. I congratulate the President of NSW Farmers, Mal Peters. I would hope that the Minister, somewhere in his contribution to this debate today, will tell the House that he too thinks Mal Peters' suggestions are sensible and that they will be incorporated in the conduct of the trials. If the suggestions were so incorporated, a lot of people would be more supportive of the trials and many New South Wales people would rest easily that commonsense and conservatism were brought to bear on these trials, rather than the cowboy attitude that seems to pervade the Minister on this particular issue. He is pretty sensible on some other issues, but on this one he appears to be a real cowboy.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: That is outrageous! I ask the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the term "cowboy".
The Hon. Rick Colless: Precious little thing! You revel in saying that others are being precious, but now that you are the subject of some adverse comment you too become precious.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: If honourable members opposite seek withdrawal of names ascribed to them by Ministers and Government members, I think I too should seek withdrawal if members of the Opposition call me names.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: To the point of order: Is the Minister offended by the word "real" or the word "cowboy"?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: The Deputy Leader of the Opposition is trifling with the House, as usual. "Cowboy," thank you.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! I refer honourable members to the ruling given earlier today by the President relating to offensive terminology and the President's request that members should not be quite so sensitive about some terms used in this Chamber. In those circumstances, I will not require the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the term, but I would caution him against making remarks that could be offensive to other members.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: Madam Deputy-President, in light of the Minister's sensitivity, I withdraw my comment that he is a cowboy—because it might be offensive to cowboys.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: And I withdraw my call for the Deputy Leader of the Opposition to withdraw the remark.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: I withdraw the remark.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Amanda Fazio): Order! The Deputy Leader of the Opposition may proceed.
The Hon. DUNCAN GAY: I was about to finish. I indicate once again how impressed I am with the final paragraph of the letter from the President of New South Wales Farmers and the attached table, which details the concerns it would like to have addressed. It is a pity that the association received advice on the first part only from the Minister's office. Had it spoken to us or any other member, it would have received some sensible advice.
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS [3.49 p.m.]: I support the motion. As all members know, I support open government. It is a fact of bacteriology that bacteria grow in dark places. For many years the tobacco industry submitted that although tobacco kills people, it is in the public interest because of savings in the payment of pensions and tax revenue. I made regular submissions to the tobacco industry. On one occasion, just for fun, I marked as confidential a perfectly innocuous submission. For the next six months I was harassed by bureaucrats who demanded to see that submission. The tobacco industry wanted my submission. The bureaucrats believed that they would have to give in, and said that the best they could do was delay. I said, "If you give in, which you may have to do, I will not give permission for the submission to be made public." The general expectation is that bureaucrats, under pressure, will give way, and if they have to go to court, they lose.
Why did my submission not maintain its confidential status just as the submissions of powerful people are able to maintain their confidential status? Eventually, the submissions of the tobacco industry came to light in Czechoslovakia, of all places, after the fall of the Berlin Wall. We then found what we had expected for many a long day: yes, tobacco kills people but it provides the Government with taxes so the Government should be grateful and not ban it. Anyone who read a transcript of the Watergate tapes will recall the discussion between Nixon and Iacocca about the Ford Pinto motor vehicle in which Iacocca conceded that it did not matter that the Ford Pinto exploded if involved in a rear-end collision because American cars had to compete with small Japanese cars and it was losing in that market.
The Hon. John Tingle: What's your point?
The Hon. Dr ARTHUR CHESTERFIELD-EVANS: I am making a point about the dubious proposition, but which seems to be understood by people in power—that industry should be allowed to make submissions that are basically against the public interest. The concept of commercial-in-confidence—a term everyone seems to like to use—is code for: if it is about money, it is too important for the voters and the citizens to know about it. The Government, who does not always have great skills when dealing with money—it went into government rather than into business—is flattered that it has control of so much money and that its members are rubbing shoulders with such affluent and famous people. Like people in some sort of Gogol play, they are taken in by the grandeur of the moment and the resonance of the phrase commercial-in-confidence.
Genetically modified [GM] crops pose serious hazards, but the question is how serious. Genetic crossovers pose a threat to health. The way in which bacteria exchange genetic material and develop bacterial resistance to antibiotics is extremely important. It will take some time to determine the effect of crossed species change in genetic material. Theoretically, that is in the hands of the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator and, theoretically, it is being dealt with. But the question is whether any money is available for the research. If research is thought not to be in the interests of those funding it, generally the research is not done. It may take us many years to find that out, but we hope it will be all right. A more direct problem is the availability of genetically modified crops. If the Europeans, the Japanese or anyone else for that matter do not want to buy GM foods because their farmers are competitively disadvantaged or because of consumer caution, it is in the interests of the American grain companies to make Australia GM polluted.
If Australia were GM polluted, it could not claim to be GM free and it could not compete against American grain sales in those markets. Therefore Australia would have to force the opening of the European and Asian markets to sell our grain. The interests of the multinational corporations in GM crops differ widely from the interests of the Australian farmers and, by analogy in economic terms, of the Australian people. A book entitled How the Other Half Died talks about monopolies and their effects, and the power of agribusiness in the world economy and what it has done for the Third World. In economic terms Australia is still very much a Third World country because it relies on primary produce and minerals. The only difference is that we have fewer people and more production so we manage to get a First World rating, but the effects of monopolies may be long term.
The ecological effects of GM crops may relate to the use of pesticides or changes to the genetic framework of crops, which may affect species. In many respects the interests of the companies diverge from the interests of the Australian people. The time is critical because the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator does not consider these things; it is entirely in the hands of the Minister. There have been some concerns about the composition of the committee and whether it is simply a rubber stamp. Segregation of grains has not been dealt with effectively. The crop is in the ground and farmers will have to certify their own crops at their peril. As cross-contaminations occur, farmers could be in a great deal of trouble. I have had dialogue with the Minister about these concerns.
My last few comments are peripheral to the motion, but it is a question of the interests of the Australian people vis-a-vis the interests of the international agricultural companies that have an inside running because the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator has extremely limited terms of reference. Segregation and certification have been left in the hands of the normal, non-genetically modified organisms. Although one might have expected that those with new technology should segregate crops, it is the other way around. The Government is bowing to the interests of the companies as against the interests of the Australian people, whom they were elected to represent. The production of this submission will not solve all the problems, but it will give us at least a baseline to understand where we are going. Therefore the motion has to be supported, particularly when one considers the concerns of New South Wales farmers.
The Hon. RICK COLLESS [3.57 p.m.]: I support the motion. Despite the general support of the New South Wales Farmers Association for the concept of genetically modified crops, many farmers—members of the association and others—are not particularly happy about the expansion of genetically modified crops into general agriculture. The basis of their concern is that genetically modified material escapes into wild modifications then crosses back into non-genetically modified crops. That is what can happen with canola crops. Early in spring, when most canola crops are flowering, wild canola grows along roadsides and in paddocks. If the wild population is infected with genetically engineered material, the infection can cross back to the crops. There is no way to control it.
Farmers who wish to grow non-genetically modified crops will have difficulty maintaining their non-genetically modified status. Many farmers in the Inverell district, where I come from, have spoken to me and expressed their concerns. Many canola growers in the south-west of the State are also very concerned. I was advised about the breach near Wagga Wagga soon after it occurred. People from the area told me that it was predictable and only a matter of time before some of the genetically modified material escaped. Apparently there is some confusion as to whether the material is genetically modified.
The only way to clarify that is to obtain access to the documents in the possession of Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science. Honourable members may recall that recently I asked the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries a question without notice about the incident and whether or not he would be prepared to have the material tested independently. Unfortunately, the Minister failed to answer the question. To my mind, it would make a great deal of sense if some testing was carried out independently instead of being done by people who stand to gain the most. I believe that it is important for this House to have access to all available information on the incident. I congratulate Mr Ian Cohen on bringing forward the motion. I support the motion, and I ask honourable members to support it as well.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE [4.00 p.m.]: The concerns I expressed on the motion for urgent consideration of this matter have become a reality. Much of the time of the House is being spent on this GM issue, which may cause the House to sit late tonight or to have late-night sittings next week in an endeavour to meet the Government's legislative timetable. The wording of the motion concerns me and is the subject of a good deal of mixed opinion. Of even greater concern to me is that two similar motions moved by Mr Ian Cohen only a week or so ago, items outside the order of precedence Nos 66 and 67, simply stated that by a certain time certain documents should be "laid on the table of the House". The motion that is before the House has also been moved under Standing Order 52, and it states:
... there be laid on the table of the House within 7 days of the date of the passing of this resolution and made public without restricted access, the following documents in the possession, custody or control of NSW Agriculture...
Some honourable members have said that those words do not mean anything, but words always mean something. To make this matter absolutely clear, I move:
That the question be amended by omitting the words "and made public without restricted access" and inserting instead the words "and made available for inspection by members of the House only".
Notwithstanding that, I am still concerned about the motion. In principle I still do not agree with it. As honourable members know, we have spent a great deal of time discussing the GM issue and working out how to provide protective mechanisms. This House moved for establishment of the New South Wales Agricultural Council on Gene Technology. The council was not provided for in the Government's legislation, but this House set it up and, after some debate, worked out who should be members of it. I believe that the current membership of the council represents the main stakeholders, and I think the only disagreement was with The Nationals over membership of people involved with harvesting machinery. All other farm groups, including radical groups such as the New South Wales Farmers Federation, are represented on the council, irrespective of whether they are opposed to GM technology or not.
All members of the council have a copy of the submission from Monsanto and Bayer Crop Science, as they should, as well as other submissions. That is in accordance with the plan devised by this House. As a result, the council is in a position to study the submissions, balance the pros and cons, and write a report with recommendations that will be forwarded to the Minister, and the Minister will be able to make that report public by presenting it to the House. To my mind, that is the correct process. However, even taking my amendment into account, the motion still has a basic flaw because members of this House will have access to only one submission. It may be argued that that submission is the most important one because it is from the people who will be conducting the tests, but other submissions may be of value. All submissions, when taken together, present an overall picture of the situation. The council has the advantage of considering all the submissions and all the points of view expressed in them, based on the expert knowledge of organisations and scientific bodies, and is thus in a position to make a decision.
In contrast, this House will see just one little part of the total picture. That is when distortion occurs. If the submission ends up in the hands of a journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald, I have no doubt that a front-page story would be written, based on that newspaper's established record, in an emotive style. That would distort the whole debate that is taking place in this State, and would not assist this House in following through on what is probably one of the most complex issues confronting governments throughout the world. GM technology is a controversial and emotive issue. Recently I visited New Zealand, where the Greens have created a climate of fear over GM. It is almost as though people there believe that a GM fog will descend on New Zealand and children will start dying in the streets. I was amazed that even some of my relatives are frightened of GM technology. The New Zealand Labour Party, which leans to the left and has similar views to the Greens, became alarmed that the Greens had become so extreme. New Zealand Labour is now trying to balance the debate in New Zealand by distancing itself from the Greens and working with some of the minority parties instead. It has had to do so to stay in government because the Greens have become so extreme.
Sadly, the Greens in this State and nationally have similar extreme views. The Greens adopt the tactic of making submissions public so that they are sensationalised and thus create political capital for the Greens. Earlier I asked the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Duncan Gay, whether he was happy to assist the Greens' political agenda given that their tactics are designed to gain votes. Members of this House should step back from this issue and try to balance the debate by considering the hidden agendas. Our decision should be made dispassionately and not on the spur of the moment. Honourable members need to think very carefully about what we are doing in both the short term and the long term for the good of this State.
I remind honourable members that I have moved an amendment to the Greens' motion so that the documents will not be made public but will be made available for inspection by members of the House only. I note that a letter sent to the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries by the New South Wales Farmers Association makes the valid point that the co-operative attitude of organisations making submissions to the council for its careful consideration may be undermined if those organisations think that the submissions will be made public. Organisations and companies will think twice in the future about what they put into submissions and reports, lest those submissions and reports find their way onto the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. Members of this House ought to be encouraging companies, especially those involved with GM technology, to be absolutely truthful, frank and open in revealing all factors when they present material to the New South Wales Agricultural Council on Gene Technology. We do not want companies and organisations to be considering in the back of their minds that the submissions might affect the future of their companies.
Members of this House should assist in creating a climate of confidence in relation not only to GM technology but to all matters dealt with by this Parliament. People need to be able to trust that when members of this Parliament set procedures in place, we will adhere to those procedures and not torpedo the process, which is possibly what will happen as a result of the motion that is before the House. The Christian Democratic Party supports the amendment and will support the motion, but has reservations about the whole strategy that has been adopted by the Greens.
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD (Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) [4.08 p.m.]: At the outset I address the claim made by Mr Ian Cohen at the commencement of his contribution to this debate. In effect, the honourable member said that I had placed the matter before the council and forced the council to deal with it at its first meeting. For the information of the honourable member, I make a couple of points clear. This is what I said to the council in a letter dated 31 October 2003:
Dear Professor Reeves
The Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) is currently reviewing an application … from Monsanto for the general release of Roundup Ready® canola that is tolerant of the herbicide glyphosate. It is my intention, if general release is permitted by the OGTR, to issue a moratorium order prohibiting cultivation of Roundup Ready® canola in New South Wales. This, together with the current moratorium order pertaining to Bayer CropScience's InVigor® canola will prevent the cultivation of genetically modified (GM) canola in New South Wales while market and trade issues are addressed.
I have received applications from both Bayer CropScience and Monsanto for a number of trial plantings of GM canola in New South Wales. Any cultivation of InVigor® or Roundup Ready® canola in NSW will need to be carried out under exemption orders pursuant to clause 8(1) of the Gene Technology (GM Crops Moratorium) Act 2003. Pursuant to clause 8(2), I am writing to the New South Wales Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology to consult with it and to seek its recommendation as to whether the exemption orders should be made. Copies of the applications from the biotechnology companies will be made available to the Council for their consideration.
That is the only communication that I have had with the Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology. Opposition members said earlier that at the meeting that was held recently in Wagga Wagga I attempted to force council into taking some action. That is a lie. For the benefit of Mr Ian Cohen, those same provisions were inserted into the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Bill in May this year. A provision in that legislation requires the advisory council to advise me within 28 days. Council is aware of that provision and I am sure it will work through the necessary processes in an attempt to conclude that matter. I do not have to tell council—and nor would I want to—what its business is and when it should deliver advice to me.
The Hon. Rick Colless made some comments about the trial that was conducted at Ashbridge Road near Wagga Wagga. Bayer Crop Science conducted an Eliza strip test. It informed NSW Agriculture that that test proved negative. I am referring to the canola that was grown in the monitored 400-metre test strip of wheat surrounding the non-GM and GM canola strip. NSW Agriculture is currently conducting its own independent tests to confirm those results. I remind honourable members, however, that the advisory council found that the plants were "almost certainly not GM and posed a negligible risk". I presented to honourable members only what has been presented to me by the advisory council. I have made clear the testing issues that were raised by members.
The New South Wales Farmers Association wrote to me recently and said that it stood by the letter that had been written by its President, Mal Peters. I am led to believe that all honourable members received a copy of that letter, but if they have not I have a copy available if they wish to see it. Today the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in his normal, flamboyant, inaccurate and overblown way, accused me of being a cowboy in relation to this issue. I remind the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and all Opposition members that the advisory council is not appointed by me in the main.
The Hon. Rick Colless: In the main?
The Hon. IAN MACDONALD: I refer to section 13 subsections (1) and (2) of the Act. Subsection (1), which deals with the appointment of members of the Agricultural Advisory Council on Gene Technology, states that those members are to be appointed by me. Subsection (2) states:
(2) The members of the Advisory Council are:
(a) a person appointed on the nomination of the Director-General of the Department of Agriculture, and
(b) a person appointed on the nomination of the NSW Farmers’ Association, and
(c) a person appointed on the nomination of the Network of Concerned Farmers, and
(d) a person appointed on the nomination of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW Incorporated, and
(e) a person appointed on the nomination of Graincorp Limited, and
(f) a person appointed on the nomination of Australian Wheat Board Pty Ltd, and
(g) a person appointed on the nomination of the Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and
(h) a person appointed on the nomination of the Chair of Avcare Limited, and
(i) a person appointed on the nomination of the Chair of the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and
(j) a person appointed to be the independent chairperson of the Advisory Council.
All members, bar the member appointed by NSW Agriculture and the independent chair, are appointed by organisations that are key stakeholders in this field. They presented their nominations to me and I approved every one of those nominations. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, in accusing me of behaving like a cowboy in relation to this issue, is having a go at the advisory council that was established as a result of the passage of legislation in this House. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile moved an amendment to the legislation that enabled the establishment of that body. Members of the advisory council are stakeholders; they are not cowboys. They represent a wide variety of views. They all have different views on GM and they are all looking carefully and logically at these issues. They will make recommendations to me which I will then consider.
This council was established as a result of an amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile which was supported by the Opposition. The Government will support the amendment that was moved earlier by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. However, it is concerned about the way in which this motion is couched. It is quite clear from discussions that Mr Ian Cohen has had with members in this Chamber that documents that are presented to the House will be made public as a result of this motion. That is the main aim of his motion. Mr Ian Cohen wants documents to be made public. He wants to colour the debate. That is what he did earlier when he said that I was forcing the Advisory Council to deal with this matter. I have a copy of the memorandum that was distributed by Mr Ian Cohen to the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Hon. Rick Colless and all members on the crossbenches.
I looked through that interesting document, which does not refer to the key issue in the honourable member's motion—to make documents public without restricted access. He states throughout his memorandum that members of Parliament should be entitled to view these documents and that it is exceedingly important for them to be properly informed. However, there is no mention in this document about the intent of his motion—to make documents public without restricted access. That key phrase is nowhere to be found in a full-page document that was circulated to members on the crossbenches. That reveals the true intent of Mr Ian Cohen—to make public these papers and to whip up a storm prior to the advisory council dealing with these matters.
As I said earlier, that council was established as a result of legislation that was passed in this Chamber. The honourable member's motion is designed to put as much pressure as possible on those members of council. The Government will accept the amendment moved earlier by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. Members like the Hon. Rick Colless who have concerns about certain aspects of genetic modification should examine every issue in order to satisfy themselves that no big conspiracy is afoot. Mr Ian Cohen will also have an opportunity to look at documents and to make up his mind. The amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile will ensure that this matter is not turned into a big, inflamed public issue—something that I know the Greens are capable of doing. That is what they do every time they move motions of this nature.
This matter must be considered by members of the advisory council and dealt with appropriately. I assure honourable members that the Government will provide to them full details of any decision that is taken in relation to this issue. If the Government decides to proceed with a trial—which is what is being advocated by the New South Wales Farmers Association—every condition that is relevant to those trials will be made public, just as they are made available to every member of this Parliament and every member of the community on the Office of Gene Technology Regulator web site. I urge honourable members to support the amendment moved earlier by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile.
The Hon. JON JENKINS [4.19 p.m.]: I will quote from the memorandum that was sent to members on the crossbenches by Mr Ian Cohen, but before doing so I have two questions to ask. First, the allegation in the document is that a commercial crop of canola is being tested. I presume that is within the Government's policy and is the purpose for the gene technology genetically modified crop moratorium. Is that correct?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No. I do not have the call, sorry.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: The allegation is that first there will be a commercial size test planting.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No, the proposal is for a marketing trial.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: Let me ask these questions: First, is that true? Second, will those crops be sold commercially? Third, is that within the rules and guidelines under the Gene Technology (GM Crop Moratorium) Act?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: You are asking me to pre-empt the advisory council? I am not going to do that. They are still considering it. I have no idea what they will recommend.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: The Minister interjected that he will not pre-empt the council's decision. The problem with that is that this could all happen before Parliament reconvenes next year.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No, it cannot be grown until May or June next year. It cannot be planted.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: The crop cannot be planted until May or June next year, therefore there is ample time for Parliament to intervene in the process at some point in time. Is that correct?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: No—when the council decides.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: Could the Minister restate that so it is recorded in Hansard.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: There is no planting of a winter crop of canola until late April, May or June next year—two months after we come back on 17 February.
The Hon. JON JENKINS: There will be no planting of this 5,000-hectare test crop before Parliament resumes next year?
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: It cannot be planted, it is a winter crop. They do not plant it in summer.
Mr IAN COHEN [4.21 p.m.], in reply: I thank all participants in a debate that the Greens, and many other members, including The Nationals, consider to be extremely important. It was interesting to hear what stirs the Minister to heights of enthusiasm. We heard the Hon. Ian Macsanto extolling the virtues of genetically modified [GM] crops. It certainly is a worry when I hear that type of thing in the House. I admit that the Minister was not calling me a liar, but was trying to imply that I am a liar. I will put on the record a few questions in return. I ask: Why are the minutes of the meetings not made public? Would it not be more transparent if they were? What is the process of the council? The papers were made available only two days prior to the council meeting. Is that what the Minister would call adequate transparency and accessibility?
There was debate on the substantive issue of crops growing on the test strip. I do not hide the concerns of the Greens about genetically modified crops. However, time and time again we have said that we thought we were getting scientific investigation in this moratorium period, not commercial crops. And 5,000 hectares of test crops will be a container load. Will it be sold internationally? Will it be preserved as seed and made available when the moratorium is lifted? I believe that this is a cynical exercise of commercialisation of what is supposed to be a scientific crop. We have seen many cases of that type of thing in the past. I note that with even the small crop trials there was escape of GM product, and a certain authority said it was not GM. How long does a plant that is growing adjacent to a GM crop remain non-GM? I would really like to know that and to know how safe it is.
The amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile in its complete form means that there will be opportunity for inspection of papers only by members of the House. That cuts out any opportunity for public inspection and overrides what I understood was the case under the new standing orders. I understood that if papers were laid on the table by the Clerk of the House, the public had the opportunity to inspect them. However, there could be a claim of privilege against that public opportunity to inspect. In the past there have been instances of matters that had gained privilege and were available only to members of the House. Today we have seen some clever manoeuvring by Minister Macsanto.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: Point of order: I ask the honourable member—no, not honourable member, but Mr Ian Cohen—to withdraw that comment. I assure honourable members that I carry no can for any company in this field, whether it is involved in genetic modification or not. I am presented with a situation which is the product of legislation of this House. I will uphold my duties and responsibilities to the people of New South Wales under the legislation. I ask the member to withdraw that typical Greens snide, sleight-of-hand comment that they usually use to try to label things, such as "Frankenstein foods". They say "nano-goo" instead of "nano-technology". That is typical of their lack of ability to deal intellectually with any issue. They descend into their typical rhetoric and mud-slinging to deal with any individual who might have a slightly different view. I ask him to withdraw the comment.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: To the point of order: The correct manner of addressing members of this House, particularly Ministers, has been raised before. They should be referred to by their correct name, usually with their title. The term used is against the standing orders of the House.
Mr IAN COHEN: I withdraw my prior comment. I am mortified to think that I have caused such offence to the sensitive Minister. This is the ninth year I have been a member of this House, and it is interesting to see such sensitivity emerging, particularly from this Minister, having witnessed his performance. It just shows that we can all deconstruct. It shows that the sensitive new-age Minister can come to the fore and I really appreciate that. I am sorry, Minister Macdonald. I appreciate being kept in line not only by a member of the House but also by a man of the cloth, a man of such integrity. I thank you for your guidance, Reverend.
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile: I accept your thanks.
Mr IAN COHEN: I will continue.
The Hon. Ian Macdonald: There is hope for you yet.
Mr IAN COHEN: Yes, there is hope. Perhaps I am just looking to heaven to see how we can avoid the GM perversion of God's plan. Effectively, the amendment moved by Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile will mean that only members of the House can view this material. Time and again this has happened and there has been some confusion. I did not insist that those words "and be made public without restricted access" be included on the Notice Paper. I am told that was part of the regular phrasing used by the Clerks of the House. I have no problem with that.
In response to Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, that was not my doing, it was a case of taking advice. Nevertheless, it has happened. I had no problem with eliminating the words, but now, very cleverly, the Minister has assisted Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile. Or perhaps Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile did this all on his own, with a little bit of help from above. The amendment inserts the words "that it be inspected by the members of the House only". That clearly creates a different situation, and happens to coincide with what the Minister required in the first place. The amendment will mean that the papers will not be laid on the table, nor will any claim of privilege be arbitrated by an independent legal arbitrator. This has happened before. The wording of the motion should enable a decision to be made on any claim of privilege. The amendment does not do that. It stifles any opportunity for public access and—
Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile bleats from the sidelines, but he knows he has manipulated the situation so that there will be no public access, no question of privilege and no way of making an application. The amendment of Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile imposes a blanket ban that will prevent any public access, which is exactly what the Minister wanted. Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile has had a good strategic win but it does not detract from the Greens concerns about the need to lay these papers on the table of the House, except when the documents are commercial-in-confidence or are judged by a suitably qualified person to be too sensitive. I congratulate Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, who is in cohorts with the Government, on his achievement.
Amendment agreed to.
Motion as amended agreed to.