GREENS MOTION: Preventing the GM crops moratorium on mainland SA being lifted

Today Mark moved to disallow the Government's Regulations that will lift the moratorium on growing GM crops on mainland SA from 1 December 2019. 


I move:

That the regulations made under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004 concerning Designation of Area, made on 10 October 2019 and laid on the table of this council on 15 October 2019, be disallowed.

The Greens are moving to disallow these regulations that lift the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified crops in South Australia, other than Kangaroo Island, and we are doing so for a number of reasons.

The first reason is that, less than two years ago, this Parliament decided to extend the moratorium that banned GM crops across the entire state until September 2025. The bill passed by both houses of parliament was done with the understanding that any future decision to lift the moratorium could only be done with the support of both houses of parliament and by legislation. During debate on that bill in 2017, the Liberals, while in opposition, opposed it, even moving to adjourn debate during private members' business to prevent it passing. Their position was made crystal clear at the time, so it comes as no surprise that the Marshall Liberal Government now wants to lift the moratorium.

However, rather than bringing an amendment bill to this Parliament to test the will of the Parliament to lift the moratorium, they found a loophole in the drafting of the 2017 amendment act that they could exploit. The Marshall Liberal Government has instead chosen to go down a sneaky path of changing the scope of the regulations, whilst leaving the moratorium expiry date, agreed by Parliament, in place. As I have said previously, the Government's move is sneaky, cynical and it treats the Parliament with contempt. For this reason alone, I think an appropriate response for this chamber is to disallow the regulations and force the Government to introduce an amendment bill that we can test in debate.

The next reason to disallow these regulations is that, for the last year, a select committee of the Legislative Council has been inquiring into the genetically modified crops moratorium and has now tabled its report. In this report, the select committee has not recommended lifting the moratorium. As a member of that committee, I will be speaking to that report on the next private members' day, but it is important to note this outcome now as it is relevant to this disallowance motion.

Another reason to disallow the regulations is the consideration of marketing and economic benefit. The world is demanding cleaner, greener and more natural food, which includes non-GM and organic foods. We know that this demand is continually growing. In order to take advantage of the opportunities to supply to these important and lucrative niche overseas markets, South Australia needs to maintain its clean and green image. Retaining the statewide South Australian moratorium will position us well for the future.

We also know that in those states where both GM and non-GM canola is grown, the non-GM crop attracts a higher price at the silo. There is indisputable evidence that the market favours non-GM. The market will pay you more per tonne for non-GM canola, compared with genetically modified varieties. According to the State Government's own data, provided in evidence to the select committee by the Chief Executive of PIRSA, Scott Ashby, non-GM canola achieves on average $30 to $35 per tonne more than GM canola in those states that allow both GM and non-GM canola to be grown. That is not an opinion, that is a statement of fact.

Where South Australian grain growers have marketed South Australia's clean and green image to these overseas markets—and with an important part of their marketing being the existence of our GM crops moratorium—they have been successful in securing lucrative overseas markets. A case in point is Kangaroo Island Pure Grain, which sells their products to buyers in Japan who are very particular about the non-GM status of the place of origin of the grain they purchase.

Two large Japanese consumer cooperatives have written to the select committee asking that South Australia retain the moratorium. The success of Kangaroo Island Pure Grain's marketing of SA's clean, green, GM-free status is a good example of what can be achieved by other grain producers, but this can only happen if we retain the moratorium.

The final reason that I will raise today is the issue of choice. The problem we face, if the government lifts the moratorium, is that the choice of a farmer to grow GM crops impacts on the choice of neighbouring farmers to grow non-GM or organic crops. This is because wherever GM crops are grown alongside non-GM or organic crops, there is a substantial risk that contamination will occur.

Again, this is not opinion, this is fact and it is supported by evidence of numerous instances of contamination in locations where GM crops are grown. The cost of these contamination incidents is usually borne by the farmers whose crops have been contaminated. So, in providing the choice for farmers to grow GM crops, we need to recognise that this can impact the choices of other farmers to remain free of contamination.

The Greens' view on the GM crops moratorium is well known. We think the moratorium should remain because there is clear evidence that it is the best result for South Australia. We also know the view of the Marshall Liberal Government: they want to lift the moratorium, and if it were not for my 2017 amendment bill they may well have been proposing to lift the moratorium across the entire state.

What we are not sure about, though, is the view of the Labor opposition, so I would like to remind the Labor Party of what position they took to last year's state election. In response to a Gene Ethics election questionnaire that was sent to all parties and candidates in the 2018 state election, the South Australian Labor Party stated:

The State Labor Government's long-standing policy on genetically modified (GM) food crops is very clear.

They also said:

The State Labor Government is committed to maintaining the moratorium on the commercial cultivation of GM food crops in South Australia.

Expanding on this they submitted the following:

South Australia is the only remaining mainland state in Australia to prohibit the commercial cultivation of GM food crops. Our non-GM status is one of the elements underpinning our global reputation as a supplier of premium products, and supporting the State Labor Government's Premium Food and Wine Produced in our Clean Environment and Exported to the World economic priority. These credentials give the State's primary producers and food and beverage manufacturers a competitive marketing advantage in the global marketplace.

In 2004 the State Labor Government implemented a moratorium on the commercial cultivation of genetically modified food crops, which we extended until 1 September 2019. We recently supported an extension of this moratorium until 2025 because we believe so strongly in realising the opportunities provided by South Australia's non-GM status.

Extending the prohibition on growing GM food crops provides greater certainty to our trading partners and industry, enables South Australia to maintain its market position as a producer of premium, non-GM food, and responds to the expected increase in global demand.

The State Labor Government is fully committed to maintaining this policy position.

It does not come any clearer than that. That was the specific response of the Labor Party to questions that were asked of them in the lead-up to the last state election. So the Greens are calling on the South Australian Labor Party, now in opposition, to keep their word and remain fully committed to maintaining this policy position.

I would also like to take the opportunity to highlight the legacy of SA-Best's previous leader, Nick Xenophon, and his support in this place of not only a GM-free South Australia but of stronger GM labelling laws and laws to protect farmers whose crops are contaminated by GM material. Back in 2007, the Hon. Nick Xenophon, the Australian Democrats MLC the Hon. Sandra Kanck and I agreed to work together to introduce a suite of three bills into the Council on these three issues.

Unfortunately, the Hon. Nick Xenophon resigned from the Legislative Council a few weeks before he had the chance to introduce his GM labelling bill, so only two of these three bills were ultimately introduced into the Council. However, prior to this, the Hon. Nick Xenophon made numerous speeches expressing his concern about GM crops and foods. In July 2003, Nick Xenophon began a speech on Genetically Modified Food with the following words:

I refer to the very important issue of genetically modified foods and crops and the debate that has been raging not only here in Australia but overseas. This is an issue that is very dear to my heart and also to that of the Hon. Ian Gilfillan, given his consistent, persistent campaign on this issue, and my colleague the Hon. Julian Stefani, who has raised concerns about genetically modified crops and foods on a number of occasions in this chamber.

During debate on the Hon. Ian Gilfillan's private member's bill the Gene Technology (Responsibility for the Spread of Genetically Modified Plant Material) Bill in December 2003, the Hon. Nick Xenophon said:

I indicate my support for the Hon. Ian Gilfillan's bill. I, too, share his concerns about the potential liability impacts of genetically modified crops. I am concerned that farmers will not have sufficient protections.

Finally, in debate on the Genetically Modified Crops Management Bill in March 2004, the Hon. Nick Xenophon stated:

If we allow the contamination of non-GM crops in this state by GM crops, that will be irreversible and irrevocable, and it will damage forever the state's clean and green reputation.

The Hon. Nick Xenophon was absolutely correct in his assertion about the damage this could cause to our state's clean and green reputation. This is something that this Parliament cannot ignore. I implore both the Labor Party and SA-Best to continue to stand firm on retaining South Australia's GM-free status and support the motion for disallowance of these regulations so that we can retain the moratorium across South Australia.

For the benefit of members, I advise that I will be bringing this motion to a vote on Wednesday 27 November, which is prior to the commencement of the Government's regulations, which will, if not disallowed, come into operation on 1 December. Farmers need certainty about whether or not they can start growing GM crops next season, and the decision of this Chamber prior to the commencement of those regulations will provide that certainty for farmers.

With these words, I commend the motion to the Chamber.