GREENS MOTION: Greens win vote to prevent GM crops moratorium being lifted

Today the Greens' motion to disallow the Government's Regulations that would have lifted the moratorium on growing GM crops on mainland SA from 1 December 2019 passed in the Upper House.  It was supported by Labor Opposition and SA-Best and opposed by Advance SA and the Liberal Government. 

MOTION (as moved on 31 October 2019)

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 Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I begin by thanking the members who have contributed: the Hon. John Darley, the Hon. Frank Pangallo, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. David Ridgway and the Hon. John Dawkins. I thank them all for their contributions. As tempting as it is to go through each of the issues that were raised, especially those just now by the Hon. David Ridgway, I am going to resist the temptation and will limit my remarks to an update of things that have happened since I introduced the motion, because I think that is appropriate.

The first thing I will say is that, in this game of numbers that the Hon. David Ridgway likes to play when he says, 'Well, 129 people put in a submission saying they wanted the GM moratorium lifted', it is a question of meet you and raise you one because I said last time that we had 900 South Australians who had signed a petition saying they wanted to keep South Australia GM free. Since I made those remarks I have collected another 500 on the steps of parliament today—another 500 South Australians who want the moratorium to remain in place.

The other thing I would say, in relation to the question of whether this is about process or about the merits of the issue, certainly for some members, from what we have heard today, the process has been the dominant consideration. For me—and I think no-one would doubt this—it is a question of both. We have argued and debated the merits of the GM issue for at least the last 14 years I have been in Parliament, but the process issue is not unimportant. I know it has been the defining factor for our colleagues in SA-Best.

I remind members that the process that this Parliament goes through in relation to regulations is a blunt instrument—it is one of disallowance or not. We have a statutory committee of parliament whose job it is to have a look at regulations. I urge members to go back and have a look at the ground rules for that committee to operate. If you go to the website of the Legislative Review Committee, it says that 'the committee scrutinises regulations in accordance with the following principles'.

One of those principles is whether the regulations contain matter which, in the opinion of the committee, should properly be dealt with in an act of parliament. That is one of the criteria for the Legislative Review Committee to determine to disallow regulations. I think the list of rules, (a) through to (g), that the Legislative Review Committee relies on are a good guide for us as well.

As the Hon. Connie Bonaros said, and I will paraphrase her, what Parliament giveth only Parliament should be able to taketh away, and that is how it should work. Only one-third of this Parliament is actually getting to debate this issue; there are two-thirds who are not. The Government needs to bring back a bill.

The other thing I would say is that the Hon. David Ridgway and others seem to think that this is somehow a question of belief or non-belief in science. He no doubt has in mind the fact that five scientists who work in the field of genetics published a full-page letter in The Advertiser. I do not know what it would cost these days to put in a full-page letter. One suggestion was $10,000 at least and it would have been out of their own pockets, I am sure. I do not know who paid for that letter by those five scientists.

People are thinking they had better pay attention to the science. Well, I will meet you and raise you one. I have a letter here by 30 international scientists from around the globe who urge us, as members of this South Australian Parliament, to keep the moratorium in place. Because they do not have the capacity to put a full-page ad in The Advertiser, I am going to read the letter to members of the South Australian Parliament about the moratorium on the cultivation of genetically modified crops in South Australia. The letter reads:

An open letter was recently written by five scientists making claims about the SA moratorium on GM crops, seeking to end the moratorium. The following should be noted.

The five scientists have vested interests in the matter that they have not declared.

In contrast to the claims by the five scientists, the moratorium does not prevent research into GM crops in South Australia. Nor does it prevent scientists from growing GM crops in trial sites in SA. The moratorium does not prevent the development of more resilient crops, or more sustainable farming.

The letter from the five scientists suggested that the moratorium has harmed scientific research and innovation in the State more generally. In fact, the GM crop research sector undertakes a tiny proportion of all scientific research conducted in the State, and employs a tiny proportion of all scientists in the State. Most SA scientists are not even aware that the sector exists in SA.

Crops that are genetically engineered to allow farmers to adapt to a changing climate are still undergoing research and are not currently available for farmers to plant. Such GM crops may never be commercially available. It is absurd to end a moratorium now, in order to plant crops that are actually not available.

Much of the debate in SA is about whether to grow GM canola. Yet GM canola is a small fraction of SA's agricultural produce, and those who want to grow GM canola are a small fraction of all canola growers. GM canola costs more to grow, has no yield advantage and routinely sells for a lower price. Consequently, GM canola remains a minority crop compared to conventional canola in States that allow it to be grown.

An argument has been put forward that ending the moratorium will allow non-GM farmers to market their produce as non-GM, which will allow them to get a premium for their crop, and therefore increase their income. This ignores the inevitable contamination of non-GM crops by GM crops, and the subsequent loss of any premium.

GM crops easily contaminate other crops. In North America alone, there have been contamination incidents from growing GM canola, wheat, flax, corn, rice, alfalfa and creeping bentgrass. Some of these have been from trial sites, before any commercial production. Losses have been in the billions of dollars.

GM canola has also contaminated non-GM crops in Australia. Pollen from herbicide-tolerant canola has been found to travel up to 5km in Australia.

If the moratorium ends, any initial freedom to choose to grow a GM crop or a non-GM crop will end once contamination occurs. Then farmers will be growing GM crops whether they want to or not. Under Australia's system, farmers who have been contaminated with a GM crop can be charged an end point royalty and fined for growing a GM crop without a licence. This is expected to push farmers into the arms of GM crop companies, to grow GM crops under licence rather than facing such costs from contamination.

GM crops have not increased yields compared to non-GM crops. Europe (which does not grow GM crops but invested in conventional plant breeding instead) and North America (which grows GM crops) both grow corn (maize) and canola, allowing yields to be compared between the two systems for this crops. Yield improvements in Europe have significantly outperformed those of North America for these crops since GM crops were introduced. Europe also reduced herbicide and insecticide use to a greater extent than the USA.

Repeated surveys show that consumers prefer not to eat GM crops. Why would SA drop its moratorium in order to plant crops that people don't want to buy?

Dropping the moratorium will allow all GM crops to be planted, including GM wheat. GM wheat has never been commercially grown anywhere in the world, and any escapes of GM wheat varieties from old trial sites are quickly eradicated. This is because wheat is eaten by people on a daily basis and is labelled in many countries. When Canadian farmers asked their markets whether they would accept GM wheat from Canada, they found that: 'The international customers that buy 82% of Canada's wheat crop say that they will stop buying if Canada introduces GM wheat. These customers have been clear—they will stop buying all wheat from us—GM and non-GM alike. This market loss issue applies to all GM wheat, not just RR wheat.' Any introduction of GM wheat into South Australia therefore risks losing an industry, that is worth $7.1 billion per year nationally (5-year average).

We urge the South Australian Parliament to maintain the GM crop moratorium until there is evidence that contamination can be prevented and farmers and the SA economy can benefit from its introduction.

I could read the list and all the qualifications and titles of the 30 signatories, but I undertake to provide that full list to any member who wants it. I will point out that they come from University Paris-Sud in France, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland—I just make the point that a number of these signatories are from Switzerland. The scientists from Switzerland who signed this letter said in their replies that their country has been thriving under a GM moratorium and they could not understand why we in South Australia would want to drop ours.

Other signatories come from King's College, London; Ithaca, New York; California; University of Canterbury, New Zealand; and the Health Research Institute in Iowa. I will not go through all of them, but you need to get a feel for the calibre of the institutions in which these people work—University of Edinburgh, Coventry University—

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Parnell, do you wish to table it?

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Yes, I will table the letter, but that will not appear in Hansard so I just wanted some of these institutions—

The PRESIDENT: I understand that.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Thank you. I seek leave to table the letter; I will provide a copy.

Leave granted.

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I will not go right to the end of the list, but there are signatories from American universities, European universities—it is an extensive list of scientists, and they debunk the paid advertisement placed in the newspaper by those five scientists on Monday. The final thing I will point out is the Government's official response to the Parliament's Select Committee on Moratorium on the Cultivation of Genetically Modified Crops in South Australia.

We have previously discussed the tabling of that paper and I have spoken to that. The Government response was tabled today, just a few hours ago. Effectively, it says that the three recommendations that did find unanimous support by the committee did not relate to lifting or keeping the moratorium; they related to helping farmers. For example, they related to working with primary producers and the food and wine industry:

…to outline key steps and milestones to enhance marketing opportunities for primary producers and the value adding chain.

These are recommendations to help farmers. The Government's response is that if we, today, disallow these regulations, the Government will not support any of these pro-farmer measures. If we allow the moratorium to be lifted, the Government will support these recommendations. The Government's support for farmers is conditional on this regulation not being disallowed. What a pathetic response from the Government. What a pathetic 'take your bat and ball and go home' response to say, 'We like these recommendations but we are not going to support them unless you play our way and don't disallow these regulations.' It is remarkable.

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: Order, particularly from the Government benches!

Members interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Mr Ridgway, I have said 'order'!

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: That was the final thing I wanted to put on the record, other than to thank the 1,400 people who engaged with me on my website and through my petition. I would particularly like to thank—

The Hon. D.W. Ridgway: Are they all South Australian?

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Yes, they are all South Australian; I have their addresses. I would like to thank Dr Judy Carman from the Institute of Health and Environmental Research. I would like to thank those 30 international scientist who, on a day's notice, agreed to sign this letter to correct the scientific record. I thank them, and I would also like to thank Cate Mussared in my office, who has researched this issue for well over a decade. Cate knows more about GM than, I would suggest, almost everyone else in this room. I thank her for her research. I thank those members who have agreed to support this disallowance motion and I am confident that it will shortly pass.

The council divided on the motion:

Ayes 11

Noes 8

Majority 3

Bonaros, C. Bourke, E.S. Franks, T.A.
Hanson, J.E. Hunter, I.K. Ngo, T.T.
Pangallo, F. Parnell, M.C. (teller) Pnevmatikos, I.
Scriven, C.M. Wortley, R.P.  

Darley, J.A. Dawkins, J.S.L. Hood, D.G.E.
Lee, J.S. Lensink, J.M.A. Lucas, R.I.
Ridgway, D.W. (teller) Stephens, T.J.  

Maher, K.J. Wade, S.G.  

Motion thus carried.

You can read Mark's speech on moving the disallowance motion here