GREENS MOTION: Greens win vote to reinstate GM crops moratorium on mainland SA

Today the Greens' motion to disallow the Government's Regulations that lifted the moratorium on growing GM crops on mainland SA from 1 January 2020 passed in the Upper House.  It was supported by Labor Opposition and SA-Best and opposed by the Liberal Government. 

MOTION (as moved on 19 February 2020)

That the regulations under the Genetically Modified Crops Management Act 2004 concerning Designation of Area No. 2, made on 19 December 2019 and laid on the table of this council on 5 February 2020, be disallowed.

In summing up the debate I would like to thank the Hon. Clare Scriven and the Hon. Emily Bourke for their contributions and support. I also thank the Hon. David Ridgway for his contribution.

This is the second time in the last three months that the Legislative Council is to vote on a motion to disallow these regulations. The arguments in favour of the motion have not changed substantially in those three months. As other members have said, I also do not propose to repeat those arguments again now, but I do need to reflect on some recent developments.

What is most incomprehensible to me is the Government's belligerent approach to this issue. Yesterday, we saw the Minister issue a press release that included a promise to 'continue to reintroduce regulations lifting the GM moratorium on the SA mainland if SA-Best, the Greens and the Labor Party disallow them in Parliament.' That is the threat. Rather than focusing on good policy, good legislation and protecting the best interests of all South Australians, the Minister is saying, 'It's my way or the highway.' Effectively he is saying, 'If you keep disallowing my regulations I will just keep reintroducing them.'

When we do, for the second time, disallow these regulations—which I fully expect we will very shortly—tomorrow's Government Gazette may well see these regulations re-emerge from the ashes for a third time, exactly the same regulations, and it will be no surprise to the Minister or any other member to see a third disallowance motion introduced soon after that. The Minister seems to think that by mounting a war of attrition he can somehow convince those who do not agree with him to just give up. That is not going to happen.

I think the Minister's attitude is contemptuous of the Parliament and our proper lawmaking processes. It is contemptuous of the Legislative Council. Even worse than that, it is contemptuous of consumers and of farmers, the vast bulk of whom do not want and will not plant genetically modified crops.

The Minister seems to say that by continually reintroducing the same regulations he is somehow providing confidence to invest in South Australia. That is absolute rubbish, because even Grain Producers SA, who support lifting the moratorium, are smart enough to advise their members that planting GM crops in reliance of these regulations and before the issue is properly resolved in Parliament is fraught with danger. To quote from the Grain Producers newsletter to members that was sent out on 31 January:

While GPSA cautiously welcomed these new regulations following the defeat of legislation in Parliament late last year, it is expected that Greens MLC Mark Parnell will immediately move to disallow these regulations, which (if successful) would re-instate the moratorium across South Australia.

For that reason, GPSA has warned growers to exercise caution given the legal uncertainty which exists at this stage. If the moratorium is reintroduced, growers possessing GM material may face fines of up to $200,000 under the current provisions of the Act.

So far from providing certainty and confidence, the Minister's belligerent approach in continuing to try to do this through regulations is adding to the uncertainty that farmers are facing. What is also galling is that when other members of parliament have the temerity to suggest that farmer protection measures should be put in place to deal with the inevitable contamination and losses that will accompany introduction of GM crops, all they get from the Minister is vitriol and criticism. The Minister went so far yesterday as to claim that if the agrochemical corporations were forced to stand behind their products and to accept responsibility when things go wrong they would boycott South Australia.

We need to think this through, we need to nut this out. We know that contamination from GM crops to non-GM crops is inevitable. Everywhere that GM canola has been grown it eventually spreads off farm. We also know that this contamination can result in loss and additional expense for those landholders whose properties are contaminated. Yet the Minister says that if we try to make the multibillion dollar international agrochemical corporations responsible for the losses that their products cause, then they will boycott South Australia.

Let's put this in the context of how our society works. We do not allow uninsured motor vehicles on our roads. We do not allow uninsured airlines to fly over our communities. Doctors and lawyers cannot practise their professions without insurance. Requiring businesses to stand behind the safety of their products, their services and their processes is already enshrined in many state laws. It is not a new concept. As well as the examples I just gave, we have laws, for example, where the EPA can demand security deposits, bonds and financial guarantees from companies in situations where spills and other contamination will be expensive to clean up. Without the guarantee, you do not get a licence to operate. That is the law in South Australia.

Yet, in the case of GM crops, the Minister wants to give Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, a free ride with no responsibility whatsoever for the harm we know their products will cause. Instead, he prefers a free-for-all where farmers sue each other in the courts for damages and where struggling rural communities are further divided, whilst a company that was most recently valued at $100 billion gets away scot-free. That is not what we want for South Australia, in my view.

If the Minister had any credibility on this matter, he would abandon his plan to use subordinate legislation to undermine the will of the Parliament and he would instead prosecute his plan B. As other members have referred to already, the Minister has a plan B. He has a bill that he has introduced into the assembly to achieve the same outcome as these regulations. The Minister says that they will be debating that bill in the assembly this week and that we will receive it in the Legislative Council sometime after that.

Of course, legislating is not the Government's preferred option because they do not want to consider any amendments. In fact, the Minister yesterday went so far as to claim that some parts of the industry would rather wait until the moratorium expires in the year 2025 than accept some of the accountability and transparency measures that have been proposed by other MPs. In relation to how best to enshrine accountability and transparency, I will leave that debate for another day, but the clear message to the Minister is that he cannot avoid this debate. That is what Parliament is for. We owe it to South Australians to consider all the implications of government policies and to pass legislation that considers the interests of all South Australians, not just the interests of a few.

The final thing that I will say is to thank those members and staff who came along yesterday to the briefing that I convened to hear an alternative point of view to that being promoted by the Minister. I know not all members could attend, so just briefly one of the people who addressed MPs was a fourth-generation farmer, Bob Mackley, from the Wimmera.

When reflecting on the Hon. David Ridgway's comment that a fence should be enough, what he showed us were photos of the fence that had been completely knocked over by the GM canola in flood conditions, flooding onto the neighbour's property, contaminating the neighbour's property, travelling distances of hundreds of metres. Mr Mackley talked to us about the efforts he had to go through to try to clean up that mess and the division that it caused in the community. He described how he had previously been on friendly terms with his neighbour but this GM contamination spoiled everything.

Members also heard yesterday from Dr John Paull from the University of Tasmania. He is a renowned environmental scientist and expert in organic agriculture. He is the editor of the peer-reviewed Journal of Organics and has presented around the world on this topic. Members also heard from Mark Gower, the general manager for NASAA Organic. That is the certifying body. That was the session for MPs, and later in the evening they were joined by even more experts. We had Dr Judy Carman, a director of the Institute of Health and Environmental Research, and also Robert Rees, the agricultural economist. Robert's contribution was particularly important because he has worked in this industry for government for many years.

The take-home message from all of these people, in both the public forum I convened last night and also the briefing session for MPs, was that the moratorium serves South Australia well. It will serve us even better in the future if we embrace the opportunities that it affords and we must have rocks in our head if we thought lifting it was a good idea.

The Government's position of allowing GM crops does come with a range of hidden costs. Those costs and the implications of GM crops have not been properly addressed, and the Government is so far refusing to address them. If that remains the stand-off, waiting until the current moratorium expires in 2025 and a possible change of government before then may be the most likely outcome. Certainly, keeping the moratorium in place until 2025 would be an outcome the Greens would certainly support, but for now the best that we can do is to disallow these regulations and then debate the Government's bill when it eventually reaches us from the Assembly.

The council divided on the motion:

Ayes 10
Noes 7
Majority 3

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

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

Bonaros, C.   Darley, J.A.   Ngo, T.T.
Liberal Vacancy

Motion thus carried.

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