BILL: Lifting the GM crops moratorium on mainland SA

Today Labor, SA-Best and Advance SA voted with the Government to remove the moratorium on GM crops on mainland SA, without any protections for non-GM and organic farmers. The Greens were the only party voting to keep SA GM-free.

Mark's amendments to reverse the Labor amendments that had removed ministerial discretion and public notification of experimental GM crops trials, and automatically allowed GM crop trials to occur in GM-free areas including KI, passed. However his amendments relating to farmer protections, GM contamination risk assessment, public notification of GM crop locations and allowing Councils rather than the Minister to be the decision makers if they wish to remain GM-free, were voted down.

Below is Mark’s speech and the results of the final vote.


Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill

South Australians are rightly proud of our international reputation as a clean, green, healthy place to live and to visit. Equally, we are proud of our reputation for producing clean, green, quality food. It is no wonder that so many South Australians, as well as a number of iconic South Australian food producers, are disheartened and dismayed that the Marshall Liberal government are intent on threatening this reputation by ruthlessly lifting the moratorium on growing genetically modified crops, no matter the cost.

They have made it very clear that they are more interested in putting the economic interests of the multinational agrochemical companies ahead of South Australian farmers. They are refusing to consider simple amendments to protect our farmers and the financial losses that they will incur once GM contamination of non-GM farms happens. Contamination is inevitable; it is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.

It is absolutely appropriate that so many South Australians have been questioning the motives of this government and the Minister for Primary Industries over protecting foreign-owned big businesses at the expense of our own farmers. It is a question that I would like the government to answer as well. The original bill, as introduced into the House of Assembly, was identical to the bill that this council rejected last December. The current bill should have met the same fate and likely would have had it not been for the complete about-face by the Labor Party.

This is the same Labor Party that had been the architects and the champions of our state GM crops moratorium for 16 years. That was until two weeks ago. Under the leadership of the Peter Malinauskas (member for Croydon) and opposition spokesperson for primary industries, Eddie Hughes (member for Giles), the Labor Party has sold out its own supporters—those who voted for them based on their election promise to retain the moratorium.

The Labor Party has also sold out our organic industries and non-GM farmers with their dirty deal to get the GM crops moratorium lifted without any of the protections, safeguards or avenues for compensation that non-GM and organic farmers and their representative bodies have been calling for. This behaviour is disgraceful.

What makes the Labor Party's sell-out even more ridiculous is that less than 48 hours after the deal was done and the amended bill had passed the lower house—so before the ink had even dried on the deal—the Minister for Primary Industries turned his back on the agreement with Labor and unilaterally lifted the moratorium again, via regulations, for a fourth time. Those regulations remain in force today, and again, the government has refused to table them in parliament because they are fearful of yet another disallowance motion.

So much for Labor's plan to allow local councils six months to consult and decide whether they would like to stay GM free. The moratorium is lifted, and it was lifted less than 48 hours after the deal was struck between Labor and the government. With the moratorium already lifted, once GM crops are planted, there is no going back. Once the genie is out of the bottle, you cannot put it back.

If the government had had the courage of its convictions to table the regulations today. and if this council was minded to disallow these regulations again, for a fourth time, tomorrow, then the minister would no doubt have put new regulations into the Gazette again on Thursday, as he has every other time that this council has disallowed the regulations.

The minister put out a media release saying that he will continue to ignore proper parliamentary processes and keep using regulations until he gets his way. This minister has no respect for our parliament, our democracy or the people of South Australia. The frightening thing is that the minister's behaviour in this matter is a clear indication to me that he has no intention of approving any application from any local council that decides that they want to stay GM free. When the minister continually overrides the democratic decisions of this chamber to impose his own will and agenda on the state, then what chance does a local council have?

That is the first major problem with Labor's dodgy deal, that it was broken within 48 hours of being signed. The second flaw is that Labor has moved some inexplicable amendments that relate to experimental rather than commercial GM crops. They moved these amendments without so much as a word of explanation. There was nothing in Labor's second reading speech in the lower house. They were not explained when the amendments were moved in the committee stage in the lower house. They were not explained to the media, and they were not explained in the form letters sent to their constituents.

I am hoping that Labor has had a change of heart in relation to this because the Labor amendments inexplicably removed ministerial exemptions for experimental GM crops from the act. Just to be clear, they are not removing the ability for experimental GM crops, also known as GM crop trials, to be grown in South Australia: they are in fact doing the opposite of that. They are effectively vacating the field and removing all ministerial discretion and decision-making as well as public notifications through publication of crop trial information in the Government Gazette.

While deleting this power in the act, they have also gone one step further and allowed experimental GM crops to be grown without public knowledge or ministerial discretion on Kangaroo Island and also in any council areas that are subsequently declared GM free. In short, they have gone even further than the government in abandoning all South Australian autonomy over trials of GM crops that are not authorised for commercial release. I am hoping very much that Labor has seen the light in relation to that, but we will see when we get to the committee stage.

I will just briefly run through the sets of amendments to this bill that I have filed. The set of amendments [Parnell-2] relates to this issue. It arises from the Labor amendments that went through in the other house. My amendments Nos 1, 4 and 5 are related. As I have mentioned, the Labor amendments in the lower house that established new subsection (1a) in section 5 and new section 5A(8) enabled experimental GM crops, or crop trials, to be grown anywhere on Kangaroo Island and in designated GM free council areas without the current requirement for a ministerial exemption. Labor's amendment at section 7(2) removes the provisions in the current act for ministerial exemptions for experimental GM crops anywhere in South Australia.

The effect of these amendments is that there will be no requirement for any ministerial decision or public notification in South Australia if someone with a limited-scale GMO licence issued by the federal Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) decides to grow an experimental GM crop anywhere in South Australia. My amendments seek to go back to the status quo in relation to that issue. I am hopeful that the Labor Party, having had this explained to them, will join with the Greens in supporting that amendment.

Amendments Nos 2 and 3 in my set No. 2 relate to the decision-making in relation to remaining GM free. The government's bill simply provides that a local council can ask the minister for permission to stay GM free. These amendments ensure that the council, having consulted its community, will have the final say over whether or not they want to stay GM free. I think that actually puts into effect what the Labor Party said they were trying to achieve when they reached their agreement with the government.

The [Parnell-1] set of amendments starts by establishing a new part 3A in the act, 'Protection from contamination'. It establishes a process for contamination risk assessment that must be conducted by the minister when a person gives notice that they propose to cultivate a GM food crop. The assessment looks at the potential for contamination of other land by the proposed GM crop and the likely effect on the marketing of other GM crops.

The minister may then grant approval for the cultivation of the crop if they are satisfied that the proposed crop is not likely to have an adverse effect on the preservation, for marketing purposes, of the identity of other non-GM crops. In a subsequent year, if the minister has previously conducted a risk assessment for the same crop and land, they do not need to conduct another one, they can rely on the previous assessment, and the minister must publish the location and type of GM crops being cultivated on a website.

The rationale behind this is that the commonwealth Gene Technology Act allows for the assessment and approval of licences for commercial release but it also allows states to designate areas—for example, mainland South Australia—for the purposes of preserving the identity of non-GM crops for marketing purposes. Where the current South Australian act allows for the designation of an area of the state as the only part of the state in which genetically modified crops of a specified class may be cultivated and that decision is made for marketing purposes, this amendment requires an assessment of the impact on marketing of individual crops in specific locations rather than on the entire class of GM crops.

Rather than looking at impacts across a broad area, this ensures that impacts are considered at a local level. The rationale is that some GM crops may have little impact on marketing of their non-GM counterparts but others are likely to have major impacts, so to make a blanket decision to allow all GM crops ignores the potential differences in market impacts from the different GM crops. That is entirely consistent with the regime under federal law which focuses on marketing as the rationale for declaring areas or parts of areas as GM free.

My amendment proposes a new clause 17D, which is the right to damages provisions, and these are identical to my four previous private members' bills that I have brought into this place on a fairly regular basis since 2007. It provides that anyone who suffers loss as a result of GM contamination is entitled to damages against the patent owner of the GM plant material that has caused the contamination. My proposed clause 17E amends the current special protection provisions which are consequential to the above and, similarly, the new 7B which repeals section 27 is also consequential.

Before concluding, I wish to put a number of questions on the record for the minister to answer:

1. What consultation did the Marshall Liberal government undertake with the LGA or councils before supporting the Labor amendments in the other place?

2. Why did the government regazette the regulations to lift the moratorium across mainland South Australia while, at the same time, they were doing a deal with Labor to allow councils six months to consult and decide whether they wished to apply to remain GM free? Is it because they know that some farmers have already planted GM crops in reliance of these regulations?

3. How can a local council area remain GM free if the government is allowing GM crops to be planted before consultation even begins?

4. Why did the government support the deletion of ministerial exemptions for experimental GM crops from the act?

5. What offers, inducements, promises of investment or other incentives has the Marshall Liberal government, any of its ministers or any government bodies or agencies been offered by Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, or any other agrochemical corporation if the GM crops moratorium is lifted?

6. Why is the government refusing to support farmer protection measures? Are they protecting the interests of foreign-owned big businesses because they are fearful of a boycott or other retribution from agrochemical companies?

7. Why is the government ignoring the calls of important and iconic South Australian food producers, such as San Remo, Maggie Beer, BD Paris Creek Farms, Tucker's Natural, Jonny's Popcorn and others to keep South Australia GM free?

8. Why is the government ignoring the concerns of South Australia's important and growing organic sector and their representative body, the NASAA Organic?

In conclusion, I believe that this Marshall Liberal government will be remembered as the government that took us down the path of no return. This is a path from which there is no turning back. It is a path that chooses agrochemical giants over South Australian farmers. It is a path that undermines healthy and natural organic foods and will lead to inevitable contamination of our non-GM and organic food industries. This will be the legacy of this Marshall Liberal Government and it is not one that they can be proud of.

Final vote: 

Ayes  17

 

 

Noes  2

 

 

Majority  15

 

 

 

 

 

AYES

 

 

Bonaros, C.

Bourke, E.S.

Centofanti, N.J.

Darley, J.A.

Dawkins, J.S.L.  

Hanson, J.E.       

Hood, D.G.E.

Lee, J.S.

Lensink, J.M.A.

Lucas, R.I.

Maher, K.J.

Ngo, T.T.

Pangallo, F.

Pnevmetikos, I.

Scriven, C.M.

Worley, R.P.

Ridgeway, D.W. (teller)

 

 

 

 

NOES

 

 

Franks, T.A

Parnell, M.C. (teller)