Government Whip in the Legislative Council

Liberal Member in the Parliament of South Australia




Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill

Tuesday 10 December, 2019

I rise to speak on the Genetically Modified Crops Management (Designated Area) Amendment Bill.

This state has a long and proud history of agriculture. Agriculture has always played a vital role in South Australia, contributing to our economy through trade and employment, as well as being the heartbeat of our regional communities.

Often, agriculture is what sustains our regional communities, and over the past year we have seen several examples of the passion that exists in our regions. Agriculture is important not only to our regions but to all of South Australia. As a state, we can be proud of the reputation of agricultural research and development by South Australian institutions; for example, the Waite Research Institute has a reputation for agricultural research that is recognised far beyond Australian shores.

As consumers and citizens of South Australia, we are all affected by the outcomes of the GM moratorium. As members know, the GM moratorium has been in place since 2004. Within the years that have since passed, the outcomes inflicted by the GM ban are now blatantly clear. The argument about the significant premiums that many thought non-GM canola would fetch has now been debunked. Instead of premium prices, the moratorium has disadvantaged farmers, costing them and, ultimately, the state.

The disadvantages have been outlined by Kym Anderson, a University of Adelaide agriculture economist, who has stated that the moratorium had cost farmers more than $33 million from 2004 to 2018. This tally will only accumulate if the moratorium continues beyond this year. To highlight how South Australia is missing out, the minister for agriculture and primary production outlined the monetary differences between states in the grain market: In Western Australia, they returned a $60 premium over South Australia; in New South Wales, a $30 premium; and in Victoria a $10 premium.

Price differences between the states are not a coincidence but, rather, a consequence of the moratorium and South Australia's farmers' inability to utilise GM technology. To echo the topics canvassed by the minister, our farming industry should not be constrained by the ideology of a few but, rather, should have the freedom to choose to utilise tried and tested GM technology. There are many benefits of lifting the GM moratorium on the paddock as well as out of the paddock. On the land, our farmers' efforts are being restricted by the GM moratorium. They are unable to utilise the best available technology and are ultimately financially penalised.

As it currently stands, canola is a predominant GM crop. In the 15 years of South Australia's moratorium, we have seen the benefits that other states have enjoyed by growing GM canola. The benefits these states have enjoyed over South Australia are not mere instinct but, rather, evidence-based. If the science was in dispute, South Australia's 15-year exclusion has shown that those GM farms across the border are able to increase their efficiencies as well as improve the outcome. Farmers of GM crops enjoy increased yields, decreased reliance on pesticides and ultimately reduced fuel consumption. These are practically better for the farmer but also better for the environment. I believe that many in this chamber support such outcomes.

Voting for a legislative change to the GM moratorium today will highlight our state's willingness to understand our need to be adaptive. Often, people are willing to raise issues that our farmers are facing on the land but not as willing to assist by pushing for practical solutions. GM is a practical solution to some issues that farmers face. Lifting the moratorium will produce benefits beyond the paddock.

As I mentioned prior, South Australia is home to world-class agriculture research institutions. Unfortunately, they too are currently restricted by the GM moratorium, damaging the state's reputation in the industry. Millions of dollars of industry investment have been diverted interstate and overseas. The Waite Research Institute and other like research institutions are inevitably overlooked when work is undertaken due to the moratorium, such as work testing GM crops to ensure that they perform optimally in Australia's often challenging, growing climate. Restriction not only affects an institution's ability to deliver beneficial outcomes for farmers but also limits their ability to retain scientists and teach agronomy students, who are the future scientists in the field. The GM moratorium only prevents economic activity, employment and beneficial research.

There has been some discussion about the process the government has taken. The GM moratorium has been in place for 15 years and has been the centre of much debate recently. In this calendar year, an independent report was conducted, a select committee undertaken and consultation carried out. All the appropriate precursors to this legislative change were undertaken by the minister and the government and, despite the criticism, the regulation was an appropriate mechanism to lift the moratorium.

Despite the disallowance motion and the actions of the government to canvass whether the community wants it, the moratorium still exists. It is clear what the bill before us seeks to do. To ignore the time sensitivity of this debate and throw aside such an issue of state importance due to process would be to deny our farmers GM crops for another year. The Liberal government has followed an extensive process of review of the GM moratorium. Our farmers deserve the freedom to utilise GM if they see fit. I commend the minister for acting quickly to give our farmers hope that they will not miss out on another season.

To borrow the words of my colleague, the member for Newland, a scientist in his own right: The farmers want it, the scientists want it and the evidence, both scientific and economic, backs it, and now as a parliament we need to do our job and get on with this, get out of the way and give our farmers the choice.

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