Primary Industries Legislation Amendment Bill 2017
Debate resumed from 29 November; motion of Ms ALLAN (Minister for Public Transport).
Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) (16:45:20) — I rise to speak on behalf of the Liberal‑Nationals on the Primary Industries Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. As all members would be aware, this is an omnibus bill that makes a number of amendments to acts regulating agriculture, fisheries, meat processing, the fresh food market and the hunting industry. I thought we would just walk through the bill sequentially as it is set out and go to the issues that have been raised with me. I put on the record from the start that the Liberal‑Nationals government will not be opposing this legislation.
The Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 is the first piece of legislation that is dealt with by this particular bill. It effectively makes changes to enable the government to be able to recover costs during the sentencing phase of criminal proceedings around offences of non‑compliance. This issue is principally around the control of pest plants and pest animals, which has been a vexed issue in our rural communities for literally decades. You quite often find a situation where there is a Landcare group, a weeds control group or a rabbit action control group and where the overwhelming majority of landholders in a particular area are doing the right thing. They are working to control those particular weeds or those particular animals, but there are one or two recalcitrant landholders in that area who are not doing the right thing. Obviously they then reinfest the adjoining properties with seed burden that is either blown around by the wind or washed away by water or, in the case of rabbits particularly, they repopulate those properties where people have done the right thing. This is a change that enables the department to recover costs for going in and doing those control measures on properties where the landholder is not doing the right thing. It makes it a lot easier rather than having to go through a civil case in court and incurring that extra expense for the department and the government in recovering that particular money.
I think there is probably even more that could be done in this area to assist those landholders who do the right thing so the department can actually do more work with the recalcitrants who are not doing the right thing, but this is a small step in the right direction. The thing that constantly gets raised with many country MPs is that the department is not doing enough work in having people go out and issue these notices let alone actually follow up the costs of those actions. What the people who come to see me and come to see other country members would like to see is that the department has a stronger compliance unit within the department that goes and enforces the rules that are there so that those landholders who are doing the right thing are not reinfested with weeds or pest animals by those who are doing the wrong thing.
The second piece of legislation that is amended by this act is the Dairy Act 2000. What it does is to bring camel milk into the definitions of dairy products so it is regulated by Dairy Food Safety Victoria. Not many people would probably realise it, but there are a number of businesses now setting up that are providing camel milk. Two of those businesses happen to be in my electorate in northern Victoria. Chris Williams and his wife, Megan, at Kyabram have a camel milk property, and there is also one at Rochester. They have been set up now, and there has been investment, as I understand it, by the United Arab Emirates in that particular property, which is called Camilk Pty Ltd. In their case they have 200 camels on the property and are milking 40 camels twice a day —
An honourable member interjected.
Mr WALSH — No, they are very tall — very funny. The people who run the one at Rochester came to see me because they were having issues. Without camel milk being included in the definition of dairy product, it meant that Dairy Food Safety Victoria was not regulating the camel milk industry and it was reverting to local government to have to regulate that industry. Local government, through their health officers, do not have the expertise or the time to do so, and they do not have the knowledge about how a camel dairy should be regulated. It was a very vexed issue for that particular business to get their licence and to get up and running. This change will be a welcome change among those people who are in the camel milk industry.
As we would all know, there is a large part of the world that prefers camel milk to cow milk. For the benefit of the member for South‑West Coast, on one of the trade missions to the Middle East they had the opportunity to actually go and visit a camel milk farm. On one side of the road there was a 2500‑cow feedlot dairy. On the other side of the road there was a 1000‑camel dairy as well. There are some significant challenges for those who are farming camels, because they have not been domesticated into the feedlot milking regime for anywhere near as many years as dairy cows have. They have some significant issues with having to make sure they keep the young camels with the cow to make sure the cow lets down the milk. There are some real challenges around that, but it was something they overcame because in the Middle East particularly the sheikhs’ families feel that their children should have camel milk rather than cow’s milk. There is a real market there, and there is a growing market in Australia for camel milk as well. There is the opportunity now for these businesses to be regulated by Dairy Food Safety Victoria and to get on with doing what they do well — that is, producing milk and selling it.
The next piece of legislation is the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981. This bill makes some amendments around the definition of serious offence in relation to people qualifying for the ability to work in the hemp industry, and the opposition will not be opposing these particular changes.
The next changes are to the Fisheries Act 1995. These are around allowing the early surrender of the eight remaining netting entitlements that are held in Port Phillip Bay for commercial fishers and transferring the powers and functions of the fisheries Licensing Appeals Tribunal to VCAT. The one comment I would make around the surrender of those remaining licences in Port Phillip Bay is that what is happening now is that some people are starting to realise that with the cancellation or the buyout of all those licences in Port Phillip Bay there is now an issue around where they get their supply of bait, because it is not just commercial net fishing that has been stopped, it is those who were providing bait to the recreational industry as well. So that has actually become an issue. The transfer of the fisheries licensing appeal tribunal to VCAT is, again, not something the opposition would be opposing.
The next piece of legislation the bill amends is the Game Management Authority Act 2014. The bill makes two changes, and the particular one that I would like to talk about here is proposed new principles that the authority must have regard to when exercising its powers. There was an issue that was explored very deeply when the previous Liberal‑Nationals government was in power. There was an economic study done at that time around the value of the hunting industry here in Victoria, and what that report found was that the hunting industry in Victoria — this is back in 2013 — had a value of $417 million to the Victorian economy. I think that is a very significant contribution. Forty per cent of that expenditure was in metropolitan local government areas, but 60 per cent of it was actually in regional districts. So it is a very significant generator of economic activity in Victoria. It was estimated that there were 1100 full‑time jobs directly with the hunting industry and a further 1200 jobs stemming from the flow‑on employment — a total of nearly 2400 jobs created by that industry.
What was also interesting in the report was actually where that money was spent in regional Victoria. The Mansfield local government area received 2.5 per cent of their economic activity in that shire from hunting activities. In the Murrindindi shire it was 1.2 per cent and in the Gannawarra shire it was 1.6 per cent. So the hunting industry was a quite significant contributor to economic activity in those local government areas of that 60 per cent of the economic activity from hunting that was generated in regional Victoria.
The other thing I would like to just mention while we are talking about the hunting industry is that the report actually looked at the demographics of the hunting industry. Two things that came out of that were that the hunting industry is made up of an overwhelming majority of people who are either in full‑time paid work or who are retired. Nearly 70 per cent of those that go out hunting are actually in full‑time work and another nearly 20 per cent of them are people who are retired, so they are people who are working or who have worked. If you go through the educational qualifications of those people that make up the hunting industry, 8 per cent of those people have postgraduate degrees, 16 per cent of those people have university degrees, another nearly 10 per cent have a graduate diploma or certificate, another 10 per cent have TAFE diplomas and over 25 per cent have a certificate III or IV in a trade. So despite the picture that a lot of people in inner‑city Melbourne want to paint of those that go hunting, as some form of redneck hillbillies, I think the statistics clearly show that they are not that. They are actually, in general, highly educated and in full‑time employment — and well‑paid full‑time employment. Those people that want to talk down the hunting industry should go and have a look at the facts. Just look at the economic activity that is generated and look at the people that make up the hunting industry.
The one thing that I would raise as a concern is — and we were promised a response from the minister around the issue we raised in the briefing, but if someone in this house or in the upper house when this bill goes into committee could actually clarify this — the wording in the explanatory memorandum in regard to clause 46, where it explicitly says at the end that the CEO of the Game Management Authority is appointed by the minister. My understanding is that that is not the case when you look at the legislation, but I think it has raised some significant concern. I would seek clarification either in this house or the other house given that was one of the concerns that we raised and the department did not come back to us on that after the briefing.
The next act that is affected by this bill is the Livestock Disease Control Act 1994, which allows the spending of capital rather than only the interest earned on capital from the Cattle Compensation Fund and the Sheep and Goat Compensation Fund on projects and programs benefiting the respective industries. The industry is not opposing these particular changes. I suppose the caution to put on the record would be that in the spending of both interest and capital we need to make sure there is enough money left in the fund in case there is a major disease outbreak and there is money needed there for compensation and control of any particular disease. There is another caution, and while I know the minister normally signs off on the spending of money from these funds based on advice from those advisory committees, I would hate to think that at some time in the future those advisory committees could have people placed on them by the minister that may give advice that sees that money spent on what should effectively be recurrent expenditure by the department and sees the use of the compensation funds as a substitute for departmental funding. I just put that on the record, although I do not think that is the intent of this bill, and I do not think that is the intent of this government. It is a concern for the future, that with these changes we need to make sure that that is the case.
The next piece of legislation that is amended by this bill is the Melbourne Market Authority Act 1977. The amendments are effectively wording changes to reflect the fact that the market has moved from Footscray to Epping and the changes around that. It actually changes the amount that the market authority can spend without ministerial approval from $250 000 to $750 000. I suppose if I think about the Melbourne Market it is a project, from memory, that was started under the Bracks government and that was supposed to cost a maximum of $300 million. Because of some significantly poor management by the government that project blew out to over $600 million, which has had a significant impact on the costs and the rents at that particular establishment.
I have been at the market a few times lately talking to the stallholders and the people who work out there. Probably the people who are the most concerned about their future are those who run the coffee shops. In the old market the coffee shops were a meeting point, because the market was very crowded and the facilities for the stallholders were not all that good. The coffee shops did a roaring business because they were a meeting point. With the new market the facilities for the stallholders are substantially better and a lot of them are not going to the coffee shops.
The coffee shops have significant rents to pay now. One of the coffee shop owners I talked to was in severe financial distress because of his rent. He was very stressed because his marriage was under pressure because he was working very long hours, he was not home much, he was not making much money now and he is at real risk of either losing its business or his family, and he is quite concerned about that.
The other issue that has been a vexed issue around the other Melbourne Market Authority is the control of kangaroos at the site. There was quite a population of kangaroos on the open land when the Melbourne Market Authority started to build. The kangaroos were not controlled at that time, and they have bred and are a real issue now — for the health of the kangaroos — because they are overpopulated and do not have enough food; and they are an issue for the local roads, because of kangaroos hopping around. It is probably one of the last places in Victoria where you would expect to hit a kangaroo, driving past the Melbourne Market.
Recently there was to have been a cull out there. The kangaroos are in poor health because they are overstocked, and I am told that a heap of protesters turned up. It is alleged that there were some people in the department that were not in favour of kangaroo culls and released the details, which meant that the kangaroo cull did not go ahead. I think there are some people in the department who are putting their ideology ahead of their professionalism and the job they need to do.
The next piece of legislation that is changed by the bill is the Meat Industry Act 1993, to allow mobile butchers and processors to operate across Victoria. It removes the barriers to the processing of game for non‑commercial purposes. The opposition welcomes the changes to the processing of game for non‑commercial services, and I think at some stage in the future there will be an opportunity to look at the use of game for commercial purposes, but this bill does not deal with that at this time.
A couple of Monday nights ago I had the opportunity to go down to the Sprout X presentation, where there were 11 start‑up businesses that did a sell to investors. They went to Sydney the next night to do the same thing. The business that won the Sprout X award was FarmGate MSU, which is Chris Balazs, who is one of the people who want to take the opportunity to have a mobile abattoir once the bill is passed. It is interesting that he won the pitch at the Sprout X presentation. Chris currently has a small meat business; he supplies meat to people in Victoria. He wants the opportunity to have a mobile abattoir in the future, and at the presentation night he showed diagrams for how he wants to set up to do that.
The next piece of legislation is the Plant Biosecurity Act 2010 around the control of grape phylloxera and potato cyst nematode, two significant diseases that affect the grape industry and the potato industry here in Victoria. It is something that has had a significant cost to those industries over time.
The next act is the Veterinary Practice Act 1997. The bill increases penalties for serious professional misconduct and strengthens the board’s powers in conducting wildlife hearings.
The next provision is changes to the Wildlife Act 1975 to include the offence of hunting, taking or destroying game during an open season. Previously it was an offence to take game in the closed season, and this bill introduces an offence for the open season.
The last piece of legislation I would like to spend time on is the repeal of the now‑defunct Broiler Chicken Industry Act 1978. I declare an interest in this piece of legislation, because as a previous processing tomato grower before I entered the Parliament we had very similar legislation in the tomato industry, which was repealed in the dying days of the Kirner government. Ian Baker was the Minister for Agriculture at that time, and he repealed the legislation relating to the tomato industry.
The negotiating position of the chicken meat industry has not been used for quite a few years. For the benefit of the house I would like to put some of the history of this legislation on the record. The person who was probably the driving force in getting this legislation in place was a gentleman called Wally Shaw. The Shaw family is still involved in the broiler chicken industry. A couple of his sons are still farming broilers — you probably know some of them, Acting Speaker Graley.
Wally Shaw was an absolute stalwart of the chicken meat industry and fought very, very hard to have this legislation in place. He was a mentor of mine as I developed my career through the Victorian Farmers Federation. I can remember him talking about the fact that to get to the point where this legislation was in place they had to effectively hold strikes and refuse to receive day‑old live chickens, because they had to get a better deal out of the processors. One of the bits of advice that Wally gave me over the years was that when you are negotiating chicken prices with the processors the best way to hold a meeting is to have no chairs, so everyone has to stand up, and to have no lunchbreaks, so that people were standing up and negotiating. They came to a conclusion a lot quicker if they did not have the comfort of a chair or a coffee break or lunch.
It is interesting to go back and read the second‑reading speeches for the legislation. The amendments to the bill that were done in 1978 were introduced by Ian Smith, who was the minister at that time. In his second‑reading speech he said:
The operation of the Broiler Chicken Industry Act 1975 has shown that the provisions of the act which empowers the Victorian Broiler Industry Negotiation Committee to negotiate prices between processors and growers are inadequate and that the committee needs more specific powers to effectively determine prices for broiler chickens to be paid by processors to growers throughout the broiler chicken industry in this state.
The bill authorises the committee to determine a standard price to be paid by processors to growers …
Clause 11 provides that a determination of the committee is to be binding on all processors and growers.
In the event that the committee is unable to determine a dispute:
… the chairman is to report that fact to the minister who may refer the matter to a single arbitrator.
This committee used to meet to determine the price of broiler chickens between the growers and the processors. If they could not agree on a price, they reported that to the minister, and the minister put in place an arbitrator. That legislation served the chicken meat industry very well here in Victoria for quite a few years, and it is only in recent years that the system has started to break down.
Through that process in 1987 the Parliament set up a committee called the Public Bodies Review Committee to review a heap of government authorities and instrumentalities in Victoria. It did a review of the tomato industry act and the chicken industry act, and one of the findings of that review was that it felt that the legislation was in the public interest and it was there:
… to set growing fees and to establish terms of trade which will prevent exploitation —
and it emphasised the word ‘exploitation’ —
of growers by processing companies but which simultaneously will set growing fees and terms of trade that would apply under fair and competitive market conditions.
That Public Bodies Review Committee process was a very detailed process, and I can actually remember going along and giving evidence to that particular committee. The first time I actually met Wally Shaw was at a similar time in the early 1990s, when the industry’s assistant commission, as it was called at the time, also had a review into marketing authorities like this. We both had to go along and give evidence to justify the existence of some form of marketing controls around those particular industries.
It did stand the industry in good stead, and I do put on the record that that legislation allowed the growth of that broiler industry here in Victoria. While it is the individual growers who have developed the business, I put on the record my appreciation for all those involved, including Wally Shaw as a leader of the industry for over 30 years and the work he did in actually making sure those things were in place.
It is interesting to note with the chicken meat industry that Victoria is now a net importer of chicken meat. We do not actually produce enough chicken meat in Victoria for our own consumption. I think this is sad because we have the growers here, we have the grain production here in Victoria and particularly in the southern half of the state we actually have the climactic conditions that lend themselves well to broiler production.
The growers and those who are wanting to develop sheds or expand sheds have a real issue with the planning provisions of this state. You have probably got some of these in your own electorate or close to your own electorate, Acting Speaker, but there is a real issue for those on the Mornington Peninsula. For argument’s sake, it has one of the best climates in Victoria for growing broilers, but people do not want to see those sheds expanded because they do not like the smell of those sheds in their particular area or the trucks going up and down the road.
Mr D. O’Brien — Send them to Gippsland.
Mr WALSH — I will come to the issue of Gippsland after the interjection from the member for Gippsland South. The sheds that are on the Mornington Peninsula are really struggling to expand even though there has been a lot of work done on new technology — putting odour scrubbers and all those sorts of things on the sheds. The growers are looking to go further out, but there is a limit to how far they can travel because you cannot cart live chickens for more than an hour and a half from the chicken farm to the processing facility. The member for Gippsland South piped in, ‘Send them to Gippsland’, but it is not quite that simple unfortunately. Local government areas down there are also very difficult to get on with when it comes to planning issues.
I know the Shaw family actually had an issue, as I understand it, a number of years ago when they bought a large dairy farm at Labertouche, I think it was. It had all the appropriate setbacks, but because of some neighbours who did not want trucks going down the road and did not want some of the issues there they still had probably a two‑year process in VCAT to get permission to get a chicken farm put in the middle of their dairy farm.
Mr Richardson — Struth!
Mr WALSH — I note the interjection from the member for Mordialloc, saying, ‘Struth’. Well, I am afraid that it was under a previous Labor government that all those challenges were there, member for Mordialloc. I think that evolved in the first 10 years of this century. The planning provisions should have been changed, and there should have been more powers to enable people to actually develop the chicken industry in other places.
As I said, the Liberal‑Nationals will not be opposing this legislation. I just want to reinforce the issue around mobile abattoirs and the concerns that have been raised by the meat industry — that is, making sure that those abattoirs are regulated appropriately and that the regulations are similar to the regulations for traditional fixed‑place abattoirs. Apart from that, there is the issue of maintaining biosecurity.
Just to finish off, the other concern I have is the potential for animal rights activists to create mischief with mobile abattoirs, because with fixed‑place abattoirs there are fences around them, there is security there and they are actually tightly held and people cannot get in. I think there is the potential with the mobile abattoirs for animal rights activists to create mischief with photographs and videoing. They go into those particular facilities or are close by those facilities that do not have security fences around them and they take photographs and try to be mischievous with those photographs in order to bring the red meat industry into disrepute. We have seen cases of animal activists planting cameras in abattoirs to try and create trouble for the industry. I just caution that we do not want to see that happen with this part of the industry as well. That is probably the most contentious issue or potentially the most contentious issue, not because of the people operating the mobile abattoirs but because of those who might want to make mischief out of that particular process.
The Liberal‑Nationals will not be opposing this legislation.
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