Crop trials a sign of government’s vision

09/07/2009 - 00:00


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IN 2006, I was present when the then opposition spokesman for agriculture, Gary Snook, launched his policy on the trialling of genetically modified canola at the Dowerin Field Days.

IN 2006, I was present when the then opposition spokesman for agriculture, Gary Snook, launched his policy on the trialling of genetically modified canola at the Dowerin Field Days.

It was a gutsy move by Mr Snook, but he understood that the industry exists today as a viable entity only because it has always adopted and adapted the latest technological and scientific advances. Genetically modified organisms are the next step in food production for an ever-expanding population and as such must be explored in a managed way to assess the benefits of GM canola.

I congratulate Agriculture and Food Minister Terry Redman for his courage and foresight in implementing a similar policy. This sentiment also applies to the 17 farmers who are actively participating in a demonstration of GM canola crops on their properties.

There has been some local opposition to this policy, so it is interesting to note that in 2007 the Victorian Labor government called for an independent review on GM canola.

Based on the report, it found that there were no valid grounds to maintain a moratorium that prevented farmers from having the choice about the type of canola they wished to grow. Consequently, the Victorian GM moratorium was lifted on February 29 2008.

In the same year, 2007, the New South Wales Labor government announced its independent review, and found that the introduction of GM canola to NSW would have minimal impact on market access or prices for the majority of Australian canola growers, and that the potential impact on markets and trade from GM food crops necessitated a clear path to market approach to regulation.

The NSW moratorium was lifted on March 14 2008. GM trials last year in both Victoria and NSW have demonstrated increased yields and a reduction in herbicide application, and in both cases there has been no evidence of cross-contamination through pollination or during the transport process.

The major concerns of segregation, coexistence, market access and price premiums have all been addressed through these cultivations, with no findings that would support the need for the continuation of a moratorium. In fact, the trialling has been so successful that the demand by growers in both those states for GM canola seed has outstripped supply in the months of March and April.

By way of background information, GM canola was introduced into Canada in the late 1990s and since then the Canadian canola industry has left this country behind; and we need to catch up.

In the past decade, higher margins in Canada through lower costs and increased yields have led to an 80 per cent expansion in the area planted in western Canada.

This increase has also led to solid growth in associated industries, such as a 60 per cent expansion in canola oil crushings in that country. Genetically modified organisms also impart significant environmental advantages. The Canola Council of Canada reports that the amount of chemicals applied to Canadian GM crops annually has been reduced by 6,000 tonnes. Less field operations have been required in the growing of GM canola in Canada with a consequent saving of 31 million tonnes of diesel fuel per annum. This equates to a saving of $13 million for growers.

These figures are based on a 2001 report. GM foods are the most scrutinised, analysed, and peer-reviewed food source in human history. In fact, tens of millions of GM meals have been eaten by millions of people over the past decade, and there have been no documented cases of any adverse effects from GM-derived food consumption.

I look forward to seeing the data from this year's trials in Western Australia.

This state had partial regulation of its coarse grain industry under the Grain Marketing Act 2002. This act allowed the Grain Licensing Authority to issue special licences to exporters for coarse grains.

WA was the last state in Australia to have such a system for pre-described grains. In 2008, the Economic Regulation Authority review found that the GLA was no longer needed.

Mr Redman has acted on this advice and repealed the Grain Marketing Act 2002, thus dismantling the GLA. At the next harvest, this state will have full deregulation for all grains.

This deregulation will put significant pressure on both Co-operative Bulk Handling Ltd and the transport system, because price and marketing premiums are achieved by exporting as much grain tonnage as possible during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

In fact, industry has a desired export target of 2 million tonnes per month. This challenge, while significant, can be achieved if the key stakeholders in the transport and handling chain work cooperatively to implement a workable, competitive strategy that will meet the demands of the deregulated market.

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The state government's royalties for regions policy on its own will not maintain or enhance the long-term fiscal viability of rural communities; other government initiatives, programs and policies will. These include initiatives such as the red tape reduction committee, also known as the red tape razor gang, which, at this time, has received more than 600 submissions from small business operators. It is anticipated that once its recommendations have been adopted, commercial enterprise will save about $1.7 billion over a 10-year period in regulatory requirements (based on the Victorian model).

Programs such as the jobs protection package recently announced in the budget will apply to businesses with payrolls of up to $3.2 million. This translates to a large number of small businesses in the agricultural region that will be eligible for a significant payroll tax exemption, thus helping small business to survive in these challenging times.

Another recent policy that will enhance the viability of rural communities and rural small businesses is the Wheat Export Marketing Act 2008. This act deregulated the export of wheat in Australia, and its success is best demonstrated by the fact that WA wheat growers have received a $35/tonne premium above what they were previously getting. This premium relates to a $294 million premium over and above what growers normally would have received under the old marketing regime. With a multiplier effect of three or four, this equates to more than $1 billion going into the Wheatbelt and rural WA. In fact, my feedback from a number of small businesses in the region is that this year is one of the best they have had regardless of the financial downturn internationally. Policies such as this will enhance the financial longevity of rural communities.

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The experiences of my forebears were similar to those of hundreds of other pioneers throughout the Wheatbelt. I am certain that, when these farming pioneers returned to their bark and burlap bush abodes after a gruelling day's work, they talked about the future of this state while they supped over the campfire and surveyed, to the horizon, an area full of trees and scrub; a vast area that had to be cleared with the aid of axe and animal.

The challenge in front of them must have appeared overwhelming, but they persisted and in time were successful in establishing productive farms.

These early settlers understood that the opportunity to own land as private treaty holders would secure the financial futures of themselves, their families and their communities. They may not have understood that the right to own land as titleholders is the financial keystone that underpins the financial wellbeing of this state and nation. I wonder how they would have reacted to the fact that this state now has 31 separate acts that have the ability to devalue private property when exercised in the name of the public good.

The reality is that, in this state, if a person's property is not reserved under a gazetted scheme, that person is unable to receive any compensation for losses incurred. That is the situation for the majority of landowners in WA.

I believe the Liberal Party is the only political party that values the integrity of private property rights. I encourage this government to implement private property legislation that addresses these inequities. I personally believe that such legislation is well overdue because if we do not implement it, there is no other political party with the ability or wish to do so.

n This is an edited extract from the inaugural speech of Jim Chown, a farmer and the newly elected member for the agricultural region.


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