Dr HAINES (Indi) (17:31)
A strong biosecurity system is critical to Australia’s prosperity. Biosecurity laws protect agriculture, tourism, plant and animal health, the environment, and our international market success and access. Indi farmers know that these laws are necessary to allow us to trade and for our economy to thrive. I’d like to spend some time talking about the agricultural industries in Indi that rely on a robust biosecurity system and bills like this one, the Biosecurity Amendment (Strengthening Penalties) Bill 2021.
Firstly, I want to turn my attention to the wine industry. North East Victoria has a diversity and an abundance of exceptional wine across numerous wine regions, including the Alpine Valleys, Beechworth, Glenrowan, King Valley and Rutherglen. In the 1880s, Rutherglen was one of the world’s great wine regions. With more than 3,000 acres of vines spread across 50 recognised vineyards, Rutherglen was producing about a third of all wine in Australia, winning prizes in London, Paris and Bordeaux exhibitions. Rutherglen would continue to prosper well into the 1890s, but local wine growers feared that a scourge would soon be at their door.
Phylloxera, a root-sucking aphid that feeds on the nutrients of the vine, had been detected near Geelong in the late 1870s. At the time, there were no known remedies, and affected vineyards needed to be uprooted and burnt without delay. In May 1889, the news that many had been dreading swept the district: phylloxera had been detected in Rutherglen. The vine disease slowly but surely took hold across the district, decimating vineyard after vineyard and forcing many to turn to other agricultural pursuits or abandon the land altogether. The impact was devastating.
There are no visible warning signs of phylloxera on grapevines. By the time stunted growth and leaf yellowing appear, an infestation can spread through entire properties. Productivity drops as the infestation escalates, and the infected grapevines can be dead within five years. Over a century later, Australian vineyards continue to be highly vulnerable, with 75 per cent of plantings on susceptible rootstock. Containing the spread of phylloxera is a key concern of the Australian wine industry, and biosecurity is the first line of defence.
Research on phylloxera has been conducted at Rutherglen since the early 1900s, following the establishment of a viticultural college there in 1897, and continues to this day. Today, Agriculture Victoria research staff at Rutherglen lead the national research program, supported by investment from Wine Australia. The research program aims to improve containment through effective disinfestation, assess rootstock resistance to different phylloxera strains, and develop new infield diagnostics and more effective surveillance to detect weak spots. Vinehealth Australia also oversees the delivery of biosecurity programs and is doing an excellent job in educating the public to stop the spread of phylloxera. We must continue to invest in biosecurity measures like these. The potential economic consequences are immense. One recent cost-benefit study on phylloxera prevention found a return on investment of up to $9 for every $1 spent. This is critical to the wine industry, which contributes $45.5 billion to the Australian economy each year and nearly 164,000 direct and indirect jobs.
It’s not just the sale of wine that important biosecurity measures like this bill protect. It’s also the industries that rely on that agricultural production. For places like Indi, that’s regional tourism. The Winery Walkabout in Rutherglen is one great example of this. It was meant to be held this weekend past but has been rescheduled to 24 and 25 July due to the COVID restrictions in Victoria. From its humble beginnings in 1974, the Winery Walkabout has grown to be one of the premier wine events on the Australian calendar, attracting thousands of visitors each year. On Sunday I took the opportunity to visit Rutherglen wineries, I spoke with two winemaking families—Mike, Belinda and Joel Chambers of Lake Moodemere winery and Chris and Robyn Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Wines. After tasting some of the many wonderful wines on offer, including the topaque, muscat and apera wines for which Rutherglen is world-famous, I can see why this is an industry we must and desperately wish to protect. Wine sales and new memberships from this event usually account for a significant proportion of total annual income for the many family owned businesses. COVID has hurt these businesses hard, and we should be doing all we can to make sure that biosecurity risks don’t make that any worse.
Turning to chestnuts, the local chestnut industry in Indi will also benefit from this bill. Chestnuts are grown in areas that are hot in summer and cold in winter, and over 75 per cent of Australian chestnuts are produced in my electorate of Indi, around the townships of Beechworth, Stanley, Bright, Mount Beauty, Wandiligong and Myrtleford. Chestnut blight is caused by a fungus that grows underneath the bark of chestnut and oak trees, resulting in cankers that surround the infected trunk or branch. Once a tree is infected it will eventually die. Chestnut blight was first detected in Australia near Eurobin in the Ovens Valley in September 2010. Another outbreak occurred in 2014. Despite extensive efforts to eradicate the exotic plant disease, it remains present in Victoria and in 2019 was labelled ‘difficult to eradicate’. The industry is leading its own long-term management plan to make sure chestnut blight stays at bay, and this bill will help in those efforts too.
Piggeries will also benefit from this bill. In 2018 the world saw an outbreak of African swine fever in China. Within a single year it had killed an estimated 25 per cent of the world’s pig population. Concerningly, in recent months we’ve heard news that a second wave of African swine fever is estimated to have killed as many as eight million pigs in China since the start of the year, just as the country is aiming to rebuild its national herd. African swine fever spreads rapidly via infected pork, stock or products. The introduction of the disease to Australia has the potential to devastate businesses such as Rivalea, which produces stockfeed and pork for both the domestic and export markets and employs more than 1,200 people across Victoria and southern New South Wales. We must do everything we can to prevent its spread. Increasing penalties is one deterrent, but we could be doing a whole lot more.
One area where we could be doing more is at the intersection of climate change, habitat loss and animal health—animal-human health, indeed. Changing temperatures, bushfires, drought and loss of habitat all drive wildlife, feral animals and insect vectors into new areas and closer contact with domestic animal and human populations, bringing existing diseases to areas where they were previously unknown and new diseases to the fore. In 1994 for example, Hendra virus was first described at a location outside Brisbane. Moving from flying foxes to horses, the virus can then pass to humans and, with a 60 per cent fatality rate in infected people, poses a huge risk to veterinarians, horse owners and workers in the equine industries. Changing environmental conditions have seen this disease move steadily southwards, with a detection seen as far down as the Hunter Valley in New South Wales in 2019, which I know would be of interest to you, Madam Deputy Speaker Claydon. Biosecurity events like this one will become even more frequent due to climate change. An increase in penalties may deter some would-be criminals but it won’t stop climate change.
Finally, I’d like to welcome the in-principle free trade agreement with the UK overnight. Biosecurity protection measures are essential to free trade. The agreement will provide additional access and expand export opportunities for farmers in north-east Victoria, who produce high-quality beef, dairy, sheepmeat and wine. The UK is a relatively small but important market for beef and sheepmeat. Over time, the FTA will help to expand export opportunities and provide additional options for our producers. I encourage the government to work harder to secure, for our beef, greater access into the European Union, which has fallen away in recent times. This important market needs to be rebuilt. The wine industry has recently taken a massive hit from China, after they imposed tariffs on Australian wine in November 2020. Australia exports 36 per cent, by volume, of wine to the United Kingdom. The FTA will improve our competitive position and put more money into the pockets of winemakers in my region, which will allow them to invest further in their businesses.
But we can’t have any of this without strong biosecurity measures. This bill is a pretty basic way to achieve that, but there’s so much more that we could be doing, especially when it comes to climate change and biosecurity risks, and I call on the government to do much, much more in that space.